What Antonio told us in 1997
Heaven, purgatory, or Hell?
'I was a practising Roman Catholic and from an early age desired to become a priest. I attended the Roman Catholic Church with fear. I gave gifts to the so-called saints, prayed, belonged to a brotherhood and constantly went to confession, but none of these things brought me satisfaction or peace, and I did not feel that I was a son of God, neither had I any conviction about whether I would go to heaven, purgatory or hell after I died. In other words, from my childhood all this was travail for me, even though the priest kept telling me that thanks to my baptism I had received remission for my sins and the seed of eternal life. However, I was as one who was hungry but could not eat because I was not able to see the food that gives life (Christ). I thought I knew God, but I did not know Him (though He knew me). In short, I always felt a sinner, or more specifically, an unjustified sinner, for with my carnal mind I thought I could come to God through my own merits and with the help of the Virgin Mary and the saints; that is, I had lost the way because my eyes were blinded by sin. I was serving the creature instead of the Creator. I was going to other mediators, instead of the Mediator. This way of living, with “dead” faith, went on for years.
The place of oranges in evangelism!
One day my father decided to move to Vico del Gargano where we lived for sixteen years; in this place the Lord who lives and sovereingnly reigns decided to make himself known and to reveal the Saviour to me. Things changed because I immediately felt myself to be an adopted son of God and understood at once that the Lord had made us move to Vico because He had a precise plan for me.
One day when I was looking after the sheep (my father was a breeder of animals), all of a sudden a man stopped his car and gave me some oranges and then went off immediately. After a few minutes he came back again and gave me some tracts. His name was Salvatore Chiofro. So while I was looking after my father’s flock, the Lord was shepherding me, showing me that I was a lost sinner and that I could not do anything in my own strength or by my good conduct: I was “a sinner”.
I did not go back to the priest because he had never given me any Bible literature, but I went immediately to that man. While I was on my way to his house I noticed a group of people who were watching a film that was being projected unto a wall. I stopped to look at it. The film was about “the universal flood”. At the end of the film, the man, along with others, came up to me and gave me a Bible, inviting me to their house for supper (the Lord was working sovereignly in me). I noticed at once a great difference. Before eating this man gave thanks to the Lord for the food He had provided. It made a great impression upon me. I had never prayed in that way, with spontaneous words that came from the heart and not from something already formulated. All this happened in 1978-1979.
'Now I knew I was a new creation'
While reading the Bible (God’s special revelation) the Lord showed me my sins, then all the things I had done in the past. These had no value before him. I realised that my piety, Mary, and the Saints, were not the way, but rather it was Christ, the One through whom the Father was pleased to save the lost, and I was one of these. But thanks be to God He caused me to walk in the living way (Christ the Lord). Now I knew I was a new creation, there was no longer condemnation because I was now in Christ Jesus my Lord, Priest and King. I cannot give a precise date, but I know that I am God’s child and a citizen of heaven.
When my father and mother heard the news, they opposed it with all their might. My father disowned me as son and my mother said they had brainwashed me and put a spell on me. And so in this way God’s sword of the Spirit began dividing us. But I sought God’s strength and prayed without ceasing for my family. Also my wife separated from me; my marriage was in crisis. For a time my parents and my wife were separated from me. At the time I had two children and one on the way; now I was alone with all my family against me. But I rejoiced in the Lord because I had found the Eternal Father and the true family of God. One thing I could do and that I did; pray for the salvation of my family. All this lasted until 1983.
The Lord laid it upon my heart to return to my native town, so I went. My wife and children remained in Vico, and I was in Peschici. There I met believers and I began to attend their church. I began to preach, encouraged by the local church, and in 1984 the church called me to be their pastor, recognising that the Lord had given me the gift of preaching and that the Lord worked wonderfully in the church and in my family. Then for two years I worked among the young people, using Bible study material suited to them.
My mother and father, with the consent of my wife, took our new-born daughter to the Roman Catholic Church, without letting me know, as I was against this, and had her baptised. But for some reason they immediately were sorry. I had continued to pray, and now I started to read the Bible to my mother and my wife; before that they would not let me do so.
