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.

12.23.14

Watching God Work

Posted in culture, friends, ministry, Newsletters at 6:35 am

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!

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.

09.02.14

Goodbye Again

Posted in family, friends, home service, kids, language, Newsletters at 8:52 am

In just over 48 hours, I will have the unfortunate experience of watching my family say goodbye to the US part of our lives. If the scene goes like it has in the past, it will go down like this: we will unload an incredible amount of luggage at the airport. People will stare at us as we push two or three carts full of our bags towards the check-in counter. Heidi will hover by the scales, hoping that her carefully-packed bags aren’t overweight. The ticket agent will give me a thick stack of boarding cards. We’ll turn around and Heidi’s mom and sister will be there waiting, having parked the cars for us.

And then the tears start. I’ve already seen them as we pulled out of my mom’s driveway after our wonderful visit with her and my sister and nephews. The airport tears will be tough because there is more of a finality to it. We’re not just saying goodbye to loved ones. This time we’re saying goodbye to the US way of life. Not better or worse, but somehow a part of us despite nine years in Ancona.

At some point during the scene I will remind everyone we have to get through security and we will head towards the line of people snaking towards the metal detectors. A quick wave on the other side of security, and we’re alone, headed back to a country that has become home.

There’s just no other way to say it. The good-byes are really hard. Though I will obviously miss everyone, I’m not as sentimental as Heidi or the kids. The lump in my throat will come from watching everyone grieve yet another goodbye. I will ask God to protect their hearts during this difficult time. I’ll ask Him to help them work through their feelings and somehow remind them that their eternal home awaits for them in Heaven.

The arrival in Ancona sometimes makes my head spin. One or more of our bags is usually missing and so we’ll spend a crazy amount of time trying to report our lost luggage. Our friends will be waiting and suddenly I will be thrown into a world of Italian language. People will want to catch up after a summer away and I will be nervous about conjugating verbs correctly. We’ll finally collapse into our apartment, luggage everywhere, and thank God for our comfy beds, our closets where we can finally unpack, and the little sliver of the Adriatic Sea we can see from our balcony.

So as we head back, know that we are taking a little piece of you with us, and that we are leaving a little piece of ourselves with you. Let’s see what God does with us and in us until we’re reunited the next time…

08.25.10

Where is Everybody?

Posted in Ancona, culture, family, friends, ministry, Newsletters at 1:42 am

August. I know that over the years we have told you about August. The most dreadful most wonderful month of the year. In church planting work, seeing and having fellowship with your little congregation is very important. Especially since we have adopted an attitude that living life together is something that helps us grow as Christians.

But when everyone is spread out all over, even in other countries, it makes getting together pretty hard! I’m starting to think that God wants this time to be a time of Sabbath and renewal. We have church members in two other regions (like states) and one other country. We have people who have to work Sundays during the summer months, and join us in the evening exhausted but happy. We have a hard time getting together with people because they are at their beach homes or on vacation. Sometimes, even I say “I’m bo-oored.”

Then, I think of it another way. I can use this time to concentrate, really concentrate, on the people before me. Tonight we are having two families over for dinner. They don’t really know each other, but one is from church and the other have expressed interest in coming to church. I’ve been wanting to introduce them for a while. The more relaxed schedule of August makes dinners like this much easier to plan. And no one has to rush off and get the kids in bed for school the next day. Conversation is relaxed. People seem to let their guards down a bit, giving us an opportunity to bring faith into the discussion.

Tomorrow, we are headed about an hour away to the water park with this same family. Since it is hard to take our whole family on a vacation, it is nice to be able to take a vacation day here and there to spend some concentrated time building relationships.

This weekend we are hosting a missionary couple from the Rome area, and I really hope it can be a time of growth and encouragement (and rest, too!). This couple is in the very beginning stages of church planting in the Rome area, and the topic of building the Kingdom here in Italy always comes up. The following week another missionary will be staying with us for a few days.

When all is said and done, I want to look back on my summer knowing that we made many memories. I want to really know that we have used all of the opportunities that God had given us to share and encourage. When school starts, I want to see that we’ve all grown up a bit, not just the kids.

