#27 By Marc Eckel
In the spring of 2014, the Lord opened a door for SplatExperience to partner once again with missionaries Giuseppe and Pennie Collesano in Sicily, Italy. And though that whole process is an exciting story all by itself, this report is intended to let you know how God worked through us during our time traveling across Sicily between May 26 and June 25.
My name is Marc Eckel, and I am a performance artist with SplatExperience. Our purpose for being in ministry is to lead the church in worship and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost. Our adventures in Sicily focused strongly on our evangelistic calling – to proclaim the gospel.
I trust this report will be an encouragement to you. God is at work in this difficult mission field. For the first few weeks we were joined by Jeff Outland, one of the Collesano’s faithful supporters. We were grateful for his help and encouraged that he would come be a part of our team. First of all, let me state a few thoughts to put some perspective on our work during this time.
It is impossible to understand the Italian culture from an American outlook. When I perform in the states with Casting Crowns, or in churches around the country, we might see crowds in the thousands. In the Italian culture some churches are as small as a few dozen or less. We do not intend to reach out to thousands, or hundreds, but to tens or less. Much of the evangelistic effort in Sicily is done one person at a time. Some people measure the success of a missionary endeavor by the tally of souls who profess Jesus as Savior. In this overly religious culture we measure our success by how we obey in sharing the gospel. The Holy Spirit has to do His work in the hearts of people. We just have to be willing to proclaim the Good News.
It is interesting to be an American in this foreign land. Every American is considered to be wealthy. Every American is rich, or so the perception seems to be. It was also interesting to discover how Sicilians see American culture, even considering what they call an American pizza. It is basically a cheese pizza covered with cut up hot dogs and French fries, as that is what they believe Americans eat in the States.
Sicily and Italy are a predominantly Catholic society, although there is a strong Jehovah’s Witness movement. Though they know of Jesus, and claim to believe in him, their religion is not measured by a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He is merely one of the channels to God, as many aim their prayers and devotion toward saints, family members who have passed on, or the Pope. We declare Jesus’s words: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” John 14:6 With that said let me share some of our adventures with you focusing on some of the stories that unfolded before us. I trust you will get a glimpse of what God did in and through us during our 30-day series of events in which we traveled over 3,000 miles! That is approximately the distance between Boston, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles, California. Many of those miles were traveled through hairpin turns up and down mountainsides.
When we set out we had 6 events on our calendar. I brought 16 canvases with me as we prayed that God would open doors for us to do an extra 10 events! It was a step of faith. The following report will detail the goodness of our God!
In the USA I typically walk into Walmart and buy custom mixed gallons of house paint to use during our performances according to designated color swatches. Not quite the case in Sicily. The paint is much more expensive and thicker to buy that way. We ended up buying large buckets of white paint, which we tinted with bottles of color dye. The more dye we used the darker the colors. However you look at it, our paint was rather expensive. By faith we bought enough paint for 16 performances.
We prepared for our events by taking a few days to finish building the painting performance wall and step, and gathering the supplies and paint we would need. On May 29th we headed to Ramacca where trucks filled the city streets with fruits, vegetables and other goods. These markets can be found rotating from city to city on any given day throughout the area. Giuseppe sets up a literature stand handing out Bibles, gospel tracts, and other Christian materials on a regular basis. It was just a glimpse into seeing G (Giuseppe) share his faith one on one among his people. I would soon discover sharing his faith was something he did so much that I was put to shame. Every person he meets in the store, on the street, or in the markets is someone who needs to hear the gospel. And many are hearing the Good News on a daily basis.
I will never forget an older woman standing outside a grocery market who looked at G and me. She asked who I was. Giuseppe told her, “He’s my brother.” She looked bewildered. He said, “We have the same Father and we were bought with the same blood.” It was a door to start a conversation with her about Jesus, which he did.
The following day we were in another street market in Belpasso before finishing some prep work for our evangelistic outreach meetings ahead of us.
