I meet some very nice people!

One of the pleasures I have is meeting interesting people of many cultures.

Unfortunately, I often spend entire days going from one “BAR” (not what you think) to another just waiting until a particular ministry appointment time or person is available to meet. Part of my work is to get to know people so I frequent coffee shops (“Bars”) in Italy and other countries. Sometimes I make a new contact but often I don’t and it’s just a way to “hang out” without having to stare at four walls all day. I get a kick out of people who imagine that I go to the beach. My work is often extremely boring and except for the language and cultural barriers,  I could just as easily be in Oklahoma as Italy.

Three hundred meters from Ducale Bed and Breakfast on Via Costinuente in Parma is the coffee shop and eatery, Caffeteria Pulciella (named after the bird not the clown). The owner and hostess Halla Margret is an opera singer who comes originally from Iceland. Her husband and co-owner, Paolo was equally as pleasant to both myself and The North Street Band.

At Pulcinella

Most often they feature classical music but after we were acquainted they invited North Street to play on Friday night and then begged them for more.

I met Halla and Paolo when I came through in late August, drew her picture and then proposed the idea of having the band perform to which she gave me an immediate “thumbs-up”.

Me with Lydia, my new “hottie.”

The main thing is this. While I sat there in their coffee shop, drinking tea and typing blogs, I observed something I had never seen before. Paolo seemed to know every old lady in the neighborhood and would, when seeing one of them hobble by, go over to the window and tap on it. Once he gained their attention, he would wave them in for coffee. Every so often he would actually leave his place behind the bar and race out to get them. One doesn’t see this sort of thing often (especially in Italy) and it caught my attention so I wanted to tell you about it.

North Street Band become “buskers” in Parma, Italy…

Francesco had this idea that we should go out on the street, where the people were, do some music and then hand-out invitations to the Friday night concert. To be honest, we weren’t too sure about this. I had my doubts because when I have tried to hand out invites or tracts, I have been thoroughly turned aside. I think this partly has to do with my being a foreigner and people thinking that, something I might give them would be in English and therefore irrelevant. Nevertheless, since we are guests and committed to supporting the ground team, we decided to try it. At two in the afternoon on Thursday we met on Via Farini, an area where many small cafes reach off of the curb and into the streets under large canopies of umbrellas. Usually at lunch (12:30 to 3:30) hundreds of young Italians sit and stand having their glass of wine, beer along with a Panini or slice of pizza. Regrettably, on this day it was unusually quiet with less than thirty percent of what might normally be expected. In spite of this discouragement, Fred, Joel and Asher struck up the Johnny Cash tune, “Grey Stone Chapel” which arrested people in mid- bite or mid-sip. No one expected to hear what they were getting. While the band went from song to song we (Dave Tysoe, the drummer and I) as well as others handed out invitations to Friday nights’ concert at Teatro Toscanini.

Usually, almost all street ministry is unproductive and often counter-productive accomplishing the opposite of what you hope for. In this instance, this was not the case with people eagerly taking our invitational cards. On several occasions I had conversations with English speakers who expressed their appreciation for the sound and skill. When I told them what we were up to, several said they’d come and many of those promises were fulfilled. About fifteen people at the concert were people we met on Farini and Cavour Streets in the center of Parma. Poor Asher had to drag a double-  base from place to place but it proved to be well worth the effort.

Here, I would like to re-iterate what I have said in other places. In all of my years of street ministry in Italy, this was undoubtedly the best reception I have ever had.

Let me give a little final advice at this point. This would not have been nearly as successful with about ninety percent apparently expressing approval if the band had been less than terrific. This is one of the problems with American style street evangelism (mimes and music) in Italy and Europe. Americans do not yet understand that Europeans are culturally sophisticated and will not tolerate mimes that feature tee-shirts turned inside out as costumes and card board boxes with hearts painted on the side as props.

As important as the audience and message might be, we must buy credibility by doing our best at what we do. Any audience must have some reason to listen to us share our story. Europeans are suspicious of the Church, “Christianity” and religion. They come into the conversation already having a bad taste in their mouths. Creating confidence is the big challenge and few will care about the message unless the messenger is credible.

A soggy London day

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I suppose it would be fitting for Jeanne to see London in the traditional way – under an umbrella. I had planned all along to give her one last day touring central London and seeing such famous attractions as Trafalgar Square, London Bridge, Tower of London, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Truth be told, the most exciting place of the day might have turned out to be the Sherlock Holmes Pub where we got warm and enjoyed a good lunch though the man seated next to us was an annoying atheist who presented a string of well-worn phrases in support of his position.

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UK 09-06 to )9-25 687Because it was raining like crazy, I decided to buy her a ride on one of the famous double-decker buses that lets you on and off as you please. It sounds like a good idea if one could sit outside on the top deck under bright skies and over-arching trees full of summer shade. What we got instead was a huddle inside with a bunch of Russians who could see no better than we could. The windows were covered with fog and attempts at taking photographs bordered on nil to useless. Even the Japanese had put their cameras back in their cases.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 703At one point I got the idea that we should try the getting-off-and-on option and take in the Tate Gallery. After UK 09-06 to )9-25 707slogging through four blocks of ankle deep water we entered the Tate, a most disappointing experience. I am well aware that museum curators and art gallery owners turn art into art even though it be crap by any standard. We lasted about twenty minutes and though it took some doing, went back to where we started, boarded the bus and made our way back to Victoria Station and then to Eltham, more than hour away.

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The rest of the evening was spent at John and Jana’s eating a wonderful supper prepared for the whole team. We returned to our room to pack up for an early departure on the next morning. Jeanne was going back to America and the rest of us were headed for Milano and Parma, Italy.

