A compliment thirteen years in the making…

The Button

I generally stay in homes but this time, due to circumstances, I stayed at the wonderful little three-star Button Hotel in the heart of the city. This hotel is so personal, it seems more like a bed and breakfast though it has forty rooms. In Europe, hotels are not always “user-friendly” and a client can be made to feel that they are a little unwelcome but The Button isn’t like that (at least in my experience). I have been here for ten days and the great location (in spite of the street sounds on Friday and Saturday nights) allows me to get coffee in a hundred small shops, catch buses to wherever I like and when I am looking for perhaps the best pasta, fish and pizza in the world, just step out the door and there I have it.

In the ten days I have been here, I have gotten to know the front desk personnel Tommaso and Massimo (who is addicted to fishing – I was even invited to his birthday party with all of the staff) the cleaning lady from Moldova and finally, the lady who puts together the colazione (breakfast) who always brings me fresh squeezed orange juice and my own bottle of water. I feel like a celebrity. They know me both as an artist and as a “Priest.” The most important thing for me, however, is their inclusion and the offer, “If and when you return to Parma, “Io daro il prezzo speciale”or

Tommaso

“I will give you the special price.” Perhaps this is all because I gave the Moldovan housekeeper twenty euro with my finger over my lips with a “SSSSHHHHHH.”  This kind of generosity in Italy would be hard to contain since a client almost never speaks to service staff. But whatever the reason, this morning while I was having my cappuccino and a brioche, the lady who serves me said the following,

“Ho detto che il Signor Antonio, Tommaso ha un’anima italiana, si preoccupa per il popolo.”

Translation: “I said that Senior Anthony, Tommaso, he has an Italian soul, he is concerned for the people.” I am deeply honored by this high compliment. If ever you go to Parma, try to first book with The Button. It is often filled but if you begin early enough, you can get yourself a very nice, well cared for room and lovely people to go along with it.  As long as you are nice, you can say I sent you.

If I were a rich man…la, la, la, lah and so it goes

Really, no kidding. I know how to really irritate the devil in Slovenia. I’d help Chris, Sabina and the folks at Binkostna cerkev (the capital cities largest evangelical congregation of one hundred-twenty persons) and social center build a new 1.5 million euro building on one of the main arteries of the city. It would be great to have a visible witness to the gospel in this nation of two million but only 1,000 Christians.

I know some terrific Christian workers all over western Europe but honestly, I don’t I know of any couple with more faith or gets more things done with so little than the Scobie’s. These are sacrificial people who are making a difference not only in Ljubljana but ripples from here are extending out across the country. So, look here, If you are a rich man, I suggest you put some money into this project and get your name recognized in the hallways of hell. Remember the demon said to the sons of Sceva, “Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you?” What a grand place to have reputation. I would rather be known in hell than be a “Key Note Speaker” at the biggest Christian Conference in the world. One designation does not have to be separated from the other.

Got ahead of myself… back to Slovenia

Aurora, Sabina, Sylvia, Belinda

I can’t ignore this one. On Tuesday the eight person team was divided up into groups of two or three people and sent to people’s houses for supper. At four we (Sylvia, Belinda, Aurora and I) went with Sabina out of the city and up into the mountains to the small village of Vace

In the raw

When we arrived Drago Slankovic, father of Anita, Matjah and Petra) was grilling up a Serbian feast. After greetings were exchanged we went inside their two hundred year-old home where the table and counters were filled with more food than is possible to eat.

All three of the Slankovic girls speak English so we didn’t have to rely on Sabina and she finally admitted that she came along not for her translation skills but because she knows what a good cook Jalena happens to be.

Finally, the meat came through the door and the unveiling took place – a masterpiece of Serbian cuisine. After eating and laughing until we could we could eat and laugh no more we got in cars and drove up the mountain to the geographic center of Slovenia where we prayed for the nation.

Praying over Slovenia, literally

Next we went even farther up, farther than I could imagine. I thought we were high when we were in Vace but now we looked down on mountains that before looked huge from the Slanovic kitchen window.

 

 

The dinner party

SKILL TESTING QUESTION…

If the real Jesus – not the one religionists have invented – but the REAL New Testament Jesus had ten million dollars, what would he do with it?

The Parma Duomo

Well, this is a no brainer if there ever was one. Jesus would not be pleased.

Progetto Archippo and Southern Evangelical Seminary

Kent, Francesco, Ray, Ted and Moi

About four years ago we had the idea to start a missions training school in Parma.The Cerasino’s and the Arbortivi’s called it, “Progetto Archippo” after the admonition to Archippus in Colossians 4:17, ““Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” Once you understand it, it turns out to be a good name for what they are doing here. You can find them on-line at progettoarchippo.org. Basically they have attempted to bring together in partnership about fifteen active mission agencies in Italy for the purpose of equipping indigenous believers for ministry.

Simon Brace

When John Haley (ACCI’s Executive Director)was visiting Jarrs in Waxhaw, North Carolina he made acquaintance with South African, Simon Brace Director of SES TEAM  Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte. While talking together, Simon learned of my involvement in Norway and Italy. Both Norway and Italy turn out to be strategic locations for the vision of SES’s mission vision in Europe. The SES mission focus is called TEAM ( Truth Evangelism and Apologetics Mission).

As Simon and I became friends we began to dream together and this month, October of 2011, two important things will have taken place.

SES Charlotte and Progetto Archippo, Parma

Perhaps fifteen nationalities

SES and Progetto Archippo partner to host an Apologetics Conference in Parma, Italy with teaching guests,  Ray Ciervo, Ted Wright and Kent Suter.

