August. Sunshine, water, serenity, peace. It seems like throughout the years we have shared with you what a typical Italian August is like. At first the slow pace and the fact that everything was closed was difficult and quite a hard adjustment. We wanted to spend time with people, have outreaches, and surely they wouldn’t skip church…
But, with time, we really learned to appreciate this special summer month. It’s a month where people just “be.” Many, many people take at least a few weeks off work, if not the whole month. They go to the beach, they go to the mountains, they travel. But, mostly, August is for rest. It’s like a Sabbath month. We came to enjoy this sabbatical month to our year. I longed for the days when I would spend the morning in nature with the kids (Brian still had to work). Later we would come home for a simple lunch (no cooking, it was 100 degrees with no air conditioning) and a nap. Then, out for ice cream in the evening (partly because it was just so hot).
A wise friend of ours, when asked what would be the hardest part of the Rotert’s adjustment, said “the fast pace of the American lifestyle.” Boy, does he know us. And our culture. Not because Italians are lazy or that they don’t know how to get work done. It’s more that they know when it’s time to stop working. As a family that has lived in the US and Europe, we do see the difference. Americans do have trouble knowing when to stop working.
Here August is the end of summer. It’s get back‑to‑school month. It’s buy endless piles of school supplies month. It’s start back with school sports month. I’m getting tired just thinking about it.
But, guess what? We don’t have to enter the race. The only race that I have to be a part of is the one marked out for me in Hebrews 12:1. That’s my race. The other stuff can wait. I can snuggle on the couch with my kiddos and order school uniforms at the same time. I can “time” my errands and maximize the amount of time spent together with loved ones.
So, this is where we are. We’re back in the US and we are resisting as much as we can to dive immediately into the fast pace of life. This is what we’re working on. Sabbath. Rest. Being. I have a framed paper in my kitchen that says, “Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still. Be.” This is my challenge in our transition. And, this is my challenge for you. Be.
When we left Italy on June 30, something happened to me that hasn’t happened in ten years: I didn’t have a single key in my pocket. I had already turned in the keys to our church building. The car had been transferred to our teammates. And our house keys were sitting in a container by the front door, ready for the landlord to come and pick up.
It seems silly, but for some reason it really struck me. How often does that happen? For a short period of time, I had no workplace, no vehicle, and no home. My daily ritual of patting my pockets to check for my keys, wallet, and phone didn’t work anymore. Of course, we have moved as a family before. Ministries and houses and vehicles have changed plenty of times in the past. But this change seemed much more final, permanent, and heavy. We truly were living between two places.
Immediately upon our arrival, the Senior Minister of the church where I will be serving welcomed us to our new home and handed us a key. Our old Italian life had ended and our new Illinoisian life had begun. We had finished the painful process of ending one thing are had begun the process of starting something new.
There are occasional pulls back into our old life: Simone calls me every now and then. We often get pictures from our church members who gather on Sundays at the beach for worship and communion. Even sitting down to a plate of pasta brings back memories of meals around our table in Ancona.
But we have turned a corner and look to the future. This month, we are taking some time off. I mentioned in a previous newsletter that our family is in a delicate place right now. Our last month in Italy was filled with a lot of time spent with friends and church members. Nice, but many of those times ended in tears. Our last week in Italy alternated between busily running around to get everything done and painful times with the church as the finality of leaving settled on us all. So we arrived in the US exhausted – physically and emotionally. Soon after our arrival, we left for Kansas City to spend time with my mom and sister and nephews.
In just a few days we head to Colorado Springs to attend a debriefing for missionaries at the Missionary Training Institute. This week-long debriefing comes highly recommended, and will be important for all of us to process our time in Italy and also to learn how to readapt to our new “home” culture. We need your prayers. I think all of us could benefit from talking to wise people who specialize in helping missionaries return to the US. We have also heard great things about their special programming for the kids, who certainly more than Heidi and I are feeling anxious and out-of-sorts about our future.
We hope that we can continue to count on your prayers and encouragement, and we thank you all for seeing us through these ten years of church planting in Ancona.
prayer with a church member.
