Trip 38 / Entry 32 / Preaching

Assemblia di Dio, Taranto, Italy

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A nice hall that seats about 250 on Sunday mornings

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.

IMG_3167 cropThe 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.

Trip 38 / Entry 31 / Aldo’s Genetori

(Parents) 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

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.

IMG_3155 crop

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).

Trip 38 / Entry 21 / Carl and Linnea

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 Alesund, Norway

Carl and LinneaNo doubt I have complained too much about the spiritual condition of Norway (and all of Europe for that matter). But to me, (it may just be cultural personality influenced by Jente’s Law, I don’t know) but often Christians appear to hold a passive, internalized and unimposing faith. There are many exceptions, of course, like my friend Gunnar and others I have met.

One favorable and surprising thing happened in Alesund. After I settled into my hotel. I decided to take a quick orientation walk at about eleven in the morning. I followed the map but soon discovered that I had gone the wrong way so I cut through an alley that should have been a short-cut to the water front. Out of the door of an apartment building came a robust looking young man with a big beard and one of those ”outdoorsy”  looks. He was with a little, “light as a feather” blonde and this made an odd match. They started to walk in the same direction as I but both me and they came to a construction site which made it clear we could go no farther so we turned together in the same direction leaving this blind alley behind.

The fellow, in a bold “English” accent asked if I was on holiday. I told him in rather vague terms that I worked here in Europe then asked where he was from and what he did. He was South African and a surfing instructor (in a wet suit, of course). The conversation turned back to me about what I did and as I explained I saw immediate recognition sweep over his face. He went on to say that they were only up for the day but living about an hour and a half away in Volda. This is the very same small village where I am staying and doing ministry.

I decided to ask if he was a “follower of Jesus” and he was more than a little enthusiastic to make his claim to the faith.

It was a positive moment, a lily blooming in the desert! We both felt the meeting to be a divine appointment. This seemed almost an utter impossibility that on a street in Alesund, I would meet a South African believer who just happens to live in the same village where I hang my hat. I hope that my story about the Saturday night university outreaches and the conversion of Charlene spark a fire in him to come and help.

While in my room above the church on Friday morning I received a phone call from Carl asking if I’d like to get together and arrangements were immediately made to meet at the student center, Rokken in the early afternoon. There over coffee we shared testimonies and our journeys. He had quite a tale of conversion. They offered to come hear me preach on Sunday evening. I suspect we will likely stay in touch.

Trip 38 / Entry 20 / Tore’ and Siv

Tore and Siv

Tore and Siv

Tuesday to Thursday, May 20-22, 2014 / Alesund, Norway

When my friend Peter Barnes of London read on Facebook that I was going to Alesund he began connecting me to his close friends who live there.  I am always a little leery of this sort of match-making as occasionally it didn’t work out so well. The old adage, “One man’s jewelry is another man’s junk,” has proven true more than once. I have had blind date ministry connections of this nature that just didn’t click. Yet, I trusted Peter to know, after all, he has a prophetic gift so he should have some discernment about this. Soon, I was texting back and forth to Siv the arrangements to meet. Tore would come and pick me up and take me out to

IMG_2768their house for supper on Tuesday evening. We knew a lot of people in common so this broke the ice as we discussed a number of common relationships. Siv was stirring chicken Alfredo with lasagna. Eivind, a very outgoing guest completely fluent in America idiom, carried the conversation while we waited on supper. He had just returned from YWAM in Orlando. Another arrived in the doorway, a tall reddish haired fellow that looked like an athlete but assured me, he

Their place

Their place

was not. He was the older son, Ole engaged to be married to a California girl next week. Hans, at about ten was engrossed in Lego land videos so he really didn’t quite lift his head up from the IPAD but was a cute guy. It was a real family atmosphere so I can see why their house fills up on Thursday nights for worship and prayer. Many of these who come are young people who have no church background. Some suffer from fractured homes and lives so Siv has become “Mom.”

