03.27.15

God doesn’t need us

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:06 am

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.

Keep praying!

05.20.14

Who knows what to call it

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:29 am

I know of at least three different names for what my family is about to do. The “old” word for it is “furlough,” which gives the idea of a long vacation or a government employee who can’t come into work until congress gets its act together.

In an attempt to modernize the word, many call it “home service” or “home assignment.” This term gives the idea of our agency in the US sending us back to accomplish some secret mission, “if we choose to accept it.”

Whatever you call it, this summer we’re going to do it.

It’s been three years since the last time we went to the US. We have a ton of supporters who pray for the ministry in Ancona, and who give generously to make it possible. We want to come back and thank them and let them know what God is doing.

We also have family back home – grandparents who haven’t seen their grand kid’s face‑to‑face in far too long. Cousins remember our kids only from pictures. We can’t wait to see friends we haven’t seen in years.

And then there is the other stuff. I need some Kansas City BBQ. Heidi needs to be in a place where things to keep a family of six going don’t cost an arm and a leg. Both me and Heidi need a break. Even after nine years in Ancona, living in a foreign country takes its toll. So it’s time to go “home.”

And yes, I have to include the quotation marks. The whines from the kids about not seeing their friends this summer means the US isn’t “home” to them. We borrow cars and rely on others’ hospitality and get excited if we get to unpack the suitcases and stay put for a while because the US isn’t really “home” any more. My kids’ questions about what “American kids” are like prove that they are about to go to a foreign country, not to their “home” country.

Don’t take any of this negatively. We’re not complaining about coming to the US for a while. It’s just that the longer we are in Italy, the harder it is for me to figure out what to call our time in the US.

But if you’re in Yamhill County, Oregon, Rockford, Illinois, Kansas City, Missouri, Louisville, Kentucky, New Braunfels, Texas, or Joplin, Missouri we would LOVE to sit down and talk to you about everything God is doing in us and with us and through us. We would love to brag on our church members and tell you about the challenges. Our kids can tell you all about Italian schools. Frannie will mix up Italian and English in the same sentence. Whatever it’s called, we’re coming. See you soon!

10.30.13

Changing Seasons

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:24 am

While the changing of the seasons isn’t quite as pronounced here as it may be where you are, I do love to see the beauty of creation as we head into fall. Things seem to be speeding up and slowing down all at once. Soon, winter will arrive, and the earth will rest, lying cold and dormant until spring. I get much joy from patterning my life after how God has created the seasons. In the fall, I look towards the end of the year and remind myself that I want to finish well. Did I accomplish what I had hoped to accomplish this year? Have I changed? Have I grown? Have I encouraged others to grow?

I look back and see how God has worked in us, our family and our team. I see how He has worked in our community, challenging the believers here in many, many ways. And I also look to the future. The next couple of months are very important. We have some team transitions we are working through, as well as a major prayer that we have prayed throughout the year that we would love to see how God will answer. We have already seen God working through our team transition, but the major prayer…? Do you remember that one?

We have been praying that God will bring ten new believers this year. Throughout the year, at different times, we have asked you to pray alongside of us. Will you continue to do this? We have had more visitors in our church service as of late, and there are definitely people softening to the message of the Gospel, but we have a long way to go. It’s not a work that we can do alone. Well, honestly, it’s not even something that we can do at all. It’s the Lord’s work that only He can accomplish through us.
Will you please pray with us that the Chiesa di Cristo La Via will see growth in the next two months? (ten new believers would grow our community by 50%) Pray for a catalyst. Pray for something that would just be the springboard for change and growth in the city of Ancona. Pray that Ancona would seek the Lord once and for all, that the hearts of the people would be softened, and they would come to know Jesus as Saviour. And pray for our church members to find that balance between truth and love (a concept the men in our church have been studying).

Thanks for sharing in the ministry here in Ancona!! You are a huge part of what we do here. We couldn’t do it without you.

08.20.13

Years of Famine, Years of Plenty

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:58 am

Woo hoo! Trey and Giulia were baptized last Sunday, August 11th! Rejoice with us. It looks like we have another baptism coming up on September 1st, as well!

Let me tell you something. I just got back from a walk. No. Not bragging. You know I need to take walks more often. I’m telling you this because it’s eleven PM and everyone should be in for the night. Only no one is around. No sounds of late dinners or murmurs heard through open apartment windows. I even passed an entire city block where there wasn’t a single parked car!

These are the signs of August in Italy. We have less than a month before school starts and shops and cafes are closed for vacation. It’s not unusual to walk down to get the paper only to remember that your favorite newsstand is closed for the next two weeks!

