Trip 38 / Entry 37 / Meat in the heat

Sunday, June 8, 2014

 

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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).

 

Trip 38 / Entry 36 / The Last Day of Mnistry

Sunday, June 8, 2014

1,300 nights on the road

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.

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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.

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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.

IMG_3239Today, 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. 

 

Trip 38 / Entry 35 / Fidenza Outreach

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.

Fidenza

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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.

The Brazilians

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10296994_733365286686696_4521078741189322577_n (1)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.

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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.

IMG_3212The 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.

Trip 38 / Entry 34 / Alberto and Karla’s

Saturday, June 7, 2014

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!

The color coordination was a total accident!

Pietro

Pietro

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.

Entry 29 / Posh

Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano

On Sunday morning I took to the pulpit again and faced a full house of  nearly 180 people. Following the altar call I gave an invitation to which twenty people responded. Many were asked to help by praying with the seekers and Jeanne, who is quite good at this sort of thing, got an interpreter and prayed for several who came forward.

The Villa

Thomas and Marcela (Cassandro) McEvoy 

Thomas and Marcela

On occasion I am asked to participate in a wedding. I never quite have the clothes for such things and have to borrow this thing or that in order to make myself look halfway presentable as Italian and African weddings are quite extravagant affairs. Having been surprised with wedding invitations at other times, I have left hanging in Aldo’s closet a few items, like a gray pair of slacks and a tie. This time I had to borrow a royal blue jacket which I kept unbuttoned for rather obvious reasons. Italians are not as “portly” (the polite word) as I am.

Under the Cedar of Lebanon

At four in the afternoon we arrived at a gorgeous villa where an hour later a beautiful Columbian-Italian girl would be married to an Irish fellow. This happens quite often as the Italians and Irish have some attraction and affinity for one another.

I have known Marcela for a number of years but am more acquainted with her parents, Luciano and Marilene, since Marcela has been living and working in London for several years.

I knew that this would be a big deal and felt privileged to be asked to speak, knowing that half of the congregation on that sunny afternoon would be either unbelievers or religious but not necessarily Christians. I was sure that most would simply want my part to be over with rather quickly so we could have the wedding vows and get on to the reception. Yet, I saw this as a splendid opportunity. Having been given about fifteen to twenty minutes with translation, I couldn’t say much. Still, when it was my turn I took high ground, speaking on the “Mystery of Marriage” from Ephesians 5. I relied on two metaphors, the body and the bride, and wrapped a clear presentation of the gospel in, around, and through it. All the while I was speaking, I could sense that the message was being well received and hitting its mark. At the end of the proceedings I had many new friends with invitations to England and Rome. Tom and Marcela’s friends are all very warm and open-hearted.

   

The surroundings were lovely, with the vows being exchanged under a two-hundred-year-old Cedar of Lebanon that stretched over the entire gathering, providing a cool shade in a rather warm day. Later there were a number of food and drink tents with the finest in Parmesan cuisine. Though I wasn’t able to stay for the dinner and other festivities that ran long into the night, I was told that the reception dinner was the best one could hope for, laden with local cuisine.

Pastors Aldo and Mariela Cerasino and daughter Rebecca

While I was attending this affair Jeanne stayed back at the Cerasino’s getting some rest and packing us up for our trip back to Oslo on Monday morning.

Entry 28 / Collecchio, Italy

Michela, Anna and Jeanne

After at least eight or more years in the same city I have accumulated a lot of friends. It is rumoured that it is not until you are invited into an Italian home are you really considered a friend and not and simply an acquaintance.

Anna, her husband Stefano and daughter Michela are friends for several years now and not only mine but friends of my children Amy, John and their kids as well. On Saturday afternoon we were picked up in Corcagnano and taken some ten minutes to the south here they live on the edge of the Apinnine mountains which separates the Po Valley from Florence and Tuscany.

Inside Torrechiara

We enjoyed the lunch and then went further into the mountains to visit Torrechiara, one of the best preserved castles in all of Italy.

Entry 27 / Wish we had a picture

Love is a difficult thing to photograph

Sometimes we are privileged to get to see Bible stories come to life for us. In Italy, Tony and I were taken by our friend Francesco to see his family doctor in a suburb of Parma. She is a Christian doctor who warmly welcomed us in Italian and carried out her examination while Francesco and Mariela translated. For about two weeks prior, I had been experiencing symptoms related to inflammation in my lungs – coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath that always grew worse at night. As the doctor checked everything out, I was struck by her compassion and concern for me. She spent at least an hour with me and decided to give me a cortisone shot as well as two new prescriptions to try to alleviate some of my discomfort. As we were leaving we tried to pay her, but she refused. She said she wanted to bless us in Jesus’ name and would not hear of payment for her services. We reluctantly put our money away and headed out the door to take the prescriptions to the pharmacy to fill. Only after we drove away did we discover that she had put in enough cash in the envelope with the prescriptions to pay for them. In fact, we had money left over after they were filled! Our “Good Samaritan” doctor proved in such a practical way how God is looking after us on our trip and how He uses His body to minister to one another in Christian love. Once Tony and I got back from our side trip to Monterosso to celebrate our anniversary, I had to return to this same doctor to be checked again. Since my lungs had not improved, she gave me another cortisone shot and started me on some antibiotics. Again, no payment for the office call, and she provided the cash for my new prescriptions. It all seemed too much, too extravagant, according to worldly standards. But she saw it as a chance to lavish her love for Jesus on one of His own. How could we refuse her that joy? Others in Italy poured out their time and energy and resources on us while we were there … we especially thank Aldo and Mariela, Francesco and Alessia, Anna and Stefano. For them and for our Good Samaritan doctor, may they be encouraged by this Scripture: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).