Posted on: 13th March 2019
CMS missionary Gillian Law works with a student Christian organisation in Rome, the Gruppi Biblici Universitari (GBU), a difficult ministry in a spiritually hard area. Why persevere in a context where support is not always easy to come by on a day-to-day basis?
As the GBU staff worker in Rome I support students in their mission to take the gospel of Jesus to the university. This involves meeting students, training leaders, developing relationships with local churches, and giving practical help in organisation.
Numbers are a challenge. Rome has over 230 000 students in five large universities and many smaller institutions. There are about twenty Christian students involved with GBU across the three public universities and one staff worker (me!).
Students have competing demands: many class hours, hours commuting (most spend over two hours a day, some up to four), part-time jobs, family and church responsibilities. This leaves little time for GBU ministry. Finding a common meeting time is hard.
In one Bible study, A had to collect his younger sister from school so couldn’t come. B had classes cancelled so stayed home. C was given an appointment with his professor at the time of our bible study, D the atheist comes with B so is unlikely to come on his own, E had a cold and went home, leaving just F and myself. Do I make a three-hour round trip to uni to meet one student?
And it’s hard to grow. There are more Christian students in Rome than in the GBU but they don’t know about us. We want to encourage them to get involved in this ministry that is only available at university. We want to make sure we remain a group that shares the gospel and not just a social club, even though the latter might attract more students
The nature of church relations in Italy means it’s not enough to meet students. It’s important to meet church leaders too: letting them get to know us, and giving their blessing for their students to participate. This takes time!
A few convictions keep me going:
- I’m convicted that God’s word is powerful and makes us wise for salvation. So it is always worth opening up and reading the Bible with people, believers and unbelievers. Even one person.
- I’m convicted that it is the message of Christ that saves. So the loving thing to do is to keep talking about him and calling people to repentance, even if we could have more visitors if we avoided this message.
- I’m convicted about using students to reach students; they are the ‘locals’ on location. But having limited experience means they take time and make mistakes. But it’s worth taking that time to train them in ministry principles they can adapt to their context.
- I’m convicted that cross-cultural ministry works best led by locals. This is so important when the temptation is to accept the offer of resources from overseas that bring initial apparent success but are harder to sustain or be accepted by Italian church leaders.
- I keep going because I’m not alone: I have colleagues in other cities, people in Australia pray and write, there is my church family in Rome. But the main thing that keeps me going is God himself. I know that this is his work: he wants Italians students to be saved and grow in their faith. I know that the success or otherwise of GBU Rome doesn’t change my status as his child. I know that he loves me and is always with me.
One significant aspect of long-term mission is the need for stable connections to link churches. Could you provide that stability by being a long-term mission supporter in your church? Contact your branch for more information.
Like Gillian, CMS is committed to long-term mission. In this online article, Judith Calf speaks from her own experience about the value of working in a country for many years: https://www.cms.org.au/2018/04/long-term-focus-stable-steadfast/