In an ancient Italian city laid out by Romans, Nick and Shannan Copland use modern tools to meet people and shape relationships.
Nick, 32, and Shannan, 28, IMB workers who serve in Verona, Italy, are naturals—in any language—when it comes to making friends. Nick is extrovert extraordinaire, and Shannan radiates sweetness and sincerity. To forge friendships that may lead to opportunities to share biblical truths in northeast Italy, they use interests that they’ve always had to connect with individuals: among those are good food and outdoor pursuits.
The couple started three online groups with different emphases and advertised them through Facebook, Meetup.com and Couchsurfing.com. For example, through Appertivo Italiano Verona, they advertise get-togethers at local restaurants to enjoy tasting menus. On designated evenings, Shannan and Nick meet with group members who have signed up, usually 8 to 12 people, to dine, get to know one another, and share their stories.
The beautiful city of Verona has all the trappings of a wealthy European city, but is spiritually impoverished. Like other postmodern Italian cities, Catholicism’s tight grip through the centuries has slipped in recent years. To younger generations the organized church has little relevance to their lives. While Catholic traditions such as infant baptism are deeply imbedded in the culture, a genuine relationship with Christ is almost unheard of. Catholic churches here still hold mass mostly for older Veronese, says Shannan. But other church buildings are museums or have been remodeled into pizzarias, restaurants, or banks.
BRIDGING TO THE TRUTH
In Italy, relationship building is key to finding natural ways to share spiritual truths. And that’s where the Coplands’ social networking sites have helped, offering neutral ground on which to meet people who share similar interests.
“Our smallest group for the longest time was Mountain LIFE Verona,” Nick says. It was a group created to draw together people who enjoy hiking, rock climbing, and outdoor pursuits. Verona is situated near the Italian Alps, Lake Garda and numerous other beautiful areas for hiking. Then, in February of this year, “we selected a [particular] hike and it kind of went viral around Verona and 2,300 people clicked that they were interested in the event,” he explains, laughing. “On the actual day of the event, 130 showed up.”
“The Mountain LIFE group is excellent for getting to know people,” Shannan explains. “When there’s a smaller group it’s perfect because when you’re hiking for a few hours all you have is conversation with people to get to know them and for them to get to know you. Those are the best introductions.”
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is what allows the Coplands to bring the gospel of Christ to northeast Italy—a region in which Southern Baptists have never worked before this couple planted their lives Verona.
“People here that know us, we’re known as the people who bring people together,” Nick says. “We’re very community-oriented. We’re here for the people.”
Nick and Shannan as they continue to build relationships and share their lives in this northern Italian city.
Wisdom in where best to focus their energy and efforts as they balance several ministry initiatives.
Their marriage in the midst of ministry. In April the Coplands became parents for the first time when they had a baby girl, Evi.