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A Quarter Century Of Gospel Preaching

Antonio F. Scorza was pastor of the Moody Italian Mission Church from 1922 into the 1940s. The Moody Italian Mission Church was started in 1909.

“As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia.” “What persecutions I endured, but out of them all the Lord delivered me” (2 Corinthians 11:10; 2 Timothy 3:11b).

Next to my Saviour and Lord, Paul the apostle is my pattern of a Christian and a servant of God. Reading his inspired writings has been through these years an unfailing source of inspiration and strength. Really, if the Universal Church on Earth had to have a Vicar of our Lord, with due respect to Peter, my vote would be cast on Paul’s side immediately, and since he was the divine choice as the Apostle to the Gentiles, I would find myself building upon Scripture.

This year marks the 25th mile post of Gospel preaching and Bible teaching ministry in my present field. I have been requested to put in writing some recollections. What one may be able to recall of a quarter of a century’s “work of faith and labour of love,” of necessity, must be brief and limited to the high points.

According to the testimony of others, a good measure of success has been attained. But, whatever this has been we have endeavored to keep true both in faith and conduct. This I can say to the praise and honor of His blessed Name. When one thinks of the nature of our field, and the background of the people we minister to, my readers will not mind if I seem a bit boastful, when I say that I firmly believe that the Italians of this generation have had greater opportunity to hear the undiluted Gospel than in any previous generation. Perhaps we owe it to the radio and the freedom of speech on the street corner, together with the publication of the Holy Scriptures and evangelical literature in large quantities.

Now, in order to be more logical in my narrative, I must regress and start at the beginning and I believe a word of personal testimony is preferred. There is no credit or discredit as to the station in which a man is born. My parents were poor, but upright, belonging to the peasant-merchant class. In religion they were Roman Catholic, fearing God and rigidly observing what the Church taught them. This they did until the brighter, fuller light of the Gospel of Christ came to them through their children, who were converted in the good U.S.A.

I was born in Calabria, Italy, in a small town. There I was taught all that could be learned in a school that had up to the fourth grade. Perhaps it was the equivalent of our elementary school here. Being offered a higher education I preferred to emigrate as soon as I would become of age. My spiritual consciousness was not aroused until I was about eleven years old. While I was following the celebration of the Mass I read in my prayer book something like this: Lord, I thank Thee for the light of the Gospel.” Not knowing what this light might be, I inquired of the parish priest, who politely put me off by saying that this light was in the New Testament, but that its reading was not meant for me. I promised myself right then and there, that as soon as I could secure a copy I would read it. Would they sell it at the Province city? Of course they will have it in the U.S.A. when I shall become of age and get there!

This determination had almost vanished away, nine years later, when in God’s providence this boyish desire of mine was fully realized. A total stranger, but, who later told me that he knew my father, stopped me right in the heart of Chicago’s loop, and made a promise to me. “If you will come to see me,” he said, “I have a gift for you.” In company with several young friends of mine I went to see this man. He could never be mistaken as he had a wine-red birthmark on his face. Being a candy-maker by trade, he had some fudge for us. He brought us to Lincoln Park and took some snap shots of our group. When we parted he presented me with a copy of the New Testament, costing no more than a dime. He remarked that if I would obey that book it would keep me from sin. The second time he met me he made the strange statement that some day I might be preaching the truth of that book. I confess that I did not understand the meaning of his remark. Since I had come to American to make money and not to preach anything I did not know. I must add that at this point of my life I had learned to enjoy some of the pleasures of this world.

