Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fall 2016 Update

Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:30-31
As we start another school year of teaching English here in Catania, this is our prayer and hope - that God will renew us with new strength, energy, and ideas on how to serve His church here in Catania as well as the community. 
English lessons started back this month. Alan is teaching every day except Tuesdays, which we have decided will be Rachel's one day a week to teach her students.  Alan's schedule is very full as we have many new students this year. Alan is also staying busy preparing devotionals and the next Bible Bowl material for the teens.  We already have started the youth group meetings back since our summer break. 
Dinner with friends

The church here in Catania has exciting news. Giulia, one of the teenagers at the church was baptized just last week.  On the same day, Massimo, who is the husband of one of the members and is a friend of everyone's at the church also dedicated his life to Christ.  His family and church friends have been praying for 14 years for this to happen so there was much rejoicing on the day that these two took on Christ in baptism. 

We also have exciting personal news. Our daughter, Sunny Faith, was born in early August. Our son David is taking it well. He wants to hold her constantly and give her "baci" (kisses) all the time. Naturally, we've had some family coming to visit the past month and we've enjoyed the family time with them. 

Giulia and Massimo about to be baptized 

We are very aware that our time here in Italy is slowly (but surely) drawing to a close. As we are entering our last full school year that we'll be here, we are dedicated to bringing new energy into our work. Alan and several of the church members have been busy passing out fliers to advertise our English classes. Alan has made an updated sign for our church window, and we are looking into using social media to generate more contacts.

A new and probably pretty surprising thing has started recently.  Alan has met some foreigners here who have asked him to teach them Italian so that they can find jobs here. They already speak English well. So Alan has translated the material we use for our English lessons into Italian and is teaching Italian with the Bible to these foreigners. Naturally, he has asked some people from the church to be present for the lessons to help since, after-all, we aren't really qualified to teach Italian. :)

In these days it's easy to see that there's a lot of conflict going on in the world today. All you have to do is watch the news for a few minutes or open facebook to see that people are arguing their opinions over current hot issues. It's comforting to know in these times of conflict and strife that we can go almost anywhere in the world and meet people who are a part of the family of Christ. This past week we had some German Christians visiting the area, and we enjoyed spending an evening with them. There were Italians speaking English, Americans speaking Italian and German, and Germans speaking English and Italian (and yes sometimes all three languages were going at once).  How awesome is it that even though we hardly know each other and the fact that we come from different countries, backgrounds, and cultures; we can still unite together as one family in Christ! It's times like that when I feel I see glimpses of what heaven must be like. As one of the older ladies at church says whenever we have visitors that don't speak Italian, "We don't need to speak the same language to understand each other. We can understand each other through our hearts and love."

Thank you all for your support and prayers for the work here in Catania. We keep you all in our prayers as well, and we pray that we can all show the light wherever we are placed.

Thought you all would enjoy one of the many humorous things we see here on our way home. 

Family came to visit

Alan took them on a boat ride, which was the first time we've done that here. 

Walked to the park after church one Sunday 

Laura came to visit Catania from Rome and we got to have her over one night for American food! 

Davey loves hanging out with Fabio and Sara (so do we).

Davey catching a ride with Orazio outside the church building. 

We had some of the girls over from church for an English movie. They've been wanting to do this for a while. 

Some of the many of Sunny's visitors in the hospital. 

Davey playing in the hospital with kids from church. 

First day home with Sunny. 

We tried to get some pictures of the two of them one day at home. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Summer 2016 Update

As I write this post, I'm sitting in our living room with our life-saver fan blowing on me a full power in this 90 degree weather with 40% humidity. At least it's not over 75% humidity like it has been in recent days.

Alan and Davey having their weekly playdate with Naomi
We've reached the slow days of summer here in Catania. From now until the beginning of September our work load drops off dramatically. It's hard for people who've never been to Italy to understand, but literally everything closes in the month of August and everyone is on vacation.

I'm currently 9 months pregnant with less than 3 weeks to go until we meet our baby girl. So, after VBS finished (about 3 weeks ago now) I "officially" went on vacation.  Alan has a few students still who are sticking it out during the heat of summer, but many are already starting to drop off for the summer.  So now that VBS is over, Alan is busying himself with fixing up some things around our apartment, hanging out with our students outside of lessons, and prepping for lessons and youth group that will start back in September.