Until next month…

05.30.10

Fish dinner, diesel fumes, and friends

Posted in Ancona, culture, family, food, friends at 2:21 am

Some good friends of ours invited us to attend a fish dinner down by the port. The area of town is called Gli Archi (The Arches), and all of the buildings have a large sidewalk in front and are covered with huge arches.

The dinner was a benefit for some non-profit organization. They spread out picnic tables underneath the arches and everyone mingled around until the boy scouts hurried by to take tickets and bring the food.

There is a street right in front of the arches, and it’s one of the main ways into town. Traffic tapered off as dinner went on, but the occasional bus or streetbike roaring by quickly reminded us to hang on to the kids.

When people think of Italy they often think of a fancy restaurant or a big plate of pasta. They picture wine glasses and pizza. And to be sure, the big fancy Italian dinner is something we enjoy about living here.

But as I sat, scrunched on a flimsy picnic bench with family and friends on either side, I realized that I would much rather have dinner sotto gli archi than in some fancy restaurant. The seafood pasta and fried fish was great, but not nearly as great as the company. I found myself smiling as Trey chatted with Maurizio, as Silla grabbed Francesca to take her for a walk, as Marco brought over a huge dessert that he bought before the pastry shop closed. Dinners like this are just as much for the company as the food.

But … the food was delicious, too!

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.

01.25.09

I need an introvert day

Posted in family, friends, kids, leadership at 5:59 pm

I’m an introvert.

There was a time in my life when I thought that was a character flaw. Introverts don’t like people, right? They’re kind of anti-social and maybe even a little snotty. How can that possibly be a good thing? I once had a friend question whether or not an introvert could even be a missionary.

Then I learned the real definition of introvert. We’re not anti-social and snotty. We like people just as much as extroverts. But the difference is that being around people is draining for introverts. It makes us tired. Extroverts come home from a party excitedly talking about all the great conversations they had. Introverts would rather drive home in silence, ready to slip into bed. One time after church my wife was asking me all kinds of questions about things that had happened, and I finally had to sheepishly admit that I was out of words – I honestly didn’t have it in me to have any more conversation!

This week has been full of meetings. And the kids have needed a little more attention than usual. And being the interim team leader means people turn their head and look at me during a meeting when it’s decision time. Which all adds up to a very tired introvert. When I saw being an introvert as a bad thing, it also would have added up to a lot of guilt. “Maybe introverts really shouldn’t be missionaries?” I would think. Now I see it as a part of me being me. I need to take some time to get recharged before I drain all the way to zero. Staying at zero too long often leads to bad things.

It’s a good thing to start to feel comfortable with the personality that God gave me.

11.21.08

How to Run 10 Kilometers

Posted in friends at 12:31 pm

So I think I can officially say that I’m a runner. A little over a year ago I started a running program with Jason. I was pretty out of shape, and definitely could stand to lose a few pounds.

The program we started with basically takes you from the couch to running for 30 minutes non-stop. Those of you with more experience may laugh at such a short run, but to us it seemed like an eternity. We’ve had some set backs and some times when schedules just didn’t make running together possible. But soon after we started, we made the goal of running for 30 minutes.

And 30 minutes always seemed like the ultimate goal. We pushed beyond that a few times, but mostly that was it. Until Monday. Jason called and told me that instead of our normal run, we were running to Montacuto – a sort of suburb of Ancona – from his house. I knew it was a long run, and I knew it was almost completely uphill, but was willing to give it a shot. And sure enough, 57 minutes after we started, we ended up back at Jason’s house.

I was honestly pretty amazed that I did it. How could I possibly go from running 30 minutes one week, to nearly twice that amount the next? Jason said he felt like we had been putting an artificial barrier on ourselves. Once that barrier was removed, we were free to do what our bodies were able to do.

And it wasn’t just a fluke. We did it again this morning.

It makes me wonder if there are any other artificial barriers I’ve put up.

PS – Want to see our course? Click here! Oh,and so far I’ve lost 39 pounds from when I started.