Birthday presents: early, on time or belated?

 

Noah's birthday joyWe all love birthday presents. 
Personally, I don’t even care if they are early, on time or belated.  I just love a good surprise!
Most people like to celebrate their birthday, one way or another.
(I say most because I have discovered that there are a few out there that really don’t love birthdays…I can’t say I can relate!)

I have had many memorable birthdays, but there are two that are related to my adventures as a cancer patient. 
One was a belated present.  A second one was a day early.

I remember my birthday in 2010 like it was yesterday.
I was still healing from my first tongue surgery. It was a perfect day for grilling.  As I savored my steak with family I just had this feeling…there was something wrong in my tongue.
The next day I got the call we had not hoped for.  The lesion that they had taken out of my tongue was squamous cell carcinoma. Classic tongue cancer.
They scheduled me on the spot for another surgery because they were afraid it could have spread to other parts of my tongue, or worse, to my lymph nodes.
This time they took out more tongue and most of the lymph nodes on that side of my neck, leaving the rather conspicuous scar that I admire when I shave.
God allowed that call to come one day after my birthday. You could call it a belated birthday present.  I was able to enjoy my birthday without considering all the ramifications of life after cancer diagnosis.

Six years later here I was, waiting for more news.
How ironic… another birthday diagnosis! This time it was the day before my birthday.
Dr. Riccio is a hard man to read.  He knows how to joke around, but when it’s time for the important stuff, you couldn’t find a more serious person.
He felt around my mouth and neck silently, then re-read the ultrasound report, went over six years of charts. Now we awaited the conclusion.

He finally spoke up after a few seconds of eternity. Here goes… *Gulp*
“Six years have passed since your first diagnosis. Only the first tumor was invasive.  The other three tumors were “in situ” tumors , therefore non-invasive by definition.
Since it’s been over five years since your first and only case of invasive cancer, you are considered statistically and clinically in remission!
Your lymph nodes were a concern, but both the ultrasound and the checkup confirm that they are just reacting to a less than perfectly functioning system.  After all, we can try to fix you up, but your tongue, salivary glands and lymph nodes work poorly. Only God creates things to work the right way!”

I am not sure what excited me more: hearing that the odds of a recurrence are slimmer every day, or that he acknowledged our Creator as the only one that truly can do things the right way!

So what now?
We will continue regular checkups.  But now only twice a year.  My job is to always be on the lookout for what is going on in my tongue and neck for any suspicious changes.

One last blessing from the day.  Probably the most important one.
I thank God for good health news.  It seems that for the time being, death is less imminent. Unfortunately, sooner or later, unless Jesus returns, death will take us.  As the common saying goes: “it’s like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic”.
But oh, that God would use us to bring souls into eternity with Christ!
There is more celebration in heaven for one sinner who repents than for ninety-nine good health reports!

Please…don’t stop praying for us! We pray that we can make the most of every opportunity.


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What are your mission fields?

Before we get in today’s topic, we have an Urgent Prayer request:

It looks like my request for Italian citizenship is in its final evaluation phase.

Please pray!! 

Gaining Italian citizenship would:
1. Guarantee our stay here for as long as possible.
2. Allow me to continue to minister here freely for as long as possible.
3. Allow me to reside in the country I have known as home for my whole life!
4. Permit me to be a dual citizen.

Please pray!!

kids on our streetOne of my favorite moments of the day is driving Noah to preschool.

We talk about what we’re thankful for, I try to model sanctification though my driving (a daily challenge), and I pray for his day.
Last week on our way to school, out of the blue, Noah said: “I want Jesus to be my Savior.” Way to melt a Daddy’s heart!
Of course then he changed the subject to elephants… But I’m so glad he’s thinking!
The more I think about it, the more I think what a tragedy it would be to reach the whole world and neglect the mission field that is closest to home! In some ways you could say that there are several different mission fields that we are called to.  Some are closer than others.

 

What are your mission fields?

