Luigi Tommasi is the Youth With a Mission leader in Milan. YWAM is one of the largest short-term missions in the world. I have taught at YWAM Discipleship Training Schools in a number of locations and will join them again in Costanta, Romania, September 22-27 of this year.
I have only come to know Luigi in the last year or so but I immediately liked him. We made arrangements to meet for a couple of hours to discuss funding possibilities. Like most ministries in Europe there is little base from which to draw supporters so they are dependent upon whatever means they can devise in order to keep the doors open. From a human standpoint, the options are fairly limited. Yet it is always good to encourage one another.
Though I could say more, this concludes my 38th European trip.
We were delivered to the Fasano train station. Oreste and Mary wouldn’t just deliver the bags, get in the car and go. Nope they waited with us until the train came, we boarded and then watched as we pulled away. They were very attentive hosts. It seemed to me that Jeanne enjoyed Mary’s company. I know this because Jeanne learned and attempted a lot of Italian while just talking to Mary in the back seat.
As I stood in the gangway in order to keep my eyes on the luggage (it is a dangerous world down here) as things can just suddenly disappear. A seated, young African continued to watch me while I chatted with two college aged girls. Finally, I left the bags to go up the stairs of the “carozza” (car) to sit beside him. It was then that I noticed he was either on drugs or perhaps drunk and this was at 10:30 in the morning.
He was twenty-six, spoke English and from Gambia. Before the thirty minute ride was over I had his favor and gripped his attention with a need for change. He agreed with me as best he could. I think he got what I had to say as I challenged him to buy a New Testament and find an evangelical church in Bari. I told him that he needs a father and today, I am that man. I could tell that he liked me and I liked him. Some drunks I just don’t like but my heart went out to this fellow. So many of these illegal’s are quite hopeless. I asked him if he liked it in Italy and he told me that whatever happens here is better than Gambia. “We are very poor in Gambia.” This was said by a man who appears to me to have nothing.
While I was talking to him, Jeanne had engaged two Afghan men (refugees) in their mid twenties and was treating them like their mother. They were obviously far away from home and desperately lonely. She’s good at this.
A nice hall that seats about 250 on Sunday mornings
Oreste and Mary arranged a gig for me at perhaps the largest evangelical church in Taranto. It was a Thursday evening meeting but by the time the first note was stuck there were about sixty people standing to their feet.
The pastor Pietro (Piero) Bifulco, was warm and friendly. After about forty minutes of worship, I stood with him as my translator to preach for about forty-five minutes. We made a good team and had a few laughs within the context of delivery.
It was a terrific evening and I now have a standing invitation to return the next time I am in Italy. If I do, I will take a small bag and board a Ryan flight from Bologna which should save both time and money. The train ride is more than nine hours from Parma to Taranto.
Oreste, put up his “BIG” umbrella and we tried to squeeze underneath it. Unfortunately, the umbrella is only “BIG” because there are not two BIGGER people under it. Have you seen Oreste? He is my double so it is a good thing the girls are small things. Somehow they made the sacrifice to lay exposed to the sun and with lots of lotion, neither Jeanne or I burned at all.
I have pictures of us but no one will allow me to post them!
Okay, maybe I can get by with this one?
While splashing knee deep in the Ionian Sea, a young fellow, Antonio, struck up a conversation in English and since he was pretty agile at putting sentences together, we quickly came to the gospel. Though he was a Catholic, I was able to explain the difference to which he quickly warmed to what I had to say. We exchanged email addresses and traded more conversation as the time went by. To some people these encounters may not sound like much but the truth is this, many Christians here would not have more than three significant conversations that give a clear explanation of the gospel in a year while I might have three or four a week. I have no idea how I do it. I couldn’t explain it to you if I tried. It truly is a gift and I can’t boast about a thing.
I never think of intercession. It is such an awkward thing for me to sit for an hour in meditative prayer. I have no acumen for it. Jeanne is a prayer and it comes as easy to her as it does for a bird to take flight but I am only able to pray in this way if I am forced to it. I can do it but it is a complete effort. However, this is not true for evangelism. I am in my element.
On the morning of our forty-eighth wedding anniversary we met up with Mary and Oreste to spend some of the day at the “spiaggia” (beach). Oreste loves the sea. Before we did this however, we had a short errand to run.
