07.21.15

The Space Between

Posted in Ancona, church, family, kids, Newsletters at 4:41 pm

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.

05.29.15

Every Last Drop

Posted in Ancona, church, family, friends, kids, Newsletters at 8:03 am

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.

04.30.15

Lame Duck

Posted in Ancona, church, family, leadership, ministry, Newsletters at 2:10 am

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!

10.29.14

Let’s Start Talking

Posted in Ancona, language, ministry, Newsletters, Team at 2:52 am

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!

04.30.14

Morality

Posted in Ancona, church, culture, school at 3:00 am

I’m one of the parent representatives for my son’s class. It’s the first time I have ever done anything like this, and I am enjoying peeking behind the curtain at what goes on in our kids’ schools.

Recently we found out that a kid in the class was being bullied online. The things that the other kids were putting online really stunned me, and I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to read things like that and know that they are about you.

In response to this, my co-parent representative organized an initiative to talk to the classes about cyber-bullying. He found an organization that comes to talk to kids about the internet and how to use it responsibly. There is a section on how things posted online can end up hurting a job interview someday. The police even come and explain how anonymous online isn’t really all that anonymous, and people can get in trouble for making threats.

As I sat in on the planning meeting, I couldn’t help but notice that we all were dancing around the core issue: that it’s wrong to bully someone online because it harms other people, not just because it can have negative repercussions on our future.

But, in post-Christian Europe, it’s just about impossible to deal with core issues like morality because there is no common core. Obviously it would be tough to deal with that kind of issue in any school, but I was bothered that there wasn’t any way to help the kids to understand the morality.

Which is why we need church planters in Italy! I firmly believe that so many of our problems here are because so few people are following Jesus. Maybe that sounds simplistic, but isn’t it true? How many problems does our society face because it doesn’t do what Jesus asks it to do? Don’t all of our problems really start there?

So pray for the church that God is growing in Ancona. Pray for us to be strong and to boldly show people what it means to follow Jesus. God is working here! He is growing and maturing His body. The progress is slow, but it is happening.

Last week was Italian Liberation Day. One of our church members organized a cook out at a local park. He was going to just invite his church friends, but also wanted to spend time with friends who don’t yet follow Jesus. So he combined them both. As I sat and watched the two groups mingle, I wondered, “isn’t this really what evangelism is?”

Thanks for your support! Please pray!

02.28.14

On and on the chain goes

Posted in Ancona, church, ministry, Newsletters at 12:36 pm

I don’t know if the Holy Spirit was thinking of church planting in Ancona, Italy when he guided Paul to write the following words to Timothy, who was in many ways his replacement: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

Seems like a standard verse talking about passing on the message of the Gospel. But look closely and you’ll see that Paul set up a kind of chain. “…the things that you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses…,” is the first link in the chain (Paul). “…entrust to reliable people…,” shows the second and third links (Timothy entrusting the message to reliable people). The chain doesn’t stop there: “who will also be qualified to teach others.”

And on and on the chain goes, starting with Jesus, going to His disciples, and then to their disciples until it ends up with a missionary team working in Ancona, Italy (kind of humbling when you look at it like that). And we don’t want the chain to end with us, or with this first generation of believers. We want our believers to “be qualified to teach others.”

Starting this week, we are moving into that last link of the chain. Up until now, the majority of the ministry has been done by the missionaries. Which is completely normal in the beginning. But if this church plant is to last beyond this first generation of believers, then our church needs to be released to do ministry without us. We want the church to see that we came to be catalysts. We really believe that we’re all called to be pastors (1 Peter 2:9) and that you don’t need formal education to minister.

In the weeks leading up until Easter, we have asked the church members to lead a very simple Bible study in their homes. We meet together as a church, and then sometime during the week they study the same passage with someone else. It’s a big step. We’ve been praying for God to put people in our lives that need to know what His word says. Coworkers, family, friends, neighbors, classmates … anyone we come in contact with who doesn’t know what God’s word says … they’re all fair game.

So far, about half of the church members have a group getting together. Others have been turned down by people they have asked. Others are still gathering up the courage.

Please pray! We are praying that this step in ministry launches us to the next phase in the church plant.

01.27.14

New Year’s Resolutions

Posted in Ancona, church, ministry, Newsletters, Team at 6:43 am

January. We all know what that means. The new year! So, maybe you remember and maybe you don’t, but I’ve often spoken about my “new year” being September. I just love new books, new clothes, new schedules, new sports, new school supplies, new new new. I don’t know why, but for me it’s always been this way. The new school year brings about such excitement.

On the contrary, January has never really thrilled me. I’ve never really been into New Year’s resolutions or New Year’s goals. We set them for our work, our mission, and the team but personally, I just haven’t gotten into the “hang” of it. I say I want to “be healthy,” but what does that mean? How do I measure “walk more?” Or “be more patient?” Because, honestly, by January 4th I already have the tendency to “lose it.”

So, this year I have to say that the Lord is really working here in Ancona. How do I know? Because I see this year so incredibly full of possibility. I mean full. We sat down as a team to set our 2014 goals, and we were getting so excited. We have planned so much, yet the ways to achieve these goals are so simple. We have new ideas for study, for evangelism, for outreach, and for prayer.  I have even set personal goals. Yes. You read that right. Personal goals. And it’s not even September!

Friends, you are such an integral part of this ministry. You help us in ways that you may not even realize. So, as we embark on the new year, can I ask you to pray? Pick a goal. Any goal. Look through our ministry plans for the year and find something that really appeals to you. Something that you can get behind. Some way that you want to see the Lord work this year. Then pray. Pray for people to be reached with the Gospel. Pray for the church to grow. Pray for seed to be scattered all over Ancona. Pray for our marriage, our family, our children, our church, our team. Pray for ways that you can encourage and support the ministry in Ancona. Then, let me know, will you? I’d love to hear from you!! Pick something, then let us know how you will be covering Ancona and the Roterts in prayer this year. Because 2014 we will see movement.