On March 31st we headed to Castelbuono. One of our first stops was at the house of one of the widows in the church. We were there to deliver food to her; one of the common ministries G is involved in that he does not talk much about. Feeding the needy is just one of the things he does to meet the practical needs of so many. During one of our visits to her home I recall Adda standing in her driveway as she raised her hands up praising God in outspoken prayer. It was spontaneous and beautiful. I witnessed the similar selfless delivery of food to several others during my visit with the Collesanos.
Our first event took place in Castelvetrano on May 31st for a group of 40 refugees from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Gambia. We arrived late during the service and were still able to be included after we believed we had
missed our opportunity. After Daniel Lusenie preached we set up and I performed our presentation of The Sacrifice. Tommaso Pipitone, a ministry associate of Giuseppe’s, preached in Italian as G translated his message into English. Though many of these young men were believers there were some who were not, including several devout Muslims.
We held our second event in Castelvetrano the following day on June 1st at Chiesa Cristiana Evangelica Dei Fratelli (The Evangelical Christian Church of the Brethren). Giuseppe preached after our performance of No Greater Love. I was also given some time to share a word of testimony with the small church of 35.
While in Castelvetrano we held two evangelistic outreach meetings in public courtyards. We learned we received our permits from the mayor in one day. We were later told this was more than extremely rare, and something not even the son of the Prime Minister could expect to accomplish. We thanked God for his favor and provision.
The following day Giuseppe was driving his car into town to have a mechanic work on it. There must be some unwritten rule that states a missionary shouldn’t have a dependable car. During our month in Sicily our car was in the shop three times. During this short drive I caught a glimpse into G’s heart. Mission work is very lonely, very depressing at times, and the lack of financial support is a daily weight that is hard to carry. Although some of these emotions came pouring out of G, he endeavored to remain strong trusting God as he is driven to preach the gospel no matter the hardship or cost.
On the evening of June 3rd we set up our wall and sound system in a city square in Castelvetrano right in front of the police station. After several songs I performed The Sacrifice as Giuseppe translated the words to the dramatic reading Guilty As Sin into Italian. This was our first street meeting on this trip. Though the crowd was sparse Giuseppe preached the gospel with passion. Some stopped to listen. Others listened as they passed by. And such is the story of street evangelism in Sicily. We pray that the truth of the gospel sewed many seeds.
We talked with one man afterwards who told me through a translator: “I had a vibration in my heart.” The truth of God had touched his soul and he had to tell us.
After a late night pizza (which I believe had some form of fish on it) I spent most of the next morning sick in bed with a stomach ache as well as pain in my back and legs. Giuseppe and Jeff picked me up at the compound after I woke up shortly after noon. They had picked up G’s car from the mechanic, who decided to only charge him 30 euros, the price of the parts. When G really didn’t have the money for car repair we praised the Lord for helping meet that need. What a blessing!
That whole day I felt sick though we headed back into town to set up in another courtyard to paint and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. This time we painted our Above All presentation followed by another stirring message from G centered on the gospel. We were thankful that Marco Leitner, a young man from Austria who had been visiting and working with Tommoso, purchased the painting from this event. We were grateful for help with our finances, which were low.
The gentlemen from the previous night came back telling us the Lord still was working in him as he told us, “I woke up this morning still feeling a vibration in my heart.”
After four events in Castelvetrano we headed back to our home base in Belpasso. We had enjoyed our time with the Pipitone family. We prayed that the Lord would honor our preaching of the gospel in this town. During our three-hour drive home G and I started talking through the first stages of a book project we wanted to complete while I was in Sicily. We talked through his personal testimony of how he came to Christ, an important factor in this book designed to be a witnessing tool to the Sicilian people. The initial understanding of The Man in the Black Cape started to come to life that day as we enjoyed the scenic drive through the mountains.
On June 7th we set our sights for the Sigonella U.S. Naval Base, where we would be involved in a Saturday evening church service for the soldiers and their families. After a presentation of No Greater Love Giuseppe preached from his heart, speaking to the church he said, “You either make a mark or leave a stench!” The message was direct and powerful. And as had become common, Jeff was a great help to us.
