Moving on from Italy

November 11

The Alps below

The Alps below

I was picked up at the door of my B & B by Karla Ferriera and taken by car the almost two hours to Milan Linate airport where I caught a British Airways flight to London Heathrow. Upon arrival I got rolled at almost every turn (baggage storage, hotel shuttles, taxis, over priced and average food etc.) it was pretty easy to dispose of one-hundred pounds by the next morning.

John Watson and Tano Bellone

John Watson and Tano Bellone

During the morning I had been texting to my London friend John Watson, Pastor of Eltham Community Church wondering if he might want to make the trip to Heathrow for supper. It’s a rather long run but he took the offer, called Tano Bellone and they made their way to Heathrow and a restaurant in one of the nearby Holiday Inn hotels. I got settled, and found a taxi which took me on a ten minute ride to the wrong hotel and left me ten pounds lighter. There are five Holiday Inn’s in close proximity to Heathrow. I hired another car and after ten more pounds ($15.60 USD) reached the guys who were seated in the bar waiting. So then, in transportation alone, I had spent nearly $45.00 USD to reach a hotel that was not more than 15 minutes away but impossible to get to without a car.

  • Note: It appears that one must dispose of any notion of what Britain should be like. Photographs of guards in Beefeater attire should be replaced by a Siek in a turban. If one wants to have what they might think to be a English experience, they will have to stay far clear of the major cities of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and so forth where almost all of the hospitality industry is serviced by Arabs, Indians, Latvians, Estonians, Polish, Bulgarians, Czechs and so forth. The Britain of the past and one’s imagination is long gone and it turns out to be rare to hear an authentic English accent.

It was rather worth all of this inconvenience just to see these friends once more. Regrettably, Brad Frey and Daniel Bull were unable to make it.

A Divine Appointment

November 10, Evening

BeppeI wanted one more food experience before leaving Parma. It was Sunday evening when many of the restaurants were closed. It was drizzling and I didn’t want to venture far so I went a few streets back in behind my hotel. I had walked by di Beppe, a small, insignificant restaurant on many previous occasions but never went in. After walking around and finding nothing open I decided to try di Beppe and see what they (he) might turn out. As soon as I walked in, I was met by Beppe himself, a cheery and thin fellow dressed in immaculate chef attire. He was just setting a plate on a table in front of an Asian looking fellow so after hearing this patron speak in flawless “American”  I took the table next to him. I was surprised to learn that he was a doctor from Washington D.C., I also learned that he was a “foody” and had come to Parma specifically to eat. On his short list was Restorante di Beppe, whose Napolitano owner, chef and personal waiter Beppe Palumbo is a master of at least twenty Beppe Rizottorisottos and a host of other dishes. I was encouraged by Daniel at the next table to try what he had just eaten Osso Buco (literally: bone hole but I think we would call it a pig’s knuckle) over a bed of Saffron Risotto. He almost begged me. I had come in for pasta but how could I turn him down? I recognized that he was no newcomer to food and likely knew what he was talking about. I assure all of my readers that I was not disappointed. I took a fork full of rice and almost said out loud, “I kill you!” He chided me by saying, “You haven’t even tried the osso yet.” This challenge did not go unmet and as the tender meat melted in my mouth I nodded in agreement to Dan’s enthusiastic approval. 

It was then that our conversation turned to more important things and we had a marvelous time talking  about our mutual spiritual journey. We have exchanged contact information and with the invitation to visit him in Washington. Jeanne and I will likely make the trip in the near future.

An event packed Sunday morning

November 10

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IMG_1615This was advertised as a big day and so it turned out to be. In typical fashion the church service began at 10:30 with the stage filled with musicians and powerful, celebrative music. In typical (Latino) fashion the two-hundred or more chairs did not fill until after 11 am. I was tapped to dedicate Alberto Delcanale and Karla Ferreira’s son Pietro to the Lord so in response to this special occasion we had a number of guests who generally do not come to the church.

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I chose to preach on the subject, “Why People Don’t Get Saved,” from John 2:23-25 and Hebrews 4:12-13. Though there were moments of humorous relief, the Holy Spirit gripped everyone’s attention and it was clear to me that the message was hitting its mark. Francesco is a marvelous translator and much of the credit goes to him.

At the end I opened the altar and many people began to make their way to the front for prayer. I wasn’t active in praying for people as the pastors took charge of this portion so I have no idea of the needs being expressed. I leave this up to God. Anyway, the truth is, we never know, do we? Response (numbers) is never a perfect indicator of the REAL work being done in people’s hearts.

