The homemade cannoli and Napoletani rivaled the artistry of the Sistine Chapel. And the coffee—mama mia! Since Rosa’s café, located in downtown Bologna, was merely a bocce ball roll from my residence, I visited often. Her congenial personality made it easy to broach the subject of God, which I did after the third visit.
In between sips of espresso, I asked Rosa how Italians experience their relationship with Jesus. Her answer was fascinating: “My spiritual beliefs are private.” “The Bible I no believe because it was written by men.” Finally, and for most of her answer, she described a local procession (religious parade) dedicated to the patron saint of fishing. With enough rapport to ask follow-up questions, I proceeded:
Chris: “Now that’s a fish parade I want to see! Is the cross of Jesus depicted in any particular way?”
Rosa: “Yes, Monsignor Giuseppe carries the crucifix, elevated for everyone to behold.”
Chris: “And what is the significance of the crucifix?”
Rosa: “It shows Jesus wearing the crown of thorns with drops of blood marking his face.”
At this point, I asked Rosa a few simple questions intended to elucidate the love of God and the personal significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection for Rosa in particular. It was brief, but meaningful. My goal was to connect the dots between Rosa’s limited understanding of the Christian story and the promises of salvation. I concluded by assuring Rosa that she and her family would be in my prayers.
Reflecting upon my conversation with Rosa brings to mind three basic principles for witness among “nominal” Christians (i.e., self-identifying Christians whose lives are devoid of biblically grounded faith).
Ask your friend how he or she expresses devotion to God. Because a nominal Christian seldom reflects upon the God of Scripture, one’s answer will likely be off the cuff. This, however, will probably not stop your conversation partner from asserting her ideas. There is no telling what she’ll say (it could be the fish parade). Your job is to simply listen. After she concludes, offer a kind response such as, “Thanks, I have never heard it put that way before.” You have just offered this person the gift of hearing herself talk about God. Chances are, when she rests her head upon her pillow that evening, she will replay the tape, remembering the ideas that she expressed. The Spirit’s illuminating grace can do much with that.
Assure you friend of your prayers. Folks who are disconnected from a local church are rarely told that they are being prayed for. Such an offer can be personally touching and has potential to generate valuable reflection.
Mention how Jesus saves you every day. Deliverance from worry, sorrow, and pain are some of the divine graces that we enjoy in Christ. A brief testimony of how such activity has shaped your life will serve to illustrate the ongoing reality of salvation.
May these principles serve your ministry among nominal Christians.