Missionary Diary: New beginnings in Italy

Richard Wilson has served the local church in Italy for 29 years as a missionary with European Christian Mission (ECM). He recently moved to the town of Rovereto, with his wife Pinuccia and their four children, where they are helping a small church plant to grow.

Changes in life create contrasting emotions. On the one hand, there is excitement at new possibilities (especially if the change was decided and desired rather than imposed unwillingly); on the other hand, there is frustration at having to learn new situations or new ways of doing things (especially if, like me, you like to be in control of your own life).

I lived at Trent, in the Alps of northern Italy, for 29 years, helping a church that had been founded by missionaries of the European Christian Mission (ECM). In that period, I also married an Italian lady (Pinuccia) and had four children. At the beginning of this year, we decided it was time to move on, to serve in a different church and to better cater to our family’s needs. So, since August we have been at Rovereto, a smaller town 30 kilometres further south in the valley, where we will be helping a small church planted by the church at Trento ten years ago.

There is also the challenge of getting to know a new town, new ways of doing things.

Even a few weeks after moving, a great part of daily life is still taken up with the consequences of this change. There is a lot of paperwork to be done, getting utilities connected, enrolling the children at new schools, renovating parts of the apartment, making address changes and so on. The pandemic has actually made this easier. Companies and government departments have been forced to move a lot of their services online, so what before required going to various offices, can now be done from home with a print, sign, scan and send of documents.

There is also the challenge of getting to know a new town, new ways of doing things. When we need some minor maintenance work done, where can we find a good local electrician or plumber? When a nail gets lodged in a tyre, who will fix it for us? These are questions that we had immediate answers to in our previous town. The older children have to catch the bus to and from high school in a strange town. Will they remember where to go? Our son managed to get the wrong bus or the wrong stop four times in his first three days. The younger children on the first day at their new infants’ school (Year 2) walked into the courtyard and were totally bewildered as to what to do next, while all the other children knew where to go, and I could only watch them looking lost from behind the other side of the fence.

The family is, however, also excited about the new apartment and town. The historical centre where we live, from the 16th century and before, is always fascinating, and we have discovered new aspects every time we go out for a walk. We also get to meet new people, starting with just a nod or at most a greeting and then growing into a conversation. It does seem to be easier to get to know people at Rovereto. Where we used to live, less than 20 kilometres from German-speaking Italy, had little of the energy and exuberance (and speaking with hand gestures) usually associated with Italian culture. There is also a difference between Trent, where the famous Council was held in the 16th century during its 800 years ruled by the Catholic church, and Rovereto, which was governed by Venice in the 15th century and maintained many of its rights and freedoms thereafter. One event that stands out was being invited into a neighbour’s home for a beer the first day we went to the new apartment to begin cleaning it; in 15 years in our previous apartment, I had never once been invited socially into a neighbour’s apartment.

Change is one of the fundamental characteristics of a missionary’s life …

Beginning to serve in a new church, after 29 years in the previous one, also presents new joys and challenges. A weekly habit (Sunday church, mid-week Bible study, prayer meeting, etc.) can, unfortunately, make us habitual. We just keep doing the same things. So a new church means new ways of doing things, new opportunities to grow in ministry, a new style of teaching to sit under. However, it also means entering into a shared story that we are not a part of. And what are the spiritual needs of these people? What should we be saying to them as we explain the Bible? What ministries should we be involved in to help them, without replacing who is already serving in the church?

Change is one of the fundamental characteristics of a missionary’s life, beginning with a change from their own culture to another, which creates great challenges and joys in daily life. I remember how that was 29 years ago. Three decades in one place do allow settling in, so I am excited to relive these challenges and joys, even if of a smaller magnitude, as I go about my new and changed daily life.