Rich, Rhonda, Ashley and Tori Hanssen
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Rich suggests that I take the train to a small village called Grisignano di Zocco (see the photo) where he would, as they say in Italy, come and “collect” me.
I arrived in time for lunch and went immediately to their beautiful home. For a variety of reasons (usually economic) most missionaries here are usually forced into living in sub-standard housing until they find their way around and make the necessary cultural connections.
I wondered how they could have such a great place at such a tremendously fair price. American’s get gouged but this doesn’t appear to have happened in this case.
It is explained that the landlords are very nice and quite wealthy (or so it appears since they have just purchased a completely refurbished seven hundred year old villa in the heart of the village). What a nice deal this turns out to be since they can also host their church of some thirty-five or so in the basement where they have a sanctuary and classroom – nursery.
It was about five years ago that I first came into contact with the Hanssen’s when Rich inquired of me how to go about getting papers to settle in Italy. I was able to provide a few tools through another friend and he, Rhonda and the girls are now in the Aviano region primarily serving American military personnel stationed at the airbase near there. Over the last few years they have attracted others including Italian’s, Liberian’s and Spanish speakers.
The girls are both very crafty and talented so I enjoyed seeing Ashley’s quilts and Tori’s jewelry. Their mother, Rhonda put together a wonderful (mostly American styled) lunch and after a talk with prayer, I went back to the train to make my way on down to Verona for the night in a three star (yes, three star!) hotel. I know this wouldn’t be suitable for Benny Hinn but it works for me.
Venice and Pioggia, pioggia, pioggia…
Monday, November 9, 2009
Some of you may know that I first became acquainted with Piero through a Brazilian friend who introduced us over the internet. Piero had about a billion questions and whether my friend didn’t have the answers or tired of the questions remains to be known. All I know is that he eventually handed off to me and apparently I was convincing enough that he invited me to meet him in Venice at the train station on my next trip through the region. At that time, Piero was a single man about town and known by just about every life- long Venetian. I did meet him and in the short time that we had we walked the streets, along the canals, had lunch, then finally sat on the steps of a cathedral and talked about , what seemed to me everything that had ever popped into his mind. In the end, I must have come out on the best side of the conversation because over the next several years, Piero warmed to the idea of Christianity as a life and eternal option.
Rain, rain, rain…
Piero’s new wife Natasha is Moldovan and Russian Orthodox (one of those, “I was born Russian Orthodox and I will die Russian Orthodox”) types. Yet, now it seems that I am like her father and she treats me this way. She insisted that I have supper and stay the night. She calls me Anthony and I like that. She loves for me to pray over the meal and bless them and their house. I have given her the gospel in Russian and I wait to see. Piero is always explaining how Russian Orthodox is not in the question, in the end, systems will mean nothing. I believe with Piero that circumstances of their coming together were so providential that there is nothing that will keep her from becoming a full-out Christian. It is my view that I could not have wished for a more lovely mate for my friend.
Natasha posses every Christian virtue.
Can you imagine? Piero has no church or Christian community to rely upon and yet he has grown exactly as he should. He gets most of what he knows from the internet but it is amazing to me that with all of the stuff he could land on, he seems to have come up with the right stuff. At first he had issues concerning the exclusiveness of Christ but now he is clear on this and even while working as a concierge at the Hilton and surrounded by people of various faiths, much atheism and homosexuality, he appears to have emerged as an undeniable witness to the gospel. He gives credit to God for every improvement in life of which there have been many. I still believe that there is something more in store for this young couple.
After a delicious cena di sera (supper), exhausted, I went to Cristiano’s room fell upon the bed and awoke at six with the sounds of Natasha readying herself for work. Later, after Cristiano started to complain, Piero got out of bed to make me breakfast and visit until I went by water taxi to the train station at ten in the morning.
A Visit with Gene
International Teams Missionary
Monday, November 9, 2009
I also serve to reconcile and link people and ministries in relational partnerships…
Through a friend in Minneapolis (Paul Higdon) I was introduced to the Coleman’s who serve with International Teams in the northeast part of Italy.
After waiting about an hour after arrival (I knew in advance this might be the case and I am used to a great deal of waiting) Gene came into the station to take me to lunch. It was only 11:30 and an unusual time to lunch in Italy (Italian’s usually have lunch at 1 or 1:30 and dinner hour might be as late as eight pm.) so he first took me out to what he called the “Sala”, an Italian word for assembly hall or meeting room.
He told me ahead of time that I would be impressed with their facility and I was! In Italy it is almost impossible to find and then obtain permission to publically gather. Some feel that this is intentionally meant to discourage evangelicals from organizing themselves and having a visible presence in any city.
The building which once served as an automobile repair service. The church were shown incredible favor by the owner who permitted this free-standing building to be put at the service of the local congregation for the measly sum of ??? Euro. We agreed that a similar location and space might run as much as four times this amount.
