Are You Coming To Save The Catholics?

The reverb of my Jewish friend’s  skepticism was bouncing through my brain as I drove away from Starbucks. “As a Jewish rabbi, I’m trying to understand why you would ‘go on mission’ to Italy which is already a Christian country. The Catholics already have it covered.”

Even more mind-boggling was the fact that I’d reached out to him for fundraising ideas. Think about it: A Protestant and a Jew discussing how much it would cost to share Jesus in Catholic country. Sounds like a joke. Which my friend was quick to point out.

I felt pretty ridiculous driving away. But, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a divine moment. A bridge had been hoisted as we drank coffee together. A bridge I could only hope to duplicate thousands of times in Italian espresso bars.

His unfiltered bewilderment mixed well with the probing question of a young Persian student who is currently living in Milan. He asked, “So, is it your desire to come to Italy and get all the Catholics saved?” This friend was half my age but full of wisdom and intelligence. His tone indicated the same skepticism I’d heard from my rabbi friend.

Then, yesterday I accepted the invitation of another friend to attend Friday morning Mass at the Catholic Church up the sidewalk from where I live downtown. This friend was Catholic and they knew about my plans to be a missionary in Italy. And, they were good friends with the Rector, who was leading Mass. And, he knew what I was preparing to do.

“We are so excited that you’re here,” my friend whispered to me as the service began. Then I joined them in a lovely Advent service. My friend pointed me to each reading and prompted me for each movement with grace. Then, when Mass was concluded I hitched a ride with my friend to Grandy’s to join about a dozen Catholics for breakfast.

The questions my rabbi friend and my Persian friend asked  came to my mind as I laughed with and engaged personally with these warm, inviting strangers. I felt honored to be taken in so kindly. My friend paid my bill. And it really was such a delightful time. 

I’d received a book in the mail a couple of months ago by Dr. Scott Hahn, called “Evangelizing Catholics”. I chose this title to add to my research pile because the author had converted from the Protestant faith to Catholicism. And, this book intrigued me because it was told from a unique Catholic perspective. I hadread  through some of his books in my hope to steer clear of authors who operated from a narrow, us-them mindset in their view of the Catholic religion.

We were talking about books we’ve read over breakfast and I asked if they’d ever heard of Hahn and his books. Everyone had heard and read his stuff. 

“Which ones have you read,” I was asked.

A fresh tinge of worry surfaced. “Evangelizing Catholics,” I replied. I thought, With as nice as they have been I hope I don’t build a wall. Then my friend saved me the embarrassment.

“I think that many Catholics should be evangelized,” he said with a serious expression. Then he asked if he could borrow that book when I was done reading it.

Just like that he shattered some of my Protestant suppositions. A devout Catholic friend was passionately agreeing that many Catholics should be evangelized. He went on to explain how the traditions have become mere rote for scores of people, and their religion is strictly cultural rather than sincere.

That’s when I knew I have a good reason for going to Italy. I don’t have to consider myself a Protestant peg in a Catholic hole. I am not going to save Catholics. I couldn’t save a person anyway.

What I am going to do is build bridges just as I had done here over breakfast. I was going not as a Protestant but as a disciple. I was not going for the sake of initiating the Catholics but rather the Uninitiated. I was carrying the light of Christ into a place where tradition had lost its heart for many.

Let the bridge building continue.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Potential donor says:

    I am curious what do you feel you have to offer the Italians that can not be provided by native Christian Italians? From an eternal investment standpoint, can you explain why investing in your family’s one year cultural immersion experience will benefit the kingdom more than your family spreading the Gospel to unreached Americans (whom you already share a common language and culture)?


    1. Thank you for asking this question. To be perfectly honest, it’s impossible to fully answer it here in America. We only went to Italy once, and that was last year for 10 days (as a vision trip). Our vision for ministry in Italy keeps sharpening as we research and communicate weekly with workers who have boots on the ground there. We operate within the tension of holding our vision loosely to not be disappointed when God changes it sometime after we arrive, and communicating a clear enough vision for donors to grasp.

      The shortest answer to your question is that we do not hope to offer anything in Italy that might be already provided by Italian Christians. There are native workers already who are sharing the gospel and making disciples. This is the ideal in any missions context — for natives to be leading their own churches. We would fail if we seek to transplant an American church model. That has never worked successfully. What we seek to do rather is to befriend and learn the Italian culture/language for the sake of making new disciples and equipping these disciples to lead their own churches. What we are learning from those who have worked in Italy for 30-40 years is that there are few if any seminaries training Italian pastors to teach the Gospel and the message of Grace.

      Italy, like much of Europe, is becoming an Unreached People Group. Most cities and villages do not have a church which teaches the Gospel — that Christ died for our sins and that through accepting that work of Grace we can be made right with God. That means no Italians are there making disciples and planting Gospel-oriented communities. Our hope is to be farmers in Italy. That simply means we are going not to create a lifetime pastoral work, but to show our supporters, our church, and our friends back home that “Something Grows Here”. From our first day, we will be working ourselves out of a job. The end goal is to go to these places where no Italian Christians are leading churches and to make Italian disciples. Then, to equip these Italian disciples to lead churches. Ultimately, we want to equip Italian disciples to equip their own Italian disciples to plant more and more Italian Christian churches.

      The groundwork for growth in Italy has been laid. There are experienced missionaries on the field in Italy who have been nurturing their planted churches for years. The work is long and hard, however. The work of making Italian disciples who will assume the role of leadership has taken time. We hope to go and help our brothers and sisters on the field with this long work of farming. Then, once our planting and farming work is done, we will go somewhere else that has no Italian disciples, and start the watering again.

      Could we be doing the same thing in America to the Unreached? Yes. And to do so would be as noble, and as purposeful. America, however, has a luxury that Italy doesn’t have — a wealth of Gospel training and Gospel resources available at every turn. Evangelicalism has become as cultural in America as Catholicism is in Italy. We have more than enough Gospel-trained teachers per capita in America to share the message to every corner of this country. In Italy, there is a Gospel-famine. We are leaving an overly-fed nation to feed one that is hungry for the Gospel.


      1. Potential Donor says:

        Thank you so very much for answering my question and sharing this with me! I have learned some new things and look forward to researching more about the gospel famine in Italy.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great! And, you’ve encouraged me to write more about it, too. God bless you.


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