It was late on Christmas Eve when I got the call. Fabiano’s Mum was furious. Fabiano had just wrestled her to the ground to prise a dog out of her embrace and thrust his sister flying back towards the door as he stormed out back to his Dad’s.
It was, actually, comparatively tame compared to his background. Having been sent to prison as a teenager for stabbing someone, his parents had thought he had learnt his lesson. But a few years later, his anger is still not under control. In fact, just a couple of weeks before writing this article, I chatted with his Mum who was angry about how he had spoken back to her. I reminded her where he had come from to encourage her to scale her expectations accordingly. She had forgotten.
There is much anger working with lower class, Italian men. A lot of the time, they don’t recognise it or they don’t want to admit it or they don’t want to face it. I dedicated one midweek meeting exclusively to anger management and a couple commented on how useful it was and important to talk about this and how they wanted more but the next week those same people were elsewhere, avoiding the topic. Interest yet denial.
Learn to love and nurture and care for others
And it is interesting seeing how that affects both what they look for and what they appreciate in church. You see, they want judgement. They want to hear condemning messages against others – perhaps because it justifies their own feeling of anger and gives it a legitimate target. Consequently, they also dislike sensitivity. You just need to be blunt and say things directly.
And yet they need a different approach. They need love and they do need gentleness, though they don’t realise it. They need to learn to manage conflict sensitively. They need Christ to soften them and teach them how to deal with problems they face in life and that thumping someone is not the answer.
Jonah wasn’t really much different. In Jonah 3 he was angry; angry with God for his love and patience. Why doesn’t God just strike them all down and punish them! (Was Jonah from Turin too?) Jonah was self-focussed. (I, me, my occurs 9 times in v2-3). He isolated himself (v5), and his anger consumes him so that everything seems awful and he can’t think straight (v9).
The Lord corrects him with a parable and tries to get him to put things in the right perspective. In 3:11 God challenges him to see that people are of much more importance than animals and plants and, given that Jonah didn’t want God to destroy a plant, should he not feel disturbed at the idea of God destroying a city? The chapter finishes here leaving us in suspense as to what would happen.
And that’s how I feel about my current ministry in Italy. There are a lot of unfinished stories like Fabiano who is not as ‘sorted’ as I would like to see him. Now yes, do praise God for the success stories, for our converted drug dealer for example and our repentant convicted paedophile. But pray to Christ also that I would have patience in dealing with the majority who are less sorted and for love where their godliness is very much a work in progress. That just as the Lord has borne with, loved and nurtured this misguided, rebellious outlaw, so I need to learn to love and nurture and care for others.