I really enjoyed all of them. The next day they continued to extend love and hospitality. They drove in to Alesund from the other side of the island and took me for a photo shoot at a wonderful  Norwegian heritage community followed by supper and conversation at their house again. This time we had grilled chicken, slathered in pesto and wrapped in bacon.

Ole, Eivind and Siv

Ole, Eivind and Siv

Tore is a success in his occupation. This meant that we talked business and mission, he having gone to Mongolia and China, places I have never been so I was interested about his experience.  This brought us to a conversation about ways in which to help missionaries through business enterprises.

I also met Siv’s sister, Tove Kristin, with I became acquainted as she drove me back later that evening.

In all, I spent  about ten hours with the Havold family and have I an invitation to return if ever in the area. This was the highlight of my two days in Alesund and to be honest the trip would have been a complete waste without meeting the South African and the Havold’s. “Take no cloak or script… “ it pretty much works though I do have cloak and script if I need it.

Trip 38 / Entry 19 / Volda, Norway

Sunday, May 18, 2014

 An amazing and hopeful story… 

Volda Baptism Crop

Volda Baptism 2

 

 

 

 

I flew Norwegian from Oslo-Gardemoen to Alesund and then bused to Volda about three hours away. This meant that my day would be a long one. On the way I completely re-arranged a power point which took all of that time. I arrived and was met by my friend Gunnar. After talking through the content of the evening, I saw that the power point would not likely connect so I decided to preach and this proved to be the right decision. On the same evening there would be a baptism.

This is an all too rare event but in this part of Norway where most give no thought at all to spiritual matters or eternal things here comes Charlene. Out of the blue, she calls Gunnar and says, “I was reading the Bible I see that I need to be baptized. Will you baptize me.” Gunnar asked her how this came about since he did not know her. She told her story. A CLASSIC and THE WAY IT OUGHT TO BE… “I am from South Africa. I have no particular religious background but became sick of my life, ordered a Bible from the internet, heard somewhere that I should read John, read it and the other gospels and came to believe that Jesus died for me. I gave my life to him and then decided I needed to find someone to baptize me.” I had the privilege of doing this.

On Monday morning I made my way around to some of my significant contacts from last October. I was able to see them all and received a warm welcome.

Trip 38 / Entry 17 / Near Tonsberg, Norway

Saturday to Friday, May 10-16, 2014

Students at SBI 2014

Students at SBI 2014

 

Smyrna Bible Institute

I caught an Air France flight from Ljubljana to Paris and then KLM to Amsterdam and the to Sandefjord (Torp), Norway, finally arriving at 11 PM Saturday. I almost missed the flight from Amsterdam and was the last person to board after running the full length of Schiphol Airport. I was picked up by my friend, Morten Ostevik, the head administrator of Smyrna Bible Institute where I will teach 1st Corinthians to about twenty second year students for the week. I have come here every year and some times twice for the last four years and developed a good relationship with the leadership. I will preach on Sunday night in Oasen, the campus church.

Apologetics Conference with Southern Evangelical Seminary

Ga Ut Senter, Oslo (Hurdal), Norway

SES presenters

SES presenters

More than a year ago, I suggested that friends from here in Charlotte make a trip to Oslo and join the staff of Ga Ut Senter in a much needed, apologetics conference. In all about six or seven professors and students showed up to spend a weekend teaching on subjects such as “Intelligent Design” and “The Exclusiveness of Christ, Pluralism.”

Smyrna heads home

Smyrna heads home

Early Saturday morning Brad and I grabbed our gear and met about six Smyrna students for the two and half hour ride to Hurdal.  We spent the day in various, well attended lectures. At the end of the day, they drove back and Brad and stayed the night and then took a quick tour of Oslo the next day before he headed back to London in the late afternoon.

Great food!

Great food!

I remained behind for several more days staying with Roar and Lillis. Most of the time I was quarantined to my room and bed with with the stomach flu. Finally, on Thursday morning I flew back to London, spent the night in Crawley, England and took to ten o’clock flight home on Friday morning.

