Life in a Virtual Quarantine


I admit…I’m probably not the best person to write about this topic.

After all, I’ve never seen a zombie movie, nor do I plan to.

Yet the surreal atmosphere that the world, and especially Italy is facing right now with the Coronavirus reminds me  of every zombie movie I’ve never seen.

The needle that broke the proverbial camel’s back came when the prime minister of Italy decided to shut down all schools and public gatherings at least until the 15th of March, and possibly as lat as the beginning of April. Many families will be scrambling to figure out what to do with their children.  

It was a tough decision.
The official order is to keep at least 3.28 feet (one meter) distance from people.  Can you imagine enforcing that in Italy, where people greet with a kiss and personal space is socially unacceptable?
Imagine trying to enforce that with children’s ministries…

As I look out the window of our church office  I see business as usual…granted, probably less cars than a typical Thursday morning.  People still have to go to work.

We’re living in strange times.
Nothing can be taken for granted.
The economy seems on the verge of a collapse.
Even our church will not be able to meet this Sunday, as they try to curb this terrible virus that is taking the world by storm.

Umbria so far has not been as affected as northern Italy, where at least 80% of the cases have been, but the numbers are growing.
(For an interview to of missionary friends of ours from inside the “red zone” click here.)

Classroom

Schools are closed, social gatherings are discouraged when not forbidden, people walk around suspiciously (or at least I do!).  They are even considering playing soccer games in empty stadiums.
The hardest part is not knowing exactly when it will end.
In northern Italy, the infamous “red zone”, they have already been living this way for a while.

America may soon be facing similar decisions. All we can do at this point is pray. 

Please pray for us:

  1. Pray as we decide how to best minister to people in a country that is in virtual quarantine. 
  2. Pray that people will be open to spiritual conversations.
  3. Pray for the virus to end soon, so we can back to normal life.
  4. Pray for our planning for our visit to the United States in July for the 100 year anniversary of Baptist Mid-Missions.  In particular pray for:
    1. Good airline tickets
    2. Transportation and housing for our time there.
    3. Planning of the worship times for the conference
    4. Planning for my absence from the ministry
    5. Planning for the connections with ministry partners and family.

Thank you for praying!
The Whitmans

What will be your legacy?

What will be the most valuable use of our time as missionaries?

I can’t remember exactly when it happened…was it during the spiritual gifts course that I took at church? Was it during a missionary presentation?  
Probably partly both.  All I know is that God made it crystal clear to me one day that not only was He leading me back to Italy as a missionary but that I would be there “Equipping the Italian Church of the Next Generation to Reach the World for Christ.”

I love the quote that goes something like this:

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.


Since our last conversation, God has reminded me again and again that there is no better use of my time.  We need to invest in others.
This year has the promise of being just that.

We inaugurated the year welcoming Danilo as our pastoral intern for the year.  He will be spending many hours with us as a pastoral team and missionary team.  We are really excited to see how God will use it in his life and where God might lead him in the future.  I know that my one-year internship at Calvary Baptist Church was one of the most life-changing experiences of my life…it’s hard to believe it was almost twenty years ago!

Francesco and Kollin

Right on Danilo’s heels is another great brother, Francesco, who came to Christ through the ministry of Baptist Mid-Missions in Peru, though he is Italian!Just last Sunday we welcomed him and his wife as members of our church as they desire to grow and serve and see where God will lead them in ministry.
A couple of weeks ago we led a group of six men to a conference in Messina held by the Italian Theological Academy that helps us with courses several times a year.  The theme was unity among leaders in the local church.  

We enjoyed growing together with these men from our church and men from almost twenty churches in Italy and the United States.  I particularly enjoyed sitting next to my brother Jeremy, who is an avid note taker and deacon in our church.  We were also asked to help with the music; it was a lot of fun to accompany a room full of Italian church leaders in worshiping our Lord!

