Starting the year with a bang!

 

Happy New Year!!
In Italy the New Year celebration is a big deal.  It is traditional to have a succulent meal with multiple appetizers, at least two kinds of pasta, two side dishes (one being lentils cooked with sausage), two kinds of meats, and in some areas fish.  The meal usually starts after eight o’clock and takes a break when the clock strikes midnight.  Then there is dessert and a good espresso coffee, games and much laughter and joy.  Christians then gather to pray together.

One thing that is never missing is a continuous display of fireworks big and small in all directions (We don’t celebrate the fourth of July, so this is it!).
In some southern areas, such as Naples, they literally celebrate with a bang — with gun shooting and home made explosive devices.  Needless to say, many people end up in the emergency room with gunshot wounds and other injuries.  All in all, Italians know how to start the new year off with a bang!Fireworks

Our new year has started with a bang as well.  
We thank God for the opportunity to spend Christmas and New Year’s with Melodee’s parents in Florida and to see our kids enjoy being with their grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins that they rarely see.  Eva was able to be on American soil for the first time.
airplane ride

Other than spending a day in the emergency room for a swollen tongue, our time was uneventful in all the right ways.

Now we are back in Italy. As we count it a privilege to serve God here, we immediately sensed the pressure of the important job we are called to and the spiritual battle we are in.

 

Here are a few examples of things that you can pray for:

1. Hernia Surgery
I wish I could say I am getting back to work, but tuesday I got the call I had been waiting for since June… and Thursday morning I had hernia surgery (maybe moving too many pianos?).    Everybody is so patient with me!  I feel so guilty having to take more time off, but God knows exactly what He is doing!

2. Radio Ministry Challenge
We have not one, but two radio stations that have invaded our frequency, covering our signal even here in Perugia.  Pray for us as we go back to the lawyers to see what we can do.  It’s another one of those David and Goliath situations…but we all know who won in that story!

3. Deacons
On February 1st we have our “Vision Meeting” to officially vote in the three men who were chosen as deacons.  Pray for them and their families, as we have already seen some spiritual battles in their lives spring up form nowhere since the announcement.  Also pray for us as we prepare the deacon training manual.

4. Youth Ministry
Pray that we can continue to develop leaders and teachers, whoever they may be.  We are still looking for someone to be mentored into the teacher/leader position.

5. Baptist Mid-Missions European Enrichment Conference in Malta
In mid-February we will be traveling to Malta to participate in a wonderful conference with most of the Baptist Mid-Missions missionaries of Europe.  Pastor Patrick Odle from First Baptist in Elyria and Pastor Ed Sears from Grace Baptist in Winston Salem will be encouraging us through the Word.  Pray especially for me as I have been asked to lead the worship time, something I love doing (though I usually do it in Italian!).

6. Evangelism
God has been giving us some incredible opportunities to share the Gospel with people.
For obvious reasons, personal details have been omitted.

7. Please continue to pray for us in our teaching and equipping ministries, that God would use us.  
Please pray for my parents too who, after almost 45 years in Italy, are having problems renewing their residence permit.  As you can imagine, we are all quite concerned, but we look forward to God’s provision.

8. In February I also return to Milan for my cancer checkup.  
My oncologist says I am “special”.  (I’m not sure it is a compliment, though.)  He says he has never seen anyone with such mysterious symptoms.  Honestly, seeing what some people have gone through with this disease, I am very thankful that I am a bit different!

Thank you for taking time to read this “brief” note.  As usual, it was supposed to be short, but there is so much going on, this was the best I could do!
As my father-in-law, also a pastor says: “I can’t believe we can have this much fun and still get paid for it”.  Thank you for being with us through your prayers, through your giving, through just being our friends.  We are the richest of all people to be able to have you in our lives and share this common treasure of the Gospel.  You are a blessing to us, and we pray that we can be a blessing to you.

Family Portrait

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In good hands with a good God

 

God is good.  All the time.  You know it’s true.  If it weren’t true, then nothing else He said would be true.  God is everything he says He is or nothing at all! He would not be reliable! But God is true and God IS reliable!

Here are a few examples:

Choir rehearsal

Choir rehearsal

1. Cancer:

My tongue surgery is scheduled for April 24th, with admittance on the 23rd.  I will be in the hospital for at least a week.  But being after Easter allows me to direct the choir and enjoy family time! I have also been asked by the other pastors to preach.  It is both a great privilege and a great responsibility.

