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.

Entry 17 / Norway after two weeks

As of  Wednesday past, we have been on the ground in Norway for two weeks. After landing we stayed a day and a half in the Oslo area (The Normisjon Ga Ut Center) catching up on sleep and getting our land legs. We will be going back there tomorrow where on Monday I will teach a day long seminar on “Contemporary Evangelism Methods” or “Communicating Christian Thought in a Post-Christian, Post-Modern World.”

For the last two weeks we have been mostly encouraging, teaching and mentoring students.

Promotional Poster

Last Sunday I preached here at SBI and Oasen on, “The Plague of the Heart – The High Cost of Sin Management” apparently resulting in good fruit especially with two young ladies, C and J who seemed impacted by the call to Christ and righteousness.

On Sunday evening we were at Betel in Halden across the Oslo fiord near Sweden where I spoke on “Justice, Mercy and Grace – The Unjust Steward.”

During the first week I taught everyday for about four hours. If I were to title the course I might have called it, “Rightly Dividing’ or “Discerning the Full Counsel of God,” where first I explained the divisions of systematic theology and the purpose of theological study. After explaining why theology is important, I took denominational distinctions and various doctrinal positions such as water regeneration, universalism, second work of grace, etc. along with statements like, “What Happens to the Poor Innocent Native who Never Heard of Christ,” and provided biblical answers. We were lost at first with a certain air of anti-intellectualism but once they could see it they got on board and we wound up having a good class which I think will greatly benefit them in the future.

MEXICALI ROSA’S OUTREACH TONIGHT!

Jeanne and Sara sizing up the Mexican food at the local grocery

Jeanne and I also organized an outreach whereby we hope to entertain many first time guests. You can read about it on one of the earlier blogs, “Mexicali Rosa’s, Cafe’ del Sol.” We hope to serve over three-hundred and fifty tacos and burritos today between five and seven pm today.

On the next Friday evening I spoke at a youth meeting on “So What Makes Jesus So Likeable?” Jesus commended the social outcasts (sinners) while turning away the self – righteous. He was and is a friend of sinners. All other religions teach exactly the opposite and this is why the gate is narrow. People simply have to put away their pride which they are not apt to do. People can’t seem to get this concept without divine revelation.

This past Thursday evening I spoke to a combined church, bible college meeting on “Totemism – Living in the Culture of  the King.” All cultures tend to remake Jesus into themselves by making our cultural values his. When we do this we wind up worshipping ourselves. We become God. This is true in America where Jesus is upwardly mobile, successful and wealthy. By putting cultural grids over the New Testament many “Christian’s” wind up as tourists to the kingdom of God rather than immigrants. We should not be forcing Jesus to be the culture learner. He is King.

Last night I talked on the subject, “Who Switched the Price Tags,” using “What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul.” All persons, place high value on trivial things and fail to give importance to  the things that  really matter.

I will finish the series on Sunday morning when I have chosen to talk on Hebrews 12: 1-2, “Jason’s Marathon and Laying Aside Every Weight.” Many people need to unload their anger, bitterness and pain. I will also take them to the bitter water’s of Marah in Exodus 14. To sweeten the poison of life we must put in the stick as Moses did. This stick is a type of  the cross of Christ.

Entry 16 / Norway

A Land Full of Surprises…

It’s fascinating to me how many surprises I have experienced on this cross-cultural adventure. And it has just started! A good case in point is how much Norwegians seem to enjoy Italian food. Now in my head I figured my time in Norway would be spent eating lots of fish and potatoes and I would have to wait to get to Italy to have pizza and spaghetti. But in the mere two weeks we’ve been here, I’ve had pizza three times and just a few nights ago Tony and I

