My last and most hopeful post from Rome

I saved the best for last…

Meet my new friend Chris

With the kindness and patience of Jesus
With the kindness and patience of Jesus

Upon leaving St. Peter’s and the Vatican I was about to cross the bridge (Ponte Vittorio Emanuele) into Rome I saw an inviting bench for weary pedestrians so I sat down. In a moment I was observing a young student who I later learned to be Chris from the Diocese of Pittsburg (I think that this was what was emblazoned on his fleecy).

Here he sat for an hour and gently talked to this street lady who had everything she owned covered in green plastic and situated on the bench beside her. Occasionally he would laugh at something she said or place his hand lovingly on her shoulder while his more ambitious fellow students darted from one place to another.
He didn’t see it but I did. Those passing by querried within themselves asking, “Why is he talking to her?”
I liked Chris so after a while I stood up and walked over beside him then apologized for interrupting and said, “You’re a Christian, aren’t you?”
He said, “Yes sir, I am.”
I replied, “Well, many of your colleagues are not (they have been sacramentalized without yet being evangelized) and I am not here to make a case for Protestantism -there are millions of protestants and evangelicals who are not Christians. I did want to tell you… What’s your name?”
“Chris,” he answered.
“Chris, I’m sorry to tell you but you’re never going to make it in the priesthood.”
“Oh, why is that?” He seemed concerned.
Well, Chris, you’re too much like Jesus. He would have done just what you’re doing.”
Chris echoed back, “Isn’t this what it’s all about?”
“Yes, Chris, it is, but your colleagues haven’t yet figured that out.”
“I know. Will you pray for me? I’ll pray for you.”
We exchanged first names.
After some more small talk, that’s the way we left it until I came home and yesterday emailed the Diocese of Pittsburgh and asked if they’d track this young fellow down so that I could occasionally encourage him. After the the way I complimented him they might have already bumped him up to an Arch Deacon or demoted him to an office clerk. At any rate, I was blessed by him, Roman Catholic or no. We need more Chris’ who understand that the secret to power in the kingdom of God is powerlessness. 
Roman Catholicism as protestant Evangelicalism (neither of them look very much like their supposed founder) have failed to understand almost everything Jesus taught on the subject of servant leadership. Jesus style leadership is always bottom up and never top down. You’d never see him waiting for someone to kiss his ring finger.
Chris, if you’re out there and read this, take heart. He never forgets.
Galatians 6:9-10
Hebrews 6:10
1 Cor. 15:58

More Rome on Friday

It is now my impression that Rome is more about sex, hookers, beaucrats with chaffeurs waiting alongside limosines, police, religious clerics and pretentious botoxed, implanted, enhanced, uplifted women in highheels, and furs (it is cobblestoned and hot) than religion, though there is plenty of “religion” (superstition) to go around.

Gregorian Seminary in Rome

Priest factory: Gregorian Seminary in Rome

I went to Gregorian Seminary looking to pick a fight but everyone there was too nice to argue with so Inquired of one of the young Americans studying there if it was true what I had heard and I genuinely wanted his observation. I asked, “Is it true that fewer than 8% of Rome attend mass on any given Sunday?” About that time one of his English speaking, Italian colleagues arrived to overhear me to which he interjected, “No! That is simply not true! It is not 8%! It is five and all of these are either priests or nuns.” We all had a good chuckle. I then offered this, “Well you lads had better get out of the classrooms and onto the streets. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are out distancing you.” The Italian admitted, “Yes, you are right, we have a lot of work to do!”

It looks like a Festival but, I assure you, it wasn't

It looks like a Festival but, I assure you, it wasn

I wouldn’t cough up the 15 Euro for the taxi ride to St. Peter’s Bacilica so I decided to walk. On the map it didn’t seem all that far. It’s not far if you aren’t detoured by a 30,000 strong student protest with Carabiniere (national para-military police) and Rome police blocking every convenient street with their poised 

fall-2008-part-2-parma-to-rome-117

Uzi’s and billyclubs (I’m not certain, but I think they meant it). You should also be aware that like Venice, maps mean little in Rome. Streets do not go where you intend for them too. TIP: Be sure that you know where “North” is.