Speaking of the youth group, after we finished our first Bible Bowl we asked the teens if they wanted to prepare for another Bible Bowl or if they preferred to do devotionals. They surprised us by saying they wanted to do Revelations and Jonah for Bible Bowl. They've already started studying for that, and Alan decided to have them take turns bringing the devotional each time. He's given them an outline of questions/points to look for in whatever topic or passage they choose from the Bible. So far, we've had one teen-led lesson by Alessandro, and it went really well. He did a great job. Also we've been told to expect some of their friends this coming fall to come with them to devotionals so we are looking forward to that!

Youth Group 
Alan and one of his students have started passing out food, drinks, and clothes to the homeless once a week.  One of his students wanted to do this, and this has been something that Alan and I have wanted to do since we've been here. We've invited people from church to come along as well. Currently it has been just Alan and a couple of his students who have gone, but all of the clothing and personal care items they've passed out have come from church members.

Agostina and I teaching Sunday School

VBS went really well this year! All the ladies and a few of the men from the church did some major work in planning, organizing, decorating, translating, and teaching this year. This year we based our lessons off of a packet that we ordered. The theme was the sea (very appropriate for here), and the kids learned about how God knows them, listens to them, strengthens them, loves them, and sends them.  We did VBS over 3 days from 0900-1300 every day. Everyone worked so hard this year! We had 40 kids in total come over the 3 days with an average of 36 each day, and if I didn't lose count we had 12 visitors.  Many of the parents of the visitors stayed, and I was told afterwards that Stefano had the opportunity to evangelize and speak to them in his office during the vbs.  He said it was a great opportunity. So we hope and pray that this brings forth contacts, as this, along with teaching the kids of the church family, is one of our main goals.  I'm including a short film that you all can watch if you want.

Here's a quick VBS slideshow for you all to check out:

Vbs Catania Italy 2016

During vbs we also got to meet two of the new Avanti workers who are up in Florence. Bethany and Erin kindly wrote me one day volunteering to come down and help during our vbs.  We enjoyed having them, and they of course were a nice help and encouragement for us here.  Also, Claudio, a young man from Paterno` (a church about 30 mins away) wrote Alan one day asking if he could help with vbs. So we had lots of volunteers and we are thankful for everyone who worked so hard. I wish I could name everyone from the church who helped but I'd surely forget somebody and I don't want to offend anyone by leaving them out. So thank you all!

We took the girls up to Zafferana one evening to get Siciliana's.
You can see the tip of Etna from the piazza. 
I want to thank all of you who have written us letters of encouragement over the last few months. I cannot tell you how appreciated those notes are. We are truly thankful for all of you and the support you give us financially, emotionally, and spiritually. Again, this work is not possible without your support.
Rachele and I and our bellies. 

We had lots of encouragement specifically for our adoption process so I will update you on that. Since I am pregnant, our agency advised us to wait until after our daughter is born to do the homestudy since we would have had to do another homestudy after she was born anyways. However, we were told which country we would most likely have to adopt from based on the countries' requirements, and we were told that we would most likely have to adopt an older child. We were also told that if and once we are approved after the homestudy, we could have a child within 9 months.  So again, prayers are appreciated as we pursue something we feel is something we are called to do if able and willing. A lot depends still on if we get approved.

Agape in the countryside. 

Davey keeps me busy at home, and I'm working on prepping for baby number 2 when time and energy permits. He's now an active 21 month old toddler who looks like he's 3. He's starting to go through his clingy phase and his stubborn phase (perfect timing, kiddo!). He's a very friendly kid and makes friends wherever he goes.  He literally yells "ciao" at people until they respond. Each week we take him to the park and we've made several contacts through him.  Davey and I have had some play dates in others' homes with some moms that we've met at the park. So that's an interesting way that we've made contacts that I hadn't really thought of before.
Angelica and I on one of our many walks at the Villa

Until next time!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Workings of our Hearts

Can I write a blogpost just sharing with you all what's been on my heart (and some of what's been on Alan's as well)?