Dinner at a Norwegian home (with our hosts and friend Inger)

enjoyed a truly outstanding spaghetti dinner at a friend’s house. The man of the house, Tor kjell (forgive me if I spell it wrong!), cooked up his own marinara sauce and focaccia bread to go with the perfectly cooked pasta and fresh salad (he used rapeseed oil instead of olive oil for the dressing, because it’s not as heavy tasting, he explained). To say we were impressed with his cooking skills would be an understatement. It turns out that he loves to watch cooking shows and read gourmet cookbooks – another stereotype blown out of the water since I thought all Norwegian men were outdoorsmen who would disdain spending time in the kitchen. Our host is a man of many talents… he is a kindergarten teacher with amazing musical talents and is also an excellent translator.  He served as our translator when Tony preached and I gave an impromptu testimony at the Sunday evening service at the school. He and his wife Heidi (also a musical whiz and an exceptional baker in spite of being blind) live in a rented farmhouse with their two young children. Their son, who’s four, really reminded me of our grandson Dylan back home. Anyway, after enjoying the sumptious main course our host shooed us out of the kitchen so he could clean up. (He

We almost ate it all! Norwegian cobbler

insisted he had his own system and wanted no help!) In about half an hour he called us back in for some to-die-for berry crisp served with ice cream and Norwegian coffee. If we closed our eyes we might have thought we were in another country, but I’m beginning to see that Norway’s people have many sides to them and each of them are terrific. Although they have no regular television, our hosts were able to share some interesting Internet sites with us… including cooking shows like “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Heidi leads worship at the SBI church services and has such a sweet spirit. Obviously her disability is not something that robs her of her joy in the Lord. How blessed we are to know them both. Sharing their home and their lives with us was an encouragement to us, the bewildered strangers in their midst.

Entry 15/ Norway

My morning walk…

Note these unusual trees. Anyone know what they are?

While Tony has been teaching his classes, I’ve had the luxury of spending my time as I please… something I haven’t been free to do for years. So I’ve been reading my Bible, writing, praying, and taking walks around the beautiful countryside here. Here are a few pictures of my favorite walking path. With my feet problems, I have to keep my daily walking to between 20 and 40 minutes.

Smyrna Bible Institute

The school where we are is set high on a hill that overlooks the farms with newly plowed and seeded fields. The trees are budding out in response to all the warm temperatures and bright sun, and flowers like lily of the valley and tulips are adding color to the green grass beside the roadway. I usually tackle the steep hill climb first, before I get too tired, and am rewarded by a

Lay of the land

lovely steep descent on my way back. One part of the walk is through woods, where I see new birds and trees that I’ve not seen before. And if I walk far enough (the 40 minute version), I pass by a small village with houses and a lovely Lutheran church complete with a small graveyard and high steeple. Sometimes I pass by some pretty impressive bikers trucking up the steep hill without even looking tired. One day I met a friendly man (who looked to be in his eighties) walking his bicycle up the hill in anticipation no doubt of enjoying the ride back down to where he lived. He graciously let me take his picture and cheerfully called as I turned to leave, “Enjoy your trip.”  I wish I knew enough Norwegian to reply in kind. All I could manage was the one word I’ve learned: “Tusen takk!” (a thousand thanks)

Entry 14 / Norway

Now remember, I am a visitor here in Norway. Also, keep in mind, a blog is not a thesis. I consider this particular blog a sort of diary – travelogue filled with observations, impressions and comment. 

I recently got in trouble by saying that Norwegians didn’t have C.S. Lewis’  “Mere Christianity,” or “Screwtape Letters.” I was informed by the same fellow who complained about my comments concerning the price of pizza in Tonsberg that Norway does have these books in their language and for this I was thankful to hear. He went on to scold me about doing better research before telling “gullible”  (his culturally sensitive word, not mine) Americans this sort of misleading information. He’s right. I probably should have done a quick “Google” search but I am often pinched for time and these blogs take a lot of time out my schedule. Sometimes I am just happy to get them written and published, warts and all. Anyway, they apparently do have these books but as I pointed out to another friend in an email, what’s the point of having such books if people don’t  know they exist? I am told there is no good Norwegian word for “mere” so I probably would have missed it anyway as “mere” is most likely rendered as “normal.”  I wouldn’t have thought of that.

I am likely to get in trouble again with this post as I am going to talk about something I only know about from “hear say.” But if I offend you with my, “shoot from the hip” analysis, as long as you are nice, I will listen to your perspective on the following subject. Even if we disagree, remember, we are approaching seven billion people in the world and I am but one. Slap your hands together and move on.

Confirmation Sunday

For illustration purposes only. No lack of beauty and grace in Norway. Here is traditional Norwegian dress

Last Sunday people from all over Norway –  people who rarely darken the doorway of the Lutheran state church – put on their finest traditional dress and go to their respective churches for a national “coming of age” event called “Confirmation.” 

