Discovering Trento

lunch on the curb
Having said a few words about the church in Trento, allow us to turn travelogue for a day and give the city its due.

There’s a pretty good chance that most people who will read this blog will know very little about Trento (aka Trent). This is a shame because it’s a stunning city in a stunning region. Trento shares the same burden of so many other places in Italy: put in any other country and it would stand out as an essential destination. Slotted in there with Venice, Florence, Rome, Verona, Cinque Terra and all of the others, and it ends up getting lost in the shuffle.

If it does ring a bell for you, this may be because of the Council of Trent, where the Roman Catholic church drew a line in the sand to put an end to the European expansion of the Protestant Reformation. Despite ending 450 years ago, the council remains important for the residents of the city, who derive great pride from being the defenders of catholicism, which does nothing to create openness to encounter the gospel in a fresh way.

There is an obvious contrast for me between Trento and Torino. Trento is based in established ‘Christian’ religion, and is resistant to the gospel. Torino is a centre for black and white magic, but relatively open to consider Jesus. Fertile ground is not always where we would expect to find it.

The setting of Trento is at the feet of the northern Italian mountains. We got there, after flying into Verona in a rented-and tiny-Fiat, which was my first experience of driving in Italy, and my first time driving a manual transmission in a solid decade. We had no difficulty finding our way to Trento, although we managed to miss the massive, direct, and fast route that would have got us there in a boring hour. Instead we found ourselves on an old and meandering highway that passed through innumerable towns and passed stunning views of castles and monasteries perched precariously on mountaintops. Although it doubled the driving time, none of us regretted the route.

Inside the city you will find everything that you would expect in an old Italian city: a large piazza with a stunning fountain in the centre, a massive cathedral (duomo), a castle full of armour, cafes that extend into the streets, and, of course, gelato. Trento has its own flavour due to obvious German influence (it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the beginning of modern Italy), but essentially it has all of the old Italian favourites done very well.

While remaining unmistakingly Italian, it was the international flavour that was the biggest surprise for us. A lot of this originates in the excellent university, where several postgraduate programs are run in English, attracting a very large number of international students. There is an obvious advantage for us should we end up in Trento-in order to meet the needs of the students, there is a public school where the Italian curriculum is taught in English, thereby providing a potential solution to one of our biggest question marks.

But maybe that’s enough said. Rather than write on, I’ll leave you with a photo gallery, with credit for most/all of the photos to Julia.
vine on building farmacia tower piazza cyclist castle kids museum neptune fountain angel castello

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In search of encouragement

After yesterday’s blog post that Brad wrote I thought I would share from my thoughts and perspective of our recent trip to Italy. I have to confess that out all of the trips that we’ve taken to Italy Trento was the hardest place to leave for me personally. Sure it’s beautiful and the sunny days and unseasonably warm temperature made me wince at the thoughts of returning to grey and rainy London but it’s the people that we met made my heart ache with desire to stay longer, get to know them deeper and be a source of encouragement for them in any way I could.

 Anybody who has spent any time in Europe  especially in the early days of settling will agree with me that living as an expat is often a lonely road interspersed with breathtaking building, sometimes delicious food, new customs that temporarily take us away from the reality of struggling and fumbling our way through this new and strange land. Prolonged isolation due to lack of close friends and family members send us searching for meaningful relationships that would fill the void. This kind of state of mind is uncomfortable and even downright painful. However, it’s natural and it happens to ALL  of us who choose to accept the call of God and move away. The question is what to do about it and how to deal with our loneliness in a healthy way that would keep us away from distraction, discouragement and self-pity?

The biggest value of the our trip to Trento for me was the answer to the above question. Our 5 days in Italy was a complete whirlwind. We didn’t have any time to breath between meeting new people, attending meetings, listening to people and taking care of our children but I wouldn’t trade it for any fancy touristy tour of Italy. In the short time we spent in Italy I was given an opportunity to speak English, Russian, my very broken and limited Italian and my very dusty French but what a blessing it was! The truth is I didn’t need to speak that much. All I had to do was listen and understand. Italy is such a harsh place to live when you are the only Christian for miles and miles! Most of the places don’t have moms groups or prayer groups or Bible studies or even on-line resources that are available in their own language. Nothing that would bring encouragement, comfort and understanding-things that we in North America consider our right to have!! So I listened… to an isolated Christian mom who is so alone but is striving to live as an example of Christ’s love to other women around her, to a young girl from Russia who is studying in Trento while struggling to discern God’s will for her life, to an immigrant from Tunisia who walked away from her Muslim faith when she met Christ but lost her family in the exchange. All of those women so desperately needed encouragement and a proof that someone else cares. So did I! I wanted all of those things too. Something wonderful happened while I was listening to all of those women. I realized that I got encouraged by giving it out. If you are in a dark place right now and feeling like you need someone to reach out to you, go out on a limb and reach out first. Give before you receive and discover that you have far more to give than you’d expected.

