My (Italian) Testimony

Allow me to begin at the beginning. I was born in Brooklyn, New York on October 17, 1957. I was named Elvira Robina Mannarino and my parents were Albert and Alessandra. Dad was born in Brooklyn and Mom was born in Milano. We lived on Herkimer Street off Eastern Parkway in the same brownstone where my father grew up. My family moved to Long Island in the early sixties. I was the second of five children and we spent “the wonder years” in a nice neighborhood. My father sold insurance, mom was always home, there were lots of relatives and life was good.

Dad was the ninth of eleven children, born to Italian immigrants who came to Ellis Island to pursue the American dream. Family gatherings, which took place every Sunday afternoon at 1:00, were loud, emotive and intimidating to outsiders. Come to think of it, there were no outsiders, except for an occasional date accompanying one of my cousins. By the time we all got married, there were 37 first cousins—on my Dad’s side alone!

The Sabbath was sacred at Papa and Mama Mannarino’s house—but not for reasons one might guess. The grown children would not think of being late for macaroni and gravy. (They never called it pasta and sauce.) There is an Italian saying; “Al tavolo, non sei vecchio.” (“At the table, we don’t grow old.”) For Italians, food is more than a meal. It is an occasion, a feast, a love affair. The table was a microcosm of the culture. The table was where everyone made eye contact. Arguments started there, and when the patriarch Giuseppe raised his open hand and said “Basta!” they also ended there.

Communication was fairly basic. As grandchildren, we were given simple directives: “Go wash your hands! Go sit down! Go eat! Go upstairs! Go outside! Go kiss Grandma!” The only meaningful conversation took place at the table. I’m not referring to deep discussion of politics or religion. It was more along the lines of the price of tomatoes, which neighbor moved, what year the pharmacist died, and how the Yankees were doing. Characteristically, the decibel level in the room went from very loud to much louder.


A bible the size of Utah sat upon a marble table in our living room but no one was allowed to touch it. Until my Confirmation ceremony, I was under the impression that God’s last name started with a “d.” We rarely said grace, although Mom did insist that Father MacDonald sprinkle holy water into our brand new swimming pool before any human body parts ever touched the deep end.

There was an awareness of the existence of God—but not the experience of God. Religion came up from time to time—ours was right and everyone else’s was wrong.

Nonetheless, I was a seeker, and at age fourteen, I began my search for a relational God. It didn’t take long to find Him. No heart break stories, no promiscuity, no alcohol or drug use. My most blatant sin is one the one God hates most. It is pride and I battle with it to this day. When I was Student Council President at Candlewood Junior High, someone shattered my above average existence with one simple question. “Are you a Christian?”

I was a bit offended. Was I a Christian? I was Italian—that made me a Christian, didn’t it? I was a good person and I followed the Ten Commandments and all that. I even went to church on the important days. Of course I was a Christian!

Not satisfied with my glib answer, this friend said to me, “Well, Jesus said that everything boils down to just two things. ‘You have to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and then to love other people like yourself.' If you're doing those two, everything else falls into place. So, Ellie, do you love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength?”

Even at that young age, I knew the answer. It had to be “no.” I didn’t know how to love Jesus like that. I didn’t think it was possible. I didn’t know He loved me and died for me. I was floored when my friend explained Jesus hung on the cross for my sins. I needed to process and respond with thoughtfulness and intentionality. When I asked Jesus to reside in my heart and be my constant companion, I began a life changing relationship with the living God and I have been amazed by His goodness and love.

As I grew older, a little wiser, and closer to the Lord, I began to realize that most people declare their faith to be “personal.” That was difficult for me to grasp. When you fall in love—you tell people. When you get married—you tell people. When you have a baby—you tell people. And when you find out there’s a way to live in Paradise forever and ever…well you just don’t keep that kind of thing to yourself.

Almost forty years later, I am quite fully convinced of the virgin birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe the Bible to be God-breathed and that it is an instruction manual for our time on earth. I cling to each promise and testify that Jesus is still in the miracle business. I am fully committed to the Great Commission to “go and tell.” My purpose for living is quite simple; “To know Christ and to make Him known.”
The rest is macaroni, meatballs and gravy--- and a lot of time at the table.