Aldo Cerasino, my oldest ministry partner and very close friend, originally comes from Martina Franca. I promised that If I had time and they were willing to receive me, we would drop in for a coffee and say, “Hi.” It seemed that they were quite willing to see me so Mary and Oreste took us there first. Even though I am sure it was a challenge for them since they speak no English, they were very cordial. After an hour we went on to the, “mare” (sea).
I will let the photographs tell most of the story. It is really an amazing village with herds of Chinese people taking turns posing in front of a Trulli cottage, taking photographs of each other giving the peace sign. I never understood Asian people and their obsession with the peace sign? I hardly see a photograph of Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai with the two finger salute somewhere in the picture.
After about two hours we drove back to Martina Franca to enjoy an evening to ourselves.
He drove like a mad man to the sea front tourist city of Polignano a Mare . By eleven in the morning we were there. The crystal clear sky, moderate temperature and cool sea breeze was perfect and wonderful for my (our) first visit to this region. Before we walked along the cliffs looking down three hundred meters to the sea, we stopped for a photo at the monument honoring the famous singer of “O’ Solo Mio” from this city, Domenico Modugno . While taking turns and snapping away at different combinations another family of three walked up waiting their turn.
My choleric personality jumped into action. “Posso faccio vostri foti?” (May I make your photograph?). They were thrilled and in English asked where I was from and what I was doing in Italy. While Jeanne, Mary and Oreste quietly waited, in less than ten minutes I presented to this young businessman and his wife, the gospel with exchanges of hugs and email addresses all around. Jeanne observed from a distance and said that they really emotionally connected with me and the gospel. I eagerly wait for an email and more conversation.
At around one we had a nice lunch and then hopped in the car while our Mario Andretti drove us at breakneck speed to Albero Bello. Oreste has no idea why the town bears this name since the town is not internationally known for trees.
I warned Jeanne. I supposed that Mary would be ready to wow us with food and she did. Though it was after eight-thirty before we climbed another four flights to their apartment we were invited to sit down and having a “pocena d’sera” (a little evening meal). The afternoon meal is usually the biggest so when the “apperitivi” of “mozerella fresca, pane, olivi, salumi” and “picolo biscotti orrechiette” was put before us, I happily gobbled away. Mary didn’t join us and I could still hear banging away in the kitchen. Occasionally, I would look at my watch and try to guess when she might join us. This she did in about twenty minutes bearing a massive skillet of spaghetti immersed in a concoction I had never seen before in my life. Oreste proudly told us it was, “la specialita di Maria!” Our eyes bulged as we were handed large portions but once we took the first bite we continued to spoon away until every morsel was drug from the bottom of the pan.
Mary jumped up and ran to the kitchen and brought three more items to the table. Oh, no! We had only had the primi and now for seconda of something that I cannot describe as meatloaf though it was made in a similar way. It was far more delicate and crusted all around with toasty bread crumbs. When sliced. There was an interior of prochiutto and mozerella. I could taste the hint of onion, celery and so forth so it was flavored similar to a meatloaf. Then a “contorni” of peas and onion as well as oven roasted potatoes flavored with garlic and rosemary.
At ten we stumbled onto the street and made our way to our beds.
We did make it to Fisano about forty minutes from Bari. Coming to meet us were Maria and Oreste. After more traffic and time than expected they did arrive. After introducing Jeanne we jammed our luggage into their little blue car and drove the thirty minutes to hotel,
The Rococco, which looked fabulous on the internet but sorry to say, did not show off so good in real time. Upon arrival, I was unprofessionally informed by an unsmiling, youthful attendant who appeared to me as though he just came from his bed that we were not booked to stay in the hotel but in an apartment a short distance away. We all toted bags and followed him like ducklings to what he proposed to be “tuo centri metri” (200 meters – it was not). Then once there he opened the door to a stair case of five flights with no elevator. With huffing and puffing, up we went but once there, we had lots of nice space for seventy-five euro a night (with no prima colazioni – breakfast). Nevertheless, it was private, breezy and clean. We would spend three nights and except for the climb several times a day and two occasions when there was no hot water which they finally remedied on the last day, we had a good stay. Yes, we celebrated our forty-eighth anniversary in this little apartment.
The afternoon was reserved for updates from our ministry partners. Four, (one from as far away as Norway, and another from Florida), provided ministry updates on how they partner with ACCI. In actual fact ACCI has as many as thirteen contracted ministry partner organizations in a variety of locations. Two of the most important are New Life Literature of Sri Lanka and Bethany International Missions of Minneapolis, Minnesota.