Afterwords, I went to Luciano and Marilene Cassandra’s for an amazing Columbian meal!!!

Teaching at “Progetto Archippo”

November 9

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Francesco Abortivi

Francesco Abortivi

Gruppo Cristiano, Pastor Aldo and Director, Francesco Abortivi began Progetto Archippo (named after Archippus in Colossians 4:17 ) about five or more years ago with the idea of providing seminars on specific subjects of interest to many in the region who wish to improve their ministry skills. These are designed to be short (about seven hours) of low-cost, “value added” education, information and inspiration which will lead to more effective ministry for both the designated clergy and lay persons.

I usually expect a low turn-out when it is advertised that there will be a prayer work-shop or an evangelism seminar. Christians often have a phobia of both. I do believe the devil opposes talking to God for men and/or talking to men for God. In particular, most people feel ill-gifted for evangelism and therefore leave it up to the professionals.

With this in mind, I was quite surprised by the turn-out with people coming from as far away as Montova and Milan. In the end about thirty filled the seats and we had an awesome time ending with spontaneous applause. I think the applause might have been more for the fact that I made no one knock on doors, go out on the street, sing songs, do mimes, give their testimonies or hand out literature. Most people have nasty pre-conceptions of what “Evangelism Training” looks like and it scares them to death. My approach is entirely different and it is usually met not only with relief but an “I can do this!” response.

I have borrowed a line from a well known pyramid marketing company, “Facts tell and stories sell,” and with this mix in mind I hope for two kinds of take-away. I give them clear tools and strategies but also sprinkle in many stories of how small acts of love can lead to kingdom fruitfulness. I purposely show how ordinary people just like them have been effective in winning people to Christ through the deployment of their natural (hospitality, service) and spiritual gifts (administration, etc). The key to enjoying evangelism is doing it out of your gift base. Someone’s skill as a baker or ability to repair an automobile is as powerful an evangelism method as those who can turn almost any conversation toward the gospel.

Post-Script: Interestingly, one of the ladies attending brought her mother and father who intended to only stay ten minutes and then go to the market. Instead, they (solid Catholics from Napoli) stayed the entire day. Though there were occasional objections that I graciously responded to, I could tell, they left feeling positive with hugs all around. The next morning on Sunday, they returned for church and following the service the ladie’s mother tearfully came forward for prayer. 

Young Marrieds…

November 8

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Daniel and Michele invited me to share pizza with about four young married couples, three of which had new babies. It was their idea to glean wisdom from me on raising children for Christ. I began by telling them that no matter how Godly and uncompromising as parents they turn out to be, there is no guarantee that their children will commit to and follow Jesus. Unlike other religious communities, tribal animism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and to some extent Roman Catholicism where there is strong cultural identity and reinforcement, Evangelical faith calls for each individual to step up, make a personal commitment and go it alone (“…outside of the camp, bearing His reproach.”). The truth is this, when it comes to being a Christian almost everything in one’s culture opposes it from education, media and peers. Cultural religion is acceptable has no similar challenge.

With this caveat, I told those gathered about ten things if I would do if I had a “do-over.”

Supper with Alberto, Karla, Anna and Pietro

November 7

IMG_1565cropPeople perhaps wonder why I put so much about food on my blogs. There is a good reason for this. Since I am not a tourist in the classical sense, I rarely take what might be called a holiday in the mountains or by the sea. When I do manage to get a break for a few days, I take lots of pictures of the scenery and post them. Because I am generally booked for teaching or preaching, and stuck in one place for some time with no or little transportation options, my big outing usually turns out to be some special meal prepared for me by friends or from a visit to an outstanding restaurant.

Me, Anna (Kev's mom),Aberto, Karla with Pietro and Alessia Zamboni

Me, Anna (Kev’s mom),Aberto, Karla with Pietro and Alessia Zamboni

Kevin

Kevin

Last night, Kevin’s (he lives with us and attends university) family wanted to try to get even with me for bringing him to the states. So, they pulled out all of the stops even to profiteroli (my favorite) for desert. Alberto is an expert ceramic and stone mason but no slouch in the kitchen either. When we arrived (Francesco, Alessia, Francesca and I) he was IMG_1556stirring a big pot of Risotto Lambrusco (so named for the wine base). Italians think nothing of sitting down to supper at nine or later so we talked for a while as Alberto stirred and stirred. Finally, when we sat down, here it came – an avalanche of first class cuisine. The risotto served and demolished, next came Karla’s succulent roast surrounded by roasted potatoes. Just when I could take no more they brought in the surprise package with profiteroli.

