Count Your Many Lockdown Blessings

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Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2)

The other day it dawned on me that I was supposed to be somewhere else in that moment…that is, before Covid-19 changed all of our plans, and probably yours too.  

We can all probably think of some things that we would be doing differently this summer if life hadn’t been in many ways turned upside down by this virus.  It comforts us to know that God knows what is happening, even when we don’t!
This reminds me of a verse:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. (Isaiah 55:8)  

We were all excited about our summer trip to the United States to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Baptist Mid-Missions as well as spend some time with Melodee’s family.  After all, our kids are the only cousins her sisters Harmony’s kids have! We also looked forward to being in our home church in Grand Rapids, catching up with our mentors and friends, and why not, enjoying some good American summer cookouts along the way!    

When the US consulate cancelled our passport renewal appointment after Easter we had a feeling that things were not going to go as planned.   As it turns out, at least for us, it very well may be that this summer had a greater impact than we had hoped for!  

Here are just five of those blessings:

Eva's new bike
Eva’s new bike!

1. Family We have been able to hold consistent family devotions, reading through the book of Proverbs during this time!  We have also had time for more meaningful conversations and making memories.
Eva even learned how to ride her bicycle!

2. Mission Family

Pastor Odle
Pastor/President Patrick Odle

Despite the disappointment of not being together to celebrate our 100 year anniversary, in July Baptist Mid-Missions welcomed Pastor Patrick Odle as the new president of Baptist Mid-Missions.  He has been highly involved for many years with the mission as pastor of First Baptist of Elyria, even speaking to missionaries in Europe (with an obligatory stop with us to visit Rome and Perugia!). Please pray for our previous president and mentor Vernon Rosenau as he prepares equips our new president for the task and transitions into a new phase of life with his wife Jan. Pray for his health too!  

3. Preaching

Preaching
Kids watching service from home

Much of my time sin we last spoke has been spent in sermon preparation.  What a blessing to be able to spend time with God every day  preparing to share God’s Word with God’s people!  
I learned so much preaching through the End Times, and now I am excited to preach verse by verse through Romans…the book written to locals!  (Perugia would have been one of the first places to receive this letter after the Roman Christians).

  I appreciate the trust and encouragement given to me by the Pastors and the church as a whole! Because of Covid-19 we are still not able to have children’s ministry.  Many people still stay home for safety reasons, but thanks to Daniel and Danilo we have continued to stream the services, allowing everyone to follow, even from home, from vacation or even people from other parts of Italy without access to local churches.  

4. Leadership Development           

  •  Pastoral Internship  I was able to continue spending time with Danilo, our pastoral intern  He has been an incredible asset to the ministry, even during this time with so many restrictions.  His heart for God, willingness to grow and learn, and graphic design skills have been a great blessing to us all.
  • Theological Academy Many of our men participated in the preaching labs offered by the Italian Theological Academy.  What a blessing to see these men prepare and expose God’s Word!  We look forward to see what God has for them in the future!              
  • Discipleship We continued meeting over ZOOM every two weeks throughout June with several men in our church. Though we had asked for a commitment through June, some men even asked to continue meeting once in a while to keep up! We have also met with other men individually to help wherever needed.  

5. New Deacons!

New Deacons Presented
New Deacons Presented

Lastly, thanks to the gifted organization of Daniel, after several months of nominations, meetings and voting, we were able to welcome two new deacons to the ministry of our church!  These men have seen exponential growth in character and service in the last few years and the vote of approval was unanimous!  We look forward to seeing how these men will “gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 3:13)



There’s so much more I could say! We have so much to be thankful for.  
We only with you could be here to see for yourself!  

God’s work not only continues through hard times, it flourishes!

Thank you for your faithful prayers and giving!

