Slovenia: The 14th least evangelized nation in the world.

Imagine: a nation of two million people with about 1,000 Bible believing Christians?

You can’t see Rosie but she’s there.

We have just arrived here last evening after a rather long ride from Parma, stopping off for the Canadian’s to visit Venice if only for a couple of hours. We pulled into the church parking lot at six and then set about to getting our sleeping arranged.

The main piazza at night

All churches should somehow include rooms for visitors. When I come here, I never have to pay for accommodation and this is a big help to missionaries and traveling teams like the one I have with me now. This upstairs of the church has a large library filled with books (mostly English) where I made my bed with a mattress on the floor. Fred and Rose are in the “prophet’s chamber” (the room where I usually stay). It is a big room with a queen size bed, couch and small table and its own bathroom with private shower. Three of the guys are in a large room that could handle five under dorm like accommodation. We have stuck one of the fellows (the one with insomnia) in a small office space where he can read in the middle of the night if he wants to. In all, the facility has four bathrooms and two showers a kitchen, dining room and an area that seats about ninety people for a sanctuary on Sunday. This is not, by American standards, a big building – it just happens to be a well-designed building. In spite of this use of space there is still room for Chris and one other to share an office.

            

Chris has a dream to build a massive church – ministry center on this same location and has already set out to raise the 1.5 millions euros it will take to make the evangelical church visible. The pastor and his wife have a lot planned for North Street Band so I suspect it will be a good idea if they get a good sleep tonight because Thursday they will begin five days of non-stop ministry. After playing in the main cafe in the center of the city, we will drive to Murska Subota on the Austrian-Hungarian border, play for a Gypsy village, do concerts in the city center, go and hour south to Slovenia’s second largest city, Maribor have two concerts then back to Ljubljana, play on the street and on Sunday do a concert in the parking lot of the church. Then one more time they will play in the center of the city.

All of this is pretty exciting for a ministry team of five from Perth, Ontario.

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”

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

More Liguria…Is there ever enough?

Season’s end

Given the opportunity to walk around Chiavari in the morning, the afternoon was spent with Imra and several of her children along the cost in the city to the south, Sistri Levante. Here we had the chance to walk along and visit, take a few photographs of both the scenery and the kids.

Casperana

One in particular put me to the challenge of catching her posed. She constantly managed to outwit me and what pictures I did get were often out of focus. Nevertheless, the children are all delightful and now the older ones are pretty much going around as they please. Exams of one kind or another were being given so the older girls didn’t accompany us to Sistri Levante.

Where Jesus takes his holiday…

They have the entire second floor.

Really a “little” like heaven on earth. My father used to always say, “Even though the earth is under a curse with thistles and thorns it is a beautiful place, ideally suited for man – just imagine what heaven must be?

My ministry offers me some beautiful places to see and enjoy. Years ago I saw this in the scriptures and took it to heart. So Jesus answered and said,

Portofino: more later

“Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  Mark 10:29-31 (NJKV). This has been the case all the way along. I now write you from a bedroom in Oslo where a couple have taken me in and given me a place to lodge – without purse or script.

Cooking is just one of his gifts

My dear friends Emile and Imra Dilles who have moved from near Trento and now live in Liguria heard that I had a few days between Italy and England insisted that I come to their home overlooking the Mediterranean from where (if you squint on a clear day) you can see Portofino, one of the most celebrated coastal villages in Italy. I had no idea of what I was in for.

Sistri Livante

Having stayed with them before, I knew their hospitality. Even when they had less than they do today they were generous to share what they had with me and now that they have steady work I expected and got no less.

Whet your appetite with this little guy

I took the train to  Chiavari where I was picked up by Imra and taken to their home. They have four (okay, maybe five) children ranging from about five to seventeen years of age. Emile and Imra know how to have beautiful children as you will see.

Once there, and having met their neighbors, Emile finally arrived to make for me a gourmet specialty. Emile is a TREMENDOUS cook and now (to his good fortune) works out a gourmet kitchen that came with his leased home. He laid out steak, potatoes and asparagus. Everything was first-rate.

Silvano

At the table with us was their new friend and landlord that I took an instant liking Silvano.  is one interesting guy – a captain of private boats and a sculptor of some skill having designed and built the avant-garde lighting for his home. If he ever decides to stop sailing he has an alternative career in the lighting industry.

As the sun set

Later in the evening I was taken to the home of my hostess, Sylvia, a Spanish lady from Ecuador who wanted to

Sylvia

practice her English. We had a short chat, the bathroom fixtures explained (I never got them right), keys handed off and my bed pointed to, the ladies engaged in prayer and I heard them leave the house at two in the morning. I had some “Warriors” on my hands. These kinds of prayers always make me nervous. I confess to not being to stay up with authentic intercessors and often throw in the towel early. I am told that this is not an occasional event but quite frequent. How will I lay low? There is nothing worse that being in a prayer meeting for three hours with earnest people of another language.

The region here is so beautiful and people so interesting I am forced to issue several blogs on this portion of my visit. Stay with me.

Tony from Oslo, Norway.