March 25, 2012

Italy: Caring for the Imola Community

TEAM missionaries Josh and Sara Whitman thought the family-oriented city of Imola, Italy, would be a good place to try a creative ministry approach to reach young families. They work for the city, help at schools, and volunteer in the community. 

  • Building Community

    The relaxed setting of the Thanksgiving meal provides an opportunity for Josh and Sara Whitman to meet new people.

  • Creative Outreach

    Josh Whitman presented the Gospel message at the Thanksgiving outreach, hoping to reach the seekers in the audience.

TEAM missionaries Josh and Sara Whitman thought the family-oriented city of Imola, Italy, would be a good place to try a creative ministry approach to reach young families. They work for the city, help at schools, and volunteer in the community.

Josh enjoys playing trombone in the community band and has been talking with a group of young musicians who are curious about his faith. The band plays at city concerts and has had the honor of participating in funeral processions. Josh also meets a lot of people when he plays soccer on Saturdays. “Sometimes, I spend three to four hours just walking around, getting to know the city and talking to people,” said Josh. “People are curious to know what I’m doing, so it opens a good conversation and gives me the chance to show Christ’s love to them.” Josh and Sarah are using these opportunities out in the community to build La Rocca (The Rock) church.

Sara is a substitute teacher at an elementary school and recently shared a Christian calendar with colleagues. “I read a Bible verse from the calendar with them and explain what it means,” said Sara. Working at the school gives Sara and Josh a chance to build relationships with the students and their parents. “We are trying to be an example of a Godly marriage and Godly parenting. Even something as simple as disciplining children is typically not encouraged nor viewed with favor in Italy. We are trying to live out our faith first and foremost in our very own home,” said Sara.

Imola has lots of young families, so Josh and Sara thought it would be a great place to host basketball camps with Push the Rock, a mission organization that uses primarily sports activities as their witnessing environment. TEAM missionaries Mark and Kris Crooks of Il Faro church, located in Mestre, have seen much success with their camps, so the Whitmans asked Push the Rock to come to Imola for a week. “Kids are coming to learn basketball, but they also talk about faith,” said Josh. “We were scared the parents wouldn’t want to be part of camps that have a spiritual emphasis, but they have a lot of good things to say about the program.” La Rocca has hosted camps for the last three summers. Josh and Sara think that other options, such as English or music camps, are also a good outreach idea because summer camps are a big part of the culture for Imola families.

Josh and Sara’s outreach at these camps and into the community led to a desire to start a Thursday night Bible study in their living room with four other families. They are hoping this core group can lead to even more people joining La Rocca. “Planting a church in Italy takes a long time,” said Sara. “But we are encouraged and very involved with meeting people, and building relationships with them.”

-Written by Lisa H. Renninger
-Photography by Robert Johnson

[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, March 2012]

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