In ten weeks, I traveled approximately nineteen thousand miles, slept in twenty-seven beds, visited five countries (some twice), preached and taught about fifty hours. It was more trip than I should have taken on and only eternity will tell if any of this is worth the time, effort and money.

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Teaching Evangelism at Smyrna Bible Institute

A few of my students

A few of my students

At least once every year for the past five years I have spent a week or two teaching at Smyrna (Kraftskolen) near Tonsberg in southeast Norway. I usually have about ten to fifteen students in the first year class. To learn more about this scroll back through my blogs and you will find a good number of stories and photographs relating to this school.

This time I spent a week from October 7 to the 14th before going to Oslo where I would meet up with Southern Evangelical Seminary staff and students at the Ga Ut Senter where they would be presenting a seminar series on “Why Apologetics?”

Brad speaking

Brad speaking

In the meantime Brad Frey, a Canadian, ACCI missionary living in England came up to join me. While I spent a number of nights teaching and preaching, Brad joined me with testimony and teaching.

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On one evening we had, what they called, “A Bad Taste Party.” Regrettably, Andreas, my friend and Dean of men thought it a good idea to dress-up like me as an example of “bad taste.” Frankly, I think for an older gentlemen, I have fairly good taste but considering the laughter in the room upon his arrival, I am forced to reconsider some of my apparel choices. Some people can think they are in the groove when they are really in a rut.

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While at Smyrna I met a young Pakistani couple. I really liked Joel, his wife and young daughter. It was my hope to find some church that might adopt them as they are a people without a country at the moment. I’m still open to trying to locate a congregation who might adopt them. If not, they will be forced to return to a very dangerous part of the world.

Stupid me!

Kevin

Kevin

Here’s some helpful advice. It was murder trying to find a low-cost flight from Ljubljana to Oslo or thereabouts on the day I needed it. I felt a little stuck. Either I would pay a huge sum of money for a rather direct flight or travel some distance to locate a cheaper plane. Pastor Chris thought it made the most sense to just bite the bullet and take Berlin Air or some such a carrier at about five hundred and forty euro. This seemed exorbitant to me so I had Chris drive me across Slovenia to Trieste, Italy where I caught a five-hour train to Bergamo, Italy, caught another bus, took a hotel, had my supper and then flew to Torp the next morning on Ryan Air. Yes, the Ryan Air flight was around a hundred euro but if I add up the inconvenience, time, transportation, meals and hotel, it just made, in retrospect, a lot more sense to just pay the big bucks and be done with it. In all, it took more than fifteen hours of travel to get from Murska Sobota, Slovenia to Torp, Norway.

My friend Kevin came along with me and parted company with him going on to Parma from Mestre while I went on another train to north of Milano.

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I boarded the flight and before settling into my seat I noticed the young man next to me reading Sam Harris’, “The Death of Faith.” I am well aware of Sam Harris, a very aggressive and vitriolic anti-Theist. It surprised me to see a young man of this age intensely reading such a book for his entertainment. I quickly leaned over and asked him, “Are you an Atheist?” Proudly, he replied in the affirmative. He asked if I was to which I told him no and that I was his polar opposite. I then wanted to know if he was an “intellectual” or a “moral” Atheist. He didn’t get what I was driving at so this gave me opportunity to engage him in a two-hour conversation. We ended as friends. Let me just say here, this fellow knows more about the Bible and what he believes than any combined ten young Christians I know of.

Overhearing the gospel…

At the end of the flight, when I returned to my seat an older Norwegian couple seated next to me wanted to know who I was and was complimentary regarding some of the questions posed and answers given the young man.

It occurs to me that in forty-five years of adult life rarely, if ever, has anyone ever shared the gospel with me. It is my guess that almost no one tells anyone about Jesus and that’s a fact. It’s a wonder to me that anyone ever gets saved at all.

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.