SES Charlotte and Ga Ut Center, Oslo, Norway

Johannes Redse

Then at the end of the month Headmaster, Johannes Redse of Ga Ut Centre (Normisjon), Oslo, Norway will visit SES in Charlotte during their annual apologetics conference when some 6,000 people will be in attendance. It is ACCI’s hope that we will be able to formalize a teaching and credentialing relationship between Southern Evangelical Seminary and Ga Ut, Oslo.

Why is apologetics so necessary in Europe? Why can’t people just pray and present the Roman Road, Bridge to

Kent teaching with Francesco translating

Life or Four Spiritual Laws? Simply stated, because people in Europe have no Christian memory and what Christianity they do have knowledge of is grossly distorted. They are not looking for answers in God. Ever since the Enlightenment and the age of reason, Europe has secularized. They are not asking the questions American missionaries are providing answers for. They have been impacted by the ideas of Darwin, Voltaire, Hume, Camus, Sartre and other anti-theists. Hence, they are totally unaware that Christians have intelligent answers regarding origins, ethics,  meaning and ultimate purpose of life. As Ray Ciervo said, “Apologetics removes the brush (misconceptions) that stands in the way of belief.”

Tables were filling up with pizza and conversation

Norwegian Tor-Erik with Ted Wright

This weekend, more than sixty people attended the SES Apologetics Seminar. The teachers were often peppered with bright questions from those in the audience that wanted clarification. It would be impossible for me in this brief blog to tell the reader of every occasion when the light went on and people “got it!”

One of my best catches ever…

A mosaic from San Marco in Venezia

When I read Acts, I am always surprised how things went. Paul would go into a city, preach in the synagogues, get thrown out, in the process win a few folks, pray for them, appoint elders, commend them to the Lord and move on. Some time later he would come back “to see how they do.”  For the most part, they seemed to do alright.

Today, we marshal everyone into discipleship classes, mentor, train and maybe after thirty years we have a mature believer. In the first century, the Holy Spirit just taught people into leadership. Often there was no Christian formation of any kind except perhaps in a few places like Antioch, Corinth and Ephesus.

On Wednesday, still in Ljubljana we woke up at about 4 in the morning and got ourselves ready and out the door by 5:30 on our way to the train in Trieste and on to Venice where I promised the Norski’s a day along the canals. I told them to get a map which would be of little use and back to the train station by 3:30 for our trip on to Parma.

Piero e mi

I took Aurora with me, bought her a pizza and called my friend Piero Pugiotto who had, by divine coincidence, (or so he thought) the day off from the Hilton where he works as a concierge. In no time he was there at Piazza San Marco. As we walked and talked I could tell that Piero continues to grow in faith, grace and knowledge.

About seven years ago and before he was married to Natasha, before he owned a home or had a son, Cristiano, I was introduced to him by a former student of mine from Brazil. She had met Piero on the internet while doing research. She had given up on him as he was argumentative and seemed to intellectually corner her time after time. I didn’t look forward to spending hours on the internet arguing with an Italian that wasn’t fluent in English. We wrote back and forth enough that Piero became fluent. He would say this and I would counter with that and so it went, parry-thrust, parry thrust. 

Finally, I said Piero, I’m coming to Venice could I stop by, we meet and have a face to face talk about all that you object to? He was very happy with the idea so we met in front of the Venice Central Train Station. We walked and talked and in process learned to really like each other. In fact Piero is like a son to me and I a father to him. Now that he is married I include Natasha and Cristiano into our little family. After several similar visits, Piero committed his life to Christ and though he has never gone to church (there are no churches except for a Filipino), doesn’t attend a Bible study and has no Christian friends, he is clearly a growing and committed Christian with sound biblical convictions.

After all, this is the work of God and not man so no one should be surprised. Isn’t this how it should be? Should we have to badger people into Christian belief and action? I have an opinion. Don’t I always have an opinion? If someone doesn’t want to be a disciple you can’t make him or her one with a thousand, fill-in-the-blank study booklets and if they intend to be a disciple no one is able to stop them. Such is the case with Piero. He simply made up his mind where he would stand and it wouldn’t matter where he was or what support systems he had available to him. I have invited him to Parma to give his testimony next Sunday.

Major breakthroughs can appear rather insignificant

Gloria cooking

On Monday evening I was invited to have some south American cooking at Gloria’s apartment just downstairs from Chris and Sabina. Since my hostess speaks Spanish and Slovene and I speak neither, I took along Anne who speaks Spanish and English but come to find out, I could understand Gloria pretty well in English. While she was busy at the stove we chatted back and forth then met her two boys. The eldest is thirty and in banking while the younger was something like six years old. Both boys spoke English so the conversation shifted to them while Gloria made a fast supper before the Monday evening prayer meeting.

Tor Erik and Sabina

At just before seven we jumped in the van and hustled ourselves back over to the church for prayer meeting. It was the normal event with a few songs then the Norwegians sang and Tor Erik told his conversion story. Afterwards there was more worship and prayer.

At the end of the meeting, one of the young ladies, Anita, asked if I would talk to her Serbian boyfriend who has been coming to church events and interested in the gospel but had some questions. He being Serbian Orthodox (they are very loyal to their religion as it defines their family and cultural identity) wanted to know the exact difference between what we believe and what he has been

Boyun and Anita

raised to believe. I expected hard-headed resistance as it is well-known that the Serbs are some of the toughest warriors in the world. I was surprised that when I made the claims for trusting Christ alone and not putting confidence in relics, traditions, the priest, icons, family saints and other hocus – pocus, he seemed to see it right away and after prayer, we ate fantastic crepes filled with Nutella!