Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

ferraraSitting at breakfast this morning in Ferrara, Italy, I had time to reflect a little on the whirlwind trip that Sherrylee and I have just completed in Italy.  It started down south in the boot heel and finishes when we fly from Pisa to France.  During our six days so far, we have been in contact with six churches, meeting with their leaders and often having an opportunity to speak to the entire church, to talk about their work and if LST might be of any help to them.

In virtually every case, we found Christians who wanted to grow, who wanted to be a brighter light, but were faced with significant challenges.  I don’t suppose that is much different from most smaller churches anywhere in the world.

We also met some wonderful Italian saints:  Pino and Evalina, Angelo, Alessandro, Paolo, Umberto, Marco, Luca—these are just a few of the names that I can spell, but there were many more sweet people.

And I don’t want to neglect mentioning the wonderful American couple that we met in Florence, David and Debbie Woodruff.  About five years ago, they gave up their comfortable life and home in the States to take on the work of directing the Avanti Italia program.

Avanti Italia was begun in the late 80s by former Italian missionaries to encourage young Americans to give two years of their life in missionary service, specifically in Italy for the encouragement of the Italian Churches of Christ.

The program was housed in the former Florence Bible School building in Scandicci, just outside of Florence.  I don’t know how many young people have gone through this program, but surely, each one has had a life-changing experience.

Different directors have had different programs, but they have all included outreach among the Italian young people, service to the Italian churches in the vicinity, and service to the community in general.

David, the current director, told us that the seven current Avanti Italia workers offer English conversation classes to about 80 people currently. In addition, one day a week they are encouraged to just pick someone they have met and spend extra time with them, developing a deeper relationship.

And another day each week is “work” day, when they let their hands do the talking.  In the last five years, with the help of their workers, the Woodruffs have completed much of a needed remodeling and updating of the Scandicci facility.

Maybe therein lies part of the answer for why anyone would want to go to Italy to do Christian mission work.  What sense does it make to go to one of the most “Christian” nations in the world?

Houses fall into ruin over time. Even those houses that are lived in and maintained need a fresh look, a renewal.  Our experience in countries like Italy is that

  • reading the story of Jesus again is a special blessing to many who would claim a church, but who have never really read the story for themselves.
  • A relationship of a deeply committed Christian can encourage a weaker or nominal believer to a closer walk.
  • Some people have never personally chosen faith in Jesus for themselves. Our conversation may be the first time they have ever been asked whether they really believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
  • Some people know the story and are true believers but they have never experienced the family of God as it can be experienced in a small congregation, where every member is known and cared for.
  • Every country has those who come as guests or visitors and who are not part of the Christian tradition at all.  Two of the young people in the church in Ferrara were born in Ukraine of Russian-speaking parents, but have been in Italy since they were small children.  They are thankful for those who told their family about Jesus and did not assume that everyone knows who He is.

I know of no church that is not plagued by human frailty and error. I would not presume to know when God blows out candlesticks.  I tend to lean more toward Jesus’ teaching in the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

I’m thankful for this week in Italy and for every Christian here. 

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Four hours until we land in Chicago.  We were not scheduled originally to fly through Chicago, but when we got up this morning, we found the notice that our flight to New York from Rome was delayed two hours, meaning that we would certainly miss our connection to Seattle, which is our next stop.

With the cost of making international calls via internet now affordable, I turned on my own mobile phone, called the American Airlines  US office and rescheduled us through Chicago.  No problem—as they say all over the world!

Because Sherrylee and I spent our first Thanksgiving together in Germany in 1971, to call home, we went to the Post Office, informed the clerk that we wanted to make an international call, gave him the number, and then stepped into a special telephone booth in the office to wait for the call to be placed.

In a minute, our phone rang—no ringtones then—and her parents were on the other end. We talked for eight minutes, part of which was taken by Sherrylee asking her mother which end of the turkey to stuff. I remember vividly paying over $50 for that phone call, which, as a point of reference, was exactly what we had been paying monthly for rent at our first apartment.

I’m glad we came to Italy.  Our Rome to Florence flight took a bit longer because our plane was diverted to Pisa because of high winds.  I thought I might catch a glimpse of the leaning tower as we landed, but no such luck.  By the way, if you ever go there, the baptistery in front of the church in front of the leaning tower may be the most interesting structure to visit.

The same is true in Florence where the Baptistry of St. John  is a must visit.  As it was explained to us, these early medieval churches built their buildings to reflect their theology. A large building would be built, large enough for a very large pool of water into which you went down and walked out of to be baptized. This building not only would be highly adorned and appropriately decorated, but often the artwork—or so it appears to us—was really the medieval version of Powerpoint slides thrown onto all the walls and ceilings for instructional purposes. The art of baptistries tends towards the stories of God’s redeeming work , which seems highly appropriate to me!

But the theological lesson continues. The baptistry would always be built outside of the church, but not too far from the front door!  So in Florence,  one would be baptized, exit the building through the famous doors called the “Gates of Paradise” and then walk into the church as a new-born member of the Body of Christ, straight to the altar to participate in communion.  The theological instruction for the new Christian is unavoidable!

Makes me wonder about our baptistries?  I’ve seen baptistries under trap doors under the pulpit! Then there are those high above the pulpit—or low and over on the side behind a curtain.  In fact, almost all of ours are behind a curtain. What does that say??

We had about an hour of wandering in Florence before we met two missionaries from Ancona, Italy, who rode a train several hours both ways to meet with us. Brian and Kyle have been part of a team, which has worked in Ancona for the last ten years. Wonderful guys who didn’t know that much about LST, so we spent some time together talking about possibilities.

Our second day in Florence, we had a delicious lunch with Mike and Anto Mahan and their two children. They have ministered to the Church of Christ in Prato, just outside of Florence for many years and have hosted many mission interns over the years, but will host their first LST team from York College this summer.  We like to meet personally with new hosts to make sure everyone has the same expectations.

After rushing to the airport this morning, then, to catch the flight to Chicago, which left an hour earlier than the New York flight, just enough time remained before we needed to go through passport control and security to meet with Andrea and Heather Gentile, a great couple who are part of a team planting a church outside of Rome. He is Italian and she American; in fact, their teammates are of the same configuration.

Sherrylee and I have the best job in the world. We get to travel to Scotland, Ukraine, Greece, and Italy, meeting with local Christians, U.S. missionaries, national evangelists; we get to listen to them tell excitedly about their work; sometimes we get to encourage them ; we always pray with them.  We talk about the Kingdom of God and what we might be able to do together to bring glory to God!

The churches we have visited this time battle for God in fields, where the spiritual warfare is vicious. But we must never forget that even in Europe, we are more than conquerors!



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