Paul Coleman, Executive Director, ADF International
Just before Christmas in 2017, I received an email from an ADF International Allied Lawyer based in the U.K., who in turn received a newsletter from Sam Fiore, a church pastor in Milan, Italy.
The newsletter was an SOS alert. It explained that their church was about to be shut down by obscure government regulations after almost four decades faithfully serving the local community. Police had turned up at their church building threatening closure and they were quickly running out of options.
As the doors of the church were about to close, our Allied Lawyer reached out to our office in Vienna, Austria, to see if we could help. We were able to connect the church to other Allied Lawyers in Milan, and ever since that initial flurry of emails, our allies have been fighting to prevent Pastor Fiore’s church from closing. And despite ongoing legal disputes that ripple through to the present day, they have been successful. The church remains open. Or almost open.
Like everything else in the Lombardy region of Italy, the church has temporarily suspended its meetings in order to follow government regulations on social distancing as the country fights the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the last few weeks, I have been thinking and praying for Pastor Fiore and his church as they have been in the epicenter of this global pandemic. A few days ago, I reached out to Pastor Fiore and his reply to me was sobering but also incredibly encouraging. He wrote:
“We are seeing a tremendous amount of losses and sorrow even among friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. At the same time there is an amazing sense of urgency for depending on the Lord, witnessing and praying together, so we have been seeing the Lord at work. Brothers and sisters in the church are ministering in new and different ways and some have had opportunity to lead people to Christ.
Our son in law Michael, who is the Pastor of Punto Luce church, our daughter church in San Giuliano which is 10 minutes from our church, has gone to work with Samaritan’s Purse in Cremona Italy, one hour from here. He is serving as Chaplain and anything else he needs to do. They are on the news a lot and the Lord is being proclaimed everyday here which is amazing. So in the midst of it all we see the Lord’s Hand reaching out to people all over. We know God has us here for this time and want to be faithful and wise in serving Him and others.”
When I was first in touch with Pastor Fiore almost two and a half years ago, it was impossible to know that his church and their community would now be in the epicenter of an unparalleled event in modern human history. It’s incredible to think that if the government regulations had forced his church to close its doors to the community, there would have been no outreach, no ministry, and no witness at this crucial time.
As the current pandemic causes us to reflect on just how connected our world has become – this is also a moment to reflect on how we can use those connections for good.
As the current pandemic causes us to reflect on just how connected our world has become – this is also a moment to reflect on how we can use those connections for good. In this instance, we see a family originally from the U.S. plant a church in Italy, an ADF International Allied Lawyer in the U.K. hear their calls for help and reach out to our office in Vienna, which in turn connected the church back to local allies in Milan.
Although none of these actions on their own may seem particularly big or significant in the grand scheme of things, they are all connected, and they have enabled a vital ministry at a vital moment in a vital place to keep on serving. It is an example of what scientists call the ‘Butterfly Effect’ – the idea that a small change can have a big impact on the future in ways unseen and unknown at the time. Or as Mother Teresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
As we think and pray for our increasingly connected world during this Easter week, let us also reflect on how we can use those connections for His Kingdom. Who knows how the small, seemingly insignificant stones each of us cast for religious freedom today will ripple far into the future in ways currently unseen and unknown?
And at this time, please also pray for Pastor Fiore and his wife, Joan, who are in their mid-70s and currently self-isolated, and for their son-in-law’s ministry to hospitals and beyond during this time. Lastly, we would value your prayers at ADF International as we keep fighting to keep Pastor Fiore’s church open, and for our many similar cases all over the world.
Photo: Robert Clarke, Deputy Director (Advocacy) of ADF International, Pastor Sam Fiore, Allied Lawyer Mattia Francesco Ferrero – 2018