Simon Criswick shares how the Chiesa del Nazareno di Mugello is reaching out to a group of Nigerian and Chinese immigrants.
In the town of Borgo San Lorenzo, Italy, in a valley area near Florence, our Florence congregation discovered that there was an all-female group of 10 Nigerian and Chinese immigrants, aged 17 to 30, who were Christian. Yet, they live in an area without an evangelical church presence.
In December, we were put in touch with the owner of the facility where the young women had been given lodging for their first year in Italy, along with medical assistance and language learning. We invited them to a Christmas meal and worship in our church, Chiesa del Nazareno di Mugello, which is a new congregation planted by the Florence Church of the Nazarene.
These believers come with many different stories and testimonies of what God has done along the way.
Some have fled China due to persecution and arrests by the state to seek asylum in Europe. Others left Nigeria because of serious problems within their families caused by religious, cultural, and personal issues. In some cases the local ancestral religions require children to be set aside for the ancestral spirits in a ceremony, and opposing this can lead to being ostracised from the family and the community.
The stories of their journeys to Europe are full of both traumatic episodes and examples of God’s grace. Some almost died on boat crossings. Others, who were lapsed believers, found new faith through the witness of Nigerian Christians travelling with them, or as a result of answered prayer for safety while crossing dangerous seas.
We have been visiting these young women, eating together, and trying to involve them as much as possible in our meetings and activities. In the first few days, one woman lost her 2-year-old daughter back home and was devastated. She was not even able to learn the full facts of what happened, or grieve, being so far away and powerless. We were able to pray with her and point her towards the Lord as her strength in extreme weakness. It is a blessing for a Christian to travel to a faraway land and find believers there who know your Lord Jesus, too.
We have been meeting with these immigrants now for four months and there have been difficulties. The house is isolated and hard to get to, so transporting the girls 25 minutes to our church has been a challenge. We are praying for funding for a minibus, which could provide more regular transport, and make it possible for them to attend all our church activities.
They are learning Italian, and in the meantime, we have been translating our meetings into English — but we are a small group, with few resources. We need faith, courage, and strength to believe that God will multiply, knowing that He has brought us in contact with these young women for a reason — that He might bless His Church and that His Church might be a blessing.