We were introduced to many who Giuseppe and Pennie worked with through the naval base as they are involved in different Bible studies with men and women. I watched as G worked with a young man stationed at Sigonella as the
Chaplain’s Assistant. Sean H. spent a lot of time with G and it was immediately apparent that Giuseppe had been a great influence in his spiritual walk. Sean came to G for advice and guidance in his Christian walk and service. It appeared that G was a pastor figure in his life. I witnessed this same relationship with several of the Christians in the market places we worked in. When Giuseppe was present they seemed to come alive sharing their faith with their patrons. Many times G would go to the markets just to encourage them to share their faith as he was doing. This kind of influence only comes after many hours of building relationships, and is something never seen or understood on typical missionary reports. But G’s impact has been immense in the lives of these men who share the love of Jesus with those in their circles of influence.
Whenever we work with the military I experience pride in our country, and this event was no exception. It became a common sight to see this same pride in the Sicilian people, especially during the World Cup, which was taking place at this time. We spent some time with Gabe and Lisa Gasporra, a couple who had become very close to the Collesanos. The Gasporra family prepared to move back to Washington state and we spent some time saying farewell to them. The close connection between the Gasporras and the Collesanos was undeniable as tears flowed.
At this time we also said farewell to Jeff who headed back to Michigan. We were glad for his help during our first five events on this journey.
We had several days off from events as we delivered more food and shared with individuals on the streets. I also started steady work on The Man in the Black Cape. G and I spent one afternoon talking through his testimony, which we would incorporate into this book about a Sicilian tale from his youth. Giuseppe regularly went to the street markets where he would hand out gospel tracts. Then he would walk around and pick them up and hand them out again. In this Catholic society many of the tracts were immediately discarded. We believed that if we could give away a small book it might be more readily accepted. As a result it might be read, and the gospel would have a chance to take root. We prayed that God would give us favor as we began this project.
On June 11th we were led two hours away to the city of Ragusa to meet with Pastor Christian Giminez and his wife, Claudia. Both from Argentina, Christian had been studying law in Buenos Aires, and Claudia had a good job in national customs, a government position. They referred to their life as “those who had the chicken with the 8 golden eggs.” They had money and job security. From the world’s perspective they had it made. But upon the Lord’s leading they left it all to move to Sicily to start the church, even against their pastor’s wishes who called their decision a mistake. Christian said, “We chose to obey God and it has been 14 years. We are still serving the Lord and the Pastor is dead.”
We decided to visit Christian’s church, Centro Cristiano Fonte di Vita (Source of Life Christian Church). This small facility served a congregation of 15. But Christian was adamant that they wanted to hold some public events for their community in a public forum as he proclaimed, “The gospel must go forward.” Although they had no money, they
were trusting God to provide the funds. He said they were willing to take out a loan if that’s what it would take. We were immediately impressed with Christian’s heart and his faith. We decided to join his step of faith and proceed with several events in their community – both without any way to pay for them. We prayed that God would provide as we drove two hours back to Belpasso.
On June 13th G and I were once again on the road as we headed back to Castelbuono, his hometown. We were scheduled to be involved in several street meetings in a courtyard down the street from the castle. I also looked forward to retracing the steps of The Man in the Black Cape for our book project.
After meeting up with Dominic Schicchi and his wife, Suzy, I walked through the streets several times doing research for the book starting at the doorstep of G’s childhood home. Later that night we were involved in a youth meeting at Chiesa Biblica Cristiana (Christian Bible Church) with Pastor Kurt Locher and twelve students.
I was given a chance to speak as G interpreted into Italian. I shared some stories of provision from a talk entitled Ice Cream, Cash, and Computers. During a time of discussion one boy asked, “How do you know when God is speaking to you?” He wanted to understand the prompting of God to help others in need. I told him sometimes God just speaks to your heart, other times he teaches us how we should act through His Word. One woman, Annamaria, was moved to tears, as she was thankful for God and his provision through my stories. The next day we heard much talk about the time we spent with the group and how they were encouraged in their walk with the Lord.
