To the Austrian border and Gypsy villages…

Kevin at the Yamaha

I decided to take Kevin Ferriera, a Brazilian-Italian and up and coming young musician. Kevin had bonded with the band so I brought him along from Parma and Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano. I thought it might be good for him to explore both music and missions so this set me back a few euros it struck me as the right thing to do though it squeezed us into Chris’ church van just a little tighter it turns out to be worth the extra baggage. Kevin is impossible to inconvenience and went along as one of the gang.

This morning we took our time getting around as most of the band was dragging after a long night of performing. By 11 we were loaded with a car stuffed with instruments and the van with people. In three hours we were in Murska Subota and sorting out our beds on the top floor of the church. At four we were expected to make our way about forty kilometers to Gypsy villages in the country.

A smattering of us and them.

Tjonska has worked with these villages for ten years and has established wonderful relationships with the families and children. In the last while, some of the Roma people have come to Christ. They, of course, welcomed us with open arms. Upon arriving I noticed a tent pitched in the middle of a small lot with young people milling around and children inside. There Tjonska was leading them in children’s songs – tunes that I recognized. This reminded me so much of my childhood when my parents would take me along as they ministered to native people in Kansas. In fact, it seemed to me that there wasn’t all much difference between the lifestyles of the two groups. Nomadic peoples are often similar.

I didn’t give this a try.

While the band set up I walked around to see several cooking pig skins on an open fire. Others were roasting chestnuts, a fall delicacy. I have eating french-fried pig skins before but this was different. These were still quite rubbery. I make it a point to eat anything that is offered to me but I felt like an Albanian on an Italian train. They attempt to ride the trains for free so they are always moving about attempting to avoid the conductor. I did the same with grilled pig flesh. When I saw a new plate arriving I made myself scarce. Honestly, this was not even enjoyable to observe people as they gnawed away and seemed to get nowhere. I have no idea how this item carries with it any appeal.

Nevertheless, this all being said, the event went well and once the band began to plan the young people, though standing a fair distance, listened carefully. The older men rarely if ever take part and delegate this religion business to the women and children but in time, they too warmed up with some entering the tent, clapping along and at the end taking New Testaments home.

One of the guys remarked that this was better than many places we play because it seemed that the Gypsies indicated they were being treated to something special. In many big cities, the band was just another band and taken for granted but rarely, if ever, does a band of this caliber venture into a Gypsy settlement as a gift from one group to another. They seemed to appreciate and we stayed longer than expected taking photographs and playing tag with the kids.

Here’s a funny note in passing. Here we were in the middle of nowhere. We can almost never get internet in our hotels but we were told, “Just turn on your Wi-Fi.” Sure enough, the world at our finger tips and with five bars. The guys also mentioned that they would like to have the sound system but would not resort to stealing these, first class JBL speakers.

Teatro Toscanini Concert, Parma

The idea was simple enough. We would rent a well recognized venue, advertise by inviting friends and those we meet while playing short sets of three songs in different areas while on the street.

Teatro Toscanini has about three-hundred seats and for an unknown band and music in English we knew they might be hard to fill. Further complicating the situation was the fact that Friday night at 8 is no easy sell for people who work until 7:30. When it came time for the first song the theater was only half full but knowing Latino’s as well as we do, we expected the room to eventually fill up as it did giving us a respectable audience. Better still, many people, perhaps twenty are more were people who do not attend the church at all. The aim of the concert was to acquaint people with the church and the gospel. It was our hope that members of the church would make new friends.

The concert lasted two hours during which more people came but no one left even though Fred and Joel pulled no punches as they transitioned with the gospel by explaining how and why the songs were written. Francesco had gone to the trouble to translate and print into an attractive brochure the words to about five songs which people were encouraged to read as the band played and sang.

Pastor Aldo Cerasino “texted” me last night with the following comment (I give it exactly as written without grammatical changes).”Good evening, relaxing evangelism, 120 people with about 15 new and other 10 not believe or just born again. Few came from your invitation by street. The aim was to sing to unbeliever, you with have done, winner night. Thanks we learn a lot, we have seen a new system to do. blessing aldo”

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.

Perhaps this gets boring?

The sixty-seventh celebration

I know that I blog a great deal about Parma and the church here, “Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano” so it is possible that you might have heard all you want to hear by now. Nevertheless, I do not just blog for my readers, I blog for myself as a form of diary or journaling experience. This has provided a great historical record for me and now with at least three hundred and fifty blogs beginning almost seven years ago (I believe) my journey through Italy and Europe as wel as Canada has been well documented.

