Trip 38 / Entry 9 / Bosnia

Tuesday, April 28, 2014

Branko pouring over his new books

Branko pouring over his new books

 

 

What passes as a church

What passes as a church

Monday was a preparation day. Chris picked me up at my hotel at 7:30 and we headed off through Croatia for the city of  Banja Luka, (in the Republika Srpska which is the Serbian part of Bosnia) where we would meet Pastor Branko in the Serbian region. This is a trip of about five hours. Bane (Branko) is a humble and sweet believer who has two small congregations some one hour apart. He supports himself through translation work but the going is hard as he explained that in all of Bosnia he suspect among 3.5 million people there are only an estimated four hundred Bible Christians. In his two churches he may have only forty in all. Nevertheless, he maintains that he is not called to count. He is called to remain faithful. It was our joy to give him a couple of theological books in his own language (a rarity).

Cevapcici

Cevapcici

We enjoyed several hours with him, shared a lunch of grilled meat called, Cevapcici, prayed and then got on our way for the three hour drive to Osijek, Croatia.

Trip 38 / Entry 8 / Ljubljana, Slovenia

Sunday, April 27, 2014

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As is my custom I preached at Binkoštna cerkev Center, a church of about 130 people. Though there are couple of similar size, this is the largest evangelical congregation in the capital city of Ljubljana with a population of 300,000 people. In all Ljubljana only has about five hundred practicing Christians. Soon they will be dwarfed by a completely paid for mosque of some twelve million Euros. Though most claim to be Roman Catholic, Slovenia is only nominally Christian and is highly secularized.

Tony 2 LJBThis is the reason why Islam sees European Christianity bankrupt and immoral. It is easy for the taking and predict that the Muslim “call to prayer” will spiritually characterize most major cities of Europe within the next fifty years. 

It is a small gain but this church was only about thirty people ten years ago with one small service but now the room is filled with two Sunday morning services.

Trip 38 / Entry 8 / Ljubljana, Slovenia

Saturday, April 26, 2014

LJUBLJANA WAKE-UP CALL…

 

A Johnny Depp looking guy.

A Johnny Depp looking guy.

This morning I made a slight error of judgment here in Ljubljana. I went out for a few minutes and sat down to have coffee when three drunken young people sat at the next table. I chatted a bit, they invited me to join them and then I offered to buy a round thinking coffee but they opted for Jack Daniels. The conversation ensued, talking about a fuzzy sort of “spirituality” and they seemed to take a liking to me until I mentioned “Jesus.”

All were raised Roman Catholics but now adamantly claimed to be atheists (but still pray to Mary) became unraveled with anger – cursing and immediate dismissal. One (I complimented him by saying he looked like Johnny Depp) rose up in disgust and left the table. It may have been the alcohol but I was saddened that they had no clear idea of who the real Jesus of the New Testament is. They were unwilling to hear even a word about the subject. They had no idea that he would be a good friend of their tattoos and dreadlocks. They only have the impossible to please, distant Jesus of the halo and stained glass window. Their preconceptions gave me not even a sliver of opportunity to unpack the authentic Jesus. This is tough ground. People have been so vaccinated with religion and superstition that they cannot contract the real thing. Roman Catholicism will undoubtedly have to answer for this catastrophe. These people have been taught the most ridiculous things concerning God and hardly a single one of them has any working knowledge of the New Testament. It is uphill every inch of the way.

 

Trip 38 / Entry 5 / Milano to Ljubljana

Friday, April 25, 2014

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES…

Note: Jehovah’s Witnesses in Italy are much larger than protestant evangelicals. Perhaps only Islam and Occultism is larger.

I am now in Ljubljana and it took most of the day by train and car from Milan. As I arrived at the Milan train station early I had about forty minutes to engage the three Jehovah’s Witnesses at their Watchtower stand. I can only say it was not a good day for the JW’s. In fact, and this has never happened before, I countered everything so well that when I looked at what appeared to a “Newby” who had been intensely listening and told her to “get out now – it is a mind control cult”, she handed her magazines to the spokesperson and walked away. Perhaps she was late for work but by the way she listened, I don’t think so.

JEWISH COUPLE…


It didn’t end there. By divine providence a fair haired young man and his wife (I think his wife but who can tell anymore) spoke to me in Italian and took the reserved seats next to me. They turned out to be Israeli’s living in Milan. Now how do you think this ride went??? They got off at Padua and I went on to Mestre but I had a good time teaching Judaism to my Jewish friends. Pray for Nir and Inbal.