Which reminded me of something. We have been going through a sermon series on the book of Genesis. A couple of weeks ago Brian started talking about the life of Joseph. We hit on Pharaoh’s dreams of the seven years of famine, and how Joseph was placed in charge of setting aside grain during the seven years of plenty. Brian asked how we can be ready for the “famine,” so to speak. One of the girls mentioned that we could “set some aside.” But, the conversation went on, and we never really explored what she meant. I have been thinking ever since.

I know that when school starts other activities will begin as well. We’ll resume mid-week Bible studies, and the kids will be back into sports and music lessons. So, because I anticipate being spread thin for a while, I feel that I need to “set some aside.” Now I have less responsibilities (only to have fun with the kids while on summer vacation). I have more time. I can read the Word freely. I can study books and listen to sermons. I have actual down time for hanging out with and discipling others, including our own children. What a blessing. What a joy. Don’t forget to spend time with the One who has called you, as well.

04.30.13

Old Facade

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:05 am

The noise is unlike anything I have ever heard. It’s like an annoying mosquito, if the mosquito was enormous and instead of a high-pitched whine it made this deep, bassy noise that rattled the walls.

The landlords of our building recently decided it was time to redo the facade. A month or so ago I would have agreed. There are many cracks in the exterior, and pieces were falling into our downstairs neighbor’s yard. But now that the work has started, I am sorry I ever looked up and complained.

It starts with the scaffolding. It’s like a prison that grows up over the course of a few days. The netting they place over it blocks the sunlight, so our apartment is several shades darker.

As soon as the scaffolding is up, the jack hammering begins. Big hydraulic hammers start chipping away at the facade. The pieces fall on the scaffolding with a metallic BANG. It’s loud enough to make it hard to carry on a conversation.

Let’s not forget what it’s like to open the shutters in the morning to find a worker standing there. I should probably start wearing a robe…

It’s inconvenient, sure. There is a port-a-potty in our building’s garage for the workers to use (and it stinks). Parking in the street is a mess with all of the extra vehicles. But is it worth it? Absolutely. You can’t just patch over old facade and expect the building to look right. The color would never be the same, and with the salty sea air of Ancona a quick repair would never last. You have to dig and hammer and drill to get out the old stuff that isn’t strong enough to hold the new stucco.

One of my favorite parts of church planting is walking people through steps that are very similar to redoing the stucco on an apartment. Except instead of new stucco we’re talking about new hearts.

Right now Marcus and I are going through a study on baptism and how to become a Christian with three people from our church (our youngest son included). I love watching that “Aha!” moment when a truth from the Bible hits them for the first time, and they see how silly it is too hold on to the “old stucco” in their lives. Is it painful to chip away at the old? Yes, every time. But is it worth it? Absolutely. Thanks for praying!

Until next month…

06.23.11

“Home”

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:58 pm

We’re baaack…!

After a record-breaking trip of only 13 hours or so, we made it back to Chicago to the smiling faces of Heidi’s mom and sister. After a few days of rest while our bodies recovered from the time difference, we headed off on our first trip: Louisville, Kentucky.

Shively Christian Church is a wonderful church that actually decided to begin the work in Ancona about 14 years ago. It was our privilege to meet with them during our stay in Louisville. It’s not an exaggeration in the least to say that the church in Ancona wouldn’t exist without the visionary members who listened to God’s prompting years ago. They pray for us, support us financially, send us notes and packages, and just care deeply about the church in Ancona. We met with missions committees, elders, the staff, Sunday school classes, and others who are interested what God is doing in Ancona. Plenty of talking and sharing about how we see Him working and what the next phase of ministry is.

We also spent time with the home office of Team Expansion. As Team Expansion missionaries, we are a part of a network of over 300 other missionaries all over the world who are all doing what we are doing: planting churches in places where there aren’t any. It’s great to head back to the base and see what God is doing all over the world.

We’ve spent a little time catching up with family and friends. Our short visits can’t make up for the many months spent far away, but they do help take some of the “edge” off of being overseas.

We miss Ancona, especially the church. We think a lot about Marcus and our Life Group and friends from the kids’ schools and neighbors and how hot it must be there. We’re praying that God will keep working on their hearts and maturing the believers while we are apart. God loves the church in Ancona more than we do, and it’s good that things don’t always depend on our physical presence.

Can I ask you to pray for us as we travel this summer? Pray for us to remind people of the need in Ancona. Pray for Marcus and the church. And pray for us to stay strong as a family during stressful car trips and long meetings.

Until next month…

12.14.10

There is Nothing New Under the Sun

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:29 am

I felt a little bit like a secret agent.