Speaking of the Academy, this year will be our third and last year of the preaching program.  We have several men involved and we look forward to seeing them grow in their preaching!
Lastly, on February 9th we will be celebrating the extinguishing of the mortgage of our church building, and my Dad will officially become a Pastor Emeritus of the church. 
Of course, hopefully that won’t slow him down, but we are looking more and more at developing and bringing in Italian leaders.
My Dad said it best when he announced this new phase in the life of our church. “Just as geese fly in formation, and at some point the leader must take a step back and allow another to take the brunt of the air stream, so we as leaders must be ready to develop those who will take our place and bring the Italian church further than we could have imagined!”  The time to develop leaders is now.  We thank the Lord for the faithfulness of my parents, who gave everything to bring us to this point.
May we be counted faithful as they have and have as rich of a legacy.What will be your legacy?

BMM Italy Team

Three things that change the world

Blame it on the inevitable process of aging, blame it on having kids, blame it on some major health problems in my not-so-remote past…or maybe just plain laziness (it takes a lot of work to be lazy)… I’m always looking for ways to be efficient with my energy and time and resources.

Eva

Fortunately, I don’t have to feel guilty about it because even the Apostles had to prioritize their time! Do you remember when they had to STOP doing things in Acts 6:2 in order to focus on the things that made the most difference?

With a growing ministry, the risk of burnout is great, both for us as missionaries and the people we serve with at Centro Evangelico Battista.

An Italian, Vilifredo Pareto, summed up this idea of how to do the best things, observing that as a rule of thumb 20% of what we do makes for 80% of the results.

So we have had to ask ourselves:  “What makes the greatest difference in our life and ministry?”

Our prerogative certainly cannot be too far off from what the apostles considered their main priorities.

The body of Christ has many responsibilities and commandments to follow, but at the end of the day there are three things that we cannot stop doing if we want to obey Christ and make the greatest difference.

  1. Preach and teach the Word of God
  2. Pray
  3. Share Christ

1. Preach and teach the Word of God

2 Timothy 2:15

This summer I had the opportunity to finish our preaching series from the book of Ephesians.  How exciting to preach on the armor of God from deep behind enemy lines!
I was also privileged to spend over a week teaching spiritual disciplines as part of a discipleship course that my good friend and mentor Giorgio De Angelis hosted in his church in Torino for young people from all over Italy and even Albania!

This weekend instead we will be hosting the Exegesis classes for men from our church and other surrounding churches.
Please pray as we identify and train men for pastoral and teaching ministry.  With the majority of the cities in our region still unreached, there is no time to lose.

2. Pray

Ephesians 6:18
Call me a broken record, but our life and ministry depends on prayer. As a church we just made an big decision: we moved our main prayer time to Sunday mornings after the worship service (the time traditionally set apart for Sunday School.)  If people can’t come on Wednesdays, can we afford for our church to not have a well-attended prayer time?

We concluded our study on Ephesians gathering the entire church in a circle in true Baptist Mid-Missions fashion (story for another day), praying for us a church to be united in being faithful servants of the Gospel, of God and of each other.

All the great works of God since Pentecost and even before have been bathed in prayer.

3. Share Christ

Ephesians 6:19-20
One of the most frustrating things is to evangelize until we’re blue in the face and yet not see conversions!  God must have heard my prayers of frustration…this summer we had two unexpected blessings.  In one of our “Sunday school prayer times” I prayed with a young teen in our church.  We will call him David. I asked him about his faith and he prayed to be saved on the spot!  Even more than that, in July Melodee and I had the joy of being together with Noah when he prayed to receive Christ as his Savior!  It just doesn’t get better than that!
This, plus the reminder of Ephesians 6:19-20 has convinced us further that we need to pray for boldness in our witnessing.
Every day we are out with people we love and care about, and we desire for them to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Every day people are going to hell because Jesus Christ is not their Lord and Savior. 

Every day people are hopelessly trying to get to God by their own strength.