Absolutely astounding 14,000 peope a day at 11 Euro

Absolutely astounding 14,000 peope a day at 11 Euro

After meandering for almost two hours I finally arrived at Via della Concilazione, a regal, wide throughfare leading past trinket shops,

Cashing in on Saint Peter

Cashing in on Saint Peter

awestruck pilgrims buying the trinkets and priest and nun’s shuffling from important meeting to a more important meeting. To be honest, it is enough to make one sick at their stomach. I stopped one priest and said in English (which he did not understand) and then in Italian, “Jesus would not be pleased.”  To this he answered, “Si, vero!” (Yes, true!)
Yet, with all of this disappointment, I did mange to make the entire journey worthwhile. Here’s one of the splendid moments. Beat this for a real character (Samuel Clemons is dead…ummm, or is he?).
I see a painting in the works

I see a painting in the works

More of Rome…

The historical Colosseum with an Indian hot dog vendor

The historical Coliseum with an Indian hot dog vendor and Gypsie attendants

Thursday morning and the day looked promising so, umbrella-less I struck out for the Coliseum about a twenty minute walk from my hotel. Soooooo…? Mingled among the senister looking Gypsi women were busloads of Japanese people with cameras all clicking away and likely not watching their wallets. Well, I crowded in with the Japanese tourist and got a few shots but stopped shy of standing in line and paying the money to parade through the remains.

From there I wandered toward the skeleton of the Imperial Palace and Gardens. This is another quite impressive looking bit of archaeology. As the sky began to gray, I quickly took pictures of what I could and headed back toward my hotel and just in time, slipped under the awning of a cafe along Via Nazionale and there sat next to a fellow from Malta who was waiting for his flight to Argentina. I was able to speak to him about spirtual matters and then after an expresso rushed on between downpours to my hotel.

The Imperial Palace or what's left of it

The Imperial Palace or what was once the imperial Palace

Tania Goncalves

Tania Goncalves

 

 

 

 

Later at 1 in the afternoon, I recieved the call I had been waiting on. A Brazilian acquaintance, Tania Goncalves was calling me to meet for lunch. I first met Tania at a Free Methodist church planting conference in Budapest more than six or seven years ago. It took her all of those years to finally get to Italy. It’s amazing what some people will go through to follow their dream. Truthfully, it is quite easy by comparison for Americans and Canadians to raise the necessary funding, get visas and so forth, but it is something else for a Brazilian to become a missionary to Italy. You must be certain of a call to this work. She now lives about an hour from Rome and is planting a church in a city of about 65,000 people. As I listened to her incredible journey, we sat eating pizza for two hours while it poured outside.

Afterwards, I went back to my hotel and slept the whole afternoon away and then, when it cleared a little,  went for a walk and then to supper.

Tomorrow the St Peter’s and perhaps the Vatican.

Now to Rome…

November 11-14, 2008

Most Italians, after having heard that I have been to Italy twenty-five times are shocked to hear that, while I know my way up and down Italy, I had never spent any time in Rome. This is a first for me.

On Wednesday morning I left on the early EuroStar for Rome an almost four hour, lickity-split ride stopping only in Bologna and Florence. I pre-occupied myself with drawing portraits of those around me and making friends with a few. When they ask what I am doing in Italy and why I speak Italian, I use the opportunity to tell them that I am a Christian, working with Christian groups and share Jesus when opportunity presents itself.

The Panthenon

The Pantheon

By 11 in the morning (about 30 minutes late) we pulled into the Roma central station and I began looking for Venzia Street and the hotel that had been recommended by friends. Never ask Italians for directions! I was told that it was miles away (I later found it two blocks from the main station and my hotel). With this bit of erroneous information I landed on the Paris Hotel (Via Firenze, 57). The lobby was tacky and Chinese reception with no sense of customer service but the price, room and morning breakfast GREAT!!! (remember this one) and a single for only 50 Euro.

Mass in Pantheon... They know how to make a buck.

Mass in Pantheon... They know how to make a buck.

Vittoriano at dusk

Vittoriano at dusk

Once unpacked and settled, I hit the streets going down the hill (lots of hills in Rome) and finally ending up at the Piazza Navona where I sat in the rain eating gelato at 7 Euro for two (small, and I mean small) scoops. When I complained, saying that that, I didn’t want to buy the restaurant, I just wanted a bowl of ice cream the owner (we had become friends) laughed and said, “This is Piazza Navona.” As I wandered the back streets I came up on a building that seemed to somhow be important as it was crowded with thousands of tourists. When I asked where I was, I was duly informed, “It’s only the Pantheon” (stupid). I also, in my wandering wound up at the Fontana di Trevi. Since everyone was busy taking pictures I thought that I should perhaps make a few shots. Well, I could wear you out with tourist-ty stuff but really the best thing I saw was a show of paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck, Frans Hals and Rubens… and all for a measly nine Euro. Beats going to Amsterdam and Brussels to see them.

The Trevi Fountain... Fairly important, I think

The Trevi Fountain... Fairly important, I think

For dinner, and let me recommend it (I went there twice, two nights running), Che Amore on a small street (there are two of them-one by The Trevi Fountain) on Via Agostino di Prentis. Try their steak, roasted potatoes and lettuce salad for about 16 Euro.

Okay, tomorrow the Coliseum.

