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.

Coffee with Bill and Lorna

Friday Morning, August 19, 2011

In about 1978 we met the Seabrookes when they first began attending our home Bible study and the Merrickville Church. Since then they have remained our friends.

Without meaning to offend anyone else, as everyone has their own good qualities, my personal take on these two is this… next to Jeanne, I have always thought Lorna to be my ideal of the Christian woman – or at least my ideal of what one should be.

Lorna herself had a good start on this since her own mother, Elizabeth Poole (I knew her too), was also an exemplary model. I thought it was about time I told Lorna what I thought of her, so as we sat around the table with tea, scones and muffins, I told her. It is better that I tell her now than saying these nice things at her funeral when she can’t blush at the comment as she most certainly would and did. Perhaps this might be a good policy for all of us –  to tell folks the nice things we think before it’s too late to do so.  

Then there’s Bill, who has some sort of neurological problem with a name I can’t pronounce but can see the effects of… I wanted to tell him what I thought of him too, so I did. I have lots of acquaintances, so many that I sometimes fail to remember people I should know. Yet, with all of my travels, Bill stands out to me as a guy I chose for a friend. Perhaps I haven’t spent much time with him – at least not enough to qualify as a friendship – still, he has been my idea of a good fit for me. Bill is not an anxious sort of guy. He doesn’t talk much (he allows me to talk all I want) and he doesn’t whine (he allows me to whine all I want) a lot. Bill isand always has been quiet and steady. Even with all of this bad news concerning a physical problem there is apparently no cure for, he just shrugs his shoulders and calmly says, “Well, what can I do?” without a trace of resentment.

Bill and Lorna have raised three children. Their two girls are now grown and married. Mark still lives at home. More than thirty years ago, while they were driving home from our house on a bright, sunny, Friday afternoon, they were broadsided by an egg truck in too big of a hurry. This left their only son with a brain injury. Though Mark almost died a number of times, he managed, with lots of prayer and terrific medical care at the CHEO, to pull through and though he may never be able to live an independent life, he is a remarkable, clever and enjoyable person.   

I tell this story, not to remind them again of this horrible event that changed their lives forever but to let others know what has contributed to who Lorna and Bill are. It is no surprise to believers that Christianity is built upon paradox and irony. We all know the topsy-turvy nature of authentic Kingdom living, but few manage to actually engage the promises and fruit of it as have the Seabrookes. They understand that you give to get, lose to win, die to live, suffer with Christ to reign with Him.

One of the reasons I admire the Seabrookes so much is because they made up their minds many years ago and simply did what Peter suggested in his First Epistle,  “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind” (1 Peter 4:1a). Bill and Lorna made up their minds where they would stand, no matter what, and this has made all of the difference in their world. This decision has made a difference in mine as well.

Part of my reason for writing these blogs is to record a history of my travels and some of the stories of those people who have kept me moving forward. Some may take exception to my occasional mention of those who have essentially “fallen away” from the faith (Here, I am not talking about those people who have taken up drinking a bottle of beer now and then or don’t attend church at least three times a week, but those who outright deny the Lord Jesus Christ and His redemptive work). But the truth is, for every one who falls away, there are ten who stand for Him, no matter what. After forty years, facing the headwinds of life, there are more with us than “a-gin” us. As an example, we will be having dessert with more old friends, Fred and Rosalee Williams tonight.

As a project (and a way of making lots of money in the process), Bill Gaither the song writer has gone about gathering up all of the old timers (southern quartets and gospel music legends) and has made video after video of these folks singing gospel hymns and blue grass classics that the church sings very little or no more at all. In so doing, he has captured a valuable history that might one day be lost without his efforts.

In some respect I attempt to do the same thing by recording the stories of many of these good friends who were part of something remarkable that took place some thirty-five or more years ago in a small town called Merrickville. Those on the outside that still remember this or have come upon this  four-year event refer to it as “The Miracleville Revival.” For those of us who lived it, it was a miracle when a little town was turned upside down by the transformed lives of guitar pickers, hippies, pot smokers, dope dealers along with the common village folk. For those of you who had “ears to hear and eyes to see,” you were there. It was undeniable and for those who witnessed it but now ignore it, you were never REALLY there.