Our work continues as usual. Of course we continue to ask for prayers for our contacts. A few of them are now studying the Bible more in depth (not just for the sake of learning English).

So here comes a handful of honesty.  This is what's been on our hearts and some of it is just a sticky mess.

Being a missionary is hard, wonderful, confusing, rewarding, fun, different, and well just awesomely difficult at times. It's not a "real" job.  In fact, we get that question a lot, "When are you guys going to come home and get real jobs? You know, grow up and join the real world."  It's always a little discouraging when that question comes along.  But we are reminded that even though this doesn't seem like a "real" job or a successful job by the world's standards, that it's still something that is important and that needs to be done.  It is kind of counter cultural. We aren't setting ourselves up to be in a great financial situation or have an awesome retirement plan.  We aren't planning our futures in that way or buying a house.  But, to us those things aren't important. Why? We have no guarantee of the future (here on earth). We take each day as it comes, and we don't have to worry about those things because we know God has always taken care of us in the big and the little things.

Now, are we irresponsible? No, of course not! I wasn't saying all that to imply that we just throw caution to the wind. However, I would say our priorities are completely flip-flopped from what we were taught growing up in our culture. And that makes sense. After all, it does say that we are to be in the world but not of the world. (Romans 12:12)

Yeah, sure, we have have our moments of doubts.  It's hard to go against everything your culture has taught you all of your life.  At times we think, "Man, maybe we should get a "real job". We should be saving more money for our kids' futures or our retirement etc.  Sometimes we look at each other after a difficult or just different day and say, "What on earth are we doing?" But the answer comes immediately after the question. We are trying to share the gospel with people here in Catania. That's what we are doing.  So if that means having a strange schedule or if that means that "work" is often just spending time with people, then so be it. It's like that old saying they had on bulletin boards when we were kids, "Bloom where you're planted."  This is where we are, and we are going to try to bloom here for as long as we are here.

And missionaries have it all together, right? Hah! I wish! We should! But if anything, this post will show you that we don't. And sometimes that's another doubt that arises. We are human. We make mistakes and guess what? Sometimes we it's hard for us to want to get up and "go to work." But, we work through it with God's help. Philippians 4:13 has been our motto, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." And Paul! I could write a whole blog post on Paul. I love his example. We view Paul as this great missionary and great worker for Christ (and he was), but if you read about Paul you know he struggled (Romans 7). He wasn't perfect either, but God still used him.

Another thing that's been heavy on my heart is worry.  I'm a worrier, but I'm slowly overcoming that with God's help. Just last week we got news from my doctor that I have a wound on my uterus, I'm losing some blood, and I have an infection in my womb.  She's worried about the possibility of me going into preterm labor at any moment. Rest? No, rest has nothing to do with it. So I carry on my activities like nothing has happened and pray all my worries, fears, and cares into the hands of God. So far, I've only had one night (the night we found out) of intense worry. Since I've prayed about it that night though, I've felt a lot of freedom. It really is in God's hands, and if nothing happens then I didn't waste my time worrying, and if something happens I know that He will still take care of us.

Closely tied with worry is fear. It's another thing that creeps up on me once in a while. Right now it's fear of the unknown. Alan and I have started the adoption process. I mean, we just started...we are at the very beginning so we don't know if everything will go through. But, the questions already creep up..."Will we bond? How will it affect Davey? Will we be good parents to an older child even though we personally have no experience parenting an older child? Can we afford this?" And on and on they go. But, again, fear is like worry. We pray through all these questions and peace comes.  We know that if it's God will for us to adopt a child, that he will provide the way and that he will give us the strength and patience to do this.

God's taking care of this crazy life we are living. He answers our doubts about our jobs as missionaries, he takes care of our worries, and gets rid of our fears. He provides. Seriously, in the big ways and the small ways.

You want to hear a weird example of how God provides? This month we had a surprise bill from our condominium.  We pay a condominium fee each month (all the apartment buildings do this here).  However, at the end of the year, the owners can just tack on a bill and say, "Oh, this is how much of our expenses that didn't get covered so you have to pay this up right now."  The next day, we got our paycheck from Westside, and instead of the usual amount, there was a little bit extra. Do you know how much extra? The exact amount that we owe for this unexpected bill. How weird is that? How awesome is that, that God provided for us the exact amount we needed by placing on somebody's heart this last month to support us with a little extra money (and no, I'm sorry we don't know who because we get those reports at the end of the year of who contributed but if you're reading this, THANK YOU!).