Men’s Retreat at Parco Cento Laghi

On Friday afternoon we piled into cars and took the one hour or so drive from Parma up into the mountains to an area called One-Hundred Lakes. Actually, we were quite high (3,000 meters) with a five hour hike taking the almost twenty men up to the summit (I slept!!!) to Lago Santo in the rain. I am told that it is beautiful once you make it that far. I suppose I’ll never know if this is true or not. I was, however, very impressed with the size of the trees and the immensity of the forest all around me. I just don’t think of Italy in this way.

The lodge.

The lodge.

Anyway, we booked into the facility and got settled into our rooms in the lodge on the hillside. I was in room with four others, Mattieu, Ivo and Francesco.

Ivo

Ivo

 

 

 

 

There was only one problem person, Ivo who didn’t snore but wanted to stay up all night praying so he went in and out of the room and his bunk at various intervals, taking the night watches that no one signed up for. I prefer to stay with people who aren’t very spirtual : ). 

I had four ninty minute (with translation) presentations beginning on Friday evening and going until Sunday morning. Normally, preaching this much is not a problem. Preaching is just four distinct messages on whatever you feel led to talk on. Conferences are different. First of all, they have to be crafted to a specific theme (in the case, Ambassadors and Men) so finding something that scratches their itch isn’t all that easy.

The guys standing in front of the dining hall.

The guys standing in front of the dining hall.

We started later than planned (What’s different about this? It’s Italy for goodness sakes).

We had planned to have our first session at no later than 9PM (everything starts later in Italy and it is worse in Spain) but as it turned out we didn’t get organized until ten. By eleven most everybody was already drifting in and out of a half-witted coma. I went to bed feeling discouraged, not sure that my weeks of preparation were relevant. I slept fitfully, waking up with worry about where to go with this and uttering prayers of something like, “Oh, God…oh, God… oh, no God… What now?” Anyhow, in the morning after breakfast and sleep, and not changing a thing it seemed that things went seamlessly from Friday into the other sessions and we came away from the weekend impacted by the word and presence of God.

Gathered together for the seminars

Gathered together for the seminars

These are a great bunch of guys.

Pastor Francesco, my translator, friend and ACCI missionary

Pastor Francesco, my translator, friend and ACCI missionary

On Sunday morning another carload showed up for the morning service. They all opted to do it again in the spring and inviting others to come. The theme will be, “Strengthened by the Fire.”

Preaching Class on Wednesday Evening

Sorry, I don’t have pictures on this one.

My assignment was to speak to about ten in the Gruppo Latino Americano Cristiano, Leadership School on the subject of, “Preaching… (re:) The Preacher.” I spoke on a variety of character issues as well as pulpit demeanor and that sort of thing. My main thrust was cultivating something to say. How do we go about getting and maintaining the heart of God? What an incredible honor and trust this is and we must, when in the pulpit, “take off our shoes, for we are on Holy ground.” 

The preacher must have the courage (all of the great preachers had this quality) to preach the whole counsel of God and they must do this with humility as Ambassadors for Christ. We, as Ambassadors and representatives, must faithfully deliver the mind of God even when it is culturally unacceptable.

All authentic preachers come in the tradition of Noah, Elijah, Eziekiel, John the Baptist, Jesus, Bunyan, Tyndale, Wesley, Knox, Spurgeon, Bonhoeffer and countless others who have uncompromisingly stood against kings and tyrants.

Tuesday evening preaching to about fifty

On the same day, in the evening I was again on tap to preach to the midweek Latino service. Though raining cats and dogs outside, there was a large crowd in attendance.

latino-congregational-pics-001

Most were believers, however, there was one man who wept during the preaching so after the service I spent some time trying to find out what was going on in his heart. The first thing he wanted to know was how it was that I knew that he was particularly impacted. Perhaps it was the tears streaming down his face? Anyhow, I called Aldo over to translate and we spent a good half an hour talking to him about what the gospel is and is not. He seemed to get the message and has been back ever since.

Don’t ask me how this all happens I have no idea. All that I can tell you is that the last five or six that have been baptized in the Latino Church have not been south or central Americans at all, but Italian’s, something that was only a dream four or five years ago.

Nuncia,Francesca,Roberto and Lucca

Nuncia,Francesca,Roberto and Lucca

For instance, in May I was invited to go over to Reggio Emilia to have supper at Roberto and Nuncia’s house. They had just started coming to various events but really didn’t quite get it having been influenced by the works doctrines of Catolicism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventicism. Well, We had a good evening wherein I presented the gospel from a variety of directions. Thursday evening, six months later, and all four have come to Christ. Francesca, age seventeen and Lucca 12 years are as intense about their faith as are their parents. Roberto will be baptized soon.

