11.29.14

Thankful

Posted in church, family, finances, food, friends, ministry, Newsletters at 6:25 am

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.

05.24.10

Volatility

Posted in finances at 9:57 am

There something that I’ve never been quite able to explain to people when we go back home: the effects of the exchange rate. I think most people don’t really get it because it is just completely unfamiliar. How can a dollar not be worth a dollar? I ask people to try and imagine that over the course of two years, your paycheck decreases by 20%. And the cost of living increases during those same two years. And somehow you have to find a way to pay the bills and support the ministry.

This chart shows us the dollar/euro exchange rate from today all the way back to the day we’ve moved here in April, 2005. Recently, the exchange rate has dropped down to about where it was back then. But those two big humps in the middle are what make life pretty interesting.

It’s a helpless feeling. I honestly don’t even understand how the exchange rate gets decided. I know the banks are involved, and there’s something about investor confidence, and possibly a dice role and the phase of the moon. But it means that sometimes my rent payment is $1,232 and sometimes it’s $960. Sometimes the grocery budget is $158 a week and sometimes it’s $123. Sometimes a tank of gas costs $113 and sometimes it costs $88.

We also hate it because we see our supporter’s money, the people who make such big sacrifices to see a church planted in Ancona, worth less and less and no one can do anything about it.

Except for God. Sometimes he has people send a little extra support one month. Sometimes someone in Italy surprises us with a gift. Sometimes we find something we need on sale at just the right time. And sometimes … he has the banker whose hand is on the dial marked “dollar/euro exchange rate” shift things in our favor so that we can pay the light bill.

01.07.10

Lame Taxes

Posted in culture, finances, friends at 2:58 am

We were greeted from our Christmas travels to a letter from the Agenzia Entrate – more or less the Italian IRS. By the end of January, we need to pay €109 (~$158). It’s TV tax time.

Italy’s three main, state-run television stations are supported by a yearly tax, paid for by everyone who has bought a TV. It doesn’t matter if you never watch the state channels, or if you only use your TV to play movies, or even if you have ever turned your TV on. If you buy a TV, they send you a letter in January asking you to cough it up. And the state channels still have commercials, so where all this money goes is a bit of a mystery.

So what’s a poor pastor to do? Do we pay the tax like good foreign residents? Or do we stick it to the man and refuse to support the media machine? Here are some facts:

  • Christians who I respect have laughed at me when I asked if they pay the TV tax. They say it’s a joke and no one but foreigners who don’t know any better pay it.
  • They can come and “audit” you if you don’t pay. What this really means is a bit of a mystery.
  • After midnight, most of these channels play shows that range from soft-core, to full-out pornography. If I pay my tax, aren’t I supporting this programming as well?

I’d love to get a discussion going – but hurry … the tax is due January 31!

12.17.09

Modern Day Miracles

Posted in church, finances, friends, Newsletters at 11:48 am

Why, when God surprises us beyond our wildest dreams, do we worry? Why, when God grants us perfect gifts, in His perfect timing, do we fret?

I have two beautiful stories to tell you. One of those Christmas, heartwarming stories that only happens to everyone else. Only this time it happened to us.

Right now we are leading a family through the Experiencing God Bible study. They are talking about how much their lives are changing, and how their family life is no longer the same. A couple of weeks ago, a friend of Mariana’s (the wife/mom in our study group) called her in tears. She could barely get the words out, but that morning she had a mammogram and her doctor told her it didn’t look good at all. One side had a few nodules. The other was completely full of them. The next week she needed a sonogram and biopsy.

That week, we were studying how God speaks through prayer. Man, we set to work praying for Laura. Mariana had promised to go with her to the hospital. So, later that morning I called Mariana to see how it went. She told me it was amazing. The side that had a few no longer had any nodules at all. Not one. And, the other side that was full of them has one very, very tiny one. So tiny in fact, that after the biopsy comes back if it is in fact cancer, he can take everything out. No problem! I told her that I hope Laura sees a connection between our prayers and her results. (Laura’s husband is Muslim, and she isn’t any too concerned about religion.) She said yes. She definitely sees how important prayer is! It was an emotional day, to be sure.

