Last Leg Of The Journey

Last post was a bit of sad reflection on Trieste. Well, yesterday we finally got some sun, and so when we went for a walk again in the city core our perspective changed a bit. Turns out that it is a beautiful city, and although some areas could use a good scrub, there is a lot of work going on to restore buildings and squares. Add to that  some nice sites and scattered Roman ruins, and it’s really a nice place to take a walk.

Other tourist activities: checking out a castle with extraordinary views and drinking a coffee in a cafe frequented in the past by James Joyce.

We attended a church that was planted here a few years ago, and where some missionaries we have made contact with work. And really, we liked everything about it. Add that to some truly great people working here and we have a dilemma on our hands.

The whole point of this trip is to determine from our short list of four places the one where God is really calling us. Now with three places down, we have met with incredible people, and we have seen a need wherever we have gone. It makes it hard to decide what to do, although maybe this means that we can’t really go too wrong.

However, we are confident that we will be given the direction.

Right now we are in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the final place on our tour (other than a couple of tourist stops on the way home). There is a church here-double the size of all but one we came across in Italy-with a bit of aspirations that we are checking out. As with anywhere in this region, I am sure that we will find big needs, although I suspect somehow that they are different than what we found in Italy.

But first we have to figure out what we will eat here. Italy set the bar pretty high in that whole department, so I hope Slovenia is up to the challenge. I’m not sure what they eat here-I saw horse meat and cabbage mentioned in a guide book. Reviews will be coming soon…

Please pray that we will know with confidence where we should move and what ministry we should take on! There are some great options before us, but we want to make sure that we are led to the one God has prepared for us.

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Still in Italy, Sort Of

So here we are in Trieste, visiting some missionaries working to establish a church in the city core. Trieste is the kind of city that most of us will not know about, but you can find it on a map in the extreme north-east of Italy on a little strip of land extending onto the coastline of the Adriatic. It has a couple hundred thousand people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. While it is technically Italian in that it falls within the political borders of the country, it hasn’t been for very long, and so has a very different feel than the rest of the nation. As a city, it is a weird mix of beauty and tragedy.

It is beautiful because its former masters, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, obviously poured and incredible amount of money into the place, resulting in beautiful arcitecture and nice squares.

It is tragic because this was a long time ago. While it was an important port in the Empire, once it switched hands to Italian ownership after World War 1 it became just another port in a country with more coastline than it knows what to do with. Those beautiful buildings now have a layer of grime, and together they give a glimpse into the history of the place.

Another thing to add to the tragedy of the place: I have heard it estimated that there are about 200 evangelical Christians in the city. That means less than 0.001%, if that’s number is right. Incredible.

We have had some opportunity to talk to the group of church planters here, and will have more opportunity tonight. As in other places in Italy, it seems that although things are moving fairly slowly, progress is being made. It is great to hear that there is a good representation of Italians in the church here, which isn’t always the case.

 And now? Time for us to get to know Trieste a bit more by taking a long walk, checking out some of the sights and hopefully frequenting a coffee bar and gelateria along the way.

By request, here is a picture of more food. This is the second course of my lunch yesterday, and it is exactly what it looks like: a chunk of fried cheese. I’m kind of curious as to the amount of fat in this meal, but seriously, I am better off not knowing…

Good-Bye Parma, Hello Trieste

Heading north started well with comfortable seats and extra leg space, at least until a conductor very politely kicked us out of 1st Class and back into 2nd. Oh well…the life of a tourist.
 
Just last night we were invited to drop in on a new cell group in the small city of Fidenza, where we have been staying. (Fidenza is a 10 minute train ride outside of Parma, and a surprisingly great place to be for a city of only 14 000). This group is made up of new Christians, mostly from Latin America. An offshoot of the Latin American church in Parma, the hope is that they will become the nucleus for a new congregation based in Fidenza.

In a way, this group represents the pattern of Christian outreach in Italy. First, let me say that there is not a whole lot of outreach happening here. Churches are few and far between and almost exclusively small. While we are used to thinking of places such as Africa and Latin America as mission fields, they actually have a far more substantial evangelical presence than does Italy.

