I meet some very nice people!

One of the pleasures I have is meeting interesting people of many cultures.

Unfortunately, I often spend entire days going from one “BAR” (not what you think) to another just waiting until a particular ministry appointment time or person is available to meet. Part of my work is to get to know people so I frequent coffee shops (“Bars”) in Italy and other countries. Sometimes I make a new contact but often I don’t and it’s just a way to “hang out” without having to stare at four walls all day. I get a kick out of people who imagine that I go to the beach. My work is often extremely boring and except for the language and cultural barriers,  I could just as easily be in Oklahoma as Italy.

Three hundred meters from Ducale Bed and Breakfast on Via Costinuente in Parma is the coffee shop and eatery, Caffeteria Pulciella (named after the bird not the clown). The owner and hostess Halla Margret is an opera singer who comes originally from Iceland. Her husband and co-owner, Paolo was equally as pleasant to both myself and The North Street Band.

At Pulcinella

Most often they feature classical music but after we were acquainted they invited North Street to play on Friday night and then begged them for more.

I met Halla and Paolo when I came through in late August, drew her picture and then proposed the idea of having the band perform to which she gave me an immediate “thumbs-up”.

Me with Lydia, my new “hottie.”

The main thing is this. While I sat there in their coffee shop, drinking tea and typing blogs, I observed something I had never seen before. Paolo seemed to know every old lady in the neighborhood and would, when seeing one of them hobble by, go over to the window and tap on it. Once he gained their attention, he would wave them in for coffee. Every so often he would actually leave his place behind the bar and race out to get them. One doesn’t see this sort of thing often (especially in Italy) and it caught my attention so I wanted to tell you about it.

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.

A soggy London day

UK 09-06 to )9-25 692

I suppose it would be fitting for Jeanne to see London in the traditional way – under an umbrella. I had planned all along to give her one last day touring central London and seeing such famous attractions as Trafalgar Square, London Bridge, Tower of London, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Truth be told, the most exciting place of the day might have turned out to be the Sherlock Holmes Pub where we got warm and enjoyed a good lunch though the man seated next to us was an annoying atheist who presented a string of well-worn phrases in support of his position.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 708

UK 09-06 to )9-25 687Because it was raining like crazy, I decided to buy her a ride on one of the famous double-decker buses that lets you on and off as you please. It sounds like a good idea if one could sit outside on the top deck under bright skies and over-arching trees full of summer shade. What we got instead was a huddle inside with a bunch of Russians who could see no better than we could. The windows were covered with fog and attempts at taking photographs bordered on nil to useless. Even the Japanese had put their cameras back in their cases.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 703At one point I got the idea that we should try the getting-off-and-on option and take in the Tate Gallery. After UK 09-06 to )9-25 707slogging through four blocks of ankle deep water we entered the Tate, a most disappointing experience. I am well aware that museum curators and art gallery owners turn art into art even though it be crap by any standard. We lasted about twenty minutes and though it took some doing, went back to where we started, boarded the bus and made our way back to Victoria Station and then to Eltham, more than hour away.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 684

The rest of the evening was spent at John and Jana’s eating a wonderful supper prepared for the whole team. We returned to our room to pack up for an early departure on the next morning. Jeanne was going back to America and the rest of us were headed for Milano and Parma, Italy.

Dinner at VIKALINKA

UK 09-06 to )9-25 678One of our missionaries, Julia Frey, is an amazing cook! You can read her food blog at www.vikalinka.com.  She likes to serve me new dishes when I come for a visit but this night she indulged me by serving something I’d had before… and loved.  Jeanne and I showed up for dinner and enjoyed her unforgettable French chicken dish.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 681Brad and Julia have cute kids, Mitchell and Vika (Brad is Canadian and Julia is Russian). I do, however, think they are slightly spoiled to good cooking; they paid little attention to her creations until dessert was served. Her fruit tarts were pretty amazing, though.

During the evening we enjoyed catching up on their lives and praying together for their ministry future.

North Street Band arrives in England

Arriving at Gatwick

Arriving at Gatwick

If you’ve kept up with my blogs you will have, by now, heard of North Street Band from Perth, Ontario and my plans to bring them over for concerts in England, Italy and Slovenia. Planning and fund-raising for this took the better part of a year, so we were excited to see how things might unfold after all of the dreaming and preparation.

Pastor John and Daniel showed up at Gatwick to meet us while we waited together for the five to show up. We carefully watched people come and go until after an hour, out of the doors they came. For the young guys, this was their first international trip so they were “eyes wide open.”

After greeting and loading the mini-bus, off we went to Eltham where we would be serving Eltham Green Community Church for the next week.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 458

They took a day or so to bounce back from jet lag and then it was concert time. They performed three times. First, they performed in the open air on High Street with many of us handing out invitations to the concert on Friday night and Worship Party at the church on Sunday morning.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 460Eltham is tough ground. The community is riddled with social dysfunction. Many children come from broken, abusive homes. Some leave home early so there are many teenage mothers and girls living on social assistance. Public drunkenness is rampant.  Drop out rates are high and large numbers of young people are involved in delinquent activities. It is within the context of this chaos that Eltham Community Church tries to make a difference.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 541North Street went ahead as best they could and though attendance at the events were not as high as we had hoped, the band was well received everywhere they played.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 470

A performance hall was rented for Friday night . It was cold and raining when the band finally took the stage. This turned out to be a good event seeing that so many in the church had no idea of who the band was or the music they played.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 675

UK 09-06 to )9-25 673The church on Sunday morning was packed where the band played a worship concert and I preached the gospel.

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.

Chris from Ljubljana visits in the US and Canada

Chris and The North Street Band in Perth, Ontario

Perth on the Tay

Chris called from Atlanta and said that he was in the country and on the way to Virginia and wondered if we had a bed. It’s always great to have missionaries stay with us when passing through. I am always his guest when in Ljubljana so it’s nice to return the favor now and then.

He only managed to stay a day before he was in the car, roaring off across America for a month. He had just come from New Zealand and Australia. Since he was also headed to Canada we made arrangements to meet up in Ottawa for a few days.

On July sixteenth he called to say he had arrived so we spent a few days showing him Ottawa and the area. This meant that on Saturday we attended North Streets concert at the Perth Folk Music Festival.

I’ll be showing up on his doorstep on August 13 so we’ll see each other some this year.

Here are a few pictures of North Street Band who come to Europe in September and October.

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!