I found this surprising since I almost never run into anyone while traveling here that has much use for church, Christianity or God. I have always thought of “Confirmation” as a very serious bit of business where one publicly confirms their Christian faith. Apparently, this is no longer so and has taken on a more secular significance. I have been told that Lutheran youth have not had to confirm their faith by vows for over fifty years. One is a Christian simply by virtue of baptism.

As much as 80% of Norway would be Lutheran by baptism and membership. For every head that can be counted, the church receives and annual stipend. This is true of the other legal churches as well. If one should change his or her denominational or church allegiance the government must be notified and the money will go in another direction. I should point out that the confirmation candidates receive financial gifts as well… MONEY – lot’s of it. So whether or not people hold any conviction regarding religious matters, it is for the most part, immaterial.

Still, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. While much of the state church is steeped in formality and tradition there is a living faith within the Lutheran community where lives are being transformed, churches planted and missionaries sent. One friend points out that while the Lutheran church often lacks vibrancy, the largest percentage of active, regenerate believers in Norway are undoubtedly Lutheran. 

When over lunch I asked the more important question about whether people took this pomp and ceremony seriously from a spiritual vantage point I was told an emphatic, “No.” Most young people thought it was meaningless and just something that all or at least most Norwegians are expected to do.

It is well-known that Norway is a highly secular state where people rarely attend church. I wanted to know so I asked, “What percentage of those being confirmed take their vows seriously?” In other words, “Do you think very many put any confidence in the Lutheran Church or the Christian gospel?”  Again, (and no real surprise) I was told by the group at the table that they would suppose only 1% would remain active in the Christian faith. Confirmation would make little difference. I privately wondered if , “Thou shalt not take the Lord thy God’s name in vain,” might not be what this verse really means?

Like it or not, these are the facts…

My dad used to talk about the “burnt over”  country where seed could not take root. As another analogy, people can be vaccinated against catching the real thing. This is just such a place. It is tough going here with most people up to their necks in skepticism. When I have tried to talk to people at the small shopping center and coffee shop in the nearby village, I have been met with either coldness or, in some cases, rudeness. Faith is not a subject to be talked about outside of the walls of a religious institution. It is no wonder Muslims in Europe are puzzled with Christianity and see it as meaningless in determining the course of one life, let alone all of history.

Culturally speaking, God has been gagged and Christianity muzzled.  

The Bible has a verse for all that I detect, “having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”   2 Timothy 3:5

Martin Luther would roll over in his grave to see what has become of the Lutheran Church. It is true, it begins with a man, then a movement, next a machine and finally a monument.  In the words of A.W. Tozer, “Denominations can backslide too.”

Entry 13 / Norway

It seems as though eating is all we are engaged in.

Perhaps I have more pictures of me at a table than anyone in the world. We do have lots of opportunity to try new items and socialize around food. Actually, you will find that when you are without transportation the highlight of the day is not seeing a new landmark but rather eating a new way to cook fish.

Here we are eating what Norwegians consider to be a Saturday special – a traditional and national treat – a kind of porage made from rice. The next day they made a desert with what was left over. On the porage they sprinkle cinnamon or sugar, others put dollops of strawberry jam or a splash of raspberry sauce.

Then later in the evening it was an outdoor dinner party on the veranda featuring a superb Chicago style pizza. Karin is one good baker and the crust was crispy but chewy with wonderful Italian toppings. I was surprised that Norwegians with their inclinations toward healthy foods would have opted for toppings of broccoli and cauliflower but nope, it was the real thing with all sorts of greasy items I could easily recognize.

Ingres

Finally, sometimes you find a treasure. Here is our friend Ingres. I have known her for about two years and now Jeanne has her for a friend as well. I used to call her “Slave Girl” on Facebook but this nick name seemed to make people nervous and cause them to wonder what kind of relationship I was having with Ingres. I assure you, it was all on the up and up. Ingres was assigned to be my “Girl Friday” and the “go to” person anytime I needed something while here at SBI. She turned out to be my cultural informer, translator, chauffeur and she even did my wash a couple of times. Ingres has an authentic servants heart and we wish you could know her too. She is always busy and though she is a school teacher she makes herself available to cook in the kitchen, clean and work with the children in the Kid’s for Christ Club. We are blessed.