In 1st Timothy 2:1Paul reminds us: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,”  He concludes this thought saying (v.4): “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

 

It’s hard to imagine a time in my life when things around the world have seemed less certain.  The world is hurting, but they are looking for solace in all the wrong places.  It is our responsibility to point them to the right place!  While we can talk to them until we are blue in the face, God is the one who opens hearts to respond. So if you’re wondering where your evangelism should start, it should be with  prayer.

 

VillelmaVWe recently lost one of the great prayer warriors in our church.  Villelma, well into her nineties, was one our charter members.  She would pray every day for all of our members, present and past, missionaries and visitors. We have never known the church without her prayers.  Pray that many will heed that sacred call — in Italy, in America and around the world!

Will you carry that torch?

Baptisms!

This morning I got an unexpected call from Roberto. We were supposed to meet this afternoon for discipleship. He couldn’t come because he is sick. Immediately I asked him: “Will you be OK for tomorrow?” His answer: “I’ll be there tomorrow, even if I have 40º degree fever (104º F)”.
You see, tomorrow is not your average Sunday for Roberto…he and nine other people are scheduled to be baptized! He is so excited you would think he was getting married!

teaching

Dann teaching. Roberto is the first on the left.

Tomorrow is the culmination of months of preparation, study, reflection, prayer, and yes, even selection. For the first time aided by our new deacons in the interview process, we are happy to present these candidates to the congregation and to their unsaved relatives and friends. They will stand in front of a crown of potentially 150 people to share their faith in Christ and follow him through the waters of baptism.

Honestly, our part has been minimal. God has done the saving, the believers in our church have done the witnessing and my colleague/brother-in-law/friend Dann Ransom has done most of the preparation.
God is so good!

Please take time today to pray for these baptisms.

Pray for:
1. Clear testimonies and preaching.
2. Good health, especially for Roberto.
3. Good attendance.
4. More people to come to faith because of tomorrow.
5. For God to be exalted in His church!

Thank you for taking time and being part of this great event through your prayers, through your giving, though sharing with others the vision of what God is doing in Italy!

Jon, Melodee, Noah and Eva

Whitmans Christmas Portrait 2015
P.S. Make sure you connect with us through Facebook and Twitter too for quick prayer requests and news throughout the month!

Three undeniable answers to your prayers for Italy

Last night, as I led the deacon training time, I looked around the room and was struck by how committed and engaged these men were, even at 10:30 pm!
God truly does work, despite the challenges and even through the challenges he brings about in our life and ministry.

I apologize if in my last letter you sensed desperation or dismay.  My goal was to help you pray more earnestly, and certainly not to make you feel sorry for us!

Someone said: “If you don’t feel inadequate or overwhelmed you are not working at something only God can do!”

God is doing things only He can do here. Here are
Three undeniable answers to your prayers for Italy:

1. You prayed for Noah’s adjustment.
Noah and EvaEvery morning on our way to Noah’s preschool, I take time to pray with Noah for his day.  One thing he ALWAYS asks me to pray for is that the new teacher will not yell at him (She is an old school Italian educator.).  Today after I prayed, he mumbled something from the back seat.  When I didn’t understand, he got a little frustrated with me: “I want to pray too!”  If that does not melt a parent’s heart, what does?  God is working in Noah’s heart!

2. You prayed for the trials of missionaries to Italy.

  • The Standridges and the the other missionary family I mentioned are both scheduled to return!  Please pray for them!
  • Sunday my Dad will begin his regular preaching, just in time for the Christmas season!

Praise God for working in their lives!

3. You prayed for our ministry.
(Here is where the letter risks getting too long!!)
Witness:
funeralMonday I was able to read Psalm 121 and pray at the graveside of the aunt of Serenella.  (Serenella is the sister in Christ that found me the Oncologist in Milan, just as a frame of reference.)
It’s remarkable that God allowed me to share at all. Just moments before, at the funeral, the priest has verbally abused Serenella’s family for trying to “lead this woman astray from the one catholic faith!”

Youth:
youth puzzle activityGod is working in their hearts.