It's a dog, silly

Not Pietro…it’s a dog, silly

Kevin’s family are wonderful! Alberto and Karla have a new little boy that I was able to see before his Uncle Kevin. He’s a cute little fellow but I think, from what I am told, he takes after his uncle Kevin because he can sleep for hours.

It is interesting that our lives in America are deeply linked to people across the ocean (Brazilians and Italians in this case) who don’t even speak the same language. This is the evidence of the power of the cross. We are all family and community no matter our cultural backgrounds. Thanks, y’all. It was a great but painful night!

Either it’s a diet or a move to a 3-Star

November 7

Time for a little humor…

IMG_1569cropIMG_1570cropYears ago when I used to tell my story about not fitting into the shower and having to go get a screw driver in order to get in it, few believed me. Trust me, I was tempted to demonstrate this truth in the nude but as my son, Matt reminded me, such things are NOT meant for the internet.

We were once thinking of remodeling our bathroom. I wanted to show Jeanne a wonderful bathroom from a house where I was staying in Portugal. I jumped out of the shower grabbed my camera and took the snap. I put it on the internet and when Matt saw it, he said, “Dad is that you?” I didn’t know what he meant until I took a closer look. Yikes! I was freaked out. I didn’t consider the full length mirror slightly covered with fog in most of the RIGHT places. Thank you Jesus! You can all thank Jesus too.

A day in Milan with Emily (YWAM) and Dawn (ACCI)

November 6

IMG_1514About seven years ago, I was asked to teach a YWAM DTS in Budapest and made my way there fourteen hours later from Frankfurt, Germany by train after missing my flight. I arrived on a cold night at beyond one in the morning, exhausted and several times lost my way. I took a bed and began teaching the next morning.

IMG_1507At lunch time, I went up to the kitchen to discover a young lady cooking pasta and tomato sauce, listing to Italian music and speaking some Italian words here and there. I wondered – is she Italian? She looks Italian. I learned that she was a gringo  from Eugene, Oregon. I asked her why she was in Hungary when she had an Italian heart? Conversation was spotty but enough to connect her with my friends, Belgians by the name of Dillis who lived near Trento in Italy. Eventually, Emily went to stay with them for a while and then later wound up serving in Milan with Youth with a Mission. During the seven years between we heard of one another through mutual contacts but then recently I received an email from her inviting to come see her and meet the YWAM team in Milan.

IMG_1509Things worked out wonderfully when I also found out that Dawn Mann, one of our ACCI missionaries from Citta d’Castello was passing through on her way to Switzerland so the stars had lined up (Okay, I don’t believe in stars lining up). This sure made my life easier because I always wanted to go see Luke and Dawn again (favorites) but they live slightly off of the rail line and this proves difficult for me to find the time.

It turns out that Imra Dillis is a friend to both Emily and Dawn and they had heard of one another but never met. My ACCI title is “Opportunity Development Director / Europe” so I saw this as a clear opportunity!

IMG_1513I met Emily in the morning at 11 in the magnificent Milano Centrale (Mussolini did a good a job on this one). From there she became my cultural informer by taking me to the art section of the city. We passed by trolley right through the opulent fashion district with names like Gucci, Prada, Versace and countless other famous names in fashion. What a glamorous (but hopeless) city!

One thing I enjoy is giving missionary friends a special treat they might not otherwise be able to afford or indulge in, so I let Emily chose her lunch. She picked an enormous organic hamburger and in my customary fashion, I ordered up two sticks of celery.

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Later we went about forty minutes by metro and bus to the YWAM base where I met Luigi and Paola and a dozen more but cannot remember their names except for Justin from San Francisco, Simon from Sicily, Isk from Holland and so forth. ( I probably have most these names wrong). Luigi is a chef so we had a lot to talk about.

IMG_1516mily went with me back to the center of the city and we arrived at Central Station at almost the exact moment as Dawn arrived by train. After introductions I felt a little bit little bit like a fifth wheel as the ladies had so much to talk about and shared  the same heart for ministry and Italy.

We put Dawn into her hotel room then went up to Buenos Aires where we had a small finger food supper (salumi and prochiutto) as we considered more ways we could serve together. It was a beautiful evening. Emily left before us but soon Dawn and I headed to my train. As I waited we talked more then said our goodbye’s until May.

IMG_1502As always, I am looking for divine appointments as this one on the way to Milan. I sat down across from a brother and sister on their way by train from Bologna to Milan. The lady returning to Cuba for holiday. I drew her portrait and this opened the door to conversation. I was able to share Jesus with some liberty.

Could this be Lydia?

