Luigi Tommasi is the Youth With a Mission leader in Milan. YWAM is one of the largest short-term missions in the world. I have taught at YWAM Discipleship Training Schools in a number of locations and will join them again in Costanta, Romania, September 22-27 of this year.
I have only come to know Luigi in the last year or so but I immediately liked him. We made arrangements to meet for a couple of hours to discuss funding possibilities. Like most ministries in Europe there is little base from which to draw supporters so they are dependent upon whatever means they can devise in order to keep the doors open. From a human standpoint, the options are fairly limited. Yet it is always good to encourage one another.
Though I could say more, this concludes my 38th European trip.
After a long drive into the mountains we arrived at a small house with cars parked along the side of the road. As we made our way into the yard we saw young men playing football (soccer), while older women sat talking under tall poplar trees trying to stay out of the sun. There was not a hint of a breeze.
We were invited inside the one room house to change into our casual clothes in the bathroom but when we went through the door we were immediately arrested by the air conditioned interior and the couch along the wall. We sat and waited our turn as we watched six Spanish girls chop tomatoes, lettuce and cilantro. We regretted to hear that the bathroom was now free, we could change our clothing and go out under the roof or the trees with the other forty hot, sweating people. Being the oldest people in the crowd allowed us few special privileges.
Outside the unfinished, three sided building was empty except for two guys playing ping pong and three others standing around a grill turning mounds of meat. I wasn’t surprised to see our guests and my Brazilian friend from Portugal giving a hand. Brazilians, barbecue and meat are synonymous. After what seemed like a very long time due to the heat and the lack of shade an incredible sit down meal was laid out for about forty or more people. We all had more than we could eat and frankly, some of the food had to go home with folks as leftovers. Bacon chunks and rice found its way to the table and almost always does when Spanish or Brazilians are prepping the food.
It was a wonderful time of fellowship and since I didn’t know everyone attending I took up a conversation with five people who were apparently unbelievers but I didn’t know so they all got plan “A” as I explained the purpose of apologetics by presenting several examples which caught their attention. For one thing, I talked about it means to have a Christian worldview and what it means to be human (Imago Dei) and the meaning of the fall using the text, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Indirectly many of my comments were affirmed though as it often happens, once the conversation gets too deep some retreat into obvious but utter silence.
In reality though, this is the most effective method for doing evangelism in a gospel resistant culture like Italy. The party model where Christians having a good time are put together with non-believers is most convincing since people can see the gospel before they ever hear it. The chances that any of these unchurched friends will find themselves in an evangelical church anytime soon are beyond remote unless they have prior positive exposure to the message or messenger(s).
Perhaps some of you wonder why I go to this trouble of writing 36 blogs over a period of seven weeks? There are a variety of reasons but probably the most important might be this, it is a way of document my missionary journey. I doubt if anyone will care once I am dead and gone but for me it is quite interesting to have this history now documented over eight years or more in some 470 small vignettes likely been missing from my bed for at least 1,300 nights over the last thirteen years so this all stretches into quite a story for a boy from small town Oklahoma and Kansas.
Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano
I wound up the seven weeks on the road in my home church in Europe where I have such old and good friends. This morning we had an attendance of around one hundred twenty or so in the sanctuary, so altogether, there were probably 150 in attendance when the children are added.
This church has pretty much what it needs from parking to sanctuary and classroom space. It also has the advantage of good music and leadership. I mostly just sit back and enjoy it all until it comes my turn.
Today, I preached a message I have been carrying with me (something I think folks need to hear), “Disappointment with God.” What’s the meaning of disappointment? What does God have in mind by putting his people through it?
It all went well and I gave no real altar call but it almost always turns out people came for prayer for various needs and this morning two couples who happened to attend for the first time came with the intention of serving God in this church. There were several others. I love the openness of Latin people. It is so difficult to move a comfortable American by any appeal.
Since I was to be picked up in Parma at four for a new church street project outreach in Fidenza we went back to Parma in time for a short rest and getting picked up by Francesco. Off we went.
It was a terribly hot in the afternoon without a breath of air when we arrived in Fidenza at about five-thirty. We parked and walked the four blocks to the city center where there was a festival. In Italy almost anything that features a balloon is called a feste.
It wasn’t hard to find our outreach team. There were about fifteen young people from various nations gathered in a loose circle enthusiastically singing to the sound of a strummed guitar and another fellow beating on something that served as a drum.
Almost ten years ago I made about three subsequent visits to Portugal where I connected with Brazilian, Free Methodist missionaries to Portugal, Cindi and Eduardo. They had now come from Lisbon, Portugal to Italy and Parma, renewed acquaintance and be introduced to the Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano leadership. Two new Brazilian workers who feel called to Italy, Moses and his wife, Jacione have been in Portugal establishing EU residency for this very purpose. Ten years haven’t seemed to make much difference in Cindi and Eduardo and to me they looked the same as when I left them. They also brought along another pastor, Cida whom I had met but frankly, hadn’t come to know because of the limitation of language for both me and her.
After so many years we enjoyed reconnecting and promised to talk more on Sunday when we would have more time to socialize but for now we had to go to a service where I would preach.
