Maybe you saw our Instagram feed recently, where we’ve just completed a 5 part series discussing Belpasso, the demographics we’re working with, and the ever deepening need for gospel workers in this part of the world.
Meanwhile, a rather interesting article was published on Christianity Today’s website about current mission terminology and trends. I’d like to use that article (link to source here) to help bring into focus the local context in which we find ourselves.
A couple of quick quotes from that article will give us some helpful background.
< 1 >The term “unreached people groups” transformed how evangelicals approach the Great Commission, revealing how it was not enough to have missionaries in every country if there were still populations with no chance of hearing the gospel. The call to global missions had to get more specific.
< 2 >But in the 45 years since the late US Center for World Mission founder Ralph Winter popularized the concept—spurring maps, checklists, and stats toward a new goal—missiologists have begun to update their terminology for targeting the unevangelized, with some rethinking the “people groups” idea altogether.
< 3 >The labels are not just a matter of semantics; if too broad or too narrow, they fail to identify the people who are most desperate for the gospel and won’t accurately capture the church’s progress toward making disciples of all nations.
< 4 >Missions experts agree that the categories could be more precise, with some opting to focus on “unengaged unreached people groups,” those that are less than 2 percent evangelical and have no existing missionary efforts among them.
Right. So, where does that put us on the spectrum of need and urgency, as gospel workers here in Western Europe, Italy and Sicily in particular? Here are the facts.
Sicily’s population is 5 million.
Imagine the city of Los Angeles 4m combined with San Jose 1m and having only a handful of missionaries to work among fiercely divided and isolated pockets of evangelicals. Maybe that’s not far off from reality in LA and San Jose. So, let’s dive down a bit deeper into local evangelicalism and Sicilian culture.
- Gospel centrality is largely unknown, as is church planting,
- discipleship is a counter-cultural ideology (as is training / mentoring),
- pastors consider their congregations Biblically illiterate,
- and street corner “turn or burn” evangelism is still the order of the day.
- Add to that 150+ year old persecution from the Catholic Church,
- 70+% unemployment rate among first time (college grad) job seekers,
- The mafia, political corruption, dialect confusion, and old world religion.
As missionaries, we’re a small drop in a large bucket, seeing how the vast majority of missionaries in Italy/Sicily are here working exclusively among refugees. This is good and necessary, but it leaves TOO MUCH work to be done by TOO FEW missionaries among TOO MANY Italians. Our response? Pray to the Lord of the Harvest!
Although a majority of Italians profess Christianity culturally, actual practitioners are so alarmingly few that even the Vatican considers its host country to be a “mission field”. Italy is only 1.46% Evangelical (cit. Joshua Project), with an annual growth rate of 1.9% (significantly less than the global growth rate of 2.6%).
Fortune tellers and magicians are called “magi” here or “Il Mago” in the singular. These advertisements are everywhere – offering help in love, luck and business.
On the Catholic side of the equation, magicians and fortune tellers still grossly outnumber Catholic priests 3:1, Catholic churches and cathedrals are largely dying, closing or lying dormant, while 3 out of 5 Catholic leadership positions will be left vacant. There just aren’t enough new students interested in going to seminary.
All the while Islam is the fastest growing religion, an obvious correlated result of the European refugee crisis of this decade and the resulting demographic “bloom” that’s still taking place, especially here in the south of Italy. Migrant camps are overflowing, even if borders are becoming increasingly more dangerous and difficult to traverse.
So, while missional terminology will continue to change in hopes of targeting global needs more precisely… e.g. terms like 10/40 window are now passé (interestingly, Sicily always fell into that geographic window)… we’re still smack dab in the middle of a confluence of unengaged, unreached people groups right here in Italy.
The need for more gospel workers has never been bigger, the challenge has never been greater, and the fruit being harvest never been richer.
Thank you for your continued prayers and support!