Bible study with our English groups.
trip to the sea.
dinner with our neighbors.
prayer walk with Kyle.
trip to the post office.
rubbermaid ready to be shipped to the US.
chat with an acquaintance who just heard about our departure.
phone call with the shipping company.
struggle to conjugate Italian verbs correctly.
pizza, always salame piccante.
dinner in Numana.
glance at Giulia, Emanuel, and Alex, wishing we could watch them grow up.
prayer of thanks to God that He allowed us to watch the church members grow up.
day trip to Perugia.
walk down the Viale on the way to La Via.
early-morning wind storm that rattles all the shutters.
ache in my heart when I see the nervousness on the kids’ faces as we talk about the future, about leaving friends, about fitting in in the US.
spaghetti con le vongole, cozze all’adriatico, fritto misto di pesce.
walk with Filippo so he can practice his English.
espresso at the bar, with a sugar-coated ciambella to get the day started.
pot luck after our church gathering, with all of the craziness there normally is.
time to hear Simone and Daniel teach, who will capably lead the church this summer.
wave of humility that God used us to plant a church in Ancona.
wave of thankfulness for the supporters who brought us and kept us here.
discipleship time with Lance and Alex.
dinner on the Koval’s terrace, watching the sun go down over the sea.
experience with the Italian health-care system (bureaucracy at it’s finest).
afternoon with the refugees.
glance at Ancona from above, seen from the highway coming back from Senigallia.
trip to see Valentina.
hug, kiss-kiss hello and good-bye (always left, then right), ciao ciao!
nervous wait at the ticket counter while our luggage is weighed, pat down at security, two take-offs and two landings.
bittersweet arrival in Chicago, happy to see family and friends, always with the memories of who we have left behind lingering near.
One thing that I love to do for my family in the winter is make fresh squeezed orange juice. In January, when oranges are in abundance and you can buy them at a great price, I love to get bags and bags in order to make everyone a “spremuta.” They love it, too.
As I stack up the drained halves, I notice when there are oranges that could use another “squeeze.” I don’t want to waste even one potential drop of that delectable juice.
Strangely, that’s how I feel right now. I don’t want to make excuses. I don’t want to say no. Honestly, I just want to drink up every last drop of our time here in Italy. We have 4½ weeks left, and that is so hard to believe. It doesn’t seem real. So, I squeeze.
I want to squeeze every minute of every day. I want to hug more people, make sure they know I care, tell them one last time about this Jesus that is my best friend. I want to watch Francesca laugh with her best friend Maria. I want to listen intently when Chloe comes home with the latest story of what happened in school that day. I want to listen, really listen, to Lance as he explains how hard it is going to be to leave his best friends.
Yesterday was Trey’s birthday, and I sat in awe of this now teenaged boy/man as he ate cake and ice cream with his friends, laughing and talking about the day’s events. He had a party, a great one, in fact. Even I, for his sake, didn’t want the day to end.
But it did. And it does.
Everything in this life has a start. And a finish. And now is the time. Now is the time to pack. And clean house. And sell. And leave. And arrive.
Oh, friends, we had a great prayer time Wednesday night with the church. It was supposed to be “accountability” night where we ask questions in small groups. But instead, we spent time in prayer. It was a sweet, sweet time of reflection. Tears were shed as our sister Novella prayed prayers of thanksgiving for the ten years that we have spent together. For the things she has learned. For the Jesus that she has now come to know and love and serve with her whole heart. It was surreal. And real. And beautiful. Like those dreams where you get to peek in at your own funeral. Only no one died. But it feels like something has. Died. Our life won’t be the same. But neither will the lives of the believers in Ancona. Before we came, there wasn’t this little group of believers. Now, there is a church. A full fledged body of Christ. Meeting right in the center of town. Sharing the Gospel with their friends, family, and coworkers. What a joy it is to leave knowing that there are believers following in our footsteps. Our dirty, messy, but oh so honest and real footsteps. May the church here continue to grow. And serve. And love. Because if there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that God doesn’t need me. He simply lets me join Him. And for that, I give thanks.
It’s a weird thing, being the lame duck.
Maybe that’s putting things a little strong, but I first noticed it a couple of weeks ago. We were enjoying dinner together with the church, like we do every Sunday. There was a question about some plans we were making and everyone started giving their opinions. At a certain point, someone remembered that they forgot to ask us what we thought, and sort of sheepishly, half-apologetically asked if we had anything to say. There was no malice. No one was trying to exclude anyone. It just sort of … happened.
In the moment, there was a bit of a lump in my throat as I realized that things are moving on without us. After the initial moment passed, I was so relieved that things are moving on without us! Isn’t that the way that it should be? Isn’t that exactly what we have been working towards since our arrival in Ancona? Don’t we desire to see the believers that God has gathered to depend on the Spirit instead of the Americans when it’s time to move forward as a body?
So with about two months to go until our departure, we are starting to watch things happen from the sidelines. It’s humbling, but in such a good way.
Which is great because we have so much we have to do before we are ready to move! Most everything in our house is being put into one of three piles: pitch, sell, or ship. We are putting as little as possible in the “ship” pile because it costs a lot to get stuff from one continent to another! Heidi is on a first name basis with the woman who runs the consignment store that is selling a lot of our stuff. And I make regular runs to the city’s recycling plant to throw stuff away or donate things that others can use.
