One-by-one we’ve watched them go. Quite often heart-broken, usually discouraged, but always leaving a big chunk of their hearts behind them. Graveyard life did them in, and it’s really no surprise. It’s often dark and gloomy. And when we forget to keep our sights fixed firmly on higher things, oppressive and crushing.
What in the world am I talking about? Italy. Beautiful, marvelous Italy, where most missionaries don’t stay. One of the reasons, according to Operation World that Italy is known as the “graveyard of missionaries”.
Less than four years
As many as 90 percent of foreign missionaries stay in Italy for less than four years. That’s a high rate. Too high, though understandable. In my understanding, Italy along with most of southern Europe, is one of the hardest mission fields, ranking right up there with the Muslim nations.
But in many ways, we believe it’s even harder. Because southern Europeans, whether through nominal Catholicism or Orthodoxy, have just enough of biblical truth to create disinterest and apathy. They already have what we offer, or so they think. Because they already have “Christian religion”, and go to church, at least at Christmas and Easter. And for weddings, funerals, and baptisms. But only 6% of Italians claim to be devout Catholics.
This shot of religion, however, brings them no fulfillment, so they don’t listen to our message. What’s religion got to do with life? It’s reality we need, they think. Jobs, homes, health, or a new government. (And they get latter far too often!)
But that’s not really why so many leave. We believe they came here ready to face those battles. Prepared for a long, uphill climb. It’s the lack of unity, at least in our opinion, that defeats them. Italy is a nation firmly embedded in tradition. It’s almost sacrosanct. To the point that new ways and ideas are a menace.
Fellow workers are not a threat!
That, and sad to say, some church leaders have developed a proprietorship attitude over their congregation, seeing outsiders as a threat. What if the newcomer should get a greater following, and steal some of my sheep? So, probably as a protection mechanism, criticism and disparagement abound. And they forget the Lord’s response to John’s declaration:
John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.’ Luke 9:49-50
So instead of being welcomed with rejoicing because new laborers have come to this land of great need, the new worker faces discouragement and undermining behavior from his comrades in battle.
And another grave gets added to the graveyard stretching the length and the breadth of the nation. And one-by-one we’ve watched them go. Sorrowing with them, and grieving over the gap left.
Seeing the heartache
We don’t judge those who have gone, for we’ve seen the heartache their decision brought them. And we’re grateful that they’re all active workers in other vineyards, and not only as pastors or Bible teachers, but as public school teachers and nurses, being salt and light in many walks of life.
Yet it’s sad for us. Sad to be left with tombstones littering the barren landscape of so many unreached towns. More than 70% of Italy’s 8,101 comuni (communities large enough to host a city hall) are without an established Bible-believing congregation.
So today’s post is another call to prayer. Please pray that the graveyard will stop growing, and more importantly, that the suspicion and criticism causing it to flourish will come to an end.
We believe that Paul’s victorious declaration didn’t just refer to physical death, but over spiritual death of any kind:
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 15:55-57.
What kind of graveyard are you living in? The burden of a marriage in crisis? The heartbreak of severed family relations? Or the general discouragement of life’s problems and difficulties?
Take courage—even in such seeming graveyards there is life. Even when surrounded by oppressing gloom, criticism, and heartache.
There is hope. Because in the end, Christ is victor over all.