From here we went to the restaurant but being Monday (lunedi) when many stores are closed we landed upon a marvelous restaurant (you must go there) called Barrique Drag & Max Bar, Trattoria, Pizzeria. Here we had a long visit regarding our various journeys and decided that, indeed we are cut from the same cloth, serve the same Lord and share similar philosophies of what constitutes purposeful missionary work. In the three hours that we were together we covered most everything that two rather non-relational men can come up with in the length of time.
With various commitments to work in tandem, I was back to the trains and on my way to Venice to stay the night with Piero, Natasha and little Cristiano Pugiotto.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Two of the students, my translator Mitijah and Igor drove me about an hour and a half west to Trieste, Italy a port city at the top of the Adriatic Sea. I am very familiar with Trieste having spent almost four years there in the early days. Caleb and Linda are applying and interviewing to serve with ACCI in Italy.
Part of my job is recruiting new missionaries for ACCI…
I enjoyed meeting Caleb after talking with him over the phone on several occasions since about 2004. He is a likeable guy and, like his sister, Jolynn who served in Trieste before him, he seems to be a master of language acquisition. As might be expected, I generally dislike people who are good at language learning. I doubt if you will ask why this might be. They have made their home in Trieste for four years, he and Linda and have two children. Regrettably, Linda was unable to join us.
This is an open hearted, nice guy. The first question I ask myself when choosing a missionary is, “Is this person likeable?” Caleb passed the first test with flying colors.
November 5-8, 2009
If I were an authentic Italian this would not have been the common cold (raffreddora). This must be INFLUENZA! At the moment there is an obsession. Everyone is stricken with influenza – not just the normal kind, but rather, the kind that kills. At the greeting, “Come stai?” I am met with an automatic, “ Male, molto male, io ho influenza!”
Well, I caught the raffreddora – a cold. This put me in bed for about three days and the only time I got out of bed was to teach, preach or eat and there was plenty of this going on during the four days I was in Ljubljana.
We arrived on Thursday evening and immediately started to work with a two and one half hour lecture on “Communicating Christian Thought in a Post Christian, Post Modern World”, another word for preaching, though a different kind (preaching to the non-Christian mind).
In the class room, (the sanctuary converted) I had about twelve rather keen students who seemed to like just about everything that came out of my mouth. Now you must understand, I am not brilliant but in a world where there is virtually nothing from the outside so for them, I have the status of a Billy Graham. They treat me this way. I’m not sure why. Perhaps they know that I care about them enough to invest in them. Maybe it is because I genuinely show affection for them but whatever the reason, I feel respected and appreciated, even revered.
This was the plan. Pastor Chris Scobie had me set up to teach on Thursday evening and Saturday morning and then preaching on Friday evening (evangelism) and Sunday morning (Thanksgiving in Slovenia).
At the moment it is Tuesday and I write catch-up blogs on the train from Venice to Verona. I won’t write every detail except to say that in spite of the fact that I spent all of my spare time in bed, we had a variety of well attended services filled with enthusiasm. I will attempt to take you there through photographs and here are a few highlights.
J and A hosted the training school to lunch at the local restaurant.
The students preached with passion and excellent content. In actual fact, some preached better than most of my preaching students at Bethany College of Missions. This they did without having much exposure to different preaching styles. These young people seem to have something to say.
The worship was incredible with two bands and a choir all made up of very talented young people.
Sunday morning was a packed house with over a hundred seats filled.
Communicating Christian Thought in a Post Christian / Post Modern World
November 5, 2009
We arrived at the church where I often stay and are shown to our rooms. Downstairs the youth are practicing worship and then special music sung capella. This part of the world still knows how to sing parts and it is beautiful to hear the melodies echo up the stairway broken by the occasional laughter.
J and A are just across the hall in a double mattress laid on the floor in a room which normally only has a desk and a photocopy machine. I have the better of the two rooms with a real bed, couch, small table with two chairs and an adjoining bathroom which I will share in shifts with J and A. They get the mornings and I the afternoons.
At seven we have gathered with ten to twelve students in the sanctuary that seats about 100 on Sunday morning. Though I am well-known by all but one person, I am introduced, welcomed and take the platform alongside Chris’ wife Sabina, an outstanding interpreter that I worked with at least a dozen or more times.
The group are incredibly attentive as I speak on the subject of “Preaching to the Unchurched.” This is a two-hour lecture that will picked up once more on Saturday morning when it will be expected that each student will have to give a brief ten or fifteen minute message.
Trieste, Italy in route to Ljubljana, Slovenia
November 5, 2009
After missing or rather, after being mis-informed, about a train to Mestre, Italy (Venice) we got stuck having to pay an extra 17,40 Euro to ride the faster and more comfortable, First Class EuroStar. Once in Mestre and transferred on to another clunker for two hours we arrive in Trieste, the city where I spent my first three or four years before moving to serve in Parma. We are met by Pastor Chris Scobie and taken to his car then shuttled on another hour to Ljubljana the capital city of two million person nation and former Yogoslavian – Titoesk state.
