Jim Elliot in South America. Hudson Taylor in East Asia. David Livingstone in Africa. These are the names that first flash through the minds of many people today when they think of missions. Christians often think of countries that fall in the 10/40 window or nations with no known gospel presence. But try to name this country: a population of more than 59 million, containing 23 unreached people groups, and just 1.2 percent evangelical. Answer: Italy.
While Europe certainly has a rich heritage of faith, Christendom doesn’t necessitate Christ-followers. Less than three percent of the entire European population is evangelical. Atheism is on the rise, and shadows of lostness and resistance have characterized the continent.
Enter Tim and Jacki Faulkner. WorldVenture missionaries in Italy since 1998, the Faulkners have a deep desire to equip godly, capable Italian leaders to plant and develop churches. This is no small endeavor in a nation whose Roman Catholic roots run deep. Italy’s longstanding history of Catholicism still largely defines national beliefs and culture, but often individuals cannot “describe an experience of new life in Christ,” Tim says. “These days…the church [is seen] as part of their tradition, something they need to do to meet family and societal expectations.” This familial commitment to the faith has contributed in large part to nominal religiosity and, simultaneously, resistance to beliefs that do not follow tradition.
“These days…the church [is seen] as part of their tradition, something they need to do to meet family and societal expectations.”
So what does it take to reach the unchurched of Italy? The Faulkners believe it takes many years of faithful investment in local relationships and churches, as well as a 24/7 lifestyle of evangelism.
Located in the northern outskirts of Naples, Italy, Il Faro International Baptist Church is a community of Italians and Americans whose vision is to develop mature and united disciples. Tim and Jacki are passionately involved in the ministry of Il Faro and share this vision to make disciples in Naples. Members at Il Faro seek to engage the community through highly relational and creative approaches: offering Italian language lessons, hosting cooking nights, and participating in service projects in the greater Naples area. Tim and Jacki not only want people to claim a home church, but also to experience new life as a disciple of Christ.
“If you share Christ with 100 people, one will receive the gift of eternal life,” Tim says. “But there is often a lack of a plan to bring people to maturity. There is a lack of models of gospel-centered living and willingness to take up the cross and follow Christ.”
Tim serves as Pastor of Expansion at Il Faro, where he oversees small groups, and also serves as the president of their church-based training program. His hope is that for every church planted, they will have prepared capable church leaders. Jacki’s heart is especially for the children at Il Faro. For nearly 10 years, she has been leading the Sunday School program, not neglecting the importance of biblical instruction to children who will one day be leaders themselves.
The Faulkners are part of a team of five WorldVenture families in Italy. They represent a variety of ministries: church planting, discipleship, inner-city outreach, teaching and administration in a local Bible institute, and much more. But all of these are tied together in the field’s mission to “prepare faithful and capable people to lead the churches who work in collaboration with one another.”
This emphasis on leadership training goes beyond any one group of people. “We intentionally choose not to limit our leadership development to Italians,” Tim shares, as is evidenced in the multicultural community of Il Faro International Baptist Church.
This creates a natural inlet for Journey Corps, WorldVenture’s ministry training program for young adults. Journeyers in Italy will quickly realize that authentic relationships take time. As Tim and Jacki can attest, the barriers to an individual receiving the gospel in Italy are many; only sometimes do relationships lead to gospel receptivity, and those that do require an even greater investment in discipleship. With the expansion of the Journey Corps program to Italy, young adults have a new opportunity to engage a different context of the world for Christ.
“They will learn the challenges of understanding how to relate to a culture which seems so similar to the United States, but is in reality so different. Journeyers who come to Italy will understand the need for prayer in a demanding area of the world,” said Tim. As Tim and Jacki look forward to welcoming the first Journey Corps team to Italy in 2016, they are excited for the ways that Journeyers will have a chance to serve.
About Journey Corps: WorldVenture’s goal in sending Journeyers to Côte d’Ivoire, the Philippines, Indonesia, and now Italy is to equip young adults to build the global church, grow in their understanding of what cross-cultural missions work really looks like, and come away with a passionate vision of what their role in God’s global work could be. To learn more about Italy and other Journey Corps locations, visit www.worldventure.com/journeycorps.
(Photo credit: Felipe Beiza)