The evening was shared by a band from Brecia that had come down to help. Even in the heat, they certainly held the attention of the audience with lively music interspersed with testimony and videos.
Leaving Jeanne in the B and B for a couple of hours, I went down to Pulchinella (a coffee shop) to meet Pastor Aldo. All along it was planned that we would carve a little time to talk about recognized ministerial training for a new generation of pastors and the anticipated growth of biblical Christianity in Italy. We were together until noon until I rushed off to get Jeanne and go to Karla and Alberto’s for lunch.
The color coordination was a total accident!
Karla is married to Alberto and she is Kevin’s sister. Kevin is an Italian living with us and attending university. Karla and Alberto have a little baby boy by the name of Pietro and Jeanne wanted to see him so we got a free lunch. Karla cooked up gnocchi followed by salad, potatoes and a rolled Parmesan styled chicken item stuffed with pancetta and mozerella.
We were delivered to the Fasano train station. Oreste and Mary wouldn’t just deliver the bags, get in the car and go. Nope they waited with us until the train came, we boarded and then watched as we pulled away. They were very attentive hosts. It seemed to me that Jeanne enjoyed Mary’s company. I know this because Jeanne learned and attempted a lot of Italian while just talking to Mary in the back seat.
As I stood in the gangway in order to keep my eyes on the luggage (it is a dangerous world down here) as things can just suddenly disappear. A seated, young African continued to watch me while I chatted with two college aged girls. Finally, I left the bags to go up the stairs of the “carozza” (car) to sit beside him. It was then that I noticed he was either on drugs or perhaps drunk and this was at 10:30 in the morning.
He was twenty-six, spoke English and from Gambia. Before the thirty minute ride was over I had his favor and gripped his attention with a need for change. He agreed with me as best he could. I think he got what I had to say as I challenged him to buy a New Testament and find an evangelical church in Bari. I told him that he needs a father and today, I am that man. I could tell that he liked me and I liked him. Some drunks I just don’t like but my heart went out to this fellow. So many of these illegal’s are quite hopeless. I asked him if he liked it in Italy and he told me that whatever happens here is better than Gambia. “We are very poor in Gambia.” This was said by a man who appears to me to have nothing.
While I was talking to him, Jeanne had engaged two Afghan men (refugees) in their mid twenties and was treating them like their mother. They were obviously far away from home and desperately lonely. She’s good at this.
A nice hall that seats about 250 on Sunday mornings
Oreste and Mary arranged a gig for me at perhaps the largest evangelical church in Taranto. It was a Thursday evening meeting but by the time the first note was stuck there were about sixty people standing to their feet.
The pastor Pietro (Piero) Bifulco, was warm and friendly. After about forty minutes of worship, I stood with him as my translator to preach for about forty-five minutes. We made a good team and had a few laughs within the context of delivery.
It was a terrific evening and I now have a standing invitation to return the next time I am in Italy. If I do, I will take a small bag and board a Ryan flight from Bologna which should save both time and money. The train ride is more than nine hours from Parma to Taranto.
Oreste, put up his “BIG” umbrella and we tried to squeeze underneath it. Unfortunately, the umbrella is only “BIG” because there are not two BIGGER people under it. Have you seen Oreste? He is my double so it is a good thing the girls are small things. Somehow they made the sacrifice to lay exposed to the sun and with lots of lotion, neither Jeanne or I burned at all.
I have pictures of us but no one will allow me to post them!
Okay, maybe I can get by with this one?
While splashing knee deep in the Ionian Sea, a young fellow, Antonio, struck up a conversation in English and since he was pretty agile at putting sentences together, we quickly came to the gospel. Though he was a Catholic, I was able to explain the difference to which he quickly warmed to what I had to say. We exchanged email addresses and traded more conversation as the time went by. To some people these encounters may not sound like much but the truth is this, many Christians here would not have more than three significant conversations that give a clear explanation of the gospel in a year while I might have three or four a week. I have no idea how I do it. I couldn’t explain it to you if I tried. It truly is a gift and I can’t boast about a thing.
I never think of intercession. It is such an awkward thing for me to sit for an hour in meditative prayer. I have no acumen for it. Jeanne is a prayer and it comes as easy to her as it does for a bird to take flight but I am only able to pray in this way if I am forced to it. I can do it but it is a complete effort. However, this is not true for evangelism. I am in my element.
On the morning of our forty-eighth wedding anniversary we met up with Mary and Oreste to spend some of the day at the “spiaggia” (beach). Oreste loves the sea. Before we did this however, we had a short errand to run.
Aldo Cerasino, my oldest ministry partner and very close friend, originally comes from Martina Franca. I promised that If I had time and they were willing to receive me, we would drop in for a coffee and say, “Hi.” It seemed that they were quite willing to see me so Mary and Oreste took us there first. Even though I am sure it was a challenge for them since they speak no English, they were very cordial. After an hour we went on to the, “mare” (sea).
I will let the photographs tell most of the story. It is really an amazing village with herds of Chinese people taking turns posing in front of a Trulli cottage, taking photographs of each other giving the peace sign. I never understood Asian people and their obsession with the peace sign? I hardly see a photograph of Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai with the two finger salute somewhere in the picture.
After about two hours we drove back to Martina Franca to enjoy an evening to ourselves.