Perhaps this gets boring?

The sixty-seventh celebration

I know that I blog a great deal about Parma and the church here, “Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano” so it is possible that you might have heard all you want to hear by now. Nevertheless, I do not just blog for my readers, I blog for myself as a form of diary or journaling experience. This has provided a great historical record for me and now with at least three hundred and fifty blogs beginning almost seven years ago (I believe) my journey through Italy and Europe as wel as Canada has been well documented.

Sunset in Parma

I came into Parma late on Sunday evening and let folks know that I had gotten into my room. After this things began to slowly emerge with calls from Aldo and Francesco, good friends and ACCI leaders here in Italy. Both fellows work at full time jobs so I have to simply connect with their availability. This meant that several occasions presented themselves.

When I asked to take her photo she said, “Sure! My friends say, ‘I am vain.'”

The first thing was my birthday party on Friday night August 31st when about twenty people gathered at Aldo and Mariela’s to celebrate with finger foods, cake and finger foods. Lots of nice things were said to me which I appreciated. It is great to turn sixty-seven with friends on the other side of the world.

On Saturday, I met with the “Youth” which in reality turn out to be “young adults.” Some already have begun families. It was my plan to explain the North Street Band Concert concept with samples of their music and so forth. In all, about twenty showed up for the information-inspiration session.

A Parma pic

Then the following morning I was the guest preacher to a summer holiday crowd of about one hundred twenty people. I am always met here by expectancy and enthusiasm. I, once more, preached on “The Exceptionality of Man,” as I did in Slovenia two Sundays before. On Monday morning I would leave for the Italian region known as Liguria. Liguria is takes in the Italian Riviera. I would stay in the beautiful city of Chiavari near Porto Fino on one side and Sistri Lavante on the other. All three of these cities are stunning. My hosts would be Emile and Imra D., Belgian friends who have made Italy their home.

…More from Trento in the north

Regrettably, I only had one full day in Trento before going on to Parma. I hadn’t been invited for more than Sunday so on my first trip I preferred not to over-stay my welcome. This is especially true when one has likely kicked someone out of their bed.

On Sunday morning we gathered ourselves up and loaded ourselves into the car for the ride down the mountain to the city and the church. Arriving early and in vacation season the church seemed sparsely attended but by the time we moved from worship to preaching there was a respectable crowd of about seventy or so people of all ages and a number of nationalities represented.

Pastor Pippo (Giuseppe Rizza) welcomed me to the pulpit where I preached on the mark Rutland theme of doing ministry in the spirit (style) of Jesus. This is a great “body-life” message that takes us behind the Book of Acts asking two important questions. I will put both questions into one statement because they are similar in content. When and where did Jesus think he was engaged in ministry? In my view, the early church was (more) effective than we are because they did not have the New Testament and only the living model of Jesus Himself. We are hearing a great deal about missional rather than attractional  church and frankly, it is not all so complicated. The “missional” church is no contradcition.  It is just doing what Jesus did. The first believers simply did what he did. He did almost nothing inside of a building and when he did, he was invariably kicked out. The early church did not rely on what they did not have, seminaries, power point or special lighting. Of course, I want us to use whatever we have available and do not advocate giving up technology. No one wants to give up electricity or resort to travel by mule. I just believe we need to reassess what constitutes ministry. Look at the Gospels to see what Jesus thought ministry was. He was always in the divine moment. He was sensitive to every divine appointment. The raising of Lazarus story makes no sense without this fact. Well, this is what I talked about to what I think was a good reception.

My room at “The Ducale”

Later, we went over to Pippo’s  and for lunch where we did the entire “nine yards” Enrica’s. From there to the train and after what should have been a three-hour journey that turned into six, I arrived at the door of my B and B in Parma, The Ducale.

From Venice to Verona and Trento

The Verona Roman Amphitheater where, under the stars,you can enjoy the world’s best opera.

Leaving Venice I trained to Verona arriving in the middle of a hot afternoon. Did I say it was hot?   Remind me never to go to Italy in August. Firstly, it is blazing hot and humid and secondly, everyone is at the beach or in the mountains.

Verona is a gracious city north and west of Venice just at the bottom of the Dolomites and the Alps. The town is also not far from beautiful Lake Garda but I rarely go there. Verona hints of wealth and rightly so as it is surrounded by marvelous vineyards, wineries and orchards. Then city is recognized for its famous Roman amphitheatre where they annually have incredible operas and concerts attended by people from all over the world. On one of the nights I was there, they had Carmen for a measly twenty-seven euro but I didn’t go simply because I had no one to go with.

Verona is also renowned for the Shakespearian work, “Romeo and Juliet” though they never really lived in Verona, Juliet’s balconetta is visited by hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world who scribble love notes on paper and do their best to lodge them somewhere between the stones already packed with previous decades of decaying paper, failed hopes and dreams. People desperate to find this fictional location (especially female Japanese tourists) will almost panic if they have already walked long distances in stilettos and have not yet arrived in the alley way. I tried to assist several distraught tourists but since I had no idea of where I was at any given time, I was of little help.