And when there is response to the gospel, it is almost always among immigrants-Columbians, Romanians, Ukrainians, Africans, etc. But among Italians? Turns out that this is very rare. And the more there is a response among other groups, the more Italians associate the evangelical faith with the “others”.

It is interesting that the only countries that have definitively rejected the Reformation are Spain and Italy, and these two places remain resistant to any expression of faith outside of Catholicism. Of course, this is all very general. But as a broad perspective of what ministry is like here, at least according to those we have talked to at this point, it can help us understand a bit more of the need here.

Of course, the point of this trip for us is to grow in our sense of where God is calling us to minister. The problem we are facing is that both of the places we have visited and all of the people we have talked to have presented amazing opportunities that really excite us. And we are still only half done, with two more places to go! But at least we have grown in our certainty that God has something for us over here. I’m sure that he will lead us into where exactly that will be.

As for our travels, we are currently on a train, laden with the real deal Parmeggiano Reggiano, to the home of Illy Coffee and crazy high winds, supposedly straight from Russia, and based on what I see outside my window, a lot of fog. And that place is Trieste. We will be here till Monday before heading to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Will let you know soon how things are shaping up here.

On To The Important Stuff

So we made it to the National Gallery today. It’s crazy how a small city like this can have such an extensive collection of art. All the artists, paintings, sculptures, yada yada yada…

But I don’t want to this stuff to get in the way of what really matters here in Italy: the food.

I thought I knew a lot about food. I have, after all, spent a lot of my life in the food industry, mostly on the eating end, occasionally as a dish washer. But these Italians have taken it to a new level. Not once have we not been blown away by what we eat. I thought I could describe eating the food here in this blog, but now that I try, I am lost for words. It`s pure bliss. The chef of heaven is Italian.

I will attempt to put down some of what I have learned here in a list of essentials for eating here in Italy. Hopefully you will find this edifying:

  1. All important things happen at mealtime. The day revolves around food so make sure you do it right. A bad meal equals a bad day.
  2. Eat your meal in courses. Eat it all together and all those glorious flavours get lost. Break it up with a series of small courses. An important benefit of this is that you have no idea how much you have eaten, so guilt is not an issue.
  3. Eat local. Each region has its own specialties, and the locals are incredibly proud of them. Eat locally grown food with local wine (there is always a local wine) whenever the opportunity arrises. Parmeasan cheese could not taste better than it does in Parma, where it is made.
  4. Take your time. One hour is just not long enough for a good lunch. Food this good is worth savouring.
  5. Never drink a cappuccino after 1 pm. Julia just does not get this rule. Supposedly this is the true sign of a tourista, which is just embarrassing. And if you are looking for entertainment in a coffee shop, wait till the older gentlemen come and start slamming espressos. It`s impressive.
  6. There is more to food than presentation. We have not had or seen a pizza without charred edges, but it just doesn`t matter. They are still amazing, and all that with a fraction of the toppings one would get from Domino`s.

So there you go. There is no doubt a lot more to learn about eating Italian, but since I have only been here a few days, I`ll have to stop there. Except for one more: ignore breakfeast, and if you need one keep it small and simple. It seems that although they have mastered lunch and supper, there is one meal not yet figured out.

Living it up in the Hotel Leonardo

Immediately after church last Sunday we were tossed in a car and driven down one of the many fast Italian highways to a resort about an hour past the city of Forli. For the most part the drive was great, but to say that the last hour of road was windy would be an understatement. It makes the highway to Tofino seem tame in comparison. (Think Julia as a nice shade of green.) At the end of this road, near a small village, was the Hotel Leonardo.

Here we were able to join up with a conference help by TEAM, a missions agency that works around the world and is prominent in Italy. Although were were only able to spend 24 hours with this group, we came away very impressed by the quality of people in this mission. They were a mix of those who have been on the field for two or three decades and those who have just come within the last year. We were able to have many of our questions answered and our imaginations opened to what is possible. Italy is really a blank slate for missions, with an incredible amount of need and only a little being done at this point.

While we still have no idea about the specifics for our future, and not a whole lot of sense as to what God is saying in that regard, we came away even more confident that this is the right direction for us. That may seem like a small thing, but to us as we stare down the imposing possibility of putting our whole lives-and that of our kids-into suitcases and taking them so far away, this bit of extra confidence goes a long way.