One boy, Salvo, was one most would not give much hope to. I remembered him from our previous trip to this city in 2008. He was most disrespectful to his parents and seemed to be a lost cause in many eyes. But the Lord had worked in his life and he said our talk really encouraged him in his walk with the Lord. He asked G to pray for one of his friends who had been at the meeting. Mirco was a young man who needed Jesus. Giuseppe promised to pray for him, though he believed he was close to giving his life to Christ. Salvo felt the Lord prompting him to help G and his
work. He obeyed God’s leading by giving Giuseppe 50 euros, a day’s wages. We were thankful for more unexpected provision through Salvo’s sacrificial gift. God is working in the lives of these young people, and he used us to minister to them. Praise the Lord!
The next evening, June 14th, we set up for two evening street events with the people from Chiesa Biblica Cristiana. The youth band played several sets of music and we performed two paintings, one in each service beside the courtyard’s fountain. Pastor Kurt spoke in the first service and Giuseppe spoke in the second. Being in a busy center of the city we attracted quite a crowd as we praised the Lord for two opportunities to share the gospel. It was especially exciting for Giuseppe as this was his hometown, and how he longed for his people to know Jesus.
The following day we drove back to Belpasso where we experienced God’s creation in dramatic fashion. Mount Etna was erupting as lava sprayed high into the sky. Giuseppe, Pennie, and I drove up the mountain to enjoy this beautiful sight.
After a few more days working on the book project we headed out to Nicosia on June 17th. We arrived at a youth camp where we helped dig a hole for a pond before playing soccer with the kids. The youth were all Navy kids from Sigonella and all spoke English, which made it easier for me to communicate with them.
Before our evening event Giuseppe and I walked through town with one of the teens. G asked him what he saw. The boy responded, “I see buildings and roads.” G asked again, “What do you see?” After a similar response G remarked, “I’m getting bored with you. I am going to ask you just one more time. What do you see?” The boy was puzzled. He had described the scenery around him to G’s dissatisfaction. Giuseppe finally made his point. “There are people all around. They all need Jesus. That is why we are here, to tell them the good news of the gospel!” I had gotten a glimpse into the Italian culture, and this form of bold talk was part of the way men spoke. Italians often communicate passionately using their hands. Giuseppe was no exception as he drove home the reason for our visit to this city.
After our event that evening I was given another opportunity to speak with the youth as I encouraged them to follow
after Christ while living a life of faith. Later that night G and I went out for a late pizza before trying to find some gelato. All the shops were closed as we headed back to our room at the camp. It was around 1 a.m. when G received the following text message from Salvo in Castelbuono: “Sorry for the late time in writing to you but my joy cannot be contained about this moment. Just now tonight Mirco prayed in the car with me and Kurt asking forgiveness and for Jesus to come into his life. More and more I believe that is not chance and I understand what’s going on in my life. Good night. God bless you. Salvo.”
We celebrated Mirco’s decision to follow Christ. This is why we were here! We went to sleep that night rejoicing with the angels of heaven. Thank you Jesus!
The following morning Giuseppe and I decided to walk through the city and find some gelato, since we couldn’t find any the previous night. We happened into a random gelato shop as G started sharing with a woman behind the counter. We would soon find out she owned the establishment. She was interested in the artistic nature of what we offered, and after seeing a few pics on my phone, she decided we needed to come and perform for her city. And she wanted us to perform in the city’s main city square, just outside her shop! Within a few minutes she sent us over to the city courthouse, located on the far side of the square, where we met with the city councilman in charge of city events and tourism. Soon we walked away from the courthouse with a permit from the city to come back and perform the following week. The Lord had provided what would become our last opportunity to share the gospel on this journey through an unbeliever!
Later that day, on June 18th, we set up in a public square to perform two times for the community, and preach the gospel. We were thrilled to see that Salvo and Mirco (still less than one day old in Christ) drove several hours to join our team to share the good news of Jesus Christ alongside us. How exciting to celebrate Mirco’s new found life in Christ, and his desire to tell others, with some delicious gelato after our events. Again we gave God praise!
On June 19th we headed back to Ragusa for our first courtyard meeting with Christian and Claudia. We arrived at the location and started setting up. The event was plagued with difficulty as the compressor, which we needed to run our sound system and lights would not start. Then we couldn’t find a shop that would allow us to use their electricity.
