News & articles

My Romagna, Romagna in bloom: the flood of May 2023 (Reprinted with permission from TGC Italy)

24/5/2023

The floods in N. Italy have affected two of our missionary families, their church plants, and their neighbourhoods. Stefano and Jenny Mariotti have witnessed devastation in Budrio, with an important bridge washed away and families evacuated. (Forlí, where EMF's Michael and Mary Steedman ministered for decades, is also badly affected).Manuel and Jania Morelli serve in Ravenna with their daughters Rebecca and Rachele. They have been at the forefront of efforts to help affected citizens of the town, and Manuel wrote this article for The Gospel Coalition in Italy. It has been translated and reprinted with the permission of TGC Italy, and of Manuel himself.

https://tgcitalia.org/articolo/romagna-mia-romagna-in-fiore-lalluvione-maggio-2023/

A true story

Raoul Casadei praises the beauty of the sun-kissed land in his most famous ballroom dance "Romagna mia". This time, however, the homeland of cappelletti and mazurka was inundated by a flood.

And as in the midst of all crises, the classic existential questions recur as punctual as a Swiss watch, invading the mind and troubling the heart:

Why me? Why us? Why does God allow this? Does God love me or, rather, hate me? Why is this happening? Why again?

In fact, this week's flood (May 16-18, 2023) is the second half of a horror film that started 10 days ago. The perception of the people of Romagna, then, was that the damage, albeit considerable, with houses full of mud and businesses in disaster both in the buildings and in the machinery and raw materials, was limited to Bagnacavallo (RA).

But after only 10 days the second half, the nightmare returns and in mammoth proportions: entire provinces with cities and towns besieged by 14 rivers swollen by the rains that spew water and mud from their broken banks. Hours that become days without respite. A few hours after what seems to have been "the worst that (perhaps) is over", I am writing to you with tears in my eyes, the adrenaline still in my body, my heart pounding and my mind still "hot" for all that is happening at supersonic speed.

And as a Christian who loves God, as a disciple of Christ who loves his Word, as a pastor who loves the church and the people, I would like to share some considerations about the hope that is keeping me standing and saving me from the despair of these moments. Nothing new except the biblical "ancient paths" that we must always bring to mind:

1 – human frailty is revealed in suffering;
2 – God is sovereign over suffering;
3 – the gospel advances in suffering.

1 – Human frailty is revealed in suffering

“For all flesh is like grass, and all glory of man is like the flower of the grass; the grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever"
( 1 Peter 1:24-25 )

The first undeniable and immediate reality in everyone's eyes is that man is powerless.

The first undeniable and immediate reality in everyone's eyes is that man is powerless.

We think we have control. We think we are safe with our technology, our science and our wealth.

But the truth is that we are fragile, weak and very small, like vapor that dissolves in the sun, like ice cream that melts in the heat, like an earthen bank that crumbles in front of the fierce pressure of a river in flood.

Those levees that have broken without resistance in these hours are actually us, it is a painting of our state fallen into sin. Man is earth and he will return to the earth. Naked we came into the world and naked we will leave. With bare hands we live before the Creator of heaven and earth, and with bare hands we will stand on the day of judgment.

Discovering the wound of our impotence hurts, it is extremely painful. But also extremely necessary and therapeutic for our soul. For only when the idol of our vainglory is torn down like the statue of Dagon in the Philistine temple can we fix our eyes on the ark of the covenant of Jehovah. Only when we remember that we are fragile do we turn to the mighty Christ. Only when we are humbled in our weakness are we led to experience the strength of God's Spirit.

It's really true that it takes a catastrophe to look up to the sky.

It's really true that it takes a catastrophe to look up to the sky.

We are not masochists and we do not wish to suffer in order to be able to get closer to the Lord. But God is God, and if the mirror of tragedy is needed to break our proud heart and to make us understand that we need his salvation, he has every right and duty to do so. Because God resists the proud, but he accepts the prayer of a contrite and humbled heart.

2 – God is sovereign over suffering

“This I want to call to mind and therefore I want to hope. It is a grace from the Eternal that we have not been entirely destroyed, because His compassions are not exhausted. They are renewed every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." The Eternal is good to those who hope in him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good to wait in silence for the salvation of the Eternal."
( Lamentations 3:21-26 )

Jeremiah knew that the exile in Babylon would not be the last word, because the last word belongs to the God of the Covenant, faithful and merciful and that in his sovereignty he would act once again, reversing the curse into blessing, converting the calamity into a source of joy, transforming misfortune into a manifestation of his sovereign grace.
For his name's sake, the Lord would redeem his people and bring them home in a new final Exodus ( Ezekiel 36:16-28 ).