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So much to say, so little time…

I’ll start with the most recent.

We have, only yesterday, returned from Italy, visiting Trento and Verona for the first time. Verona was really just a two hour stop over as it was the closest airport we could access. But, still, not a shabby place to visit.

Trento was the destination that truly counted. We’ve been hoping to visit for quite a while, as we’ve been in touch with a leader of a church there. As if we needed another excuse to visit, Ann Hinrichs from our mission (ACCI) was in town leading a workshop on worship for the church and others from the area.

We have mentioned before that it is not easy to be a Christian in Italy. The church in Trento is a great example. Like so many others, it has grown in isolation as one of very few churches in the region. We take for granted the resources, support, and community that is available in North America, the UK and a few other places. I have a lot of admiration for the journey of so many churches, and how they have been able to grow in adverse circumstances.
(Unfortunately, there is a dark side to this as well. Rather than reaching out to other churches in Italy, far too many chose protectionism. Sometimes this was due to an honest, if misguided, desire to protect the church from harmful influence, while for others it was the more destructive desire to protect the position and prestige of the leaders.)
In any case, the church we found in Trento was an encouragement. It is inspiring to be in a group of disciples sincere in their desire to do more tomorrow than they were yesterday. The hunger to grow was obvious, and although there is a long way to go, we left with the conviction that the trajectory of the church was as it should be.

I had the privilege of preaching twice-once to a group of youth that represented the two churches in the city, and again to the church that meets on a Sunday morning. I have been learning a lot about the call of the local church to mission, and loved the opportunity to share some thoughts to a church on the same journey. It’s not as hard as you’d think to link mission to worship-sharing the gospel is an beautiful way to glorify God, which is, after all, what worship is all about.

But I’ll fill you in more in the days to come. Till then, enjoy some of the pictures from our time in surprisingly beautiful Trento.

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Ups and Downs

It’s been a wild three weeks, and mostly not in the greatest possible ways. We always knew that the life of a missionary is costly but a week ago we found out that so did Canada Revenue Agency evidenced by a large bill we received in addition to the taxes that were already payed out early in the spring. It is inevitable that one bad thing begets another-a sick sister, unexpected expenses, unfavourable decisions by bureaucrats-and that the burden quickly becomes a bit much. At some point the obvious truth sinks in that I am not the solution. All my activity and work will not be the answer to what ails us.

This morning was therefore spent doing little. Sort of. Actually sitting with a Bible, worship music and reminders of what God has done and said in the past is a lot. Only it feels counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t we be doing something-anything-to get ourselves out of this? But I am so thankful for the reminder that comes quickly whenever I spend the time to listen that God remains God regardless of circumstances, that he has always been faithful, and that I have seen nothing to indicate he will change.

There is a regular pattern of being brought to this point, as regular as the seasons, where I am brought to the end of myself. In the midst of it all I consistently hear Jesus asking me, “Will you trust, even with all of this?” I hope and pray that I will come to a point where to say yes is no struggle, but unfortunately it has not happened yet. I don’t suppose there is a shortcut to get there. The destination of unqualified faith and trust requires the journey of crisis and bewilderment.

On the positive side of the ledger, however, Julia had the joy of visiting our home church of Jericho Road in Port Alberni, Canada. The trip wasn’t planned, and didn’t happen in the best of circumstances. My sister has been quite ill, and so Julia went to Vancouver to support her until other help was available, and medical treatments had an opportunity to take effect. But for one weekend she was able to slip off to Vancouver Island. One of the great gifts of the church when it’s at its best is the certainty that we are in this together. Living at a distance from those who have done so much to get us here it is easy to wonder whether we remain relevant. One of God’s gifts to us in this last month is the realization that, even while living on the other side of the world, there are so many people who remain committed to pray for us and support us. Thank you to everyone at JR! You have done so much to build up our joy in doing what God has called us to!

In the next couple weeks we have a couple of trips. I (Brad) am traveling to Norway with Tony Hedrick, from October 11-14, to visit to Bible training/ministry training schools near Oslo, as a way to get connected and see what future work there is possible.

And the week after, October 18-23, we are visiting Trento, Italy, where we will meet up with Ann Hinrichs and one or two churches there. I’ll have a chance to speak, and we’ll have many opportunities to discuss how we can support the work there in the future. We had a bit of drama when we received an email from Ryanair saying that they have decided no longer to fly to Verona, and our flight had been inconveniently switched to Milan, but hopefully we’ll get this straightened out soon.

We’d love your prayers as we travel and serve in Norway, Italy, and here in London!