As we have gone through support raising, one of our challenges has been to breakthrough the preconceived idea that Italy isn’t a mission field. It is true that the Lord could have called us to a more difficult place to serve, but that doesn’t mean that Italy doesn’t need missionaries. It can be difficult to see past the glamour and recognize that Italy is filled with everyday people living everyday lives. Someone asked us recently, “Why is it that Italy and Europe have been so overlooked as a mission field when the need there is so great?” It is a complex question to answer. But here are some thoughts.
Perhaps because Italy has been thought of as THE tourist destination, we have somehow idealized the reality of life there. The truth is, Italy is an everyday place with everyday people who have everyday problems. And although it is a beautiful country with rich culture and amazing history, there is also a side of Italy you will not see in tourism brochures. I think Italy has been overlooked because, if we are honest, we don’t want to see these things or believe they are there. Organized crime, prostitution, racism, sex trafficking, drug trafficking, poverty, forced labor… One may respond, “Well, that stuff happens everywhere.” Yes, sadly, that is true. But my point is this, just because a country is developed doesn’t mean the people there don’t need Jesus. Italians aren’t less worthy of hearing the Gospel just because they have running water and beautiful landscapes.
We cannot really know people and their real life struggles until we’ve built relationships with them. Before living there years ago, we had no idea. But when you live in a place among the people and experience day-to-day life, things become very evident. You can tell a lot by how a society treats the most vulnerable among them. And there is a direct correlation between that and the presence that the Gospel has in the hearts of the people.
Some Statistics of the Reality of Life in Italy
Here are some statistics that bring to light some of the reality of life in Italy:
- Between 1999-2014 there were over 29,000 reported victims of trafficking in Italy. And that’s just the ones that were actually reported.
- In 2016 around 3,000 children had been found to be exploited in street prostitution in Italy.
- The Bank of Italy estimated that in 2012 the value of the criminal economy was about 10.9% of GDP.
- It is estimated that around 120,000 migrants are working as farm employees in forced labor situations in southern Italy. Many of whom are women who are raped and beaten daily for fear of losing their meager wages of less than 25 euros a day (about $27 US dollars).
- The youth unemployment rate (ages 15-24) in Italy is about 35%. And the overall unemployment rate is about 12%.
- From the fall of Benito Mussolini in 1946 to 2013, Italy had 61 different governments.
- Just during the month of October last year, 13,000 refugees arrived in Italy from across the Mediterranean (as compared to 1,800 arriving in Greece).
Besides the really extreme examples above, there is a general lack of hope in the people there. They toil and they work to earn favor through cultural religious rituals without ever encountering Jesus and the Gospel of grace. The root of these problems is sin and our fallen world. The remedy to sin and hate and hopelessness is always Jesus. Italy needs Jesus… just like we all do! The Church should be on the frontlines in bringing about that change and sharing Jesus day to day among the people there.
The struggle is that there are so few believers in Italy to be the hands and feet of Jesus. So that is why we go! God has put in our hearts a special love for the people there. What would it look like for the Church in Italy to grow in spiritual strength and numbers? What would it look like for the Gospel to be spread so that the least among them are being loved and cared for and coming to know Jesus too? This is the revival we pray for! So the next time you think of the Bel Paese, remember, Italians are just people too who need a Savior just like you and me.
For further reading on some of these topics see the links below.
US Department of State – Trafficking Report
The Guardian – Italy’s Oranges & Exploitation
The Guardian – 21st Century Slavery in Sicily
ABC News – Racism at Italian Soccer Matches
Time Magazine – Italy’s Job Crisis