 

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November 4

A year or so ago I met an opera singer from Iceland named Halla (for the story, scroll back to October 2012), married to Paolo. They own a cute little coffee bar called, Pulcinella only three blocks from my B&B. This is the only place with reliable, open internet (I am working here at this very moment)!!!

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Halla… making hot wine like our apple cider.

After a few visits I became friends with both, Halla and Paolo and learned that Halla was a Lutheran and a believer. At first I was trying to determine if she identified with Protestantism, her Lutheran heritage or Jesus. Whatever, she has been forthcoming in her Christian convictions.

On Saturday she invited me to a little party at her house in the country on the following Monday

Finni (Halla's daughter) and friend cracking nuts

Gudfinna (Halla’s daughter) and friend cracking nuts

evening. She explained that it is a kind of custom to celebrate the end of autumn and the coming of winter by roasting chestnuts (castagni) and drinking a heavily spiced and flavored, hot red wine. (You have no idea how rich – and delicious –  this can be with raisins, almonds and cinnamon).  I was unprepared for the rich combination and after eating several cream filled coronetti during the morning this mixture hit me like a ton of bricks. Within a minute of my first sip and nut, my stomach was acidic but yet people continued to bring me EXOTIC treats of various kinds. Feeling ready to explode and desperate for a Zantac, I had to leave early by catching a ride with Andrea a giornalista (Journalist). It was well worth leaving when I did. Though Andrea did not speak much English, I carried the conversation in Italian with many agreeable positions between the two of us. Let me just say that he caught my drift.

IMG_1501It was a lovely group of people and though I can speak Italian reasonably well, I had great difficulty understanding much of what was being said to me. Halla was quite bold in introducing me to her friends and clearly used my visit to introduce the idea of Christian faith to her friends who did not know how to respond. In one instance, the person resorted to talking about the immaculate conception and ascension of Mary. Obviously, this presented too much of a hill too climb with a language barrier but Halla’s daughter who bares the biblical convictions of her mother and completely on my side, did her best to explain my points in fluent Italian.

The truth is this. Most Italian Catholics are like Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. They know nothing beyond what they have been told by the Priest, the Imam, an Elder or Bishop. When confronted with the direct simplicity and sensibility of the gospel, they can see it but have no idea of what to do next. They are the very worst at deciding anything and consider almost everything having to do with religion only a private opinion. To become a bible believing Christian would eliminate their Italian identity, something very few are willing to do. One thing for sure, few Italians are willing to separate from the pack and go it alone. There is almost no concept of individualism. Identity is bound up in one’s cultural heritage. To become a Bible Christian is to become a straniero (foreigner). Evangelical faith is the reilegion of gli immigrati (immigrants).

New church launch in Fidenza!

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IMG_1480cropGruppo Cristiano of Parma have been planning something like this for almost four years. It has always been their vision to raise up new leadership and extend the church’s kingdom influence into other regions. They have done this in two ways. First, they set out to do what no evangelical churches here in Italy ever think to do.

From the very beginning, ACCI members, Pastor Aldo and Mariela Cerasino along with the Director of Progetto Archippo, Francesco Abortivi (ACCI) determined to work toward Christian reconciliation. Today, Gruppo Cristiano has brought together ten other area congregations. Progetto Archippo (the ACCI training school) has connected fifteen mission agencies serving in Italy and on Saturday I will have people in my evangelism class from Milano and as far away as Brescia.

IMG_1487Sunday evening seven of us  loaded into Aldo’s car and with a huge, nearly tree sized  plant between my legs, drove the twenty or more kilometers to the next city on our west, Fidenza.  After a short parade of three blocks to the church, we met a crowd waiting for the official cutting of the ribbon.

The room was crowded with people standing against the wall. The night was warm so the temperature on the platform was hot enough that both Francesco (my translator) and I had to remove our sweaters about midway into the message.

Pastor Aldo with Fidenza Pastor Matteo

Pastor Aldo with Fidenza Pastor, Matteo

It was a very encouraging and positive night. If any denomination had any sense at all they would come to this church and say, “Look, you don’t have to belly up to the bar and become a full-member, but let us come along side of you and provide whatever resources we can muster on your behalf.” By doing so, they would win favor and have a significant footprint in northern Italy. IMG_1489Most denominations haven’t enough savvy to understand the power of partnerships. Unless they initiate and doctrinally dominate a church, they will not make the investment of time and money. As it is, Pastor Cerasino and Archippo Director, Francesco take no money and pay out of pocket for much of the kingdom extension that goes on. A case in point, Gruppo Cristiano financed the new church in Fidenza while short of funds for their own church in Parma. This is faith at its best.