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Local church groups host dinner for Italian visitors

For the past two years, an Italy Mission Tour Team from the Music Ministry at East End Baptist Church has toured Italy to perform a mission in music.

This year, a team of nine left the states on Tuesday, July 4, toured four cities in Italy, and returned on Wednesday, July 12. On Friday, Aug. 11, the teams from 2005 and 2006 came together to celebrate, reunite and to welcome two ministers from Italy with an American dinner hosted by John and Celestine Croston in their home in Smithfield.

About 20 attended, and after the dinner they gathered in the den to watch slides of both tours.

The two ministers, Pastors Martin Ibarra Y Perez, from Milan, (north Italy), and Donato Giampetruzzi, from Polo Coro, (southern Italy) of Unione Cristiana Evengelica Battista d’Italia, (Union of Christian Evangelical Baptist of Italy headquartered in Rome), arrived in Richmond on Monday, Aug. 7, to attend a conference sponsored by the Baptist General Association of Virginia.

Karen Croston is the minister of music at East End and served as team leader on both trips.

“The VGAB has been in a partnership with the Italian Baptist Association for the past four to five years to conduct these particular exchange tours,” she said.

Perez said that the relationship of the Italian Baptist and VGAB came together because the first Baptist churches in Italy were founded by a Baptist Missionary who came from Virginia and introduced Baptist principles in Italy in 1870. He also said due to this action, there are now thousands of

Baptists in Italy.

On Sunday, Aug. 13 at East End Baptist Church on East Washington Street, Giampetruzzi was the guest speaker at the 8 a.m. worship service and Perez was the guest speaker at the 11 a.m. service.

The team performed four concerts—one in Rome and in three towns in Sicily that included Siracusa, Floridia and Carlentini.

This year was the first time that Beulah Wright, Michael Spells and Gale Hall traveled with the group. Others who made the tour were Alexander Bess, Mary Bess, Robert Scott, Helena Thompkins-Spellman and Gail Hinton-Copeland.

Wright said that the most exciting thing about the trip was performing and seeing the expressions on peoples’ faces and how they were received.

“After concerts were over people ran down to us and even if they didn’t understand our language they knew we were singing songs about God. When we went out to sing in the square and returned to the church, the church completely filled and some people stood in the doorway looking in. I would love to go back next year,” said Wright.

Croston said that the trip was similar to last year’s with very kind people who welcomed them with open arms. She also said that the Italians were very friendly and seemed eager to hear what they were going to say.

“Basically we went there with a smile, a song, and a hug and they were excited that we were sharing the gospel with them and that we would take time out of our summer schedule and our vacation to spend time sharing with them,” said Croston.

She also said that the food was plentiful and the sites were beautiful on both trips. She said that it was amazing to watch the way that God’s spirit broke down their English message so that those who did not speak English could understand them.

“The difference in the trips is that last year we traveled to Genoa, Sarzana, Rapallo and Chiavari, the northwest region. This year we traveled to Sicily, an island off the southern tip of “The Boot” and Rome, the middle region by public transportation, mainly trains and every time we went to a different location we moved our lodging and set up housing in another place. This year we stayed in the homes that we were assigned to, went out to the towns to sing, and came back to those homes,” Croston explained.

She also said that this trip wasn’t as long as last year’s trip; therefore, they didn’t see as many sights. But they traveled to Rome, stayed in a European hotel, attended a World Cup Party similar to a Super Bowl Party in the states, and toured the Sistine Chapel and Vatican City. They didn’t do any of these things last year.

Croston said that she found out from the Italian Baptist Association that works directly with the church that the partnership was only suppose to last for two years but now the partnership has been extended for another year. Croston also said that the Italians hope that the Italy Mission Tour Team will be able to come back one more year. She said that plans could change because Rev. Croston has noted that there is a similar need for the African American Gospel to be presented in Japan.

“This would be a great opportunity not only to sing gospel music but also to introduce the Japanese people to the Lord of the Gospel,” she said.