We nearly cancelled the event. At the last hour everything came together and we proceeded with a successful event. After our painting of No Greater Love, Christian preached to those gathered on the streets.
We were able to share with many afterward one-on-one. I met a couple from Los Angeles who just happened to be on vacation and were walking through town. In perfect English I was able to share the goodness of God with them, as well as with several other English-speaking people. One young lady, named Erica, was moved to tears when she heard the gospel message. Christian talked with her for some time and we long for the day when we hear she has given her life to Jesus. We were sure her day of salvation was close.
When we were about to leave Christian came up to me, and in broken English, he proclaimed over and over again, “The victory is ours!” The Lord had come through amid the difficulty and he rejoiced that the gospel had gone forth to his community.
Christian’s first event was over and he still didn’t have money to pay for it, or for the next one. We would later learn that someone approached him when he was about to go home from that first event, presenting him with enough money to cover three events. Our two events taken on through faith had been extended to three, and we praised God for his provision!
On June 20th we headed to Siracusa for a street evangelistic outreach meeting with Pastor Carmello and the people from Chiesa Cristiana Evangelica (Evangelical Christian Church). We would find this to be the largest church we would work with during our time in Sicily. With over 200 in the congregation it was as close to a mega-church as you will find in this area.
We started this trip with a visit to the home of Salvo and Gabriela Prato, and their daughters Laura and Luana. Soon many family members and others filled the house as we anticipated what the Lord might do that evening in the courtyard in Siracusa.
During our first of two street meetings in Siracusa, Richard and Kimberly Dye from the Naval base in Sigonella, where he is the assistant principal at the high school, joined us as Richard preached to the crowd. We performed The Sacrifice as some from the church placed red painted handprints on the painting during the presentation. Each handprint represented the blood of Jesus was personal to each one of them. He had died for them and his blood was on their hands.
After the painting Laura (pictured above on left) really wanted to tell me what the painting meant to her after she was one of the participants who placed their hand on the wall. She said, “Your representation of the sacrifice, it is beautiful. It is very emotional. I understood how much it cost for him to pay for us. Even if it was simple red paint, it really represents the blood that came down that washed us from all sins.”
Several had a chance to counsel with a young man named Reuben afterward. He was from India, and we heard later that he has started to attend a Christian church. Initially he asked why he should trust this God, this faith. Continue to pray for this young man who is searching for truth, which can only be found in Jesus.
On June 21st we headed back to Ragusa to continue meetings with Christian and Claudia Giminez. This time we set up right on the beach not knowing the night before us would be very unique. We knew God had provided for the two events we would hold this night, but didn’t really understand what God had in store. We would soon find out.
We held two street meetings that evening, one around 8 p.m. and another around 9 p.m. We were disappointed with small amounts of people walking by though we obeyed our call to proclaim the gospel unashamed. Afterward we set the paintings on plastic on the ground and waited for them to dry. Both paintings sat there on the boardwalk for about 5 hours before we were able to pick them up and carry them away.
During that time a band set up about a block from us. They played American rock ‘n roll and a large crowd of thousands gathered. Eventually the crowds made their way to a nightclub right on the beach – just beside our paintings. For hours we talked to individuals about the gospel, sharing the love of Jesus. In all we figured over 1,000 people crossed our path that night and many were confronted with the reality of Jesus!
I shared with one man who was with a Christian couple. He claimed to be an agnostic and this couple had been talking with him about Jesus. I told him he was just not a Christian yet, but someday he would be. I continue to pray for that man, that he would come to see Jesus, and accept him as his personal savior.
On June 22nd we headed back to Ragusa for another street meeting with our friends at Chiesa Cristiana Evangelica. We attended a service at the church beforehand where I was given a chance to share a testimony about the gospel and Giuseppe preached from Ephesians chapter two.
Once again the Lord did something very unexpected at the street meeting later that evening. When we arrived at the courtyard we found someone had arrived ahead of us. A band had set up with a full sound system and lights and had drawn quite a large crowd. Imagine our surprise to find out they were Muslims. The police were called, who asked them to leave since we had a permit for that spot. To our amazement they packed up and stayed to listen to our presentation. They all heard the gospel, as did the nearly 400-500 people they had attracted! Pastor Carmello preached a message about the cross and it was dynamic.