I spent one full day and two nights there and then went on Saturday morning to Trento where I would meet Marcio and Noemi my hosts for the weekend. Even as an extrovert, I occasionally want to get a break from socializing so after more than a week with mostly being with people. I look forward to a day of just walking the streets and taking photographs.

Nevertheless, once my batteries were re-charged I was introduced to Marcio and Noemi people I have been in contact with but had never met. It was a joy to finally see them face to face and see their children.

Marcio and his two small boys waited patiently has my itinerary failed me. I looked on the website and found a train arriving at what I thought to be 10 something but when I got to the station I was told, “Oh, that one only runs during the week.” On Saturday you must take a later train. In any case, after several corrective text messages I arrived, went to the store, to the house out on a hillside and there we ate a nice pasta lunch before going to an area lake where they were engaged in some sort of “Kontiki” races.

We lounged around, the kids played on the swing sets and Emile D. drove down to meet me for coffee.

Later in the evening, Marcio and Noemi had some lovely Syrian friends over for dessert and I enjoyed speaking English thought the conversation often drifted back to Italian. I speak just enough Italian, well enough for people to think I can follow a conversation so I am often left in a lurch and have to gracefully slide out of the conversations.

A night in a FIVE STAR…

Hilton-Stucky Five Star and Pugiotto’s in Venice…

 

 

 

 

 

I have never stayed in a Five-Star hotel so would be the first time. I arrived in Venice on Tuesday afternoon and soon after de-boarding the train that comes right to the Grand Canal Piero with his four year-old son, Cristiano  showed up in his boat to take me to his home on Isola Judiaca only four hundred meters where he works as a concierge for the Hilton. Natasha, his wife works there as well in the gift shop.

Shopping for lunch

They have a cute little place of their own and after walking from where he moors his boat we walked into a simple but charming AIR-CONDITIONED apartment. Natasha finally arrived home at eight to an incredible meal put together by Piero, one of my favorite Venetian chefs. This boy, he do know how to cook.

The first night I would stay with them on a rather comfortable couch right beneath the air conditioner and was warned that if I got cold, I could do this or that -not a chance! After days and nights of almost intolerable, sweltering heat, I was happy to sleep in my clothes if it should prove necessary. What is cold to an Italian is tepid to an American. There are many apologies regarding moving air to which I say, “Bring it on!”

Imagine trying on clothes in a dressing room where the temperature is forty-one degrees, humidity at 90% and not a hint of air? Jeanne nearly suffocated once while trying this in Napoli. She panicked as anyone from America would though the Italian’s seem to take sweating in stride.

Booking in at the Hilton

The next morning as soon as possible Piero booked me into the Hilton as his Uncle Tony at a measly sixty euro for a night. Soon thereafter we were back on his boat treading through the canals of Venice dodging this gondola and that delivery barge. Again, it was a sweltering hot day and the sun beat down on us. Sadly, to make matters worse, my camera had begun to fail me and no matter how much time I spent adjusting this setting or that, the camera would not shoot into direct light, the only light we had.

Murano at eye level

Recognizing that not everyone gets a personal and free tour at eye level, I took what pictures I could, though none, it seems, turned out to be particularly impressive. Piero announced that we would soon be out into open water and then we would catch a good breeze which should make the day more enjoyable and this was the case. He put up the canopy to cover us but the wind was so brisk that it broke a strap and left us with a pile of canvas. All of the time, I did my best to hide behind the skippers shadow. He took me across to Murano where they have the amazing glass factories. Next it was on to Burano an island made famous by its brightly colored houses. He made one more run to the first settlement in Venice where now only eighteen people live. The island was the first to be separated from the sea and provided a bastion against the invading hoards coming from the north.

My morning coffee taken here.

With pizza in a nearby restaurant our day ended. In the morning I packed and waited for Piero, Natasha and Cristiano to come by boat and take me to the station and off I would go to Verona for a day to myself before ministry in Trento.

POST SCRIPT:

My camera was failing fast while in Venice so some of the photos re pretty “Iffy.” Next, I do want you o know that the Five Star wound up costing me sixty Euro. This isn’t bad when one considers that my Two Star night in Milan cost the same amount. Here’s a picture of my exciting Two Star experience. It wasn’t only the room that was horrible. My next door neighbor was an African that called his friends on the phone in the middle of the night. Have you ever heard African’s talk on the phone? They scream.

Trieste, Italy and “The Space”

Caleb, Linda and the family

On Monday morning, Chris chauffeured me to Trieste by car some hour and a half away from Ljubljana. It was arranged that I would stay in the home of Caleb and Linda K. who have served in this city for around seven years. Both Caleb and Linda are MK’s so they grew up in cross cultural situations. Both lived in South America for most of their lives, Caleb in Bolivia and Linda in Venezuela. Though I had briefly spent time with Caleb this would be the first time to get acquainted with Linda and their four (very cute) children.

