SPRINGFIELD – MBC Annual Meeting participants heard Charles Worthy, Connecting Leader for Italy with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, as he spoke at the partnership missions luncheon here.
Rick Hedger, team leader for the MBC Missional Evangelism/Discipleship Team, cast the vision for 15 Missouri churches to agree to partner with three regions of Italy: Veneto, Tentino Alto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. These are all in the northeastern part of Italy, and each region has multiple provinces. Messengers approved a partnership with Italy during the annual meeting.
Worthy said he is a product of partnership missions. He was a Baptist from Tennessee, and he was sent out as a missionary to Chile and later to West Africa. He met and married his wife while doing missions work and they have served in Italy for twelve years. His work with the IMB is primarily as a mission strategist, connecting churches with the church starting efforts there.
Sixty million people live in Italy, Worthy said. But only 0.4 percent of Italians are evangelical believers. Less than 2 percent actively participate in the Christian faith (including Roman Catholicism).
“We need churches who will be like Abraham, standing on a hill pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah,” he said. “I am asking for Missouri churches to become ‘advocating churches’ – pleading for those cities.”
We need churches who will be like Abraham, standing on a hill pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah. I am asking for Missouri churches to become ‘advocating churches’ – pleading for those cities. – Rick Hedger
A funny video was shown where Italians were being offered American versions of Italian food (pizza, spaghetti, lasagna), and they were laughing and turning up their noses at it. Worthy said that food is a big deal in Italy. He encouraged Missourians to come to his country and share in the culinary experience and even offer cross-cultural experiences with the Italians by having cooking classes and expos. “They can come over and teach local people how to barbecue American style. Maybe offer demonstrations on making chocolate chip cookies. We find something they do well and offer it as an interest-gathering tool for Italians.”
“Another thing,” he added, “would be to spend time in stores and coffee shops, having gelato and coffee and look for opportunities to have conversations about Christ.”
These kind of activities are great entrees into Italy and will help the Italian believers begin to connect with their communities, and the Americans can provide a great boost to the church plants.
Hedger said he is arranging a vision trip to Italy for Feb. 29 – March 6, 2016.
He challenged the group saying, “We are seeking the Lord’s clear direction in these first seven churches that will go. Seven MBC churches, convinced God is calling them to one of these seven provinces to partner with Great Commission partners (along with our IMB missionaries in the region) will go on the trip. They will take two participants with a commitment to come again in the fall of 2016 to begin their official partnership. We are asking these churches to go twice a year for a minimum for 3-5 years.”
Worthy said the mission vision trips would be like the “anti pasta” enjoyed before an Italian meal–“the preview of what is to come.”
Jared Russell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Thayer, was in the luncheon and said what drew him was a love for missions in general. He has gone on mission trips to Senegal, West Africa, previously and said he is convinced “God wants to see us involved.”
Hedger said he would like to have 7 churches and pastors sign on immediately for the partnerships. He has a $500 scholarship available for pastors to assist with the cost of the trip. He is also looking for 25 college students to spend the summer there on mission projects.
Hedger encouraged Missourians interested in the Italian partnership to contact him quickly. He can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at (573) 636-0400 ext 316.