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.