“The Space”

We arrived at the train station and were met not only by Caleb but by two of his friends. It turns out that Italian, Andreas lived in North Carolina for some time and there met his wife before deciding to return to Italy where they would engage themselves in ministry. Recently another couple (Clay and his wife) from Wilmington, N.C. have joined them to begin an outreach called,”The Space.” The idea is to create a non-traditional, missional and community based evangelical witness where the church meeting is not the center of weekly activity. In this model, Pastors are less visible and take the role of community facilitator.

After introductions, we stopped along the street and had pizza all around. Following this we made a visit to their meeting space where I took a few pictures and inquired about how things were going and what their hopes were. It is easier to discuss one’s hopes rather than one’s plans since planning is too dependent upon certain critical things like the availability of money. Give a missionary a twenty or hundred thousand dollars beyond what it costs to live and he or she will give you a plan on what they will do with it.

Later we made it to the apartment and as hot as it was did our best to move as slowly as possible and catch the breeze coming off of the sea and into the window on the fourth floor. Over the next day there was the customary gelato trip, the pasta dinner, morning coffee and brioche at a table in the shade and an out-of-door kabob lunch along the sea front. The point is this. When I do this sort of visit we both are encouraged to keep on. Often, few at home empathize or understand the challenges of complicated Christian work of this nature. Sometimes it takes an entire year of sowing to reach one person. Churches grow slowly if they grow at all. There are almost no success stories and there is little “ego pay” where one feels they are making any difference at all. There is no such thing as a “Mega Church.” Having someone who understands and shares these disappointments goes a long in keeping people on the field. If this was easy, exciting, well-paid work, more people would be doing it but the truth is, there is a glut of well-trained professional ministers in America for one good reason, reputation, remuneration and results generally remain high by comparison.

This post might bore you…

A little, “Same ole’, Same ole'”…

I almost always preach somewhere on Sundays and Ljubljana is no exception. Of course, if you have followed my blogs, photographs of me standing in a pulpit aren’t very exciting.

A friend of mine makes a funny joke regarding itinerant ministry. It is more difficult to be a pastor and have to, every Sunday come up with a fresh message that people will come back for again and again. When he switched from being a pastor to being a traveling preacher he said that he suddenly realized he only needed three good sermons and a fast car.

While meant to be humorous this is partly true. Before I go on a trip the Lord seems to “download” a certain message and when I have preached it out, I hardly go back to it ever again. Lately, he has given me a message that I call, “The Exceptionality of Man.” Frankly, it can be a little complicated for a foreign audience and a lot has to do with translation. On this occasion Sabina stayed up with me as did the audience. When we got to the end I offered a tract in conclusion. I held up three of them asking if anyone would like to know more about what it means to be a Christian. Surprisingly, I gave all of them away in about two minutes and had to go get about six more. I never know what to make of this kind of response. In reality, here in this part of the world the seed often “falls on hard soil” and immediately the birds come and it up and devour it.

However, this being said, I am always surprised at what I see each time as I return. There are always gains being made. For instance, Bojan is radically committed to the Lord while he wasn’t a believer last year. He became a Christian with one brief conversation on my part but his girlfriend and others had shared with him for months prior to his conversion.

The church continues to grow both deep and out. They are now setting their sights on building a 1.5 million euro building on their present location. This is a very ambition dream for a congregation of less than one hundred people. The average family income of this church would not likely be more than 12,000 euro a year.

North to Murska Subota

Regrettably, I decided on a diet the very year Pastor Chris Scobie wants me to end my complaint that he doesn’t know about or care for food. Honestly, his God is not his stomach and I am trying to repent of this sin myself. On this visit he hasn’t helped a bit, as he intentionally tries to set before me luscious treats like the baked goods and other delicacies we found in the store along the highway to Murska Subota. I’ll share a few photos of what I mean.

There were several things we set out to accomplish. First, Sergeja and Sabina had preparatory meetings for the children’s camp being held in that region during the coming week.

While they were busy doing that, we went over to the coffee shop where we were later met by Borut B. Borut is well-read and a bit of a philosopher as well as an artist. There is no question, this man is a character! I enjoyed his inquiring mind. So many who consider themselves thinkers here in this part of the world are smug, annoying, cynical and filled with buffoonery (not much substance). Borut is cheery by Slovenian standards. I liked his company and we had a lot to talk about.

Later we picked up Jernej  K., a lawyer and young leader of the church in Murska Subota. This is one of the largest congregations in Slovenia, with about one hundred-fifty attendees. All of Slovenia has only about a thousand Christians in this country of two million. It takes a lot of courage to go counter culturally.

After we dropped Sergeja and Sabina at Sabina’s mother’s place in the country we went on to another of Chris’ culinary surprises, a dish called Bograč – made like a stew but with wild game. It was delicious!

Tired, I asked to be taken back to Sabina’s mom’s place for a brief nap before preaching. After a sleep I took a walk down over the hill where I took some images for potential watercolors (feature photo above).

Evangelical Church, Murska Subota

Later, we met with a congregation of some sixty people who came out for the Wednesday evening meeting. I had spoken to this group before so they seemed to anticipate my visit and I experienced good receptivity. After the two-hour drive back to Lubljana, I crashed.