Life in a Graveyard

One-by-one we’ve watched them go. Quite often heart-broken, usually discouraged, but always leaving a big chunk of their hearts behind them. Graveyard life did them in, and it’s really no surprise. It’s often dark and gloomy, oppressive and crushing.

What in the world am I talking about? Italy. Beautiful, marvelous Italy, where few missionaries remain. It’s often called a “missionary graveyard,” and for good reason.

Less than four years

Most foreign missionaries (90%) remain in Italy under four years. That’s a high departure rate. Too high, though understandable. It’s a hard mission field, with a tendency to chew missionaries up and spit them out. But not always for the reasons you may think.

Things like lack of results, spiritual depression, government bureaucracy, and corruption definitely play their part. But post-Christian Europe in general is not an easy field, especially southern Europe.

Many people, through nominal Catholicism or Orthodoxy, have just enough awareness of Christianity to make them think they already have what we offer. This creates disinterest and apathy, so few are willing to even listen to the Gospel message.

God is always at work,
even when all seems hopeless.

Image by GoranH.

Lack of unity

But that’s not why we’ve seen so many leave. Most missionaries go out prepared for a long uphill climb, and ready to face battles. From my observations over our 32 years here, what really does them in is the lack of unity among believers.

Italy is a nation firmly embedded in tradition; it’s nearly sacrosanct. New ways and ideas are often viewed as a menace and newcomers are often greeted with skepticism and suspicion. Especially those trying to bring change.

Some church leaders also have a proprietorship attitude over their congregation, and see outsiders (even other nationals) as a threat. What if the newcomer should try to steal some of their sheep? So criticism, diparagement, and resistance abound. Likely as a protection mechanism, and not intended to harm. But it does much damage anyway.

Instead of an enthusiastic welcome, the new arrival often faces discouragement and undermining behavior from his own comrades in battle. Resulting, far too often, in a new addition to the figurative graveyard already stretching the length and the breadth of the nation.

Seeing the heartache

One-by-one we’ve watched them go. Sorrowing with them, and grieving over the gap left. But we don’t judge them, for we know what a hard choice it was and the pain it created.

We rejoice that most of them are now active laborers in other vineyards. And not only as pastors or Bible teaches, but in schools, hospitals, and many walks of life. Still being salt and light where the Lord has placed them.

Yet it’s sad for we who remain. Sad to be left with figurative tombstones littering the barren landscape of so many unreached towns. More than 70% of Italy’s 8,000 comuni (communities large enough to host a city hall) are still without an established Bible-believing congregation. Many towns have no witness at all.

So today’s post is another call to prayer. Please pray that the graveyard will stop growing. And more importantly, that the suspicion and criticism contributing to it will come to an end.

Christ resurrection power

Yet we are not discouraged, for we know that Christ’s resurrection power has not changed and he is still at work bringing transformation. And that he can bring life from death and beauty from ashes, even in the bleakest graveyard conditions.

God can bring life anywhere,
even in a graveyard.

Image by ulleo.

Life itself is dotted with graveyards. Ruined friendships, failed marriages. Lives destroyed by addictions, violence, or crime. Or those who feel nearly buried alive by life’s discouragements and difficulties.

If you find yourself dealing with graveyard circumstances, take heart. Christ’s resurrection power is available, and able to reach down even into that oppressing gloom and heartache. The enemy of our soul seeks to wreak death and destruction. But Christ’s invincible resurrection power is at work bringing life and hope, defeating even these foes.

Death is swallowed up in victory. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death… But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:55-56 NLT

First image: Cemetary by Scott Rodgerson.

8 thoughts on “Life in a Graveyard

  1. While thinking of your post and praying I had a thought that may be encouraging. Rather than Italy being a graveyard for missionaries, maybe God sees it more as a boot camp for Christian workers. They are stretched and challenged far beyond anything they have ever known and then sent to where God intended all along. Thank God that after boot camp some like you guys stay the course and faithfully serve there. Thank you for all you do there in the birthplace of my grandparents.


    1. That is an encouraging way of thinking about it, Pete. And I do hope that is the case for the many who have left. It is a good boot camp. I do hope they they are flourishing wherever God has placed them. What I find sad, though, is that they usually leave here so discouraged. As for us, we stay because we know this is where God wants us. He, and he alone, has enabled us. He is faithful!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Linda! Prayers from fellow missionaries are so appreciated. You know the battles and struggles, but also the victories and God’s faithfulness. What a blessing that we can encourage each other, even from far away! My prayers are with you and your husband too. ❤


  2. Thank you for sharing this eye-opening post, Sheila. I already pray for you and your husband but will add this concern, that missionaries might unite, celebrate one another’s fruitfulness, and support one another through the challenges. I thank God you two are there, voices of experience and reason that He can use to influence others!


    1. Thanks Nancy. We appreciate your prayers so much. It’s the prayers of God’s people that have kept us going all these years! The lack of unity has diminished some over the years, but it’s still a real problem, so prayer is needed. You voiced our own prayer perfectly in your last sentence. That others, especially newcomers, could be encouraged by our years of experience here and that influence would help them to see that God can bring them through regardless! He remains ever faithul no matter how hard things may seem. Thanks dear friend, for your prayers and encouragement!! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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