Dealing with cancer has helped me ask myself: “If this were my last message, what would I want to preach?”  I have decided to preach a message on why the resurrection of Jesus gives me a solid foundation for my faith.

2. Antonietta:

My land lady, Antonietta,  has started listening to Radio Luce, our radio outreach.  We continue to have spiritual conversations with her, as well as her husband Ernesto, who a few days ago admitted to me: “I think I am going to die soon.”  He really didn’t have a clear explanation as to why he feels that way, but it gave me the opportunity to share of the hope and truth we live by.

At the game dinner in Montebello

At the game dinner in Montebello

3. Over-priced grocery store:

We all have to admit that we have an over-priced grocery/convenience store that we go to when we are in a pinch.  I go to one in the nearby town of Montebello. I have had many opportunities to share the Gospel there, and we give them Bible calendars every year.  One of the deli ladies gave us some of her home made Wild Boar Pasta sauce!  Then she invited us to come to a social meal where she was cooking!  Another lady opened up to me in line at the cash register.  She said that she never goes to mass because the ladies that go to mass are the same ones who steal from her store.  I share the gospel and even *gulp* gave her a tract.

4. Delegating:

One of the blessings of my illness has been to have to delegate things I love doing.  The one thing I love doing is leading worship.  I finally asked my substitutes, Jeremy and Vincenzo, if they would be willing to lead even when I am in church!  Another brother, Giuseppe, plans the worship service.  Now I just need to work on training deacons and preachers!

5. Provision:

horse

Noah found an interesting horse on one of our city errands!

We continue to marvel at God’s provision, despite the increasing costs of life and health care needs.  I have had one of our churches decide to allocate monthly money toward my cancer-fighting supplements.  We have had people give me money for my frequent trips to the cancer center in Milan.  Our insurance company promises 100% reimbursement for my hospital treatments…more than they would do if we resided in the States!

God is at work.  We are unworthy of His goodness toward us, and even of the kindness many of you show to us.  Please pray for God to be glorified and for much fruit in all we do!

Eva smiles

Eva smiles

We close with a new addition to our website: our most recent presentation.  It is a slightly updated version of the presentation we shared with you last time we were in America.  Once it leaves this page you will always be able to find it on our “Why Italy” page.

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Christmas in Italy

Here are the most frequently asked questions about Christmas in Italy.

When and how long is Christmas?
How do they decorate for Christmas?
What about the Christmas tree?
What do they eat for Christmas?
Do they have any traditional Christmas songs?

When and how long is Christmas?

Christmas in Italy goes  only for twelve days from December 24th through January 6th.

Traditionally, the first day of Christmas really is Christmas, not Christmas Eve, because the celebrations started with midnight mass.  In some parts of Italy they do celebrate with a very special dinner, but most people celebrate Christmas day.

Christmas day is spent with family.  In fact, they have a saying: “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi”, which translated means: “Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you like.”

The day after Christmas is also very important.  It called “Santo Stefano” (Saint Steven), In English we have a reminder of the festivity in the first line of the song Good King Wenceslas: “Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,…”

The last day of Christmas is the Epiphany, January 6th,  – day that celebrates the arrival of the magi to bring gifts to the King.  It is also called the day of the “Befana” because a “good” witch visits children, complete with broom and a bag full of gifts.  Good children receive sweets, but bad children receive coal!

Today Christmas in Italy has become more commercialized as in many parts of the United States and Europe.  There are many Christmas lights and bells ringing.

 

How do they decorate for Christmas?

They are not big on decorating their houses for Christmas, but even the smallest of towns will have festive Christmas lights adorning the streets, and most likely a Christmas star on top of the church’s bell tower.  Most people today will have a Christmas tree and a Presepe (see the following discussion).

 

What about the Christmas tree?

Traditionally the Italian people did not know much about Santa Claus, or holly or Christmas trees.

Italians do have Christmas trees now, though in the past they were more into the  Nativity scene. Legend has it that the nativity scene, (alternately presepe, presepio or crèche) was invented by Saint Francis near here in Assisi in the early 1200s.

These nativity scenes, which are very elaborate, going beyond the Biblical story to depict medieval peasant scenes, with hundreds of people gathered to worship the holy family.