Entry 12 / Norway

Upcoming Outreach Event!

Mexicali Rosa’s                                                          Cafe del Sol                                                               Taco and burritos Fiesta

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We’ll have lots of reasons for them to show up by providing authentic Mexican food served by cheery Bible college students, a draw for a 500 kr ($100.) gift certificate and  though all of the food is free, we’ll ask these GENEROUS Norwegians to donate to the Children of Ghana. All of this should bring folks into our building here at SBI and Oasen (the church community).
   I told the students that people are just as weirded out by a church service as we are a Hindu meeting. In un-churched societies, people do not attend churches unless invited by a friend. We are out to make a lot of friends.
 
Would our friends out there pray for us?
 
   

 

Entry 11 / Norway

“A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”

PROVERBS 16:9

 

What does a class look like?

Frankly, not much different from what it does anywhere else I teach,  Bethany College of Missions, YWAM, Bethany Wesleyan College, Progetto Archippo and others.

Mostly I am engaged in one of two things. Either I am involved in spiritual formation or ministry preparation. This past week I taught on why theology matters. Though this sounds like a rather dry subject, I think, by the end of the week, most had a handle on the importance of the course and life was breathed into the verse “rightly dividing the Word of God.”  

Over thirty years ago the Lord spoke to us from Hebrews 5, as we were driving between Brantford and  Toronto, Ontario. He made it clear that we would be involved in raising up ministry leaders. At the time it seemed rather unlikely, but we took it as His voice and though we didn’t particularly pursue this calling, it turned out to be the case and here we have been for at least 15 years.

I sometimes wonder. It seems that I am “unknown, and yet well-known” as Paul described himself. I always wanted to have a huge impact, like leading major crusades, but God has seen fit to make my venues  rather small and out-of-the-way. I don’t have huge crowds flocking to sit under my instruction and so I question God’s economics ability. In spite of this, in talking to Jeanne, we discovered that, even though we are not well-known, we have (by God’s grace) significantly imprinted the lives of many who are engaged in world-changing far beyond our capacity. They do “greater things than we do” and we feel as though we have multiplied ourselves. So, it really doesn’t matter as much how big the crowd as it does who is in the crowd. I often feel very privileged to be given permission to speak into the hearts of many of these future missionaries, pastors, youth leaders and Christian professionals. We are blessed in the doing!

Entry 9 /I choose not to be vague or vogue

“Jesus was not crucified for saying such things  as, “See the lillies of the field how they neither toil nor spin.”

No, he was crucified for telling people the truth and calling people to repent.

“The fear of man bringeth a snare.”

I generally prefer to call things as I see them. This is sometimes offensive to certain sensibilities. I have prayed much about this and intend to continue speaking with clarity about what I observe.

A few have expressed their concern that I am not culturally sensitive when writing about these observations. I know, I know, “The fool speaketh his entire mind.”  Let me inform you, what I write is the better half of it. I would like to be clear, I am more interested in the kingdom of God than I am national patriotism or the sacred cows of Evangelicalism.

When I am in church – my church in America on July 4th (Independence Day) and people begin standing all around me with their hands over their hearts lustily singing, “America the Beautiful” I am anxious to point out that this  doesn’t seem to me Christian and especially when they won’t sing, “Amazing Love” with the same gusto. I don’t mind so much they sing about America as long as they don’t worship America.  Americans have a tendency to wrap Christianity in the stars and stripes.

I do not treat American culture as superior nor do I handle them with kid gloves. I have no divided loyalties. The kingdom of God comes ahead of all Ceasars. They cannot both be God.

Though I love them, I am just as forthcoming about what I detect in my own nations (Canadian and the United States) and churches as I am that which I observe when I travel to other countries.

Last week I wrote about the price of pizza in Tonsberg, Norway. A visitor to my blog complained that I was being culturally insensitive. Did they read all of my blogs? Do I say nothing commendable about Norway or Norwegians? I simply found the price of pizza unreasonable when compared to the size of an American missionary wallet. (I feel the same way when I look at the price of a Ralph Lauren shirt at Dillard’s department store in Charlotte. I won’t be gouged an extra $30.00 for a logo.) Give me a break! Lighten up! It was good pizza but it was not justifiably good enough to charge $36.00 for it when you can buy a better pizza in Italy for $8.00.

