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

When Peace is Nothing but an Illusion

Perugia, seen from our house

Perugia, seen from our house

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…

PLEASE PRAY.
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.

  1. Pray for the people who we are reaching out to with the hope of the Gospel.
  2. Claudio

    Claudio

    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.

  3. 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 Spoletoasked 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.
  4. Pray for the nomination and training of deacons at the Centro Evangelico Battista.
  5. Pray for the training of Italian pastors, Sunday School teachers, worship leaders and families.
  6. Pray for my uncertain health. My health is stable at the moment, but not progressing.
  7. Pray for our uncertain residence permits.  We applied for a permanent residence for Melodee, but unless God intervenes, it will probably be rejected.
  8. Pray for more workers in the harvest and the ability for new missionaries to reside here legally.
  9. 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).
  10. 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.

Noah & Eva

Noah & Eva

Still in Milan

 

God doesn’t always answer the way we would have imagined.

Wednesday morning, as I was reading my devotions, the Lord put some verses on my heart.  In Psalm 77:1 the Psalmist describes his situation:

I cry aloud to God,
        aloud to God, and he will hear me.
    In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
        in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
        my soul refuses to be comforted.

There is no description of a deliverance in this Psalm, but it struck me that the turning point was in verses 11-13, where he affirms:

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
        yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
    I will ponder all your work,
        and meditate on your mighty deeds.
    Your way, O God, is holy.
        What god is great like our God?

What struck me was that the Psalmist did not reflect on his deliverance…but on the fact that God had delivered in the past. Reflecting on God’s perfect holy ways and on his power was enough to give him comfort.

Little did I know just how soon I would need that truth.

Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori

Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori

Our train left at 5:45 pm from Milan.  Around 5:35 my mom and I climbed onto our train, anxious to get back to our families.  As I lifted the suitcase onto the overhead compartment I felt something warm and different in my mouth. I sensed that something was wrong, so I turned to my mom and to the other passengers with me.  They all looked white as sheets.  I looked at my reflection and I could not see my teeth (remember, my mouth was still numb from the operation).

I touched my mouth and got a handful of blood.  I ran to the bathroom and tried to rinse the blood out.  No water came out of the faucet, so all I could do was spit.  As soon as I spit my mouth was full of blood again. I tried the other bathroom.  No difference.  Another sink full of blood.  Panicking, we decided to get back off the train before it left for a 6 hour trip (it was the last train of the night for Perugia).  My mouth kept filling with more and more blood.  I began swallowing it, because I didn’t know where to put it.  I couldn’t rinse out my mouth, so I didn’t know where the bleeding was coming from.  At this rate, I figured, I would pass out before I got to a bathroom in the station.

The police called for an ambulance, but it felt like forever before they came.  I kept losing more and more blood.  Finally a policeman encouraged me to spit the blood on the ground.  Then I remembered all those movies where they would put pressure on an artery to stop the bleeding, so I stuck my thumb on my tongue and kept it there until I could get it checked.  The ambulance came and brought me to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.

By the time a doctor saw me, the bleeding had stopped.  In fact, he couldn’t even understand where I bled out.  Everything seemed to be in place.  We got in touch with my tongue doctor, and they decided to keep me for a couple nights in observation at this little hospital (the cancer center doesn’t have an emergency room).

As they brought me to my room, my mom asked if she could stay the night with me.  The person bringing us was categorical: she would have to leave the hospital immediately after dropping my luggage off.  I prayed in my heart to God:  “Lord!  Where are you??  I haven’t seen my wife and children in over a week.  We missed the last train of the night. I may have to be operated on again, including the wretched feeding tube. I almost bled out and now they want to send my mom away in the middle of the night!”

It was then that Psalm 77:1,11-13 came back to mind. “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.”   I figured God had given me those verses for a reason so I forced myself to focus on the fact that God had been mighty in my life to this point.  After all, the present seemed pretty dismal.  Even now, as I write this I can’t help tearing up as I think about it.

The nurses brought us to my room, where there was already another patient.  Then something happened…the one nurse looked with compassion on my mom and changed his mind, bringing us to another room, where there was only one bed and a recliner sofa.  They attached me to an IV and brought me a bowl of milk and even gave my mom a sandwich, and brought sheets and a pillow for the recliner for her to sleep on.

Before we went to sleep Wednesday night all I could do was look back amazed at how God had taken a situation of utter desperation and turned it around,  giving us above and beyond what we needed.  Once again.

Duomo of Milan with Claudio

Duomo of Milan with Claudio

Needless to say, I am still in Milan. Friday, Claudio from my church came to trade spots with my mom (he just happened to be a little over an hour away visiting relatives!)  Friday morning I went back to my cancer center, where my doctors checked me at regular intervals.

Claudio and I checked into a hotel near the hospital.  Today my doctor came again to check on me, even though it’s his day off.

Monday I have one last checkup, then Alessio and Roberto from our church will come pick us up and bring us home, Lord willing.

Every checkup has been perfect.  They have no idea what happened to me.  And I have been on strict orders to take it easy and relax. I have not even attempted to pick up a suitcase! We have walked a bit, I have rested some, I saw Milan’s main square for the first time in my life.

It feels like the calm after the storm.  I wrote this little poem as I reflected on this moment of stillness that God is giving me after my near-death experience.

Lord, help me not forget.
When the storm is over,
When gone is all that tore
  at my very life and breath.
Lord help me not forget.
 

Heading Out! Three quick prayer requests for my cancer-fighting adventures

 

Can you believe it? Tomorrow is the day I go to Milan!

Around 4 AM my Dad will take my Mom and me to Terontola, the closest train hub station. From there we will be taking a train to Florence, and from there another train to Milan Central Station, where we will take a taxi to the hospital.
By 9:30 AM we should be there!

Here are three ways you can pray:

  1. Traveling mercies. I can’t believe my Mom is willing to spend a whole week in the hospital with me! It is a long way from home!
  2. Melodee and the kids. Another blessing is that Melodee’s mom Anne surprised us a few days ago and let us know she was coming to help out while I am away! She arrived today! And just in time too…Melodee has had high fever now for a few days. (Also, please pray I don’t catch Melodee’s bug!)
  3. Surgery on Thursday and recovery for a week or so. Surgery has been confirmed for Thursday. Then recovery, biopsy of the tissue and evaluation of what I need to do next.

And about our Easter…
How was your Easter?
Ours was amazing! We had a full church, many unbelievers attended, the choir did a great job and my message went well! Praise God!

Thank you for all your encouraging notes, prayers, gifts! We couldn’t do it without you! We have received so much encouragement!…Another supporting church has asked to help out, other supporters have increased their support, an anonymous person gave me money for the trip Sunday and a new believer in our church has offered to pick me up when I am ready to come home!