Sunset in Parma

I came into Parma late on Sunday evening and let folks know that I had gotten into my room. After this things began to slowly emerge with calls from Aldo and Francesco, good friends and ACCI leaders here in Italy. Both fellows work at full time jobs so I have to simply connect with their availability. This meant that several occasions presented themselves.

When I asked to take her photo she said, “Sure! My friends say, ‘I am vain.'”

The first thing was my birthday party on Friday night August 31st when about twenty people gathered at Aldo and Mariela’s to celebrate with finger foods, cake and finger foods. Lots of nice things were said to me which I appreciated. It is great to turn sixty-seven with friends on the other side of the world.

On Saturday, I met with the “Youth” which in reality turn out to be “young adults.” Some already have begun families. It was my plan to explain the North Street Band Concert concept with samples of their music and so forth. In all, about twenty showed up for the information-inspiration session.

A Parma pic

Then the following morning I was the guest preacher to a summer holiday crowd of about one hundred twenty people. I am always met here by expectancy and enthusiasm. I, once more, preached on “The Exceptionality of Man,” as I did in Slovenia two Sundays before. On Monday morning I would leave for the Italian region known as Liguria. Liguria is takes in the Italian Riviera. I would stay in the beautiful city of Chiavari near Porto Fino on one side and Sistri Lavante on the other. All three of these cities are stunning. My hosts would be Emile and Imra D., Belgian friends who have made Italy their home.

…More from Trento in the north

Regrettably, I only had one full day in Trento before going on to Parma. I hadn’t been invited for more than Sunday so on my first trip I preferred not to over-stay my welcome. This is especially true when one has likely kicked someone out of their bed.

On Sunday morning we gathered ourselves up and loaded ourselves into the car for the ride down the mountain to the city and the church. Arriving early and in vacation season the church seemed sparsely attended but by the time we moved from worship to preaching there was a respectable crowd of about seventy or so people of all ages and a number of nationalities represented.

Pastor Pippo (Giuseppe Rizza) welcomed me to the pulpit where I preached on the mark Rutland theme of doing ministry in the spirit (style) of Jesus. This is a great “body-life” message that takes us behind the Book of Acts asking two important questions. I will put both questions into one statement because they are similar in content. When and where did Jesus think he was engaged in ministry? In my view, the early church was (more) effective than we are because they did not have the New Testament and only the living model of Jesus Himself. We are hearing a great deal about missional rather than attractional  church and frankly, it is not all so complicated. The “missional” church is no contradcition.  It is just doing what Jesus did. The first believers simply did what he did. He did almost nothing inside of a building and when he did, he was invariably kicked out. The early church did not rely on what they did not have, seminaries, power point or special lighting. Of course, I want us to use whatever we have available and do not advocate giving up technology. No one wants to give up electricity or resort to travel by mule. I just believe we need to reassess what constitutes ministry. Look at the Gospels to see what Jesus thought ministry was. He was always in the divine moment. He was sensitive to every divine appointment. The raising of Lazarus story makes no sense without this fact. Well, this is what I talked about to what I think was a good reception.

My room at “The Ducale”

Later, we went over to Pippo’s  and for lunch where we did the entire “nine yards” Enrica’s. From there to the train and after what should have been a three-hour journey that turned into six, I arrived at the door of my B and B in Parma, The Ducale.

Not bad, $3,000 and about 250 attendees.

The North Street Band Fund Raiser

We relied heavily on free social media like Facebook and MailChimp for getting our crowd so we had no idea how things would turn out. One of the guys thought he’d be happy not to be “skunked.” Thirty would have been his idea of success.

The Carleton Place Arena

Putting the event into the Carleton Place Arena seemed like it made sense when our crowd would be drawn from thirty miles in four different directions, Perth, Almonte, Merrickville, Smith’s Falls and Ottawa. With people having to add a rather lengthy drive no one could read how things might go. When at 7:30, the start-up time came, it looked pretty ominous – as ominous as the threatening weather outside. The day had been sultry and now the wind had kicked up with perilous “tornado-belt” skies and warnings all around us. We were sunk.

Still, with the first lick of the guitars the room started to fill up and at its peak about two-hundred fifty friends and well-wishers filled out the crowd.

Joel Williams

The band was terrific! They were much better than anyone had thought they might be especially since lead guitarist and vocalist, Fred Williams had run a wood chisel through two very important “fret” fingers which considerably limited practice time in the weeks leading up to the concert.  It all turned out to be a rousing success wit a mix of popular cover tunes and composed Christian tunes written by father and son  Fred and Joel.

The party atmosphere was evident and the crowd was some noisy at the back since so many people were renewing old friendships. Somehow my warning them not to have such a good time went over and after the second break it became less like a coffee house and more like a concert.