Oh yeah, and here is another thing I love about Italy. Beauty is everywhere. On the way to anywhere you see so much history-run-down castles, medieval towns, old church buildings. Right by the Hotel Leonardo we went for a walk to a small village and found beautiful vistas and buildings. History is in layers here, with old and older overlapping where ever you go. Here is a pic from that village:

Upon leaving the conference (regretting that our stay was so short) we hopped on a train in Forli for a three hour journey up to Fidenza, just past Parma. I just finished saying that Italy is beautiful, but I should have put an aterix here. It seems that they lay their train tracks to avoid any scenery and instead stear you towards as many industrial parks as possible.

In Fidenza we were picked up by two missionaries from Venezualia, Angel and Hebe, who have been here about three years. It is at their house that we are now staying. On Tuesday we took a short train into Parma for a day of sightseeing. Parma is a truly beautiful place, even now in the winter. An old renaissance city, there are old churches and parks everywhere you go. At one point it was ruled by a duchess Napoleaon married for political reasons and placed in charge. She built up some palaces and an amazing park full of sculptures and an private lake, modeled after those of Paris. Fortunately, she had great taste and the park remains an incredible oasis within the city and the perfect setting for a stroll, or a downbeat European movie.

So here we are, somewhat caught up. We are about to head back into Parma to take in an art gallery and, hopefully, a legendary artichoke and parmeasan sandwhich. Did I mention that Parma is the food capital of Italy? Bit of a big deal here.

Two little cultural note: coffee bars, and excellent ones too, are EVERYWHERE! I don’t know where one has to go to get away from them, or why one would want to. We stopped at a rest stop at an isolated part of a highway, and there was still a coffee bar/bakery with such tantalizing aroma of fresh baked pastries that our belts expanded at the sheer sight of the possibilities. This was coffee to put Starbucks to shame. At a gas station. Weird.

And everyone here wants to accept Julia as Italian already. Not only is her name a perfect fit, but apparently she looks Italian to such an extent that they don’t believe she is Russian. Strangely, this seems to happen whereever we go. I’m getting a bit insecure that no one is trying to claim me.

Anyway, Parma awaits. Caio!

The best laid schemes of mice and men…

It seems we have hit a glitch in our plans. Just yesterday (I think) the union representing cabin employees for British Airways, the airline we are using, has voted to go on strike. Although no date has been set and we have had no indication that our flights will be disrupted, this isn’t exactly the kind of news I was hoping to hear. It’s weird how we can plan things down to minute, only to get it all disrupted by something completely out of our hands. The adventure of travel, I suppose.

Anyway, another thing to pray for!!! And thanks for your prayer and the messages we have been getting.

Back online…

We had planned to be posting daily about what we are experiencing here. Unfortunatly, our host immediately took us to the one place in Italy with neither cell phone nor internet access available, so we are a bit behind in our posts. I won’t try to put everything in this one post, but will now begin our attempt to catch ya’ll up…

Our second day in Italy being Sunday, we went with Gene and Susan Coleman to the small church they are a part of in Pordenone. They meet in a storefront, as seen below…

As with the vast majority of churches in Italy, it is small, with around  50 people on a Sunday. In this church we were able to see a snapshot of a huge issue in Italy today: immigration. The 50 people represented about about a dozen countries of origin. Unfortunately, these immigrants struggle to integrate into Italian society, and can even be an unwelcome addition to a church. It will take a real work of God to help Italians overcome their deeply embedded racism.

After church we headed south to meet with a group of missionaries at one of their retreats, but we will write more about this tomorrow. Right now, we are desperately in need of sleep. It’s amazing how we can be healthy all year, until we jump on the plane for a trip that has huge implications for the rest of our lives…and immediatly get sick. I’m glad this isn’t a video blog because between the two of us we can barely speak for one. We’d appreciate prayer because we are very aware of the potential for distractions like this from getting in the way of what we are here to do. Since it is 9:30pm, and way to late for us, we will head to bed.

Look back here later to hear more about our grand trip to Hotel Leonardo!