Though Italians traditionally have celebrated a “religious” Christmas, this does not mean that they celebrate a Christ-filled Christmas.

The traditional image of Christmas is of the “perpetual Virgin” Mary (Madonna), holding the helpless Christ-child (Gesù Bambino).  Gesù Bambino was the one who would bring gifts to children.

Mary, however always grasps people attention, and is celebrated and prayed to in their Christmas masses.  She and the saints are asked to intercede on behalf of the people, who in their view are not worthy to approach God or Jesus directly.

People pay offerings to light candles, which are supposed to help their dead family members to move more swiftly from purgatory to heaven.

 

What do they eat for Christmas?

Every region of Italy differs in their specialty.  On the coast they prefer dishes that have fish in them.  In Umbria, where we live, women start days before Christmas preparing cappelletti, a fresh pasta filled with meat and usually served in a meat broth.

Often a cappone, a kind of chicken, is used for the broth.  Pasta al forno (pasta cooked in the oven) is also very popular.

The most famous Pasta al Forno of course is Lasagna!

Traditional desserts vary by region, but some of the most common ones are Panettone (fruit cake), Pandoro and Torrone.  Chocolate is also very prevalent today, especially for us, since Perugia is home of the most famous Italian chocolate factory.

 

Do they have any traditional Christmas songs?

The most traditional Christmas song in Italy is “Tu Scendi dalle Stelle“.                               Here are the translated words (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tu_scendi_dalle_stelle)

From starry skies descending,
Thou comest, glorious King,
A manger low Thy bed,
In winter’s icy sting;

O my dearest Child most holy,
Shudd’ring, trembling in the cold!
Great God, Thou lovest me!
What suff’ring Thou didst bear,
That I near Thee might be!

Thou art the world’s Creator,
God’s own and true Word,
Yet here no robe, no fire
For Thee, Divine Lord.

Dearest, fairest, sweetest Infant,
Dire this state of poverty.
The more I care for Thee,
Since Thou, o Love Divine,
Will’st now so poor to be.

Traditionally it is sung with the accompaniment of a zampogna, which is the Italian version of a bagpipe.

Have we missed some important ones? Do you have any more questions? Let us know!

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Thank You For Praying!

Thank you for praying!!

Here is a quick update about the things you prayed for:

Youth Bible Study

Youth Bible Study

1. The Soccer outreach – We know of at least one person who gave his life to Christ after the tournament.  Praise God!  Dann gave a very clear Gospel presentation.


2. Jonathan’s preaching and teaching went quite well.

3.Our Second Monthly Men’s Meeting

Men's meeting

Our Men's meetings always end with a good Italian meal together!

Our Second Monthly Men’s Meeting was

Sunday. Here too the Gospel was presented.  I had one person come up to me for further clarifications regarding the message he heard!  I offered to start meeting with him on a regular basis and to do a one-on-one Bible Study with him.

 

Here are a few more requests, since God blessed us so much because of your prayers:

1. Pray for the group that his coming next week from Summit Baptist Bible Church, in Pennsylvania.

2. Pray for strength and boldness in presenting the Gospel.

3. Pray for the auction to purchase the land across the road from the church.

4. Pray for Lucio’s housing situation.  They were promised that they would have been in their new house by January, but there continue to be challenges to the completion of the work.

5. Pray that at all times we can have our eyes pointed on Christ.

Noah

Noah getting ready for his first non-milk meal

Thank you for your faithful prayers!

Jonathan and Melodee and Noah

 

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Report on our Valentines Banquet Outreach

Valentines Banquet 2011Thank you for the many who communicated their commitment to pray for our Valentines Banquet Outreach…and thank you most of all for praying!!!  We had a great evening.

Here are a few highlights:

  • There were 90 people present between workers and guests.  If you consider that our regular Sunday attendance is 130 people, that was an extraordinary result.
  • Our youth received a lot of compliments for their joyful and excellent service.
  • Our guest speakers, Bill and Maria Teresa Standridge did a great job presenting the gospel in a way relevant to couples.
  • My aunt Jeanne watched Noah, so Melodee and I could attend!
  • The food was amazing, which is incredibly important if you want to reach Italians…no chips and Sloppy Joe would do in this culture!  🙂
  • And most importantly….THE GOSPEL WAS CLEARLY PRESENTED.
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