Emotions are running high in our house as we get ready. The kids are grieving the loss of friends and familiarity. It’s hard for Heidi and I to know that our decision does have an impact on those we love here in Ancona. An international move with a family of six is enough to drive everyone over the edge! But despite all of this, underneath it all, there is a peace about our decision. There’s a quiet calm and the promise that no matter where we go, God goes with us (a promise that Chloe reminded us of the other evening in church).
Can I ask you all to keep praying through all of this? Pray for the Ancona side of things (the team, the church, our friends here) and for the US side (new ministry opportunities, a new church, and new friends over there). Thank you for going on this journey with us!
Last month’s newsletter contained two very important items: the news of our departure from Ancona this summer, and the news of a newly-baptized believer. One news item effects my family and those close to us. The other effects the eternity of a young Afghani man. One news item causes upheaval in our lives. The other calms a young man who has seen more than his share of unrest.
Several months ago our team was contacted by a young Iranian man and his wife who live in a town just up the road. They are both Christians and came to Italy to escape persecution in their home country.
Shortly after, we learned about a group of Afghani refugees that live just a bit further away. They left Afghanistan as Muslims, and one of them later became a Christian. They are now in Italy waiting to see if the Italian government will grant them asylum. They are lonely and maybe a bit afraid in this country. We had the pleasure of baptizing one of them who, in his words, “needed to find peace and to make a decision to follow Jesus.”
And Kyle and I are just scratching our heads and wondering how it is exactly that we got thrown in the middle of all of this!
On a personal level, seeing these great things happen is a huge reminder to me that what is happening in Ancona is so much bigger than me and my family, bigger than the team, bigger than our church. The ministry in Ancona will continue without us. It has blessed us to be here for ten years, and we hope and pray that we have been a blessing as well.
We need your prayers this month. We have just about three months left here in Ancona. We have many decisions to make about things on this side of the Atlantic. I have applied for a ministry position that seems like a great fit and are waiting to hear about a decision. I think we will all feel better when we know where exactly we will land when we get to the US.
The kids are slowly coming to grips with our departure. It will be tough for them to say goodbye, but they are beginning to talk about some positive things about living in the US. (They amaze me at how well they analyze cultures.) I think it’s a good sign that we are all beginning to think about life past “the departure.”
We will be communicating with our supporters soon about how the transition to the US will go and what we will need when we get there.
The Christmas season in Italy stretches on a bit longer that it does in the US. Everything officially ends on Epiphany (January 6), and school starts soon after. So it seems like January gets off to a slow start and then very quickly picks up speed.
Last month I mentioned the Bible study groups that we are currently doing. I continue to be amazed at the groups’ responses when they take the time to simply read what the Bible says about Jesus.
It’s not uncommon to hear things during the study like, “Why hasn’t anyone ever told us these things?” They are often amazed at the bold claims that Jesus made. It is a joy to see them wrestle with who Jesus is and if the things He said and taught are true and can be trusted. Did Jesus mean it when He said He came not to condemn the world, but to save the world? Is Jesus really the only way to get to God? What does it mean to be a branch that gets cut off of the vine? It is really possible that no one can snatch us out of God’s hands?
Then there are almost always the hard questions that they throw at us. If God is so loving, why doesn’t He stop evil in the world? Why aren’t bad people, even bad religious leaders, punished for what they do? I know questions like these are often connected to something bad in their past, so we try our best to patiently answer as best we can and continue to point them to Jesus.
These studies are so simple. We do them in English, but are encouraging our church members to do the same thing in Italian or English or whatever language works best. Just simply studying God’s Word is powerful, and we are praying that the group members move from simply being curious about Jesus to taking the step to follow Him and becoming His disciples. We are praying for them and we thank you in advance for praying for them as well. God is working and we are happy and humbled to be a part of that.
I also mentioned last month that our church was happy to welcome two new babies into the fold. Sometimes our church services sound like a hospital nursery, but it’s great to see new life!
We thank you all so much for being with us in the nearly ten years we have been in Italy. Can you believe that? We thank God for taking care of us so well (often He used you all to answer our prayers!) and for allowing us to work alongside of Him.
Blessings to all of you!
Buon Natale! (or Boldog karácsonyt since I’m writing to you from Hungary!) A few days ago we arrived in Budapest to spend Christmas with some friends who have been ministering here for about six years. We have enjoyed getting to know each other over the years and it’s been fun to watch our kids grow up together.
Our December was probably a lot like yours: very busy! Our schedules quickly filled up end-of-semester conferences at the kids’ schools, class dinners, and parties. And in the middle of all, our normal ministry activities continued.
One highlight for us was the progress being made in our three English Bible studies. All of the groups are really grasping with who Jesus was and what he asks of us. Our newest group, composed mainly of university students, has amazed me with their hunger to study the Bible. They surprised us one night by inviting several of their friends to come and stay for a dinner after the study. One of those friends even returned to the study the following week.
