Pastor / Church Planter - Comiso, Italy
Ivan is a lawyer who runs his own law firm but has the heart of a pastor. He recently just transitioned into part-time ministry in order to give significant time to planting and pastoring the budding church in Comiso. He has been sent out and is under the oversight of the church in Caltanissetta and Pastor Nazzareno Ulfo.
Testimony of Conversion
I was born in 1974 and grew up in a family of nominal Roman Catholic tradition. I attended high school at a Roman Catholic institute that influenced me very strongly. In fact, during my early youth, I felt the desire to consecrate myself to the Lord’s service by becoming a priest. However, a series of providential events (including the death of my father by cancer) prevented me from achieving this goal.
During my university studies, (I graduated in Law and in Public Administration Sciences, and I have a master’s degree in Islamic Family Law), I came into contact with Opus Dei, a very exclusive organization of the Roman Catholic Church, which aims to train top professionals to infiltrate the highest levels of society economically, politically, and socially. As Saul of Tarsus, I tried to be “as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5), but an unexpected and unavoidable spiritual crisis began to devour me. The more I grew in my knowledge of God, the more I was filled with the horror of my condition as a sinner that separated me from Him. But the more I submitted to penance and asceticism, the greater my spiritual pride and boasting became.
After some years, the good providence of God led me to attend in secret the Waldensian church (the oldest protestant church in Italy). There, listening to the preaching on the gospel of grace from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians (2:8-9), I suddenly felt compelled by the certainty of salvation “by grace alone through faith alone” in the merits of Christ. My heart had finally been freed from the burden of guilt, and my knees had been made stable in the righteousness of the merits of Jesus. I was born again!
After this, I began to study the Word of God systematically and, after a short time, realized the impossibility of reforming the Roman Catholic church. Thus, I joined the Waldensian church and “lost” almost all my friends. In those circumstances, I was very tempted to go back, but the warning of the Lord Jesus Christ “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62), has always kept me from losing the “pearl of great value” (Matthew 13:46).
As I grew in the Scriptures, I soon realized that the Waldensian church, though composed of many sincere members and devoted pastors, has long been infected by liberal theology. In this circumstance, I got to know the person and ministry of Pastor Nazzareno Ulfo from the evangelical church "Sola Grazia” (Grace Alone) of Caltanissetta and of the "Alfa & Omega" publishing house. God graciously led me and my wife Simona to join with this Reformed Baptist church, which is lovingly led by Pastor Nazzareno (Reno), rooted in the preaching of the Word of God and in the teaching of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Pastor Reno, his wife Giovanna, and the whole church discipled me with great grace and humility, leading my wife and me to a correct understanding of the gospel according to a Reformed theological perspective and a Baptist ecclesiology.
If I had to summarize the entire testimony of my conversion, I could borrow from the title of John Bunyan's biography: “Grace has abounded to the chief of sinners.” SOLI DEO GLORIA!
Call to Ministry
From the moment I began to attend my local church, Pastor Reno encouraged me to systematically study Reformed theology. In time, he encouraged me to preach the Word of God on the Lord’s Day and to lead a home Bible study in my town.
For the past two years, my wife and I have been involved in a church planting project (supervised by our congregation) in the town of Comiso (in the south-east part of Sicily). Comiso (and all Sicily) is a truly hostile missionary field for the following reasons: 1) The pervading presence of the Roman Catholic Church, which heavily influences civil powers, forcing them to participate in their pagan rituals and influencing their policies in every field; 2) The activity of many Pentecostal churches that have hurt the evangelical testimony with their unbiblical theology, worship, and lifestyle; 3) The ever-pervasive presence of Muslim immigrants, their Italian converts, and their mosques.
In addition to the church planting, God’s good providence has led my wife and me to establish a Christian charity organization called “Elpis” (Greek for “hope”) through which we are engaged in various social work (food donations, support for women and children who are victims of violence, support for ex-prisoners and their families, etc.). I believe, following the example of George Whitefield, that the preaching of the gospel to the lost, the discipleship of converts, and the perfection of the saints in a local church must also be united to the works of mercy for the material needs of all those who live in poverty, solitude, and sickness. In fact, the God who orders us to "go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15) is the same God who commands: "learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause" (Isaiah 1:1-17).