The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Pastor Pietro Evangelista runs an association to help those affected by the earthquakes in Italy. "We want them to know that the evangelical church is present", he says.
“Many groups want to come and help, but first you have to understand how things work here", Italian Pastor Pietro Evangelista told online newspaper Protestante Digital in an interview regarding his work in earthquake-affected areas.
Founder of several churches in different parts of Italy, this pastor converted at the age of 17, was baptized at 18 and shortly afterwards had a vision: He saw men with hands tied and traces of having been beaten. "The Lord told me: You are my shepherd, you must go to release prisoners", he recalls.
At the age of 31, he began the first discipleship group in his home, with 5 people. "That was 36 years ago. The group grew, we founded the Christian Center Il Buon Samaritano (Good Samaritan) in Pescara, and we continue to work with an apostolic vision", he says.
"We work with Italian, African, Sri Lankan churches. When they are ready, they go on their own and expand." One of the pastors with whom he works hand in hand is Stanley Abalu, who also joins the conversation.
FROM AFRICA TO ITALY
Abalu left Nigeria for training at a YWAM (Youth with a Mission) base in South Africa. Then, in 2010, he was sent as a missionary to Italy.
Today he is pastor of an ethnic church in Pescara, where there are several women who have left prostitution or continue to exercise it. "Here we receive them with love, but we can not accept tithings that come from prostitution", says Pastor Stanley.
Another feature of this church (City of Workship Living Church) is the development achieved by the music ministry, including a children choir.
Abadu composes and sings in English and Italian and makes presentations in other churches and in special events throughout Italy.
On Sundays, people living in a refugee camp participate in the meeting. After the service, they eat all together and later they return to that place from which one day they hope to leave when their asylum request would be granted.
"We are encouraging these immigrants to invite others who are not Christians, we also recommend them to warn family and friends who are in Africa about the risks of coming here. The situation of those who survive the Mediterranean crossing is very hard", Abalu points out.
There have been strong earthquakes in Italy in the recent years. When this happens, the affected area is declared a "red zone" and only government-authorized organizations, almost all of them Catholic, can enter.
"As evangelicals we have difficulties to get in. Once we started to help but Civil Protection told us that we had to leave. While we were finding out the reason, the head of all of Italy Civil Protection passed by and authorized us to continue with the work. Since then we have the doors open", the pastor says with satisfaction.
In 2009 Pietro Evangelista promoted the foundation of the Evangelical Coordination for Emergency and Assistance (COEVEMA in Italian), an humanitarian organization of which he is the president.
"This organization was born to help the population affected by the earthquake of 2009 and we are now very active to help victims of the earthquakes hat took place in August and October 2016 and January 2017", he explains.
After the last earthquake, the members of COEVEMA decided not to go immediately because the first aid always comes through many donations.
"When the first enthusiasm for help passes, people leave. In 2016 we built a wooden shelter in Tossicia, province of Teramo, which was very useful and it still works”, Evangelista says.
This time, “we decided to carry out a long term project again. We talked with four foremen and finally chose the city of Accumoli, in the province of Rieti, to build a great multifunctional structure", comments Pastor Pietro.
Once the project was elaborated, they prepared the budget and the construction has already begun.
"We want want them to know that the evangelical church is present. We are interested in building a building for the population, something that will last in time, which will remain as a testimony", he says.
HELP AND EVANGELIZE
Many Christian organizations talk to Pietro Evangelista wanting to help in areas where there are still people who lost everything through the earthquake.
"First we have to understand how things work here.You cannot come with the idea of doing an evangelism campaign, because the Catholic church will come for us. They should not see us as if we were proselytizing. First, we have to help them and then talk about the Lord ", Pietro explains.
The evangelical church in Italy is small. Christians do not reach 1% of the population. Evangelista emphasizes that Italy is a mission field and the missionaries who arrive there must work together with the national church.
"They must help, not being a problem. We have seen cases where they go to a church for a while and then leave with part of the membership", he laments.
According to Pietro Evangelista, the weakest areas in Italian churches are evangelism and discipleship. "We are strong in teaching but we need more evangelism. Many churches do not do it", he says.
He would be willing to receive missionaries and thus define the profile of the candidates: "The missionaries must be integrated into the church, gaining its confidence. They can help with the discipleship of new believers and the evangelism with young people."
"They must come with calm and humility, learn the language in the first years, have clear direction of God and be able to resist the adversities. Italy is spiritually closed", he concludes.