International Ministries

Not a Professional Beggar

May 10, 2012 Journal
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Like the lengthening days and the greening of the trees, they arrive slowly.  There is more confusion as the train leaves the station and people try to find a seat.  More people sit down at tables at sidewalk cafes looking around for the waiter that never arrives; they don’t know that you must order your coffee at the counter and then carry it to the table.  And there are the maps; everywhere people are studying brightly-colored guide books.  (Rick Steves must secretly be the richest man on the planet!)  Suddenly you realize:  they have arrived.  The tourists are here.  They will eat mounds of pasta, slurp gelato, and get their picture taken in front of everything that is not in motion.  They will rarely venture more than 4 blocks off the main streets and hand out 50 euro bills like a missionary with prayer cards at an AB Women's Ministries meeting.

Italy will welcome them with open arms and smiling faces, and they will have a great time.  Tourism is the largest single industry in Italy. Italians are suffering under the economic crisis and austerity measures.  There has been an epidemic of suicides in our region born of failed businesses and the inability to pay debts.  Without our seasonal visitors, Italians would go hungry.

Italians will tell you that there are two Italies:  the Italy of the tourist and the Italy of the Italians.  These are 2 very different Italies, they assert.  They enthusiastically promote the first Italy for the well-being of the second Italy.  There is a third Italy that even most Italians don’t appreciate:  the Italy of the immigrant.  The immigrants do not begin arriving in April and are not mostly gone by October.  They come year round and do not return home.  Nobody marks their arrival, but they are always coming.  I meet some of them, newly-arrived young Nigerian men, on the streets of our community.

Several weeks ago as I was entering the gate to our house, a young African man approached me on a bicycle.  He said ciao and then stood there silent, smiling sheepishly. I knew what he wanted and knew he probably would not come right out and ask.  He was not a professional beggar.  We have those in Italy, that is another sign of the onset of the tourist season—the multiplication of beggars.  But this man was no professional.  He was a capable, apparently healthy young man who saw no good future in his homeland and dreamed of  a life where he could fulfill his potential.  He was here because he was ambitious; he was not by nature a beggar and, therefore, was very poor at it.

Unfortunately, someone had probably lied to him.  Someone, wanting to appear successful, had told him of their wonderful life in Italy.  Someone else had offered to get him documents or sponsor him here for a fee.  He came here and found that it was all a fantasy.  There are no jobs; he will rent no apartment; he will drive no car; he will eat in no cafes; he will wear no soft Italian suede shoes.  He will rely upon the kindness of strangers for his daily bread.

I spoke to him in English, and he responded with his story and his plans.  It was my unwelcome task to explain to him the intricacies of getting documents and the barriers to finding work.  I offered him a bag of food, and he gladly accepted.  He was back this week, ringing our bell.  I went down to talk with him; and when I asked what I could do for him, he shrugged his shoulders and smiled.  He still did not ask for any food.  He is no natural beggar.  That is why he came to Italy.  I gave him a bag of food—canned corn, soup, juice, crackers, tuna fish, and chocolate chip cookies.  Everyone should have some cookies.

Long after the tourists have returned home with fond memories of a gondola ride, this young man will still be traveling around on his bike looking for work and not quite asking for some food.  We return to the States in June for a year of deputation.  He will ring our bell and probably no one will answer.  He will be a citizen of that third Italy.  These are the people with whom we work.  Through your prayers, encouragement, and support of our ministry, you made sure that someone was here to answer the bell when this young man came not quite asking for some food.

As you pray:

-Remember Ben and Luke as they take their yearly exams.

-Remember the newly-organized groups of women that Debbie trained this week in Rome to do outreach on the street to women working in prostitution.

-Remember the American women who will come to work with us in June.  They will do an outreach on the streets of several communities and provide a women’s conference at  a local African church.

-Remember Debbie as she advises civic leaders in a nearby city about the occasional relationship between human trafficking and immigrant churches.

-Remember Jim as he prepares to teach a course at a Ghanain church in Casalmaggiore.

May God bless you and keep,

Jim (along with Debbie, Ben, and Luke)

P.S.  A new matching fund program begins on Monday, May 18th.  Individual donors’ gifts will be matched until July 31st (over-and-above gifts from consistent donors’ are also eligible to be matched) until the matching funds run out.   This is the time to give! 

Go online to and click on “Give” and then “Kelsey” or mail a check marked “Gift to Match-Kelseys-Italy” to:  International Ministries, PO Box 851, Valley Forge, PA 19482-0851.