Then, yesterday I had quite an emotional day myself. Our car is in need of some serious repairs. We aren’t sure what the total cost will be, but probably at least in the ballpark of $2000. (Last week we had to get new tires and an inspection that cost $771, so we are strapped.)  Well, after much worry, and not much faith, a friend called from the States. He is a pastor and said that the day before a couple came into his office and wanted to give a gift to missions. So he told them of our need. They wrote a check for $2000. I’m actually getting teary just typing this. Oh, by the way, in our Bible study we are talking about times when you just need to take that step and know that God will provide. Just when we gave our worry to Him, He provided. Can you believe that?

Our God is so much bigger than I can imagine. And next week, when we are driving through the country on our way to a missionary conference and I see the “cattle on a thousand hills” I’ll smile. See, cause I know that God owns that cattle. And, once in a while, he sells a few just for me.

09.17.08

How to move in Italy, Part 1

Posted in culture, finances at 2:21 am

The reason I haven’t been posting lately is because we are smack dab in the middle of a move. Earlier in the summer our landlord dropped by to tell us she needs the house back. As stated in our contract, we have six months to get out. But, if we can find a place sooner than that would be OK, too. Yikes!

After the shock wore off, the search began. The first thing to do is start making phone calls. We called all the realtors we could find and called every number on every sign posted about a house for rent. It’s almost always easier to go with a realtor (note – this is for a rental house, not buying a house). They’ll take you around and show you possibilities. However, their fee is pretty steep: 1 month’s rent. So if you rent a house for €700 ($910) a month, when you sign the rental contract you pay the agency €700. Pretty steep if you ask me. And why the person renting is out the money is beyond me.

There’s a choice to be made when looking for houses here: furnished or unfurnished. Check back soon to find out what that means…

04.18.08

Sergio the Barber

Posted in Ancona, culture, finances at 5:17 am

In fashion concious Italy, it’s hard to find a place to get a cheap haircut. I’m a “Great Clips” kind of guy in the US. I just want the hair to be shorter, and look somewhat like I didn’t cut it myself. I decided I was tired of paying €20 ($31) for a haircut, and a while back decided to try this barber whose shop is about a block away on my street.

And I met Sergio, an 82 year old Anconetano with a two-chair barber shop (but the second chair only holds the used drape cloths from the day).

He charges €6, moves as fast as an 82 year old can, and entertains me with stories about the war and “kids these days.” He uses an old fashioned straight razor to trim the hairs on your neck. His clippers look almost as old as he is. He’s left me in the chair, hair half cut, so he can go home and take his blood pressure medicine. There is hair from decades ago in every nook and cranny that his broom doesn’t reach. His nervousness about the immigration boom in Italy shows when he asks me in all seriousness “where they bury Chinese people when they die?”.

You can’t beat the price he charges. But for a foreigner like me, I can’t beat the language and cultural lessons I get when I’m in the chair.

03.15.08

Umm … when do we start worrying?

Posted in finances, ministry, Team at 1:27 pm

The exchange rate is a cruel, cruel thing. It’s one of those things that I never thought about before I moved overseas. But now I watch it way too often.

Here in Italy, we use Euros, which happens to be a very strong currency right now. Our “paycheck” is in dollars, which happens to be a very weak currency right now. Put those two facts together, and my average, three-bedroom apartment which used to cost around $850 is now over $1,000. And that’s over the course of just a few months!

I think we’re hit doubly hard here in two areas: housing and groceries. Both of these are things that can be trimmed only so much. A family of nearly 6 can only cut out so much food and so many bedrooms!

Jason emailed us a link you may have seen which basically indicated there is no end in sight to the dollar’s drop.

So when do we start worrying? Does a point come where we all pack up and go home because it costs too much to live here? Do our supporters even understand how horrible it feels to raise all of this money and watch it disappear just because of some silly world currency market? The thing that really bothers me is not so much that things cost a lot of money, but that I feel like our supporter’s donations just go right down the drain because of something none of us have any control over.

I think Jason had some great advice for us in his email, “Read it. Be aware. Don’t worry. God is big. Keep praying and cinching your belt. Let’s be more generous.”