I see God moving across Europe, with many finding faith in Jesus and many more expressions of church planting in the coming years. I recently spent a few days in Bologna, Italy; home of the world’s oldest university.
Students have studied in this city for over 900 years.
Bologna is known as the learned one, the fat one and the red one. ‘The learned one’ because it boasts the oldest university in the world, ‘the fat one’ is a reference to its cuisine and ‘the red one’ stems from the colour of the roofs and buildings. It is a beautiful city and may it be set ablaze as God and his people work to see the Kingdom come.
My alarm wakes me with a startle and then I remember today is the day I am going to Italy. I am on the road by 4am and making my way to Stansted. I have a nervousness about this trip, I am staying with people I’ve never met and had only the briefest of e-mail communication with. I heard a rumour from a friend in Oslo that a Norwegian guy had started 50 Christian groups in schools and universities in the last three years.
Eivind is his name and he greets me warmly at the airport. I spend the next 24 hrs with him, hearing his life story, meeting an Italian couple he is working with and another student worker in the city. The first place he takes me is the square where lots of students hang out, and where the riots happen! There is discontent in Italy with 40% of young adults unable to find work.
This trip was humbling, adventurous and lonely at times. I felt compelled to pray almost continuously into the spiritual climate and to alleviate my own sense of disconnect. For me, it had an intensity second only to what I have felt in Jerusalem. There is so much religion, but so little freedom in Christ. I was horrified at the hatred that exists between different parts of the church and astounded that some church goers were discouraged from reading the Bible for themselves.
And yet I see hope.
It wouldn’t take much to set this dry tinderbox alight and for faith in Jesus to be ignited. I stayed with a wonderful Christian couple in Legnago on my second night before catching the train back to Bologna for my final day. Eivind had arranged for me to have lunch with Pastor Mike and his wife from Gospel Forum Bologna – he said with a twinkle in his eye “you’ll enjoy them, they are very nice people”.
They were very nice people and pastor Mike reminded me of Robert de Niro, both in looks, accent and because of his Mafia stories. Stories I enjoyed and encouraged, stories that left me open mouthed, and stories I couldn’t possibly do justice to repeat here. Pastor Mike was radically converted and planted a church that grew to 4500 in Sicily before moving to Bologna 15 years ago. He dropped me off with a fatherly blessing in the city centre where I could catch a bus to the airport.
The whirlwind of people’s stories from the last 48 hrs had had an impact. I was energised and overwhelmed, sobered and hope filled, longing and grateful.
Italy needs our prayers and partnership. I continue to explore what Fusion in England can offer Eivind and the church in Italy. We are committed to releasing the Student Linkup app across Europe; it will be available in Italian next month. I hope that we will be able to give away resources that can be translated, and in some way Fusion Italy will be able to play the part God has for her in loving the students of this precious nation.