“A wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (I Corinthians 16:9).
The Lord Jesus Christ affirmed that the Gospel would progress in a context of war (Matthew 10:34; 16:18) and the apostle Paul speaks about our fight as not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). However, in the middle of the warfare, we are comforted and have to “thank God who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere” (II Corinthians 2:14).
Let me share something of the good fight of faith we are sustaining and about the opportunities for the Gospel that the Lord is opening before us.
A battle in the public school
The public school system in Italy is quite singular. On one hand, the teachers are granted freedom to teach according to their personal convictions. In past years I have presented, in good conscience, the biblical doctrines of Creationism and the Intelligent design of the universe as a legitimate alternative to Evolutionism. However, on the other hand, the State also pays a host of Roman Catholic teachers who are nominated by the bishops to teach the “Catholic Religion” one hour per week in every class of every grade (university excluded) The same State allows the students who are not Roman Catholics to dismiss themselves from such teaching. However, this is very difficult for evangelical students because it ends up marginalizing and segregating them. Even if the public school system is officially “secular,” many zealous teachers—especially in the lower grades—try to instill the Roman Catholic culture in every way possible. They impose Catholic teaching even on the children of non-Roman Catholic parents during the regular teaching hours. Because of this, it may happen that the daughter or the son of an evangelical believer, a Muslim or a Jehovah Witness, is compelled to recite the Ave Maria (Hail Mary) or to sing sentimental traditional nativity songs before the image of the Sacra Famiglia (Sacred Family—see photo below. This has happened in the past years in the school where I teach and was going to happen this year also.
This year, I publicly opposed all these offenses in the official meeting of the whole body of teachers. Because of this, the Principal of the school canceled the scheduled prayers and songs because he had to admit that they are illegal and abusive toward those who are not Roman Catholic. As a result, the whole city—agitated by the teachers of 4th and 5th grades—revolted and organized a public protest with the support of the bishop, the mayor, the local priest, one representative of the national government, and many Roman Catholic parents. They tried every possible means (legitimate and illegitimate) to reintroduce their superstitious traditional prayers but lost the battle. Because of this, religion was the only topic of discussion for about a week and I had many opportunities to share the Gospel and to give away many good books and tracts as never before.
Hopefully, the turmoil created will produce other effects. I have a personal relationship with the present principal of the local education department and I have witnessed to him several times about my faith in Christ. Since he is a man of integrity and of sound principles, and because he is determined to stop these abuses, it is possible that all the schools of Sicily will be affected by the outcome of what happened in my school.
You must know that the abusive power and the cultural oppression of the Roman Catholicism are particularly strong in the Caltanissetta area because it is a city built upon the principles of the Counter-Reformation and it is Romanist to the core. Even if the first evangelical witness was established here in the late nineteenth century, the evangelical church has been very weak and practically unable to break through the darkness of the reigning traditionalism and Romanism.
Rejoice with us for this victory that the Lord granted us and pray that this may be just the first step in order “to pluck up, to break down, to destroy and to overthrow” and that it may be followed by a work of “building and planting” (Cfr. Jeremiah 1:10).
In the last report, I spoke about a seventeen years old Nigerian boy who is attending faithfully all our meetings. His name is Israel and he just turned 18. In the past weeks, I inquired about his past and tried to understand what is possible to do for his future. I asked him to write down his testimony and I learned that, after the divorce of his parents, his father (with whom he was living) died and he had to flee from Nigeria. After a long trip and seven months spent in Libya where he worked as car-washer, he was loaded, against his will, on a boat to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and ended up in Palermo, Sicily. He was placed in a center for minors in Piazza Armerina and then was moved to our city of Caltanissetta, where we established contact. Israel loves the Lord and is a careful reader of the Bible. Right now his greatest need is for instruction, pastoral care and the love of a community that treats him like family. We are doing our best to provide all this for him. In a few months, he will be compelled to leave the place where he lives because the present immigration laws grant assistance for only six months after the 18th birthday of an immigrant whose case and application for asylum is not defined. We want to help him to continue to stay with us, to complete his studies, and to get a job in Italy. He expressed the desire to study theology and to preach the Gospel. May he be a gift from the Lord to our church for the future?
Thank you for your help in prayer!