Love, the Whitmans

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Living, Learning and Serving in a Pandemic

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At the beginning of this year who would have even imagined how our lives would soon be changed?
I remember when the Italian government shut down schools, and then all public events, then all non-essentials, (which apparently includes clothing).
Even Amazon shut down most of its product lines!
Only ten days later Italy’s mortality rate surpassed that of China, where they say it all started.It seemed like forever that Italy was all over the news.  
Then almost overnight the United States became the center of the pandemic with both the highest number of cases and deaths.  
Three months later, even though Italy has officially entered Phase Two, not much has changed. When we first began lockdown, it felt almost like a well needed vacation.
Once reality set in though, we, like you, had to step up our game and find ways to minister in a whole new paradigm. As we look to start reopening the church building soon, we realize that though it has not been a vacation, God has used it in many ways to sharpen us and reach people in new and different ways. 

Here are five challenges and subsequent blessings that we have seen during this time:

My first Coronavirus letter was all about finding the positives in the situation.
My second one was about mourning the losses.
Today I would like to reflect on both the challenges and God’s blessings and lessons during this time.

Coronavirus School

1. Ministering to our children while ministering to the world.
We have been well reminded during this time that ministry starts at home.  We have been trying daily to follow the children’s homework and video classes, as well as taking time to minister to their souls.  We have enjoyed more devotion time with them, as well as seeing them get excited about reading and even some church history!
Bonus thought: Using the couch as a desk has also been a challenge and a blessing!  I predict some visits to the chiropractor in my near future! 

2. Grocery shopping
Grocery shopping has been an interesting challenge. Sometimes I have had to wait even as long as an hour to enter the store.  Needless to say if you forget the milk, you don’t just run back to get it.  It’s been sad but also significant to be out with the people, to see how those who don’t have Christ are coping with the situation. 

3. Church services
Church ministry under lockdown has brought some unexpected blessings.  Thanks to Daniel’s technological expertise as well as our pastoral intern Danilo’s hard work, we started recording our services piece by piece, both for Sunday and for Wednesday services.   All has been done ahead of time: preaching (the hardest to upload), worship and even announcements.  Because we were not able to go to church during this time, all was done from our homes.
Our Facebook and YouTube services have been well received both from our church people and from other in Italy who were not able to have their own services.  I have had the privilege now for several weeks to preach through a map of the End Times. The Friday deadline has been nerve-racking but also a good challenge. 
Bonus: Feel free to check out our Facebook and YouTube pages!
Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/centroevangelicobattista/
YouTube:https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYp4CNwkxqcmFzhqE2cKjNw

4. Discipleship and Theological training 
Another unexpected blessing has been to be able to continue meeting with our men every other week for discipleship over Zoom meetings.  We have already read three books together, and we have shared our experiences, getting a a feel for the pulse of how our families are coping with the situation.  We have also been able to continue our preaching course offered by the Italian Theological Academy

5. Outreach
Outreach has certainly been interesting, to say the least.  Until last week we were not even able to go to funerals.  Nevertheless, we have been able to have contact with people through the many communication channels available.  One of the greatest blessings has been to collaborate as a church with the Italian publication of John Piper’s book Coronavirus and Christ.  We have been able to distribute it as a pdf via a free download and even give copies to people we were able to come in contact with. Ours kids enjoyed distributing the copies we had to our neighbors (with masks of course). I even gave copies to the ladies at our fruit and vegetable store! Pray that this message will get out to as many people as possible.Finally, I’ve been interviewed a couple times by a local TV station to share insights from God’s Word on anything from Coronavirus to Celibacy in the Catholic Church.  Lucio, the director of the TV station has been following our services online!

In summary, we have been reminded during this time that all things work together for the good of those who love God.
We thank you for all your prayers, encouragement and sacrificial giving during this time.
God is at work, and there is no pandemic that will stop Him!

Frequently Asked Question:
Many people have asked us:
“Are you back to normal?” and “Are you able to restart church services?”

We are making progress, but we are not back to normal yet.
We are not supposed to go anywhere without a mask and must continue to maintain a three-foot distance from other people.

Because of the size of our work, we are working closely with our security team and deacons to figure out how to maintain proper sanitary requirements and safety distances.  Even families have to keep their distances in public.  Children’s ministries are out of the question for the time being.

Please pray as we consider re-entry even as soon as the first Sunday in June.

