Imagine coming to faith as a young adult. You’re eager to receive Bible and theological training so you can be a disciple of Jesus and effectively impact your culture for Christ.
Now imagine you’re an Italian young person who’s come to faith. In your country of 61 million people, there is one seminary – but it’s Roman Catholic. Like 40 percent of Italians between the ages of 18 and 30, you don’t have a job, so you don’t have the money to leave Italy and study abroad. Besides, like most Italians, you don’t speak English very well.
Going to Bible school is not an option for you.
“How are people going to get ready for ministry that have a desire to do ministry in Italy?” said Mark Brucato, a TEAM missionary in Bologna. While serving as a pastoral intern and elder at Nuova Vita Church, Brucato has been confronted with the need of Christian young people there.
Andrea Veronesi and Marco Martella were two of those young people. Veronesi accepted Christ on New Year’s Day 2011. Martella was a well-known drug dealer before meeting Jesus. Both men wanted to study the Bible so they could live it out in their Roman Catholic but secular-minded country. But how would they get trained?
A solution came as Brucato worked closely with Jonathan Gilmore, Italy’s Acts 29 coordinator: “Let’s do church-based, modular trainings during weekends and make it open to all the evangelical churches with whom we have relationship,” he said.
Through the Acts 29 network, the leaders of Nuova Vita learned of a Bible training program in Sheffield, UK, a city comparable to Bologna in terms of its secular mindset and demographics. Through Porterbrook Seminary’s three-year program, students cover the Old and New Testaments, theology, evangelism, church history, Bible teaching skills, and more – all with a missional emphasis.
Brucato and others from Nuova Vita took Porterbrook’s material and began translating it into Italian. Four men – Brucato and three Italians – committed to teaching the courses in the program’s four tracks: character, Bible/doctrine, church, and missions. As a result, Percorsi, a church-based Bible training program, was born.
Now in its second year, Percorsi is seeking accreditation through a seminary in Wales. Thirty students are enrolled in Bologna, engaged in their work or church ministry during the week and being taught on the weekends. About half of these students are from Nuova Vita, and the others come from several other evangelical churches in the area.
The benefits of studying in a church context are legion. “If you send a young man to seminary in another country for three years, you may not recognize him when he returns,” said Brucato. While seminary training can be an intensely intellectual and individual pursuit, church-based training tends to be communal, encouraging dialogue and practical application. Also, a church-based program like Percorsi doesn’t need highly educated people to run it; church leaders do the teaching. And since the courses don’t cost more than the paper for course materials, Percorsi is economically feasible for any student.
Bible training done in the local church doesn’t just impact the students either, as in a traditional seminary model. Programs like Percorsi allow students to immediately apply what they’re learning for the benefit of their churches. “It’s about looking out to the spiritual needs around you,” said Brucato.
Which is exactly what happened with Veronesi.
Along with Martella, Veronesi enrolled in Percorsi’s first semester. Shortly after that, he and another student, Bruno D’Amato, began to feel burdened for the large homeless population of Bologna. So, as a “school project,” they began to cook meals and go out on the street to meet homeless men. As a result, Nuova Vita’s services now include homeless men and street women on a regular basis.
Percorsi’s first graduates will get their certificates in June 2015. But as Veronesi and D’Amato prove, these young people aren’t waiting for certificates before living missionally and taking the gospel to their communities. The time for action is now.
-Written by Esther Kline
-Photos provided by Mark Brucato