One-by-one we’ve watched them go. Quite often heart-broken, usually discouraged, but always leaving a big chunk of their hearts behind them. Graveyard life did them in, and it’s really no surprise. It’s often dark and gloomy. Often oppressive and crushing.
What in the world am I talking about? Italy. Beautiful, marvelous Italy, where most missionaries don’t stay. According to Operation World Italy is known as the “graveyard of missionaries.”
Less than four years
As many as 90 percent of foreign missionaries stay in Italy for less than four years. That’s a high rate. Too high, though understandable. In my understanding, Italy along with most of southern Europe, is one of the hardest mission fields, along with the Muslim nations.
But in many ways, we believe it’s even harder. Because southern Europeans, whether through nominal Catholicism or Orthodoxy, have just enough of biblical truth to create disinterest and apathy. They have just enough religious belief to think that they already have what we offer. After all, they attend on Christmas and Easter. And for weddings, funerals, and baptisms. But only 6% of Italians claim to be devout Catholics.
This shot of religion, however, brings them no fulfillment. So they don’t listen to our message. “What’s religion got to do with life? It’s reality we need,” they think. “Jobs, homes, health, or a new government.” (And they get new governments far too often!)
But that’s not really why so many missionaries leave. We believe they came here ready to face those battles. Prepared for a long, uphill climb.
It’s often the lack of unity that defeats them.
In a staunchly traditional nation, new workers, new ideas, or new ways are often seen as menace or threat. And in places where the church leaders have (sadly) developed a a proprietorship attitude over their congregation, any outsiders are seen as a threat. What if the newcomer should get a greater following, and steal some of my sheep? So probably as a protection-mechanism, criticism and disparagement abound.
Instead of rejoicing over new laborers in this land of great need, the new worker faces criticism and undermining behavior from his comrades in battle!
And another grave gets added to the graveyard stretching the length and the breadth of the nation. One-by-one we’ve watched them go. Sorrowing with them, and grieving over the gap left.
Seeing the heartache
We don’t judge those who have gone, for we’ve seen the heartache their decision brought them. And we’re grateful that they’re active workers where they are, and not only as pastors or Bible teachers, but as public school teachers and nurses, being salt and light in many walks of life.
Yet it’s sad for us. Sad to be left with tombstones littering the barren landscape of so many unreached towns. More than 70% of Italy’s 8,101 comuni (communities large enough to host a city hall) are without an established Bible-believing congregation.
So today’s post is another call to prayer. Please pray that the graveyard will stop growing, and more importantly, that the suspicion and criticism causing it to flourish will come to an end.
We should not see fellow workers as a threat!
John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.’ Luke 9:49-50
So what can you do to encourage your fellow believers or coworkers today? No one should have to deal with oppressing gloom, criticism, and heartache, especially from those who are supposed to be on our side of the battle!
One by one, we can help turn graveyards of discouragement into flourishing gardens of love and acceptance!