Turning to the strange looking book, I read the first few verses of Matthew, chapter one. Those hard spelling names confused me, so I put it away as impractical for common reading. Six months later I saw my friend again. I had by this time learned that his name was Rosario Procopio, a convert from Romanism, who found the Saviour in a little Methodist Mission where he had gone to learn English. He asked me how I liked my book. I naturally blushed and hesitated to tell him my difficulty. But as he had a good intuition, without further questioning, he invited me and my friends to attend a cottage prayer meeting which he conducted in his home. I attended once, twice, and I began to like it. I became fond of the hymns, which were sung in Italian. Once in a while I became interested in the Bible stories. I memorized, together with others, fifty leading Bible verses in Italian. However, strange as it seems, it took me another six months before the Light that I wished to see, as a boy, broke through my darkened mind. Coupled to my ignorance of the things of God, was a strong love for the things of the world. So I resisted conviction of sin, and also the light which I should have welcomed. Finally the willingness came to surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ by accepting Him as my Saviour and Lord. It was not until for three days I had been unable to eat anything nor get much sleep, on account of a strong sense of my guilt, which had gotten hold of me. The Holy Spirit had brought me under conviction of sin. This marked my conversion at just about the time that I had come into young manhood. This was in October of 1905. By December of the same year my good friend brought me to apply for membership in The Moody Church, which I did by the end of that month. Mr. Procopio had already united with the Church a month before. This period marked my contact not only with the Church of my choice, but also with the Moody Bible Institute and under the sound ministry of godly men like Dr. Torrey, Dr. Gray, and Dr. A.C. Dixon, my life was to be moulded for service, in His Name, among my people.

Having now come into the blessed light of the Gospel, my first thought was to help my people, and especially my immediate loved ones. So in January of the following year, after prayer with Assistant Pastor Rev. Mr. Jacoby, I left for my home across the ocean. I took with me two suit cases filled with Bibles, Testaments, and Scripture portions, expecting to supply every family in my home town with a copy of the Scriptures or a portion thereof. I came nearly losing the precious cargo at my landing in Naples. Through some help I saved them intact, and my wish was gratified, for every family was supplied. Within thirty days very few copies escaped the “holy fire” of the parish priest, the same one who had refused the Scriptures to me. This happened during the Lenten services, in my absence from the town. The seed, however, remained, for out of this incident there resulted four Missions in the same Province with scores of converts made through the preaching of the Gospel of the “Finished Work of our Lord on the cross of Calvary.”

My younger brother Joseph, being the first to see and receive the light, became a missionary to Italy, laboring there for 15 years. It was largely due to his later ministry there that our parents, brothers and sisters and other relatives saw the same light. Both father and mother have since seen the brightest light, as they have been gathered to that heavenly rest of which they sang for a good number of years. My brother is still in the Gospel ministry in Chicago and a younger brother is doing missionary work among the Italians of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. All because some one gave away a copy of a New Testament and took an interest in an immigrant boy! Does it pay?

A QUARTER OF A CENTURY? That seems a long time to labour in one place. “Endure unto the end”, “Have endured unto this day,” ring repeatedly in my ears. The forgoing happened thirty-four years ago. For nine years we cultivated the same field, (A little distance from the good old Church—then on Chicago Avenue at LaSalle). We did this as volunteers and met the rent by assessing the ten or twelve converts monthly. Meanwhile a Bible class was being conducted at the Moody Sunday School, taught by Brother R. Procopio. Out of this class sprang the Mission on Milton Avenue. Four other denominations attempted work in this same field for a little while, and out went their light. It must be said, to their credit, that while they lasted they did good work, especially the Evangelical Association located at Milton and Hobbie Streets.

By 1910 I had tried almost everything under the sun, as far as occupations are concerned. I began as a water boy on the road; flag man on the same; factory work; finally in business together with the man who had given me the Gospel. He was a printer by choice, giving preference to Gospel tracts, leaflets, periodicals in Italian, etc. It was out of this business, two years later, that I felt called to devote my entire time to the preaching of the Gospel. This call came, through the Church Extension Board of the Presbyterian denomination, to go to Chicago Heights. That same year, 1912, a fine brick edifice was dedicated to God and His service in that suburb. This work goes on strongly. It was at that time when God was pleased to give me my life companion, who was to be my helpmate and a faithful one throughout these years.

In January of 1914 we were sent out to open a new field among the miners of Coal City, and Carbon Hill, Illinois. We were there only eight months but they proved blessed in every way. We found our people ripe for the Gospel. Fully two hundred of them professed conversion during that period. Some, when the mines closed that year, followed us to Chicago and the Moody Italian Mission, where we were called to return and labour in September.