During this dinner, at a certain point in the conversation someone asked the $10,000 question: what is the difference between the protestant church and the catholic church. Over the years, our team has struggled with how to answer that question. Rarely are people asking about Martin Luther and his 95 Theses. They are occasionally curious about the fact that we, as pastors, are married and Catholic priests are not. But we always try to turn the conversation towards the importance of following Jesus. And that is exactly what we told everyone. It would take forever to list every difference, and to drawing lines between “us” and “them” isn’t very helpful. But to sit in a room with eight students and encourage them to read the Bible and learn about the things that Jesus said and did … and them to have them agree to do that … is a wonderful thing.
So keep praying for these three groups. Despite busy holiday schedules the groups continue to make our meetings a priority. And we keep pointing them to Jesus. We see signs that God is working in their hearts. We can’t wait for the day when they decide to become his disciples.
Thank you for making our ministry possible with your prayers and with your financial support. We love that God is working through us to see His kingdom grow!
Wherever you are this Christmas, we are praying that the peace of Christ will reign in your hearts. Talk to you next year!
Wow. For nearly all of you, I’d imagine, Thanksgiving dinner has been reduced to picked over leftovers in the fridge and great memories. Our turkey arrives today. That’s right. We’re a little non-traditional over here.
The deal is, since Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated outside of the good old USA, it’s just a regular day here. The kids have school, people go to work, I had choir practice, and we even had a meeting with the parents of Trey’s class in the evening. In order to really have a good time and relax and have time to reflect and be thankful, we decided to invite friends to join us on Sunday. So, soon we will enjoy our feast of Thanksgiving, as well. And, boy do we have a lot to be thankful for.
First off, we are thankful that our teammates had a beautiful baby girl, Gemma, last Saturday. Pray for the Kovals as they learn to go from a family of three to a family of four. Second, we are thankful that next weekend we will attend a conference with members from our church. The speaker is Gary Thomas, and he has written some great books on marriage and parenting. I truly believe his messages will be a great encouragement and exhortation to our body of believers. To tell the truth, we were not going to go because the cost is very high and we couldn’t afford it. When one of the men in our church told us that it was so important to his family that he took an advance on his salary, we started to think differently. Then, when another brother told us that we should shorten it by attending only two nights instead of three (thus saving our family $273), we decided that it must be important. The entire church decided to shorten it by a day just so that we could be able to go! (One for all, and all for one they told us J) Last year there were nineteen of us from our little church, and it was quite a spiritual boost to these new Christians.
There is so much to be thankful for that I really don’t want to say “lastly.” But, let’s just say it for the sake of sending you a quick note…
Lastly, we are thankful for you! As the year is coming to an end, it is easy to reflect on how much you have meant to us throughout the year. Thank you for the financial support, the prayer support, the letters and phone calls, and much, much more. We are thankful for our time spent in the States with you this summer. We are thankful for all of you who opened your homes to us and treated us as family. Really, thank you.
This summer, while we were busy traveling all over the US, our teammates did an amazing job of continuing the ministry here in Ancona. Actually, that’s not quite true. In many ways they advanced the ministry. This summer we hosted three college students from Texas as a part of Let’s Start Talking.
Their ministry is simple: send a group of people overseas for a number of weeks. The local workers advertise an “English Camp” or “Free English lessons with native speakers.” Then, using a simplified version of the Gospel of Luke, the Let’s Start Talking crew does one-on-one lessons with whoever shows up. Our group this summer got to around forty students, which was a huge blessing (and also taught us how effective advertising on Facebook can be).
Some of those groups asked to continue studying even after the Let’s Start Talking group went back to the US. So Kyle and I have three (soon to be four) groups meeting together to study the Bible in English.
It has been a real encouragement to see Italians react to reading the Bible, even if it isn’t in their native language. We find time and time again that people think they know what the Bible says or think they know who Jesus was and what he came to do. But to actually sit down and read what is says and the things that Jesus did is another thing entirely.
Sure we have to slow down and talk about irregular past participles and the difference between “angry” and “hungry,” (two words that Italians often confuse) but we believe that reading God’s Word is powerful.
We need you all to pray! Some of these groups have about finished the set of seven stories that we started with. We are hoping the groups will want to continue on, preferably switching to Italian, but still English as long as Kyle and I have the time. Pray that this handful of students sees the value in looking at God’s Word.
Please also pray for the studying that has already been done. They are all at various points in their Spiritual walk. Some are quite clearly only coming to the study to practice English, others seem to be knocking on the gates of the Kingdom. Pray for the Holy Spirit to really work in their hearts.
Finally, pray for our church members to follow our example and replicate these simple studies with the people God has put in their lives. The language the study is in may vary, but the value of studying God’s Word does not!