On June 23rd we headed back to Nicosia again excited about the invitation to perform in the city’s main square upon invitation of the town officials. When we pulled into the square we were sure we wouldn’t find a parking spot. There were none to be found. As we pulled up behind the stage a car pulled out making their spot available. We couldn’t have had a better parking space.
We set up and performed our 16th presentation on this journey. We asked the Lord to use us fully and He had provided a way for us to use every canvas we had. We later found out this painting would be displayed prominently for all to see in City Hall.
After Giuseppe preached the gospel we were both confronted by the councilman and the mayor. They both apologized that more people had not shown up. I told him if he was the only one who heard the message of the gospel it was worth it all! They both invited us back next year promising they would promote an event with us and draw a crowd of 700-800. It would be just another opportunity to share the gospel on a larger scale in Nicosia. We pray we will be able to accept that invitation, Lord willing, and return in 2015. It is my prayer that revival would break out in that square and that many would come to Christ, and we would love to be a part of it!
After the last painting, still with red paint on my hands, I prayed, “Thank you, Lord, for our time in Sicily. We have obeyed your call to share the gospel. May some come to know You through our time here; In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
A few days later I was on a plane heading back to Indiana. I had been in Sicily for 30 days. As I reflected on my time with the Collesanos I was glad to have been a part of their efforts to share the love of Jesus in this difficult place. I also longed to return to do more work with them. Only God knows what that looks like, but I pray for more experiences like the ones I just had.
The day I flew back to the States approximately 30 refugees were being baptized with Tomasso in Castelvetrano. Although Giuseppe was asked to be a part of that ceremony, the lack of money for diesel prevented him from making the six-hour trip. I had been a witness to that work first hand, and it was exciting to be a part of it.
The day after I returned home Giuseppe shared the news of one of the soldiers at the Naval base who he led to the Lord working with Sean H. I had also been a part of that ministry. And even as I write this report news has come in that a woman from the village of Motta, where Jeff, G, and I unloaded tomatoes and handed out gospel tracts on May 29th, accepted one of those tracts. She read the truth of the gospel and gave her life to Jesus Christ. Her life has been completely transformed! Giuseppe is currently making plans to head to back to her town to share the gospel openly through more street meetings.
More work is being done to provide Bibles for the continual flow of refugees entering Sicily from Africa, and Vacation Bible School outreach opportunities are right around the corner in August. God is indeed at work in Sicily.
I am reminded of something Giuseppe said to me at one of our events while we were near the beach in Siracusa. He said, “I will continue sharing the gospel until the Lord puts a cement block in front of my car.” After spending a month with G I don’t think that would stop him at all. He would simply find a way to drive around it and continue his work. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him abandon his car and head out on foot. The gospel message must go forth!
As I think back on this trip I will not miss tiny showers, the total disregard for stop signs and lack of air-conditioning, narrow roads and small cars, or kissing everyone on both cheeks (something I have decided not to incorporate into my greetings in the US). I will miss G’s company and his determination to share the gospel. Our work in Sicily had touched many lives. But what I will remember most is how it changed mine. Lord make me a bold messenger of the gospel like my friend G.
Thank you for taking the time to read this report. If you would like to encourage the Collesanos and the entire team of IFC, they would appreciate hearing from you. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. They would also appreciate your prayerful support as well as your financial help. You can find current updates about the Collesanos online at Facebook at Italy for Christ, also www.italyforchrist.it where you can also send support by clicking the donate tab, designation #5. Or please feel free to send your support to Italy for Christ, 1301 Shiloh Road NW, Suite 1820, Kennesaw, GA 30144-7170 and designated it The Collesanos, or undesignated.
It is also our intention to use all the profits of the English digital version of “The Man in the Black Cape” to pay for printing of this witnessing resource in Italian, to be given away in the street markets of Sicily. If you would like to download your copy, and encourage your friends and family to do the same, you can find the link on the homepage at splatexperience.com. If you would like to make a financial donation toward this printing project please contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your prayerful consideration.
We have already been thinking about another trip to Sicily in 2015.