VERONA, Italy (BP) – In the ancient Italian city of Verona, Nick and Shannan Copland use modern tools to shape new relationships and share timeless biblical truths.
The International Mission Board workers appear to be naturals – in any language – when it comes to making friends. Nick, 32, and 28-year-old Shannan use their interests in good food and outdoor pursuits to connect with individuals there.
The Coplands started three online groups with different emphases and advertised them through Facebook, Meetup.com and Couchsurfing.com. For example, through Appertivo Italiano Verona, Nick and Shannan advertise get-togethers at local restaurants to enjoy menu tastings. On designated evenings, they meet with group members who have signed up, usually eight to 12 people, to dine, get to know one another, and share their stories.
The couple is believed to be among the first Southern Baptists to work in northeast Italy and is supported through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Verona has all the trappings of a wealthy European city, but is spiritually impoverished. Like other postmodern Italian cities, Catholicism’s tight grip through the centuries has slipped in recent years. Younger generations believe the organized church has little relevance. While Catholic traditions such as infant baptism are deeply embedded in the culture, a genuine relationship with Christ is almost unheard of. Catholic churches here still hold mass mostly for older Veronese, Shannan said. But other church buildings serve as museums or have been remodeled into pizzerias, restaurants or banks.
In Verona, relationship building is key to finding natural ways to share the Gospel. That’s where the Coplands’ social networking sites have helped, offering neutral ground on which to meet people who share similar interests.
“Our smallest group for the longest time was Mountain LIFE Verona,” Nick said. The group was created to attract people who enjoy hiking, rock climbing and other outdoor activities in the city near the Italian Alps, Lake Garda and numerous other hiking areas. In February, the Coplands “selected a [particular] hike and it kind of went viral around Verona and 2,300 people clicked that they were interested in the event,” Nick said, laughing. “On the actual day of the event, 130 showed up.”
The Mountain LIFE group offers an excellent avenue to meet new people, Shannan said.
“When there’s a smaller group it’s perfect because when you’re hiking for a few hours all you have is conversation with people to get to know them and for them to get to know you,” she said. “Those are the best introductions.”
Nick said he and Shannan are “known as the people who bring people together. We’re very community-oriented. We’re here for the people.”