Sneaking Past Watchful Dragons 

A missionary’s interaction with a woman preferring to remain without Christ underscores the challenge of ministry in Italy.

From Message magazine issue "Post-Christian? Missions in the Shadow of Christendom"

Committing a costly error, I purchased an artificial Christmas tree that was too big for my home.

When I subsequently donated it to an association that uses the senior citizens center in my town for its activities, they enthusiastically received it and invited me to their annual Christmas dinner. There, a woman named Mariangela introduced herself to me, claiming to admire Evangelicals and lamenting that she was too old to change her religion, despite her estrangement from the Roman Catholic Church. 

“You see,” Mariangela said, “I committed a mortal sin, and the Church has not permitted me to receive communion since.” 

I inquired, “What mortal sin did you commit that prohibits you from receiving communion, which ought to prompt your thankfulness and remembrance of Jesus’ perfect, once-for-all sacrifice for your sins?” 

Mariangela responded: “I am divorced, so there is no real remedy or hope for me.” 

I grasped Mariangela’s hands and said: “Do you not see, Mariangela, that to believe God can forgive so far but no farther renders Christ’s sacrifice on the cross deficient? Was the Son of God’s action so small a gesture that it did not atone for your divorce? The Scriptures announce Jesus as the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world: all the sin, all the divorces, and other tragedies, big and small. Mariangela, in Christ, you are forgiven, free, and made whole and holy by God’s grace. Let yourself be saved, and rest in God’s complete forgiveness!” 

Mariangela began to weep, keeping her hands in mine while furtively wiping her sleeves across her face to clear away her tears. Presently, the evening’s program continued, and our exchange abruptly ended.  

I tried to follow up with her to no avail. Mariangela seemed reluctant to meet again. When we finally met at a café, she insisted on her preference to remain as she is, alienated from God and without hope. 

A colleague recently reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ description of “watchful dragons”—certain personal or cultural inhibitions that paralyze, hinder, or check someone’s impulse to receive testimony about Christ and instruction in the Christian life. We try to sneak past them in Italy by forming friendships with Italians through participating in community service, local clubs, and events. I used to focus on initiating occasions on my own, but I have learned the value of joining and contributing to what Italians have already started. Earning their trust and establishing credibility over months and usually years is the only way to overcome spiritual inhibitions nurtured since birth. 

By loving Jesus and God’s Word in the presence of my Italian friends, some learn to quiet their dragons long enough to reach for the perfect love of Christ. He alone has the power to defang our fears and slay our dragons. 

Melissa Baccarella

Dr. Melissa Baccarella has served in Italy since 2003 and currently ministers with a church planting team in Caselle, north of Turin, where she designs the church's liturgical and discipleship materials and draws Italians into fellowship through friendship and Christian witness. She is also a content provider for YouVersion Italy. In 2024, Melissa completed her Ph.D. in missiology. Support Melissa’s ministry.