With Asher on the double bass and Dave the drums the music filled in to make a terrific sound causing a great deal of well-deserved applause. Later Joel’s two sisters, Meriam and Emma stood up to sing one of Meriam’s compositions. Incredibly, the siblings bluegrass harmonies gave us something akin to Emilou Harris or Nancy Griffith. This was a delightful surprise for everyone even the two girls.

People stepped up in a big way to help out by donating almost $3,000 for the ministry trip to Europe in September. In all they’ll need about $12,000 but this was a good start with another gift coming in for $500. In all they are half way there and three more months to go.

Thanks to everyone who came and gave to the project!

More inspiring news from ACCI and Progetto Archippo in Italy

We have a terrific team in Italy and it is growing all of the time. In Trieste we have Caleb and Linda, Citta di Castello, Luke and Dawn, Parma Aldo and Mariela as well as Francesco and Alessia. We also have Alessandro an Italian from Palermo who  works in Italy and South Africa. Soon, Brad and Julia will find their spot. But seeing ministry grow and people coming to faith isn’t the only good thing going on, the church is also being strengthened by people like Luke and Ann Hinrichs who make trips encouraging believers. More recently we have partnered with our friends from Southern Evangelical Seminary and now we have another five to seven leaders taking part in our work in Parma. Just recently the Director of Progetto Archippo, Francesco wrote with encouraging news. Progetto Archippo, a ministry training center (supported by about fifteen mission agencies in Italy)  began  about two years ago with most of the attendees coming from our local church, Gruppo Crisitano Latino Americano but now we are seeing a big change where believers from other churches and communities are becoming involved.

Francesco, Director of Progetto Archippo

Look at what he writes in an email received just yesterday… I quickly share some good news…  The last 2 seminars of Archippo finally paid themselves. I’m confident this trend will be confirmed with the next ones…  The number of participants from other cities has increased (12 last seminar).

Yesterday I held a short seminar on evangelization at a Brazilian church in Reggio Emilia. They want to reach Italians and needed basic apologetics training. It was very good and said they’ll call me again.

In January (Pastor) Aldo and I will go to Sicily where I’ll hold a seminar on basic apologetics and multicultural evangelization and Aldo will talk on Sunday morning. We hope this will be the first one of many we’ll organize in Sicily.

After many years of thinking/praying about it we finally have a Christian group at the University. I contacted my friends at GBU (Intervarsity), gathered the University students of our church and we had 8 people at the first meeting. A promising start.

We’ll try to organise a public seminar in January when a group of SES students will be visiting with Simon Brace.

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Ted, me and Simon

Just recently Jeanne and I had lunch here in Charlotte with Ted W. and Simon B. two leaders from Southern Evangelical Seminary. We discussed future developments in our strategies to reach Europe from Oslo in the north and Parma in the south.

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To learn more about ACCI: Visit http://www.adventive.ca

Southern Evangelical Seminary at:  http://www.ses.edu/

Progetto Archippo at: http://www.tredispace.com/archippo/

“WeII, suppose we’ll know in five years.”

Socializing after a powerful service

Peter Ayling my mentor in my formative days could be slightly cynical. As an evangelist, I was always thrilled to report that this person or that received Jesus as their Savior to which he would often reply with this deflating line, “I suppose we’ll know in five years.” Like Peter, I’ve learned not to get too excited by visible results. Over the past forty years I’ve seen many people only make temporary decisions and have become lost to the kingdom (if they ever were really in it at all) along the way.

If we were to decide my effectiveness in Europe by visible results I would be a very productive Christian worker. Yesterday morning, for instance, I preached to about one hundred fifty people and at the time of active witness about ten people responded to a call for repentance and faith. Hopefully tears remain to be an evidence of earnest repentance but this cannot be trusted either as I have seen the emotionally unmoved, cold-faced decision maker stand firm while the one, almost hysterical regarding their sin has washed out. Good beginnings are never a guarantee of successful endings.

Anyhow, leadership was quite pleased with the message and response with some they had been praying for making a visible acknowledgement of their condition. “I suppose we’ll know in five years.”

Tor Erik giving testimony

Nevertheless, I doubt if preaching almost anywhere in America I would see this response from a single message in a group of this size so I am quite relieved to see that the Spirit of God appears to be moving, convicting men and women of sin, righteousness and judgment to come.

SKILL TESTING QUESTION…

If the real Jesus – not the one religionists have invented – but the REAL New Testament Jesus had ten million dollars, what would he do with it?

The Parma Duomo

Well, this is a no brainer if there ever was one. Jesus would not be pleased.