PLEASE PRAY FOR BOLDNESS!!
Drop everything else and pray for boldness in sharing our faith!
Pray for opportunities to meet with unbelievers to study God’s word.
Pray for open doors.

Thank you for what you do to make a difference here in Italy!

Jumping in Head First Without Losing Our Heads

Seven things in our life that ABSOLUTELY need your prayers this month.

Psalm 127:1-2
    [1] Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
[2] It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
(ESV)

Yesterday we went to a park with our children to take advantage of the last days of Summerfall (word I just invented to describe our warm October weather).
Noah and Eva have become much more courageous after this summer in America with slides and swings and climbing things.

Cousins at the park

Cousins at the park

Suddenly, I saw Noah, my normally cautious firstborn, do something I had never seen him do…slide head first at rapid descent down a steep plastic tube with somewhat of a drop at the end.  He was proud of himself for stopping before he fully ejected into the unknown below.  You should have seen the smirk on his face!

Mom and Dad were a little less impressed…he has a good brain and we hope to keep it inside his head.  And keeping his new jeans nice for school would be a plus.

Quite frankly, Melodee and I feel a bit the same way about jumping into this fall; maybe you feel the same way.  There are more opportunities than there is time, and we want to be wise about how we commit.  That’s why I’ve dropped everything to write you.  We need backup!

Can I ask you to pray for seven things?

Conference1. This weekend we have a Bible conference to encourage the church at large with the help our good friends of the Italian Theological Academy.

2. Our ministry has gotten really busy already this fall with Young Couples group, Choir preparations, Staff and Church leader training, Preaching, Discipleship, Melodee teaching English and Piano (she already got to share the Gospel in her first English lesson!!).

3. On a personal level we are trying not to over commit with family, but both Noah (6) and Eva (4) are taking a music class and we’re debating on signing Noah up for a sport to help the arches in his feet (at his pediatrician’s suggestion).

4. Thursday I head to Como to have my regular checkup with my oncologist…it’s an all-day trip there and back for a fifteen minute visit, but well worth it!  Pray that I don’t miss any trains and that the appointment will go well.

5. Pray for the salvation of the many people we are in contact with…We share the gospel so often, but there are so many people to reach and so little time!  Pray for Holy Spirit’s work!

6. Pray for us as we are praying about the completion of this church plant and about where God would move us, and that God would provide Italians to go plant the next church with us!  There are so many cities and towns in Umbria still unreached by the Gospel!

7. Pray for good stewardship of time, energy, money and all our other resources!

I know that your time is precious.  Thank you for taking time to read this and especially for praying.  There is nothing in the universe that God uses more than your prayers to do His will in this unreached heart of Italy.

Unreached Umbria

Love,
Jon, Melodee, Noah and Eva
P.S. Have you been on our website lately?  We have made some fun changes!
You also might want to check out Dann and Liz’s cool new website, with a few recipes to boot!

Making new friends, reconnecting with old ones

Greetings from Ohio!
This week is the halfway mark of our summer furlough.

We spent this week at the Baptist Mid-Missions annual conference in Elyria. What a great culmination to two months of blessings!

How have we been blessed?

I’m glad you asked!

1. Reconnecting

Reconnecting with all of you who are passionately praying and giving to the ministry in Italy.

The hardest part is always saying goodbye, knowing it will be a long time before we meet again.

2. Making new friends

We are always excited to see how God is working in people’s lives. This week for example we met the brother of a friend we knew from college!

Even Noah made a new BFF!

3. Sharing the spiritual need of Italy.

Ultimately we are here because of our great burden to raise awareness for the great need and harvest awaiting in Italy.

One family (you know who you are!) drove two hours to hear us share!

Tomorrow night we will be speaking to a group of concerned Christians in Columbus, OH.

We have even started scheduling for next summer!

We appreciate our prayers and your faithful giving. God is so good to us, allowing us to have a small part in His perfect plan.

The Whitmans