After half a century of serving God overseas in Italy, Clarks Summit University alumni Fred (’70, ’71, ’96) and Rachel (Richmond) Whitman (’71, ’78) aren’t retiring!
The Whitmans were accepted by Baptist Mid-Missions in 1971 and were sent to Perugia, Italy, in 1973. Their ministry in Italy over the last 50 years has primarily been church planting, but it has also included ministries in television, radio, prison and soccer.
“We were challenged to consider the totally overlooked and very difficult field of Italy by veteran missionary Bill Fusco,” shares Fred Whitman. The church-planting in Italy began with a Bible study with two women in 1975, which has since grown into a local Baptist church of about 90 members and 120 weekly attenders. Ministry in Italy was—and still is—difficult due to the heavy Catholic influence.
He says, “Outreach among Catholics is difficult…we are considered by them to be a cult.” Evangelicals make up less than one percent of the population in Italy. “Even though there is freedom of religion, there is not equality of religion,” says Fred. “The Catholic church is privileged in every way. In spite of this, God has richly blessed us.”
Fred has had over 40 years of ministry through the TV ministry and radio station, allowing the ministry to be well-known in and around Perugia. The church recently purchased and remodeled a larger property. They average about 120 attenders on Sunday morning and are praying for an Italian pastor to lead the church.
He recalls, “We were basically alone for many years, although sporadically missionaries who came to our city to study Italian would help out.” That changed when three of the Whitman’s four children returned to Italy as career missionaries. Fred is the emeritus pastor. His son-in-law and CSU alumnus Daniel Ransom (’06) serves as administrative pastor. The Whitman’s son Jonathan is preaching pastor.
Despite the challenges that came with ministry in Italy, the Whitmans had a strong sense of God’s calling. “God has opened many incredible doors to us and has blessed our labors with fruit,” shares Fred. “We have been able to do so many things that very few others are doing in Italy. God gave us a wonderful team of partners in ministry here in the states who have been faithful in their prayer and financial support for these 50 years. Our children all came to know Christ very young and have been faithful in following Christ with their lives.”
The Whitman’s time at CSU prepared them for decades of service. “As a missions major, I had wonderful professors who had been career missionaries,” says Fred. “By taking all my electives from the pastoral studies program, I was really prepared for the church-planting ministry to which God had called me.” Fred was resident assistant, Student Missions Fellowship president and student body president. He recalls his time traveling in a music group called the Anchormen as one of the most formulative experiences in preparing him for ministry. Rachel was involved in the music chorale and as a cheerleader. After graduation, the Whitmans remained involved with CSU. Fred spoke in several chapels, and the couple have hosted a summer team and several CSU students as apprentices over the years. Their daughter, Elizabeth Whitman Ransom (’05, ’15), also graduated from CSU.
The Whitmans were recognized at Baptist Mid-Missions for their 50 years of missionary service. Yet, those years are not over! “We will become emeritus missionaries on December 31, 2021, but we are not retiring, we are retreading!” Fred shares. They plan to still be involved in the church, prison ministry and a hospital visitation ministry.
“Be faithful to God’s Call!” Fred says, encouraging CSU alumni and current students in their own ministries. “Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile for God; the traffic is very light. You will never be happier than you will be by discerning and being faithful to God’s call in your life…Someday, we want to hear those words, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’”
By Haley Seboe Cleveland (’17, ’20)