Can you imagine? There are only 1,000 evangelical believers in the entire country.
When we finally stop for coffee Chris attempts to explain to J and A the spiritual, social, political and historical dynamics of this complicated part of the world.
Parma to Bologna
November 6, 2009
I always love the question, “Are you here in Italy for a vacation or work?” When I reply, “Work,” the questioner will always want to know what it is that I do. Depending upon the situation, I can have one of two answers. I can either admit right off of the top that I am a Christian missionary but I usually present myself in the guise of a teacher of Cultural Apologetics or Comparative Religion which will more often than not, provoke further inquiry. After all, this is what I do. I, of course, have the other choice. If something Christian might immediately scare them off, I am honest in saying that I am an artist.
After waiting about an hour and half beyond the scheduled arrival time, a Regional train for Bologna finally does show up on Track 4 and J, A and I happily board for our five-hour ride to Trieste where we will be met by Chris Scobie who will take us on to Ljubljana, Slovenia for a series of meetings he has planned there. Tonight, if we ever get there, will be a session on Preaching to a group of about twelve enrolled in his ministry training school.
When we stop in Reggio Emilia, seventeen minutes to the east of Parma – on to the train and into the seat next to the window came a young woman about twenty-five years of age saying. “Thank you,” as I shuffled my feet out of the way to make room for her.
It turns out that Roberta spent four months in England, is a student of language and spoke English very well. One thing led to another and we found her to be very open, curious and most of all likeable without the typical “vampy” affectations of many Po valley women. She was simply a common, unpretentious and fair-minded person. For the next forty minutes or so we were able to share what we believed and introduce her to the idea of visiting the Latino church in Parma. With all of the appropriate phones numbers and emails exchanged we left her company at Bologna Centrale. The most telling comment came when I asked her if I looked happy to which she replied, “Well, certainly more happy than I am.”
This is all we are called to do. We are called to give witness whenever the opportunity arises which we try to be faithful to do. The rest is up to God.
For believers, this story is bigger than you might consider but unfortunately, I am not to provide the intricate and most interesting details on a public blog of this nature. I will permit your imagination to explore the clandestine and disordered world that I am quite used to experiencing here in Europe. In reality, this is quite a warm and encouraging tale.
While leaving the church on Sunday night, this fellow Johnny stopped me at the door. He said something like this, ” I have many questions that I need to have answered. In my mind I believe what you are saying but some things do not make sense.” I did, what now seems to be absolutely unthinkable. I volunteered to meet him. Johnny is from Columbia. He speaks seventeen words of incomprehensible English. I speak four hundred twenty-three words of grammatically twisted Italian and I suggested we get together where I would gladly attempt to answer his questions, one by one. I understand about one-tenth of the amount that I am able to say. I had no idea that he did not have but two or three questions but had a trunk full of them and for three hours they came at me one after another. I employed everything in my arsenal and as soon as I ran out of amo, he would charge at me with another. I was exhausted, but slowly, by standing on my feet and gesturing my way through complicated explanations (it pays to be a ham) that I had no words for and pointing to scriptures, then forcing him to read them out loud, he gave up and complimented me in writing by saying, “Always before I could hear it but I could not feel it.” I left the apartment feeling wonderfully incompetent and that God’s Spirit is able to slip through our sloppy workmanship.
The problem with a person is never ignorance. I can answer a persons questions for twenty years and they will always have another. The questions can be as absurd as, “Did Adam have a belly button?” or as complicated as, “Where did God come from?” or “If God is good, why is there so much suffering in the world?”
The real problem with man is rebellion and this is usually exhibited in one of two ways. First, light will not be given to the proud man as God will resist him. The man who says that God (if there is a God) should go out of His way to reveal Himself is a man who will never hear from God. This person will remain in utter darkness for both time and eternity.
Next, there is the man who is not yet enough sick of himself. He remains happy and content in his small, boring world. This is the one who prefers his sin and amusements over possessing communion and a life with God. Frankly, God just isn’t as compelling as everything else. Jesus had these people around Him in his day. These are the one’s who prefer darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. The cares of this world and the love of other things keep them intoxicated. Jesus once asked, “Do you want to get well?” Why did he do this? Doesn’t everyone with a malady prefer to be made whole. No, some people love being sick. Sickness has become their self understanding – their complete identity. Sometimes it is simply easier to stick with something horrible and debilitating than to make change that might be costly even though the outcome is considerably better. The sensible man should prefer an uncomfortable, momentary visit to the dentist over the prolonged and intense pain of an absessed tooth.
Here I am in another internet coffee shop writing all of this stuff. Does it make any sense to come all the way to Europe and use my time in this way?