Does writing  this sort of comparison indicate that I think Italy is superior to Norway? Am I a cultural elitist for pointing this out? Was it a criticism or simply information? Am I writing an academic research paper or an “as you go”  travelogue? 

This kind of criticism is insane.  Norway excels Italy and the United States in many ways. For one thing every train that goes by is not covered with mindless graffiti as it is in Italy. Do I like this? You bet I do? Do I like when everything runs on time as it does in Norway? You bet I do. Do Italians show up on time? No, Norwegians they show up on time.  Information like this isn’t interesting, it’s predictable!

A Norwegian friend who had recently visited America remarked that she found American commercial white bread disgusting. When she said this, I wasn’t insulted and had to agree with her. I have no idea why they continue to make such stuff and pass it off as edible. I have no idea why people continue to buy it. It is anything other than “bread” and once you have tasted breads from other parts of the world you will likely share this same perspective. 

Does this mean I find nothing virtuous or good about America? Absolutely not. When a European will sometimes say, “I hate Americans!”  I will respond, “Yes, there are some pretty awful Americans, but have you met them all? In my view there are no people like those of the American heartland. To hate Americans would mean you’d have to hate Mexicans, Irish, Polish, Africans – in essence you’d have to hate the entire world.

When George Bush was President many Frenchmen would tell me how much they hated George Bush. I would be sympathetic but tell them that should France ever be attacked by a hostile enemy, the first phone call they would make would be to George Bush.

Are there things about American and Canada that disturb me? Of course. Am I concerned about the state of the church in both countries? Should I be concerned about the lifeless condition of the evangelical church in Europe?    Perhaps I should just, “whistle through the graveyard.” 

I will not for the sake of popularity and approval, play the ostrich.

Entry 8 / It was tranquil

Wooopppsss…

“You are ready to go at four today?”

“Where? Go where?” I replied.

We can't turn back now...

“You are to preach tonight. I told you, don’t you remember? We go must go to Horten (I thought he said “Horten” but he did not. It sounded like Horten, a village about 20 kilometers to the east.).

I was immediately panicked and I raced through my mind. “Why didn’t I know this? Did he tell me? Well, probably, yes, he did but somehow I didn’t hear him. Nevertheless, I will have to quickly throw myself together appear calm and prepared.”

I thought through what I might talk about, put on presentable, pulpiteering clothes and ran out of the door at four with Jeanne close behind me.

We happily settled ourselves into the van and away we went down the hill and onto the highway in the direction of Horten. We went right through the city of Horten, took the van onto a ferry and floated across to Moss on the other side of the Oslo fiord. 

Betel

I knew I had it wrong again. No doubt, the appointment was not in Horten. Horten wasn’t  even close. Instead, we drove and drove until we came within five miles of Sweden finally arriving at a small church called Betel. Cross cultural communication has its complications.

By 7:30 I was up and at’em with what I think turned out to be a happy outcome. People seemed to be edified and blessed. I have been invited back and that’s always a good sign.

Pastor Bjorn Olsen

Following the hour and a half service we went for “bread” at the pastor’s home. They call this “bread” and they have it three times a day.  Generally it is the same fare at all three occasions and in every home in Norway. The big meal is around 3PM and they call this meal, “Dinner.”

One can expect these items to appear on the table, bread, butter, jelly, cucumbers, red peppers, tomatoes, lunch meats, cheeses (a brown one for sure), pickles, liver pate’, perhaps caviar, honey and sometimes boiled eggs. It’s all good but I’m not used to this lack of variety.

Truth is, in Italy, it is almost always pasta of one kind or another and in Viet Nam, rice done this way or that.  Bread was undoubtedly the historical nutritional mainstay of Norway in times past. Perhaps now it is mostly a hold over from tradition.

At any rate we had this wonderful spread of food at the pastors house (Norwegian coffee is terrific!) and were advised that if we didn’t leave immediately we would miss the ferry. At break-neck speed we were down the highway toward Moss and home.