  • A few weeks ago, the youth hosted the church on our regular Friday night  and we put together 2000 Bible calendars to give out in the Christmas season!  It’s a new record!

 

  • Youth puzzle activityWe have been studying shorter books of the Bible every Friday evening and have seen them get more engaged.  One girl has also been bringing a friend!

 

 

Maturing the church to independence:

After so many years of sacrifices, we are making great strides toward our long sought after goal of forming an autonomous local Baptist church.

Jon preaching

  • We have begun monthly deacon training meetings.
  • We have started small groups in the homes as a way to equip leaders and foster community.
  • We are training more worship leaders.
  • Melodee has almost completed her second course of music training for members.
  • For our Christmas program we translated and are working on Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus (praise or prayer request?).  Just a few years ago we couldn’t even get the choir to harmonize!

There is so much to be grateful for!  

Exciting things are not happening  despite the trials, but through the trials!  Walls are being knocked down (literally, as the church building is undergoing the next step of the long-term remodeling process) because God is doing so much!

Do you realize that in God’s sovereign plan he has used YOUR prayers and your giving to make all of this happen?
Thank you for making a difference!

When the grand finale is only the beginning…

One of the things I always enjoyed doing growing up was preparing and performing in band concerts. 

One of the hardest days was the day after the concert.  All of the preparation and emotion and celebration…and then it is over.  You’ve probably been there, either in music, or in sports, or in preaching, or in school, or in just about anything big you have prepared for.
Fortunately, unless you are hanging it up, there is more to be experienced.

Our VBS grand finale certainly was exciting, but God does not take time off, so we are also excited to see what He has in store for us now.

Before I share more about summer opportunities, let me share how God blessed us on VBS Sunday (a.k.a. the Grand Finale).

VBS 2015 Sunday Crowd

VBS 2015 Sunday Crowd

VBS Sunday
I took this picture with my back to the door…literally.  I don’t know the exact count of guests, but I am not sure we could have fit more people!

Daniel preached a great evangelistic message, and the children continued to be excited about the things they had learned and shared with their parents.  Even this past Sunday some of the children came back with their parents!  Thank you for praying!!

Most of the children were unchurched.  Almost all of them were invited by someone, despite our efforts with fliers and publicity.

Now what?
You may be curious to know what the rest of the summer looks like (including the long overdue health update).

Jon and MelodeeBible studies and visits
We have connected with several unbelievers who have asked for Bible studies.  One of Noah’s classmates’ dads has asked to bring their son to Sunday School with Noah!  Another unsaved friend has asked to spend time reading the Bible together.

Music Outreach
Trying to keep my horn playing up and getting out in the community as well, I have started getting calls to go play in symphonic bands, some at a very amateur level, but others on a more semi-professional level.
I have only had one concert so far, but have already been able to share with a musician friend of mine.
The pressure is on, both musically and evangelistically!  PLEASE PRAY!

Whitmans in S. FortunatoDeacon Training Preparation
We have found an excellent Christian translator for our Deacon Training manual.  Now we just need to get it ready to be used and go for it!!

Health Needs
I thank the Lord that it’s been over a year since my last cancer surgery in Milan.   Sundays are the most painful day for me.  I can tell that I do a lot more speaking.  But I thank God that a little discomfort is all I have been experiencing!  Please continue to pray for me as I need to go back to Milan for my checkup!

Thank you for praying!  I hope you have enjoyed reading more about all God is doing here.


Our Top Seven Prayer Requests

1. For the salvation of the children from VBS and their families as well as good follow-up.

2. That I can start reading the Bible with my unsaved friend.

3. That Noah’s classmate and his family will start coming to church.

4. For boldness in evangelizing the musicians I come into contact with and good playing so that I can keep evangelizing them!

5. For leadership training in our church and that we can be ready and able to train our deacons in the fall.

Roman and Vincenzo

Roman and Vincenzo

6. For good health and wisdom with dealing with what comes our way, especially with my cancer.

7. For Christians in Greece. We were supposed to send Roman and Vincenzo this summer to help in a camp, but because of the situation they had to cancel the camp.