Often in the midst of thought-fouling, knee-shaking suffering, we ask ourselves:

“But is God unfaithful? Has he turned his back on us? Has he forgotten about us? Or is God powerless and in fact he cannot save us?”

God is sovereign over everything, at all times. He manifests his justice and his compassion for those who fear him, especially in complex and dramatic situations.

The biblical truth is that God is sovereign over everything, at all times. He manifests his justice and his compassion for those who fear him, even (and above all) in complex and dramatic situations.

Our sure hope is that even during this cataclysm, God remains seated on the throne of the universe, immutable, sovereign, high and perfect in his dominion ( Revelation 4 and 5). He and he alone is reigning! At the end of this flood we, his sons and daughters, will have learned to love him more, with all our mind, all our heart and all our strength. Because we will look back and, despite everything, we will be able to say to the world: "God has been good, God is faithful, God is still the KING!".

3 – the gospel advances in suffering

“Now, brothers [and sisters], I want you to know that the things which have befallen me have resulted in a greater advancement of the gospel, so that it is known to all the praetorium and to all others that I am in chains for Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, encouraged by my chains, have taken greater boldness to proclaim the word of God fearlessly.”
( Philippians 1:12-14 )

A well-known proverb says that "in a crisis, people reveal their best or their worst part". It's really true. During this tragedy many people took action revealing the best part of the human being, as created in the image and likeness of God. This is a manifestation of common grace. Indeed it is by the grace of God that we are what we are.

However, the special grace that God gives only to his sons and daughters allows us followers of Christ to be "light of the world and salt of the earth" in helping alongside those who do not believe.

People have been stuck in the mud, entire families have remained isolated on the upper floors of buildings with small children, pets, without food and water, without dry clothes, without electric light, in the dark, with the ground floor of their homes invaded by river water and excrement that has come back from saturated sewers.

Submerged cars peek out from the expanse of water with only their roofs. The refrigerators float in the middle of the living room. A demoralized father needs to recover the wet clothes of his 3 small children.

The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of shyness and cowardice but of power, and leads you to do to your neighbor what you would like to be done to you.

Here is the crossroads of choice: stay warm or roll up your sleeves?

The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of shyness and cowardice but of power, and leads you to "do unto your neighbor as you would have them do unto you". You begin to help, pray, support, show solidarity, strengthen unity, show practical sacrificial love, not just in words but in deeds ( 1 John 3:18, 4:20 ).

Unwittingly, especially as a church, you find yourself “letting your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:19 ) .

In the struggle, gospel testimony shines forth, the gospel is proclaimed, Christ is exalted, the church is united and strengthened, God is glorified, the Holy Spirit works in power.
What can you do now?

  • Intercede for us and for all of Romagna, please.
  • Support financially. There are many initiatives to support those who have lost everything.
  • Prepare for your turn: I pray you never find yourself in a similar situation. But since we never thought it would happen to us either, I want to encourage you to prepare.

If you haven't already, look to the grace of God who in suffering shows you his love in His Son Jesus. Confess your need for him and he will give you his spiritual strength to face everything. If you already have Jesus as Lord of your life, look at your fragility, at his sovereignty and let the flame of the gospel encourage you to fight the good fight and manifest your faith in Christ. Pray, watch and evangelize for the glory of God!

Soli Deo gloria.
Manuel Morelli

Manuel Morelli is Italian, from Romagna, married to Jania and father of Rebecca and Rachele. After his engineering studies in Bologna, he studied theology at IFED Padova with prof. Bolognesi, De Chirico and Simonnin; at the London Seminary with prof. James, Green, Simonnin and Williams and majored in Baptist ecclesiology at 9Marks with Mark Dever's Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC. Today he is the pastor of the Evangelical Baptist Church “Solo Cristo” Ravenna – Italy.



Some more photos Manuel has sent us at EMF, to show the devastation:

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Prayer Points

  • Thank the Lord for his protection of the Christians in church plants in Italy
  • Please ask the Lord to give all the Christians affected much grace, strength and wisdom as they try to reach out to neighbours