Trip 38 / Entry 4 / Lake Como and Emily

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Emily being Italian and taking a call

Emily being Italian and taking a call

I have a young friend in Milan serving with Youth With A Mission (YWAM). I first met Emily in Budapest when I taught at a week-long YWAM DTS. At first I thought of Emily as just one more of the sixteen or so young people in the building. Then on the first Monday it was Emily’s turn to prepare lunch and after the morning sessions we all made our way upstairs to the kitchen where Emily was making fresh tomato sauce, listening to Andre Bocelli and stirring a huge pot of spaghetti with a wooden spoon. I thought, this girl is in Budapest but she has an undeniable Italian heart and as we got better acquainted this became clear. Since that time, more than five years ago, I have stayed up with her.

I do listen, see.

I do listen, see.

It turned out that I eventually connected Emily with other missionary friends in Italy the Dilles where she stayed for a while. Now we have other friends in common so it was quite unsurprising for her to get a text message from me asking, “What are you doing tomorrow? Do you want to go up to Lake Como for lunch?” This is the kind of invitation that a young, poor missionary could hardly resist and so the answer came back quickly and arrangements were made to meet at the train the next morning at 8.

ThougIMG_1952h Como is a must destination, in all the many times I had been in Italy I had never gone. We spent a couple of hours walking then stopped and had lunch overlooking the lake on an unimaginably perfect day.

IMG_1949The conversation mostly centered around outreach methodology and the nasty subject of raising support.

 

IMG_1963It was a terrific time and later that evening after she did her English outreach class we went to Restorante Da Oscar where we enjoyed an amazing meal.

IMG_1964Whenever I have opportunity, I try my best to do evangelism and since Oscars is one of those places where you are squeezed up to those at the next table we became acquainted with the English speaker who was curious about us. While we worked our way through my incredible Frutti d’Mare and Emily’s Tagliatelle con Salmone in creamy pesto sauce we shared worldview with Nicola.

Treating those who could not normally afford this sort of thing to a special dinner out is one of my ministry privileges. Let me suggest that when you go on holiday abroad you find out who might be serving in that area and invite them out. Both of you will be encouraged and blessed.

Trip 38 / Entry 3 / Milan, Italy

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

LionelIt didn’t go as I had hoped. Once and a while jet-lag will really leave me spinning. Arriving at Malpensa Airport at 7:30 in the morning, I took my own advice and tried to stay up all day until a reasonable time to go to bed. This should allow me to get onto the Italian clock.  I checked at my hotel by 10:30 but since my room wasn’t ready, I left my case and took to the street. I kept my eyes pried open by going for walks, drinking coffee, having gelato and eating supper.

At nine I turned in but to no avail. It was three in the afternoon, Charlotte time. I tossed, I turned, opened the balcony door, closed the balcony door and took benedryl but my mind raced. I suddenly felt completely isolated and even worse – stupid. Why am I doing this?  I could be in my own room at home. This bed is hard, the room small and the streets are loud. This isn’t a new experience for me but no many times you go through it, it never gets better. I should know the drill by now. I have often had moments of regret and anxiety.

Around one in the morning Italian time, I made the decision to call Jeanne and get her in my corner. She answered, we talked, she prayed, I hung up, put on my clothes and went down to the small lobby.

I had seen him earlier. Even in the brief encounter I recognized this young Filipino to be a believer so I asked him. Lionel was as bright as a penny while answering my question. He had been converted in Milan about two years before and attends the “Jesus is Lord” church, a largely Filipino congregation of some seven hundred people. The fellowship proved to be just the shot in the arm Io needed and an answer to prayer.

I realized that I had heard of this church before from Filipino friends that attend Smyra Bible Institute in Norway where I teach. As I mentioned one of the Filipino student’s names he looked it up on Facebook to discover that while Lhyn (yep, with an “h”) was in Norway and he in Milan, they had between them forty-eight mutual friends.

With this nice visit (better than benedryl) I went to my bed and fell asleep. I felt assured that all was well and that the morning would look different.

Trip 38

These shoes have taken me thousands of miles. Today the soles fell off and I had to let them go. They proved to be reliable friends along the way.

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Slovenia, the Balkans, Norway and Italy

April 22 to June 10, 2014

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Isaiah 52:7

How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

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.