Some friends of ours who work in a country where Bibles are basically illegal recently asked if we could be the middle man for them. They would order the Bibles, we would pick them up, store them in the attic at church, and they would smuggle them into their country when they got the chance.

I was happy to help, and even happier that the process involved much less paperwork than I thought it would.

As I flipped through the Bibles (and thanked God that I don’t have to learn that language!) I found a little drawing that looked very familiar. Even though the writing was gibberish, I was looking at the Four Spiritual Laws.

Fact - Faith - Feeling

Almost 20 years ago, when I first started attending church, my youth minister invited me out to get a Coke. We ordered, and he pulled out a tiny booklet called The Four Spiritual Laws. A Gospel tract. It was illustrated with little pictures that summarized the simple words and concepts introduced in the booklet. I was amazed that being a Christian could be summarized into something so easy. Simplistic, even. Grace and forgiveness and God’s plan for humans were all described, along with brief references from the Bible.

In all my time as a pastor in Ancona, I have never once used a Gospel tract. Occasionally, well-meaning friends back in the US suggest that we be more bold and pass out tracts in the piazzas. I try and politely decline, explaining that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for that even here, and their reputation is less than ideal. If they continue to insist that Gospel tracts are the key to planting a church here, I simply ask when was the last time they passed out tracts as an evangelistic outreach, and how much success they had. That usually ends the discussion. People seem to bristle against tracts. It seems forced, artificial. How can one little booklet possibly explain things like grace and forgiveness and God’s plan for humans? How can you describe the relationship between facts and faith and feelings with a train?

And here I was, staring at 1,000 hot-off-the-press Arabic Bibles with The Four Spiritual Laws in the back.

I have no clue about its effectiveness, but the fact that it was in there seemed to say something. Do we have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be? Should we create new symbols, new metaphors, to describe our faith? What is the 2010 version of a Gospel tract?

11.18.10

Remembering God’s Promises

Posted in ministry, photography, Uncategorized at 7:07 am

I was having a particularly rough day. I was on the way to meet with someone, and wasn’t really looking forward to the things that I needed to say. I was sitting in the back section of a double-long bus, and the bounces as we headed down the road were causing my stomach to do nasty things. There was an overall trashy smell coming from somewhere. It had been raining all day, and my feet were wet.

I was sort of lost in my thoughts, trying to play out the coming conversation in my head as a sort of warm-up for the real thing. I was shooting up random prayers, asking God to grant me supernatural wisdom, the gift of tongues, and the patience of Job – and I really needed all of those things before I had to ring the bell for my stop.

The road we were on travels along the Adriatic coast, but most of the way the view is partially-obscured by train tracks and power lines and row after row of apartments. At one point, I looked to my right out the bus window and saw this:

I remember looking around at everyone on the bus with me. The woman behind me was lost in thought. Two teenage girls were listening to music, one earbud for each girl, while they simultaneously chatted. Others were dozing off. And I was worshiping. God’s promises and faithfulness all came flooding back to me and I couldn’t believe that others weren’t seeing what I was seeing. I honestly wanted to shout, “Look! God has kept that promise for thousands of years! And He will keep His promise to be with me forever!”

But the worship time was apparently meant just for me. The bus started moving and I soon got off at my stop.

With some much-needed confidence in God’s promises.

10.27.10

Permission to stay

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:42 am

It’s that time again…

Every two years our living permits expire and have to be renewed. Immigration is a touchy subject in Italy. The last several years have seen a huge increase in the number of people from all over the world that come here looking for a better life. Because of that influx, the process has become a paper-chasing struggle to get the right documents signed by the right people and delivered to the right offices.

There is an office here that is set up to help people wade through the beruacracy. Since finding this office, the process has gone from nearly overwhelming to relatively manageable.

Here’s some statistics:

  • My application is 49 pages long. I needed to go to three different city offices to get all the right documents. So far it has cost around $150.
  • My wife and kids’ application is 43 pages long, but much of their application is photocopies from my application. Their permit will cost around $130.
  • The Department of Health came to make sure our house meets all of the housing codes.
  • The waiting time from when we apply until we receive our permits is usually around 6 months, though we’ve been told that the waiting times are much shorter now.
  • My wife and I were required to get documents from the courthouse stating that there are no warrants out for our arrest, and that we have no pending jail sentences (happy to report that we’re in the clear!).

I probably sound like I’m whining, but I’m really not. The paper chase can get frustrating. But it’s what we need to do so we can stay here and work with the church, so it’s worth it.

01.20.09

November 2008 Newsletter

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:27 pm

November 2008 Newsletter