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Pray for my message preparation!

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Good morning from Italy! It’s getting that time a week again…where I really need your prayers to finish the message. 😫

Let’s just say that its not easy to focus with two creatively energetic munchkins running around (literally). What is there not to love!

Don’t be deceived by their angelic faces. 😶

Smiling
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When Coronavirus Hits Close to Home

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I had been hoping to give an update for a while.  I hope to share with you sometime soon how things have changed for us since I shared my Top ten things I’ve loved about the Coronavirus lockdown.

But not today.

The Coronavirus just got up close and personal.

Just over a week ago, one of our dearest friends, Pastor Bill Standridge passed away from the Coronavirus.

Jon and Bill Standridge

As a pastor, missionary and author, he was known throughout Italy for his dedication to teaching Biblical doctrine.  
The church in Rome that God used him to plant has been one of our greatest allies in the truth for many years.  
He took my parents under his wing when they arrived in Italy in 1973, and our families have been close ever since.  
When we were young, our family would even drive two hours down to Rome to celebrate Thanksgiving with them.  His son Steve has been one of my most important mentors.
When his wife Maria Teresa passed away a few years ago, people traveled from all over Italy to pay their respects and to celebrate her life for God.
Bill’s life and legacy should have been celebrated for God’s glory…  But Coronavirus took this away from us.  Even his family had to say their goodbyes by phone.
Yet, he is now joyfully in heaven, in the presence of the God he served so faithfully for so many years.

Unfortunately, that was only the beginning.  Death got closer and more tragic.
Two nights ago we heard commotion in the house next door.  We suspected that something was terribly wrong.  
Our neighbor had been suffering for years with kidney failure, including at least one  failed kidney transplant.
Before the virus kept us all apart, I had been to visit him and his wife.  I shared a few thoughts from the Gospel as he lay in his bed.
Few times had I seen someone more appreciative.
Now he is gone.  I received a text message from another neighbor telling me that he had passed away.
I can’t even go over to comfort the family.  Coronavirus has taken that way from us.

Yesterday morning I got a call.  My friend was weeping.
You may remember my friend, the butcher.  We became friend chatting about barbecure ribs. God brought their whole family to start attending our church.
My friend’s stepfather, who lived with them, contracted the virus on a skiing trip up north about a month ago.
We had shared the Gospel with him and his wife over dinner a couple times.
The whole family has been on quarantine since they found out.  He had been doing better.  They had taken him off the respirator.  Then he took a turn for the worse. God has been working on my friend through this and he has asked for help with his spiritual growth.
My friend called me weeping to tell me that his step-dad had passed away.  Last year he lost his father too.
We can’t even attend the funeral, or go comfort our friend, or pray with them in person.  Coronavirus took this away from us.

Last night I also found out that a member in our church is waiting on test reults.  If there was one person in our church that needs to NOT contract the virus, it is him.
Now all we can do is pray for a miracle.

One man dearly loved by Evangelicals in Italy, who is in heaven; 
Two men who had heard the Gospel but had not made a profession of faith;
One family waiting and praying for a miracle.


Where is God in all this?
God is still at work.
We don’t know how exactly this all fits into His picture.  But we trust him.
His name will be exalted, and His people are still in His care.
For us who believe in Christ this is just a hiccup in our life.  
For those without Christ times are dark, and hope is grim.
Pray that through this time many will give glory to God and repent, embracing Christ as Lord.

Psalm 46:1–3
    [1] God is our refuge and strength,
        a very present help in trouble.
    [2] Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
        though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
    [3] though its waters roar and foam,
        though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah (ESV)


Please pray!

  1. Please pray for the Standridges and for Italian Evangelicals, as they cope with this great loss.
  2. Please pray for our neighbors.
  3. Please pray for my friend and his family.
  4. Please pray for the family in our church that is waiting on test results.
  5. Please pray for us as we live and minister in such a unique world.
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Interview with Randall Gilmore on Covid-19

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Gilmore InterviewI hope you had a chance to listen to my interview with Randall Gilmore.

We had a terrific time!
You can listen to it here.

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