Such a little thing, and not even something that we specifically prayed about, but God provided.

It's insane isn't it? How awesome our God is! How many examples there are in the Bible when he took care of people, listened to them even when they disobeyed, and forgave them when the sinned. He is a just but loving God, and even though I gave my life to him years ago, I daily choose to put my trust in him.

So no, we don't have it all figured out and our life has not gone at all the way we planned. In fact, the three things I clearly remember saying that I would never do, I've ended up doing (go to Harding, be a nurse, and teach English). So I'm sure there will be days when the doubts about if we should be doing this work arise, or when worry or fear try to overtake me, but I'll continue to commit my trust to God. We really could not be doing anything we are doing without Him.

To Him be the glory!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Spring Update

Happy Spring! The weather is finally warming up, the sun is shining most days, and the grass we planted in our back garden is finally growing! It's a beautiful time to enjoy and be reminded of God's creation.

As usual, the English lessons continue. Alan currently has 11 active students, several of whom come more than once a week.  Many of these students have been coming for a while, but almost none of them showed any interest in truly studying the Bible until just recently. A few are starting to show some interest! We continue to pray for our students that their hearts will be open to studying more in depth.

The teens of the church just participated in their first ever Bible bowl. As far as I know, it was the first one that's been done here in Italy. It went really well. They have been studying the book of Luke with Alan, and they all did well.  We also had a great turnout of church members coming to support our teens on a Saturday night! And now the adults want to do an impromptu Bible bowl/Bible quiz type thing after our monthly pot lucks.

Last minute studying

Either they're all right or...

Waiting for the results

Checking the answers and adding up points

Video of some of the questions
And the results are in! 

We talked to the teens to ask them if they'd be interested in doing this again next year, and they said they want to do it again. So, I guess we'll be starting to pick a book/books soon and working on that later on this year.

I've started work on VBS this year. I'm currently in the process of translating all the lessons, games, arts and crafts, etc.  This year, I'm passing a lot of the work onto the ladies of the church.  I'm very excited to have so many people interested in helping out our kids!

Baby Kirby number two is on the way and is set to arrive August 2nd. So for now I still teach 4-5 English classes a week, but I may be giving them to Alan once we have two kids running around.

Also, I was asked at the beginning of the year to possibly write or organize a curriculum for our preschoolers. We have about 10 of them and right now we don't have a set lesson plan. So that's something else I may be working on this summer once lessons have slowed down.

The ladies Bible study recently finished their study on the book of James.  It seemed to go very well, and we all were reminded of things we need to do to improve our walk with God.

The church members still get together every Friday evening for a game of volleyball, and we are constantly getting together and having fellowships.

We have had three baptisms this year! A young couple who has been visiting for the past several months, decided to commit their lives to Christ, and one other lady who has been visiting for a while and studying with Stephano.

We also currently have several people visiting each week and Stephano is studying with several contacts. We always ask for and appreciate your prayers for his contacts as well as for our contacts.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Being the Light

If you all are looking for a long overdo update, you’ll find a short one at the end of this blog post. 

For those of you who need a refresher because it’s been so long…

I’m Rachel, a Christian missionary in Catania Sicily. Alan, my husband, and I have been here for three years, and we are staying on for another two years. We have a 16 month old son and another on the way. 
Our main work is evangelism with the local church.  Our main outreach/mode of doing evangelism is teaching English for free using the Bible as our text.  We also do a few other things here with the local church. 
But those will be included in the update at the end of the post. 

Why, you might ask, are you a missionary? And in Italy? Aren’t there other countries? Haven’t the Italians already heard the Good News? 

Well, my answer to you would be in the form of a question. What makes my husband and I missionaries? Is it the fact that we live in a foreign country from the one we were raised in? Is it the fact we are supported by the generosity of churches and Christians? Or is it the fact that our full time job is working for the church and we pass most of our time at the local church building?