God is working and I want nothing less that to see where and walk right alongside Him. Don’t you?

09.30.13

Definitely Worth It

Posted in Ancona, church, culture, ministry, Newsletters at 6:12 am

I was sitting on the beach with the rest of the church members, waiting for everyone to show up. The breeze was a bit chilly, and nearly all the other beach-goers had already packed up and gone home. We were there to celebrate the baptism of one of our church members. Her daughter was baptized just a few weeks earlier, and she finally decided she was ready as well (“…faith like a child…,” indeed).

My teammates often tease me about how bad I am with details and dates, and their teasing is very accurate. So I asked her, “How long have you been a part of our church?”

We took a trip down memory lane and remembered her first contact with the church: our monthly coffee houses. She was interested in practicing English and was friends with others who were regular attenders. Many conversations later, she began to attend our weekly church services. She was on the fringes for a while, unsure in her own Catholic faith, but not quite sure what to do with us Protestants either.

Slowly her faith grew and realized her need for a real relationship with Jesus. But that new relationship meant leaving a lot of the old behind. It meant a lot of wrestling with the truth we find in the Bible. It meant time spent with the believers to see if their faith was the real thing.

And in the end, about six years later, after many conversations and studies and prayer, she decided to put the exclamation mark on her conversion and be baptized in the Adriatic Sea.

Six years. And her experience of slowly coming to faith is not unusual at all. In Ancona, we’re not starting with new, freshly plowed soil that is just waiting for seeds. We’re dealing with soil that is hard, perhaps even damaged or covered with weeds. And it often takes years of prayer, study, and time with other believers to prepare a person’s heart for real grace and forgiveness.
It’s a long process, but definitely worth it.

07.18.13

No Charge

Posted in Ancona, church, ministry, Newsletters at 10:54 am

Officially, we’re calling it Studi Biblici per Curiosi – Bible Studies for the Curious. It’s pretty simple, really. We put up some flyers telling people to get in touch with us if the would like to study the Bible with a Protestant Pastor. And then we wait.

Our teammate was recently talking with a woman who was curious to know what we believe, and he suggested to her that she get in touch with me and start studying. She called and we set up a time and place to meet.

She asked about my background and some of the basics of what we believe. She asked me how the studies work. And then she sort of paused and sheepishly asked, “Well what’s the catch? What are you asking from me?” She was used to paying big fees to attend workshops by gurus who want to teach their beliefs, and thought that surely we would ask her to pay something.

I told her that I just needed time. No charge. She just kind of looked at me, and I could see her trying to figure out what the catch is.

So once a week, as our schedules permit, we sit down with some coffee and we read the Gospel of John together. Usually a chapter at a time, maybe a little less. And then we talk.

I try and guide the conversation towards a particular lesson that Jesus taught or the meaning of a parable. But mostly I just sit there and watch her wrestle with what the text might mean in her life.

We have a big outreach coming up next week. Seventy young people from a church in northern Italy will be here to evangelize on the beaches in the morning and in the piazzas at night. We were talking to the church about ways we can be involved each evening, and ways that we can share our faith. Several mentioned that they could just send people who are interested to me or Kyle, and we could take over from there.

Kyle wisely stopped the conversation and explained that every believer needs to be able to share the Gospel with someone. The Holy Spirit inside of Kyle and me (the pastors) is the same that is inside of all believers. Often evangelism is listening and watching for opportunities to speak God’s truth into the heart of someone who is seeking.

Can you pray for us as leaders and for the members of our church to be bold next week as we talk to curiosi who happen to walk by? Pray for God’s church in Ancona to grow!

06.21.13

Summer

Posted in Ancona, kids, ministry, school at 8:36 am

Summer has arrived! I know this because I am sitting in my semi-dark bedroom with the fan blowing on me trying my best to stay cool in this hot weather. It’s hard to enjoy the sunshine, though, because the facade on our apartment building has been getting an overhaul since April 15th. This means that starting at 7 AM we can hear jackhammers pounding into our building, pulling out pieces of concrete, etc. Then the pieces fall in huge chunks down the scaffolding with a resounding thud. After that the dust settles. And boy does it settle. Whew. It seems like I am always sweeping piles of dust off of something. So, to cool off, we head outdoors.

The arrival of summer also means school is out! Trey completed 5th grade and is now a middle schooler. Lance and Chloe are in the process of completing middle school. After school gets out, there is one week worth of written tests. They completed these exams last week. Then, there is the oral exam. After the oral exam, you are given a final grade and told whether you passed or not. Lance’s is on the 25th, and Chloe’s is on the 28th. Soon they will be in high school, which makes mom a little nervous!

I feel like there is so much to tell you! Let’s go with yesterday. I had a great time yesterday taking the train to nearby Senigallia. We have a believer there, Valentina, who because of her work schedule cannot join us for church. So, we take church to her. Yesterday Mariana, Trey, and I went to visit her. We had a great time reading from the Word and answering and asking questions. We had hugs and laughter, prayer, and even a little gelato. Oh what joy it is to fellowship with other believers. Valentina is a sweet lady in her 50’s who has only walked with the Lord for about a year now, but has amazing stories about how He had been pursuing her since she was a young mom.

I’m sorry, dear friend, that this is so choppy. I love to tell you stories and weave in anecdotes but I feel like so much has happened and is happening that I just seem to shoot off little facts here and there. I want to share so much, but there is little space to do so. If you want, I’d love to hear from you on our blog! Or by email. Just jot down questions or comments, and I’d love to answer them and correspond more with you. You are such a blessing to us! More than you may realize. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts.