It’s early Sunday morning. It looks like another lazy summer day here at the gates of Perugia. It’s so quiet I hear a dove coo, and then flutter away.
I couldn’t think of a more peaceful start to my day. The sun is rising over the steeples, I hear a bell in the distance marking the time.
But all is not peace.
The people of Perugia are on the verge of stepping into a Christless eternity.
As most people around the world, the people of Perugia seek to ignore the signals of their demise. Perugia is full of wonderful little town festivals during the summer, with the best local food you can imagine and plenty of folk dancing. It’s enough to temporarily drown out their sorrows for a life without hope and without God.
But tomorrow morning they will wake up and the burden is still there.
- Their soccer gods failed them completely during the World cup, ranking one of the worst teams of the tournament.
- The economy gives them no hope, with an all-time record unemployment.
- Their religion gives them no hope and no certainty.
In fact, the word hope itself in the Italian language speaks of uncertainty, not of certainty.
As I talked last week with Maria, a very catholic woman, I saw how proud she was of the humility demonstrated by her favorite friar because he told his flock that he doesn’t know where he is going when he dies and he needs their prayers to move him toward heaven.
As I think of what Maria told me, there is turmoil in my heart as well.
How do we reach the thousands of damned souls, even within eyesight of my balcony, with the message of hope that only Christ’s atonement can give?
There is hope, and there is certainty. That hope is in Christ, that certainty is in Jesus, and nobody else.
And God is certainly at work in Perugia, Italy.
We have seen several new doors open to the Gospel within the last month:
“So what can I do?” I can almost hear your voice echo in my ears…
When we are overwhelmed, when we are weary, when we are confused by all the opportunities coming our way, there is nothing more vital than the prayers of God’s people uplifting us, providentially moving the Spirit to accomplish His work through His unworthy, ineffective servants.
- Pray for the people who we are reaching out to with the hope of the Gospel.
Pray for Claudio, my dear brother who has accompanied me to most of my oncologist visits to Milan, broke his femur, had an embolism in his lung and had to be put on oxygen. Praise the Lord, because after a near death encounter, he is making a comeback. Most of all, pray for his wife Donatella , who has been able to share the Gospel with many people in the hospital.
- Pray for the work in Spoleto, which is only a little more than a dream at this point. Christine and Maddie, Romanian women living in Spoleto, an hour away, have come to faith and have asked us for help because they do not have an evangelical church in their area. My Dad and Giuseppe have been going to Spoleto every Thursday to minister in the high security prison there, so they were able to meet with these women as well. It reminds me so much of Acts 16, when Paul received the “Macedonian call”. In Philippi it was first of all through Lydia, a godly foreign woman, that Paul’s ministry in Europe began.
- Pray for the nomination and training of deacons at the Centro Evangelico Battista.
- Pray for the training of Italian pastors, Sunday School teachers, worship leaders and families.
- Pray for my uncertain health. My health is stable at the moment, but not progressing.
- Pray for our uncertain residence permits. We applied for a permanent residence for Melodee, but unless God intervenes, it will probably be rejected.
- Pray for more workers in the harvest and the ability for new missionaries to reside here legally.
- Pray for boldness in sharing the Gospel in our families, with our neighbors, friends, countrymen (I hear a slight echo of Shakespeare in this statement).
- Pray for good management of our time, ministries, money, health, spiritual health.
Pray most of all that Italians will give up their false sense of security in exchange for the peace that only God can give.
If you have prayed for these few things, you have done more than we could ask for and we can only thank you and praise God because His answer is sure to come.
Thank you for praying!
I thank the Lord that everything went according to plan.
There was only one tense moment for me when I was on the surgery table and the surgeon asked me: “What are we removing today?”
Shouldn’t he know that? Hopefully I sent him in the right direction!
Tomorrow I have to take my piece of tongue to the lab for the biopsy. The lab is only open in the morning, and they don’t send it there directly. That also seemed kind of odd…
I thank God that I have total coverage for all that they are doing for me related to this illness at least until 2017. Of course I hope they stop chipping away at my tongue….I’m starting to run out!
Thank you for the overwhelming encouragement and obvious work of prayer. Please continue to pray for wisdom regarding decisions for my care and that I can heal in order to continue to minister here!
Here are the most frequently asked questions about Christmas in Italy.
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!
I have heard nothing but good feedback regarding the book.
You can find it here if you want to read a sample, check it our or perhaps buy a digital copy. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009KTSBD0/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_alp_dleBqb0FA0XPK
If you have already read it and care to endorse it you can do that too.
One of my goals for furlough is to translate it into Italian, because I think it is a story worth reading.
Two chapters down, forty to go!