In entering into our Chicago ministry, we found the nucleus had grown to about 15 or 20. On these helpers we could count for street services where our largest audiences congregated. In the first open air service when I gave my testimony, a man, intending to silence an intruder, whipped out a gun, ready to shoot the culprit. Imagine my impressions of the moment. We helped the would-be-assassin to find Christ. For years he was a valuable member of a west side Evangelical Church, until he was gathered to his eternal home.

It would fill a volume if we had to recount all the incidents of persecution, which we had to endure. A minister friend of mine gave us two years to last. Another said, “You will be made our next St. Anthony, as they surely will martyr you there.” We came near to experiencing these strange predictions. Twice our lives were threatened. In one instance I did not know until told by the would-be-murderer. This man who became a believer invited me to dinner and informed me of his former intentions previous to his conversion. He too has gone on to the realms of Light above. One of his daughters is a member of our Church. Another who made an attempt of a similar character tells me that he now reads his Bible. A plot was on foot to throw a bomb into our open air crowd, but we “were led by another way.” Two gospel tents were destroyed by fire and our Watchman received head wounds requiring eleven stitches. Tomatoes, eggs and the like missiles are desirable when one hears of the former. The second generation recalls those boyhood days with amusing feelings, chagrin and regret. Some of them still talk about the gross superstition of their elders. A good number have come to the same Light of life. Perhaps the true number will not be known, until we get home, but we have records that about 2500 have professed conversion here in our field. Those who branched out tell their own stories. But the ground broke gradually. To win the people’s confidence, to make them believe we were their friends, to attract them to the story of Redemption—and away from Mariolatry and idolatry was and is a hard task. But they came, first slowly, then more rapidly, until converts came on an average of one hundred a year. Over a dozen young men have gone forth fully equipped to preach the Gospel elsewhere after taking courses in or graduating from the Moody Bible Institute. One came as a tramp and after his conversion and transformation he wrote his testimony entitled: “From Garbage Can to Canaan Land.” He is now Pastor of a Church in New York State.

“From a room as large as a good size parlor to the edifice on Elm and LaSalle there is a big, big step” said a former worker as she visited our present quarters. Yet from store to store the work grew slowly; at times its progress could scarcely be noticed. Six times we moved, until the fire of February 1936 caused our final migration into what some have termed the finest looking and best Italian Evangelical Church building. This was bought in 1936 and dedicated September 20 of the same year. Larger attendances and more conversions are evident, but we are earnestly praying for a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord as other portions of the Church of Christ everywhere crave and pray for. God grant it to us all.

Whatever may be the religious and political condition of Italy today it is hard to state positively; but how wonderful it is to recall that in the year 1919 over 150 young preachers of the Gospel were sent to Italy to evangelize that priest-ridden land. These were sent by one denomination at the recurrence of its centenary. Several of our own went back at that time to do similar work. It is true that no other generation of my people have heard the Gospel as the present one. And our 5,000,000 Italians in the States have had a similar, if not a better opportunity to hear Redemption’s story. In 1920 we tabulated that in our open air services in Chicago’s north and south sides 100,000 of our people had heard the “old, old story, of Jesus and His love.” This ministry still persists. Other fields have been visited and series of evangelistic services have been conducted. Other Churches and Missions have been founded. Ten different states of the Union have been visited in many places.

The civic service, the amount of mutual understanding created between older Americans and new comers from sunny Italy is of untold value. Yet this forms a small contribution made to true Americanism by the 350 Italian Evangelical Missions and Churches which have been operating in the United States. Several thousand homes have been visited, Scriptures and tracts have been distributed in large quantitites, 50,000 copies of “The Way of Life Made Plain” in Italian, were distributed at the gathering of the Eucharistic Congress in Chicago. But the greatest human agency for bringing the Gospel to our Italians is the radio. We believe at times we have been heard by nearly 50,000 Italians over WMBI. What shall the harvest be? “That day” of the future will reveal it.

—Antonio F. Scorza, Pastor of the Moody Italian Mission Church