Dinner at VIKALINKA

UK 09-06 to )9-25 678One of our missionaries, Julia Frey, is an amazing cook! You can read her food blog at www.vikalinka.com.  She likes to serve me new dishes when I come for a visit but this night she indulged me by serving something I’d had before… and loved.  Jeanne and I showed up for dinner and enjoyed her unforgettable French chicken dish.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 681Brad and Julia have cute kids, Mitchell and Vika (Brad is Canadian and Julia is Russian). I do, however, think they are slightly spoiled to good cooking; they paid little attention to her creations until dessert was served. Her fruit tarts were pretty amazing, though.

During the evening we enjoyed catching up on their lives and praying together for their ministry future.

North Street Band arrives in England

Arriving at Gatwick

Arriving at Gatwick

If you’ve kept up with my blogs you will have, by now, heard of North Street Band from Perth, Ontario and my plans to bring them over for concerts in England, Italy and Slovenia. Planning and fund-raising for this took the better part of a year, so we were excited to see how things might unfold after all of the dreaming and preparation.

Pastor John and Daniel showed up at Gatwick to meet us while we waited together for the five to show up. We carefully watched people come and go until after an hour, out of the doors they came. For the young guys, this was their first international trip so they were “eyes wide open.”

After greeting and loading the mini-bus, off we went to Eltham where we would be serving Eltham Green Community Church for the next week.

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They took a day or so to bounce back from jet lag and then it was concert time. They performed three times. First, they performed in the open air on High Street with many of us handing out invitations to the concert on Friday night and Worship Party at the church on Sunday morning.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 460Eltham is tough ground. The community is riddled with social dysfunction. Many children come from broken, abusive homes. Some leave home early so there are many teenage mothers and girls living on social assistance. Public drunkenness is rampant.  Drop out rates are high and large numbers of young people are involved in delinquent activities. It is within the context of this chaos that Eltham Community Church tries to make a difference.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 541North Street went ahead as best they could and though attendance at the events were not as high as we had hoped, the band was well received everywhere they played.

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A performance hall was rented for Friday night . It was cold and raining when the band finally took the stage. This turned out to be a good event seeing that so many in the church had no idea of who the band was or the music they played.

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UK 09-06 to )9-25 673The church on Sunday morning was packed where the band played a worship concert and I preached the gospel.

Oxford is normally a lovely city

Jeanne expressing her feelings

We sweat our way to Oxford hoping the tire (tyre) would hold out until we made our way to the very center of the city where the Avis garage sat behind the central rail station.  We did arrive okay and showed our problem to the attendant, who suggested we could save money (avoid the standard charge) and time if we went to the garage about three blocks away and bought a tire out of pocket (wink, wink).  That’s what we attempted to do.

We left the car off and went across to a tea room for lunch after being advised that it would all take about an hour. We came back over at the appointed time to learn that first, they didn’t have the correct size of tire and secondly, they could not find the “lug nut lock” or something like that required to replace a tire.  This created a day-long phone conversation with Avis at Gatwick Airport who finally, after trying every expert to no avail, suggested that they would send someone for us, drive us to Heathrow (two hours away) where they would get a car to match our contract. To us, this seemed insane since we had only one more rental day and needed to drive another three hours south to get to our booked hotel. This, they assured us, was the only option. It was now 4:30 and the shop was on the verge of closing up and putting us and the car out on the street. Fortunately, just in time, Avis did locate a VW Passat stationwagon in Oxford and told us to come right over to make the trade. We were greatly relieved when the gentleman at the desk wrote “no charge” on the bill because of our inconvenience.

Happy to finally have a car of manageable size, we drove toward our hotel in the country near Farnham. It would be our final night on our 12 day whirlwind trip around England before heading back to Crawley to connect with the band arriving from Canada. It had been a frustrating day in a lot of ways, but God had faithfully provided what we needed just in time!

Trip to Cotswold gets cut short

On the way to Burford

The next morning, after another “Full English Breakfast” in Banbury, Jeanne and I packed for an exciting trip in to the Peaks District and Cotswold Country,  a region with old English, Beatrix Potter charm.  For a time, for a few hours in the morning, this was what we enjoyed.  We went by lovely private estates lined by thatched roofed, immaculately tailored, beige stone homes. Once we came to the village of Burford, near other towns with names like Chipping Norton and Shipston on Stour, we got out to take in the picture-book beauty.

The Cotswold Arms

We enjoyed a cup of tea and sweet rolls, then Jeanne went to the car while I took about half an hour to snap a few pictures. This is when the bad news came. A fellow came walking down the hill, looked suspiciously at our car, and then gained Jeanne’s attention to tell her that it appeared that we had a bubble on our tire, a potential for a blow-out. He gravely suggested that we should have it looked at, since a member of his own family had recently suffered a blow out on the highway from the same thing. When I returned to the car, Jeanne relayed the message. I shrugged my shoulders, nonchalantly pulled on out to go to the next village, and then I began to think that it would be best to have this attended to in a more populated area.  I coasted into a safe spot at an intersection along a narrow road and took a look for myself. “Yep, I have a problem,” I decided, so I called Avis. This was where the real problem began. The plans for this day had to be shelved while we attended to this automotive distraction. After a rather annoying series of  calls to the Avis Roadside Assistance Team, I was told that if they came to help I would be charged about two-hundred thirty pounds or more than $350. So I decided to drive to the Avis location in Oxford, some thirty minutes to the southeast, and hopefully visit Cotswold on some other day.