My wife returned to me; the Lord changed her heart and she was converted. A little while afterwards my mother, who had once disowned me, now had to own me as a brother in Christ, for the Lord had changed her heart of stone and given her a heart of flesh. Both of them began to attend the church where I was pastor, while my father was getting worse day by day.
My mother and my wife asked to be baptised, and we agreed to their request. My father heard the day before the baptisms and he brutally raged against my mother and beat her badly. Taking her Bible, he put it into the fire. Then he said to my mother: “If you go to that church tomorrow and get baptised, I will come there with a hatchet and cut you into pieces in front of them all”. Both my wife and my mother came to church the next day to be baptised, and we began the service (our brother Pietro Lorefice was with us for the occasion). As we were immersing my mother and singing the hymn “Who more than Christ could ever love me”, my father arrived at the church. I imagined that he would have beaten my mother, but he stood where he was and began to cry, then he sat down and listened to the end. From then onwards he never said anything wrong to my mother, and he changed his manner towards me too. Since then he has come to the church when he can (his work as an animal breeder sometimes makes it difficult for him). Now, woe to those who speak against the gospel and our Lord!
I was attending a Brethren Church where there was an elder who had not been elected by anyone. He exercised sole authority and acted without taking into account the church’s opinion. I was preaching on Sunday morning and on Thursday. This latter was a Bible study, and I preached systematically. After a short time I started to teach the doctrine of the Lord’s sovereign grace and the Biblical doctrines that go along with this, which caused this one elder to attack me publicly, saying that this type of teaching was of the Devil. This caused tension in the church. So to avoid a division I resigned as pastor, but the church would not accept this, and encouraged me to continue preaching as before. This infuriated the elder and he excommunicated me. I left weeping, as I had been ministering there from 1982 until November 1991. In this period I dedicated time to the studies of Church History, the Church Fathers, Tomas Aquinas, and The Reformation, and I continued with these studies.
I left that church, and nearly all the congregation came with me. Elia, Dina, Maria Paola, Gionatan, Silvana, Michelino, Mattea (my mother), Tea, Anna, Leonardo, Ester, Matteo, and Lina. We began to meet in our home on Tuesday for Bible study and on Thursday for prayer. On Sunday in Elia’s home for the service. In 1992 the church was officially constituted and I was reinstated as pastor. In 1994 we moved into a new place of worship.
In 1991 the Lord gave me the honour of baptising brother Fasanella Michelino; then in 1993 I baptised Tea, Maria Paola, and Silvana. In 1994 the Lord added the Giordano Matteo family, Rosanna and Francesco, soon after Enzo Fasanella, then Rocco Mastropieri. The Lord is blessing us greatly. Please pray for us.
(The testimony above is what Antonio told us in 1997, in EMF's magazine 'A Vision of Europe' ... see cover photo)
... Fast forward to 2023!
Gerry Brienza, (who is Anglo-Italian and EMF's Operations Manager) brings us up-to-date on news about Antonio and his wife Anna.
'In recent years Antonio has been focussing very much on building up the churches in Peschici and Vico del Gargano. There have been encouragements; new people have been added, either existing believers moving into the area, or growth through local people being converted to the faith. There have also been discouragements: church members moving away to find work in other parts of Italy and abroad, or departures due to disagreements, or to individuals falling away.
Regular evangelistic work continues, Antonio is often found in the town square in Peschici handing out Christian literature and engaging with the locals. There are also special evangelistic events when a number of churches in the area gather together in Peschici to proclaim the gospel.
With the advent of the war in the Ukraine, Antonio has been involved in assisting Ukrainian refugees who have sought refuge in his locality.
Antonio is also involved in translating good Christian books from English into Italian, and has written and published a number of books himself. A matter for special prayer is the health of both Antonio and his wife Anna. Anna in particular suffers with intense pain due to bone cancer and back problems, and can only walk very short distances. Antonio has suffered with heart problems and other health issues.
Despite all the challenges thrown at them, Antonio and Anna continue to serve the Lord faithfully.
Antonio has stated that he will continue to serve the Lord until the last minute of his life!'