by Erion & Victoria Pici
Erion and Victoria have served as Mission Workers in Italy for years. Read about their work in Italy, and their move from Italy back to Wales with their young family, and the challenges that go with such a move.
The night before we left Marsciano, we sat, dust-covered, sweaty and a little dishevelled from yet another frenetic day, enjoying one more meal with an Italian family. We were thankful for the warm hospitality and company of these friends, and took for granted the warm evening that allowed us to sit outside until gone midnight! As we shared our faith once again, and made more promises to come and visit, we were struck by the thought that we would carry yet one more family in our hearts to Wales. We continue to pray fervently for the day when they – and many others we met during our years of service – might know and love the Lord; He, who had brought us to meet them and was now moving us on.
The Next Season
We were sad to leave our home and the people who had welcomed us for so many years, but equally excited to rejoin our church family in Dinas Powys, who were eager to welcome us, and to begin the next season of our journey with God. In many ways, it just felt like one more trip to Wales. And yet, it was tinged with the surreal feeling that we would not be returning to Italy…for a while at least. Our luggage was jam-packed. There were the usual nerves at the airport as it was weighed. No, nothing was overweight and yes, there would have been room to fit in a few more precious items. One of our suitcases was almost filled with food – as all good ‘Italians’, we had our packing priorities right! Some hours later we arrived in Cardiff on a rainy Welsh evening. Two thoughts came to mind: we were cold and inappropriately dressed, and our Welsh adventure had begun!
Twelve years before, we had met in Perugia; Erion was finishing his degree in Software Engineering and Victoria had just begun her mission service in Italy. He was Victoria’s translator for a language exchange that the local Christian Union had asked her to run. Erion is originally from Albania and spent the first ten years of his life under one of the world’s hardest communist regimes. Through the faithful sacrifice and service of mission workers, who patiently prayed and waited for the regime’s fall, Erion became a Christian, aged 16, at a youth group. Victoria, a Welsh girl of mixed race, was led to Christ after the faithful and persistent prayers of a school friend who invited her to Sunday school. Having decided to marry and live in Italy, Victoria’s surname has remained legally unchanged: a detail that has caused no end of problems now that we live in Wales, and is one of the joys of a cross-cultural marriage! We have been blessed with three children: Sebastian (7), Giulietta (5) and Oliver (3), all of whom became an active part of our ministry in Italy.
Shortly after getting married, we began to help a Sardinian couple who had planted a church in the town of Marsciano, in Umbria. Previously, we had prayed about where to settle and had asked copious questions to our commending elders, to Echoes’ trustees, and to other mission workers from GLO and Italian Ministries. We visited with the couple already working in Marsciano. Although we were prepared for this new role and ministry, the reality is that nothing can quite prepare you for the actuality and practicalities of church planting! Needless to say, we learned a lot along the way!
Serving with Willing Hearts
For us, church planting can be most easily summed up as ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’. That is certainly how our ministry in Marsciano began. The couple we served alongside were itinerant missionaries and travelled frequently to other churches. Unfortunately, they also suffered from ill-health. This meant that often on Sundays, for mid-week Bible studies, as well as for a month or two in the summer, we had the responsibility of running various church activities. In that first year, you would have seen us cleaning and opening the church, setting up the chairs, greeting people, operating the projector, leading the worship, sharing the thought for communion, preaching the message, giving the notices, chatting to everyone before they left and then locking the church before repeating the whole process again. We worked with children, young people, students, women, men, couples and families. We carried out Bible teaching, discipleship, evangelism, hospitality, pastoral care and copious visits. Please note, we were certainly not alone in this!
As the years passed, our ministries focused more on our gifts and this was where we saw the most fruit. God gifted us as communicators and where Erion focused on Bible teaching, Victoria centred on evangelism. However, our greatest strengths can often become our greatest weaknesses if we neglect the most important aspects of our ministry, for example, prayer and a deepening relationship with God through His Word.
We made the decision to involve our children in as much of our work as we could and adapted our various ministries around them. Sometimes this meant giving up commitments and other times it meant taking the children along with us. We also shared childcare and had various babysitters over the years. Through this witness, our children have seen us pray, share our faith, prepare meals, lead Bible studies for various ages and people, and make sacrifices. This has certainly shaped their character! We tried to find the right balance for our family, and recognise there were times when we should have done less and other times when we could have done more. As parents, it was an issue constantly under review! For them, mission was simply normal life: they had no choice in it and we always tried to be considerate of this.
Lessons Learnt, Challenges Given
We are grateful for churches that faithfully taught God’s Word, for our shared love of reading, for the distance and online Bible courses, for Tilsley College, and for many conversations with more- or less-experienced workers and Christians, in Italy and abroad. Our call came through a series of circumstances and opportunities, through prayer and the reading of His Word. Often, the call is the easiest part: it is staying the course when the going gets tough that is the greatest challenge! We made the decision to stay, not because it was easy and our ministry blessed others, but because God confirmed that call. By His grace, our love for Him and the desire to be obedient made us constant. As much as we loved the people of Marsciano and the church there, our love for God was greater. Whatever our circumstances over the years, and despite the hurts and difficulties we endured, it was God’s love for us, and our love for Him, that shaped our character, ministry and prayers. As many will testify, the greatest person the Lord works in during mission service is yourself! We learnt that when things are difficult, it does not mean that it is right to leave. Conversely, just because things are going well it is not necessarily right to stay. In many ways, our last two years in Marsciano were our most fruitful.
Some years earlier, God had been speaking to us about being more present in the community. Consequently, Erion joined the nursery school’s parent council and Victoria set up several free English clubs for children. These initiatives provided many opportunities to share our faith and we saw a real and sincere openness to the gospel. One month before we left, after two years of gently sharing our faith with one family in particular, we were out for lunch with them and some of their friends. The wife said to us, “We’ve never ever asked you about what you believe but we are curious.” What followed was an afternoon of sharing and challenging them on their position before God. We pray for them and look forward to being reunited when we return for a holiday in 2018.
For a long time, we had contemplated moving from Marsciano and serving God in another church in Italy. In seeking God about our future, we enacted, in reverse, the process that had led us to Marsciano: prayer, supplication and seeking guidance from others. In the same way as we were called to stay, God led us to leave. After trying many doors within Italy, we began to seriously consider the option of moving to Wales. We had served on the frontline, and felt it was time to be spiritually refreshed and replenish our reserves, to focus on both close and extended family, with so many things changing in Europe, to spend time in Wales.
Since coming back, many people have asked us whether our move is permanent, how long we are planning to stay, what we will do and whether we will carry out mission service again. They are all good questions, but those to which we do not have the answers! For the moment, our tent is here; however, should the Lord move us on, we hope our ears and our hearts will be open to Him.