Church Planter - Italy
Francesco grew up in a Christian family on the island of Sicily. He was converted at a young age and is receiving theological training through the Metropolitan Tabernacle School of Theology—the church that Charles Spurgeon and Peter Masters pastored. He is currently church planting in the city of Messina.
Testimony of Conversion
My name is Francesco Pollicino, and I was born in 1987 in Messina, Sicily. When I was just three months old, my parents left Roman Catholicism and joined the local Pentecostal Church. My paternal grandparents were already planning my Catholic christening, and my parents’ refusal caused a great uproar in our family circle. Nevertheless, as a result of my parents’ decisions, I grew up in an environment with a strong Christian influence. The Lord used three women to sow the seed of the faith in my heart: my mother, my maternal grandmother, and my Sunday school teacher. I treasure the memories of my first Sunday school class and our Sunday worship services. I can still clearly remember the things I heard during the preaching that impressed me most. The things I learned in my first years have shaped all my life.
Despite this good atmosphere in my home and church, when I was about ten years old, I started to become more and more disinterested in religion. I stopped attending my Sunday school class and our worship services. However, when I was about twelve years old, the Lord began His reviving work in my heart. He used my great interest in history to bring me to the faith. I had never been taught about the Reformation or Protestantism because to speak about history and doctrine in the mystical and anti-intellectual Pentecostal circles was almost a taboo. Yet out of a deep existential curiosity, I began to read everything I could find about church history. My deep desire was to know from where came from, as an evangelical in a Catholic country. Sadly, my interest in Protestantism was only cultural or intellectual and not spiritual.
In spite of this, the Lord was working to fulfill His purposes in me. At the end of a happy summer as a young teenager, I was suddenly gripped, like a bolt out of the blue, by a strong fear of eternity and by a deep sense of sin. I prayed and cried to God for mercy. I spoke with the pastor about my condition, but my heart was unable to find peace. At that moment I did not understand grace. Sadly, I tried to silence my feelings and fears and I became cold again. I resolved to live a decent life in order to be a good Christian and at the end to be saved. Any time I heard from the pulpit or in conversation about the need of a personal experience of the grace of Christ, I was deeply annoyed.
I cannot tell the precise moment when I became a Christian because my experience was not outwardly dramatic. I did not have a turning point in life when everything changed visibly, but I can remember several pivotal moments when the Lord worked to draw me near to Him. After the experience just described, I began to attend every church service, but my faith was that of the Pharisee and my life was not consistent with the principles that I claimed to believe. At the same time, the Lord was still slowly working in my heart through the preaching of the word. I remember the moment when I discovered that salvation was a free gift from God and by grace alone. It was like a flash of light in my mind. This happy discovery occurred when I was reading a biography about John Wesley. From that point, my life became more and more spiritual and my growth went hand in hand with my comprehension of the doctrines of the faith.
It was then that the Lord gave me a spiritual guide. He was an elder of my home church. His name was brother Tindaro. He was a man with a strong evangelistic zeal, and through him the Lord saved me from a drift toward a sort of mindless mysticism. In our conversations, he often used a word that was unusual for me at the time — “theology.” He showed me the need of a solid theological education.
As time went on, my interest in history only increased, especially Christian history. What I learned started to cause me to doubt many of the Pentecostal doctrines and practices that I had learned. Another thing that God used to move me one step further toward the Reformed faith was an old protestant Italian hymnal called L’innario Cristiano that I discovered. I was astonished by the deep theological truths I found in these hymns, and I became more and more discontent with the shallow, manipulative, and modern ways of worship that were spreading in my Classical Pentecostalism circles.
The final encounter with the Reformed faith happened when one day I was reacquainted with pastor Nazzareno Ulfo (Reno). He had been the pastor of my home church when I was about five years old. That day a friendship began that shaped my life definitively. Pastor Reno introduced me to the Reformed Baptist faith in a more consistent way. A new phase of my life started with this happy meeting. I considered myself Reformed and desired to see a reformation in my home church. I began to share tracts and translations, and I resisted the introduction of any superficial forms of modern worship. Sadly, at that time I had much knowledge and only a little love. Thus, many of my efforts were marred by teenage arrogance, pride, and inconsistency. But the Lord watched over me and He slowly changed and refined my life.
In 2006, I began my university studies in economics, and my horizons as a village boy widened. I began to frequent the city of Messina and to attend a history conference that was held in the local Waldensian church. There, for the first time, I met an old retired pastor named Giovanni Lento. He was an ex-catholic priest who had been saved out of Catholicism. His friendship was another means through which God shaped my life.
Call to Ministry
My efforts to do the work of the leaven in my home church ended in deep frustration. So in 2009, I decided to resign from membership. I had never thought to join the Waldensian Church because it was deeply infected and marred by theological liberalism, but my meeting with some of the more conservative Waldesnians led me to attend the church in Messina without becoming a member. At that time there was no Reformed church in my area. In those years I had memorable moments of fellowship and mutual instruction with pastor Lento. Every Sunday we walked in a nearby public garden after the service. It was during one of these walks that pastor Lento asked me to preach my first sermon. I agreed, knowing that the invitation to preach would not be an isolated event but the first of a long series. In the next years the Waldesnian church was without a pastor, and I had the opportunity to preach several times. Even there, I continued with my “reformer” mindset and flooded that church with tracts and translations that presented and upheld the Orthodox Reformed faith. These were very happy years, and I confess that I am indebted to pastor Lento and the Waldensian Church.
In 2012, a division occurred in a large charismatic church in my area, and pastor Reno began to visit Messina in order to teach a group of people who had left. I was invited several times to join with them, but I refused because my ties of friendship with the Waldensian people were too strong.
The year 2014 marks a great turning point in my life. It was then that I decided to attend the Metropolitan Tabernacle School of Theology—the church that Charles Spurgeon pastored. I had been listening with great profit to the sermons of the current pastor Peter Masters. In the months before attending, I experienced a deep depression that reached its climax when I arrived in London. All my efforts and works seemed fruitless, and I saw my life as useless, vain, and lost. In this sad condition I went to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, but there the Lord did a wonderful work. I left the Tabernacle in a very different way. Everything in that conference—every hymn, every meeting—was like a word that the Lord was addressing directly to me. Pastor Masters’s sermon on the book of Job especially touched my heart. When I returned home again the people noted something different in me. My sister said, “You have a new light in your eyes.” A lady in the church said that my preaching and praying had changed after that experience.
Finally, I recognized that my time at the Waldensian Church was coming to an end and that the Lord was calling me to a more consistent and useful work. I decided to leave my Waldensian friends and join the new group in order to help Pastor Nazzareno. This is the place where I am currently serving the Lord while completing my studies at Metropolitan Tabernacle Seminary. There is a great need in Italy for scriptural preaching, reverent worship, and consistent public testimony, so Christ and His gospel might be exalted. Please pray for us.