Alberto

Alberto

Then there is Alberto. He has been dating the sister of Kevin, a strong Christian. I remember when we had the pizza party last Spring (the one that costs 700 Euro). This was the first Christian event he had ever attended and he will be baptized in a few weeks! God is moving!

Aldo wrote today (Sunday) to say that two more have been baptized this morning.

To Parma, November 4-11

Finally on my way to mia casa in Europa!

Though I work with many congregations and missionary agencies, I have a home church in Europe and it is Gruppo Latino Americano Cristiano di Parma pastored by Aldo and Mariela Cerasino. Their ministry partners are also close friends, Osvaldo and Margarita, Luciano and Marilene. 

I am looking forward to seeing my church family there and also the other believers that I have come to know, like Pastor, Francesco, his wife Alessia, OM missionary Simona, missionaries Irena, Angel, Hebe and perhaps another thirty or so people in an Italian church, The Evangelical Church of Parma.

My first event was a presentation on Mormonism to the OM “Love Ishmael” Team on Tueday morning.

om-parma-fall-2008-0011

I met some wonderful believers, especially George from Miami, Matthew and Sam from Augusta, Georgia. 

Our little latino congregation has grown to an average Sunday attendance of around 120 people. They have a pile of terrific young people like, Kevin, Denny, Daniel, Fabio, Stephania, Jessica, Christian, Marieangel, Ruth, and others (too many to remember or mention by name). Their leaders, Victor (Argentinan) and Belquis (Dominican) are YWAM missionaries to the Sahara but are on leave in Parma while they have a baby (she’s here now). They have done a terrific job of discipleship.

Pastor Aldo

Pastor Aldo

Kevin

Kevin

Denny

Denny

Fabio

Fabio

Daniel

Daniel

Victor

Victor

 

         

                                                                          

 

 

Train-ing nine hours to my next gig, Ljubliana, Slovenia

I have been visiting Ljubliana

for more than a decade.       budapest-fall-2008-0961             

I first met Eugen in Costanta, Romania. He can do almost everything. He turned me on to Jango.com  Go see what I mean. This guy is incredibly informed. Speaks several languages too and completely fluent in idiomatic English. Oh, how I hate people like this. And, ehr… did I mention that he can play guitar and lead worship?

At about 11AM on Friday morning my YWAM friend, Eugen (this is the way he spells it) from Romania escorted me some five blocks to the closest train station to catch the train to Ljubliana, Slovenia. I enjoyed my time in Budapest and especially the YWAM folks. I hope to see them all again and soon.

Chris and Sabina at the Sunday morning service where I preached.

Chris and Sabina at the Sunday morning service where I preached.

Chris (at the podium) came to meet me at the train and from there we went to our regular restaurant just down the street from the church where I have a room. I finally parted company with Chris and went to bed at about midnight. Tomorrow morning, I am told, Chris intends to have coffee with me and then watch the rugby match between Australia and his home country, New Zealand. Chris was formerly a professional player and so only on this one occasion does his nationalism show up. To be honest, I am happy to have some privacy where I can read and study prepping up for the heavy schedule of teaching and preaching in Parma. I spent the morning reading.

Sabina, Chris’ wife was away in the north (Murska Sobota) visiting her mother and would be back in the evening. During the rest of the day, I saw old friends, Roc and Igor who hung around a bit and visited. I really like these guys and others like them who face the cultural headwinds head on.

On Sunday morning preached as I always do when I am in Ljubliana. Sabaina translated for me and I had great liberty to preach the gospel to about eighty people.

Sunday morning was pretty full.

Sunday morning was pretty full.

ljublijana-fall-2008-005

When I gave the invitation a young Slovenian woman indicated that she wanted to recieve Christ. After the service I spoke to her and learned that she could speak some English so I tried to see if she understood her commitment. Sometimes we just have to wait and see.

Hungarian Gouash… Wow!

How it looks from the top. It didn't look anywhere near as good twenty minutes following this photograph.

How it looks from the top.

Our hostess, Gabbi with her famous Gouash!
Our hostess, Gabbi with her famous Gouash!

During a week of teaching every morning, it’s always nice to get out into a home for supper. Guyla and Gabbi, Hungarian’s who returned from Australia to work among the gypsies invited me along with Vane (Macedonia) and Edith (Poland) and another YWAM guest Emily Saylor (who like me has a heart for Italy) to have a home cooked, Hungarian meal. We sat aound eating delicious food and sharing stories. Vane told his spell binding conversion story while Guyla and Gabbi shared how they were called from comfortable lives in Australia (Guyla left communism as a young man and struggled to get a fresh start on the other side of the world only to be called back) to serve a very difficult people group.

Here are a few fellowship and food  pics of the evening.

Crowded around,Vane, Guyla,Edith,Gabbi and Emily

Crowded around,Vane, Guyla,Edith,Gabbi and Emily