This January marked 10 years since the day we arrived in Italy to begin our adventure there as full time missionaries. What a journey it has been so far!

Taken in 2012 during our first weeks living in Italy.

Over the years we have shared various posts to highlight some of the more significant things we have been a part of, ways we have grown, and how we have seen God move. Now looking back it is remarkable to see how God has weaved those individual experiences together into a beautiful tapestry. While we were often only able to see the messiness and confusion of the backside of that piece of art, we kept pulling the threads God gave us knowing somehow He would work it all together for good. So while our journey certainly isn’t over yet, it is such a joy to see some of the picture come together and we want to testify to all that God has done so far.

Ten years in, this is the story that God has written as we have sought to serve through arts and anti-trafficking ministry. We hope you will take a little time to read, enjoy some key moments captured on camera, and celebrate all God has done!

Arts Ministry 

We moved to Italy a decade ago to be part of a pioneering arts in mission initiative. Jon was recruited to be the Facilitator of an intensive arts and mission training program. The role uniquely combined his pastoral training, his cross-cultural experience, his passion for art and his business sense. There were 17 artists from around the world who were part of the program and while they received training, Jon’s passion grew for empowering artists to be ambassadors for Christ, using the gifts He gave them. 

Taken during a flash mob the dancers/artists performed in town squares where the gospel was later shared.

After the program, Jon devoted more of his focus and energy to finding ways to serve in our local Italian community. We got involved in a small Italian church and Jon found creative ways to enhance the ministries and outreach efforts with his art. His live street art gave the church a new way to engage the public with truth they shared and he mentored youth who loved art and Jesus.

Jon paints live during an evangelistic outreach and speaks to onlookers about the deeper meaning.

Through it all Jon grew in his conviction that art is a uniquely powerful way to connect with Italians and if the church harnessed it, the potential was huge. 

A few months after we moved to Bologna, Italy for our 2nd term in Italy.

Then we moved to a different city where we were involved in a larger church with several young believers who were talented artists and eager for discipleship. Jon spent hours meeting with them and eventually collaborated with one who was particularly passionate about arts ministry. Together they established the first known church-based art ministry in Italy.

Jon and Eunice, co-founder of the church arts ministry, leading a workshop in a school a few blocks from the church.

The ministry did workshops in the local schools, curated art shows featuring artwork that portrayed elements of the gospel, ran after-school programs and summer camps where kids experienced the love of God while learning art and English, connected with refugees through art clinics, provided new artistic ways for believers to connect with God at Christian retreats, and created murals to hang in church spaces. 

One of many art workshops Jon led at the local schools in our community alongside an aspiring Italian art missionary.

Meanwhile, Jon also created countless logos, websites, flyers, videos, and more for various ministries and churches. His volunteer design work allowed ministries to get a facelift without depleting their budget and furthered their work by making it more visible, engaging, and accessible to the people they were trying to reach. Among many, Jon helped the anti-trafficking ministries in this way by creating all of the branding for the national alliance and safe house initiative. His prayerful creativity of their events and materials have been top notch, thanks to his graphic design support.

One of the many logos and materials Jon created for a ministry in Italy.

Jon then discovered the art of pen-turning and found that pens he made generated funds quickly that could be poured into ministry while also raising awareness about the realities of trafficking. Inspired by the potential to use his art ability and business sense to support anti-trafficking efforts, he pioneered a pilot job training program for a survivor of sex trafficking. Jon led her through a 2-year tailored time of training, where she learned life and job skills and eventually co-designed and created hand-sewn items to be sold with the pens Jon made. 

A survivor of trafficking finishing a pen pouch she hand-sewed during the pilot job-training program Jon managed.

Building on the momentum from the pilot program, he and an Italian believer launched Tesori, a business for mission, where the pens and pouches could be sold on a wider scale. Jon receives no compensation from Tesori but is motivated to see it succeed in order to be able to sustain trusted anti-trafficking initiatives. Specifically, Tesori exists in order to provide a sustainable way to finance and facilitate job programming for more survivors of trafficking! Tesori has already given $10,000 to the Alba Safe House and Recovery Program (which you’ll hear more about below) since it began one year ago and Jon has created a skeletal outline for the job training program that will be developed so that treasures who will soon be living at the Alba Safe House can be supported in this vital way.

What a joy it has been to see how God indeed has used art in powerful ways to build His church over the years. From painting, to pen making, to mentoring, God has been made known. While we can’t know the full impact this side of heaven, we are confident that God will care for the seeds that were planted, the hearts that were moved, the artists that were empowered, and He will continue to speak through the art that remains in homes and churches across Italy.

Anti-Trafficking Ministry 

Erika came to Italy with a deep desire to serve the vulnerable and do justice in the name of Christ. Early on, the problem of trafficking in Italy came to the forefront and after months of prayer and research she and Jon began developing an anti-trafficking ministry with the blessing of their team. It began with the local area of Northern Italy in mind, but God had bigger plans. Before long we discovered, that scattered in different little pockets of Italy, small teams of people were forming because they too saw the crisis of modern day slavery on their local streets and they wanted to make a difference.

Taken during outreach on the streets of Italy where prostitution is legal.

These small groups of believers were passionate and dedicated, but had nowhere to turn for training to ensure safe and effective anti-trafficking work. Outside of their local churches they had no support to come alongside them. Erika wanted to stand in the gap so she spearheaded efforts to produce a training manual and hosted a training event that brought everyone together for the first time. As seven groups gathered in 2014, we saw the synergy that these abolitionists experienced while connecting and beginning to collaborate with one another. The groups didn’t want to see it end there and asked Erika to continue the momentum. That’s when it became more than a local ministry.

Following that catalytic event, Erika was inspired to begin ATR, a national network of Christian abolitionists across Italy. She rallied leaders and directed operations to provide the growing alliance with ongoing opportunities for connection, formation, and collaboration.

Today ATR is made up of 90 practitioners and advocates who are actively involved in 9 ministries that serve in 23 towns and cities across Italy. Collectively these believers do more than 200 outreaches in their respective cities each year where they reach more than 3,000 treasures! Clearly there is a huge crisis in the lives of these treasures across Italy and thankfully we have activists who can reach them, but even when banded together a constant problem has been that we can’t adequately offer them a way for escape and viable alternatives.

Step into Esther’s world to understand the need for a place like Alba and how it can change her life.

Our vision has been to have a stable, protected, and peaceful environment where victims of human trafficking can grow— from being survivors to thrivers. In recent years that vision has become a reality now known as Alba. After years of development, we have the Alba Safe House and Recovery Program that can provide treasures with viable solutions, an opportunity for profound healing and restoration, and a new start in life. Alba will be opening its doors in early 2022 so that treasures can begin again.

Who would have known that ten years after our arrival we would be celebrating this exciting milestone and all that led up to it? God has moved in mighty ways to redeem His daughters in Italy and we can’t wait for the next chapters of the story unfold!

Grateful for What Lies Behind – Excited for What Is Ahead

Along with the many amazing triumphs, we have had challenges, heartache, and setbacks over the years too. It is reassuring to see how no matter what, God took what we offered and created beauty from it. We are so grateful for all that God has done and look forward to what is ahead as He continues to open doors for our involvement in Arts and Anti-trafficking ministry in Italy and around the globe!

THANK YOU for partnering with us in these ministry endeavors. What a privilege it is to serve God together with you. Let’s rejoice at what He has done and trust Him all the more as we take new steps of faith wherever He leads in the years to come! 

The Tello Family