Tucked away on the far side of the Gulf of Venice opposite the mainland of Italy, Trieste’s deepwater port made it a key strategic location throughout its long history including 400 years under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The modern day architecture reveals the split personality of the city with its ancient Roman ruins, an Orthodox church, and Jewish synagogue. Today, immigrants from nearby Yugoslavia give Trieste a multi-ethnic flavor in this port city of more than 200,000.
The citizens of Trieste also have a special relationship with Americans. After World War II ended, this far northeastern area of Italy was occupied by Yugoslav communists. There were many atrocities committed during this brief period, and forces from Great Britain and the United States were sent to retake the region. The United Nations then mandated that the area would fall under United States trust.
One Italian who served with the American forces was Livio, who lives above the El Faro (Lighthouse) church with his wife Giorgina and their dog Snoopy. He has fond memories of the American troops with which he served, and their small apartment is decorated with photos of his military buddies.
When the El Faro group started meeting below their apartment, Livio viewed them as a nuisance. Unfriendly and wary, interactions with Livio were seldom pleasant. That began to change when missionary Dan Kaiser and his daughter, Claire, started reaching out to Livio and Giorgina. The elderly couple found themselves in a desperate condition when Giorgina became immobilized by back surgery and Livio’s health was in decline. The Kaisers offered to help the couple and found that walking their dog Snoopy was one of the best ways to serve them. The relationship developed slowly but was helped along by Claire, who made cards to encourage the couple. Soon, the older couple considered the young Kaiser family to be as their own children and grandchildren. Eventually Livio and Giorgina came to faith in Christ. Giorgina used the word “peace” when describing the decision. With his health declining, Livio had become very concerned about death and felt uncertain of his own beliefs. Livio also testified of the great peace he now feels about his relationship with God.
Evangelism is extremely slow in this country where religion is synonymous with cultural identity. Facing the end of life or confronting other serious crises in life is often the only way to experience a breakthrough. Missionaries Dan and Becky Rogerson shared the story of Sonia. Divorced and desperate for the security of a relationship, she made many mistakes with men in her life. Depression and risk taking were both driven by her dependence on maintaining those relationships. Finally, Sonia came to realize that the need she felt to be loved could only be met by Jesus. Becky describes the change in Sonia as nothing short of complete transformation from constant depression to continuous joy. The reserved and sad woman that she was before has been replaced by someone known today for her hardy laughter. Sonia still has difficulties in her life and tragic situations in the lives of her children, but this once lonely woman is now comforted by her Savior and the love of her church family.
The local church in Trieste was not always a supporting family. Created through the merger of two congregations started by different missionary workers, the church found more disharmony and conflict than mutual edification in the merger. The constant battles between factions had nearly forced the church to dissolve altogether. The Rogersons arrived from Bologna in 2004 into this difficult situation.
The first task was to find unity and reconciliation among the membership. This was a tenuous process, and discouragement was never too far away during those early days. Through a lot of hard work, the congregation at El Faro now has a deep sense of fellowship that is full of geniune love and affection. The church is growing and will soon move to a new location in a busy downtown area of Trieste.
TEAM missionaries continue to model creative ways for the church to make contacts in the city, using outreaches themed after American holidays, including Christmas carolers visiting from the U.S. who sing throughout the city. The vision is for Italian believers to develop their own unique ministry and evangelism methods. The church is maturing and finding its own way, leaving discord and apathy far behind them. Although the work continues to advance slowly, the successful planting of a healthy, reproducible church is tremendous progress. They are a lighthouse to this port city.
-Written by Ray Scott
-Photography by Robert Johnson
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, March 2012]
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