While those are all common factors for quite a few missionaries, it’s not what makes us missionaries. It’s also not the definition of a missionary. So why then? Because we were called?  This is when some might start to nod their head and think, “Yes, yes. I’ve heard something like this before. You felt called to go to Italy to share the gospel.” Well….not exactly. We, all of us who claim to love Christ and who have made him our Savior, have been called to be missionaries. If you want a specific verse for this just look  in Mark 16:15, but really if you read the New Testament you understand that one of the overarching themes is that we are all supposed to share God’s love with others, be the light, and be prepared to answer why we have this hope to anyone who asks us. 

So we’re missionaries because we’re Christians. You don’t have to live in a foreign country or a different state, you don’t have to be financially supported by the church, and you don’t have to have only this job as your full time job. We’re all supposed to be the light wherever we are. 

For Alan and I personally it just so happened that we had this opportunity to come to Italy to do this work, it appealed to us for many reasons, and it worked out so here we are. So a question that Alan and I struggle with constantly and perhaps you all do as well is….what does it mean to be the light? What does it mean for me personally? How can I be the light? 

And that’s where Alan and I are in our work here. We continue to do English lessons with the Bible, we continue to host the youth at our house for Bible studies and Bible Bowl preparation, and we continue to be involved in church studies and activities. But we are always looking to improve ourselves. We are constantly questioning how we can be the light to those we know and to those we don’t know.  So right now we’ve been brain storming how we can get more involved with the local community and how we can encourage others from the church to be more involved. It’s a little daunting and overwhelming at times. We have had ideas in the past that work in the States, but we’ve learned don’t work here. So it’s a learning curve…we’re trying to learn this culture, the laws, and the local needs. We want to be that light. We want the church of Christ in Catania to shine brightly for everyone in Catania and the surrounding countryside to see. So, we ask that you all pray for us as we continue to brainstorm/research our options here and as we try to present our ideas to the local congregation.  Right now we just have ideas….such as going into the Immigrant community here and offering to teach them Italian (obviously we would need other volunteers to do this as Italian is our second language) so they can find jobs.  This would include people from all types of countries and religions. We hope, obviously, to share the Gospel with them first and foremost. We want to look into feeding/clothing the poor.  But again, this and other ideas we have are just ideas right now. We need lots of prayer as we look into what we can do. 

Do we shine as brilliantly as this firework? Is it obvious to everyone around us what we live for and that we live for Jesus?
As for our work here, we continue with classes and youth group meetings. The teens will be having their first Bible bowl competition in a little over a month. We hope to get a big turnout at the church to support our teens. VBS planning has started already. I’m super excited for this year because we’ve already started to have meetings (usually they happen much later) and so many (pretty much all) of the ladies of the church have agreed to help not only during the event but in the preparation process this year! This not only helps me a lot, but makes the process so much more enjoyable to be able to share it with them and see them learn how to plan these events. The ladies have also started a monthly tea meeting in their homes. We decided to have tea and fellowship together and add on a small devotional. We have been doing Francis Chan’s Basic Video Series and studies, which I happen to have with Italian subtitles. So far everyone is really enjoying these evenings. I have taught a few ladies classes on the book of James. This is the first time I’ve taught adults in Italian. I feel a bit sorry for them as I fumble my way through and stumble over my words, but they’ve been very gracious and it was a good opportunity for me to learn. Just like it says in Romans 2:21 “you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?” I’ve learned a ton by having to do this study. Alan continues to take the reins on the English classes, staying at the church just to keep the doors open, and visiting our contacts. Most likely when our second child is born I will be giving him all of my students except for the children’s class I help him with during the midweek Bible study. So pray for him that he continues to have energy and drive. He’s constantly giving of himself and is gone a lot, and right now he has an emotional sometimes irrational pregnant wife. ;) 

On a fun note, the church has started up a Volleyball night on Friday nights at a local gym. It's been a fun way for everyone to hang out together and just laugh.  It's a good opportunity to invite students and friends as well, and Alessandro, a contact and friend Alan has had since we've moved here, came and plans to come again.

We did host Thanksgiving last year, and as a result a few of our students came to church and a few of our students continue to pop in once in a while for services. Alan has a wide range of contacts from Buddhists, to atheists, to Catholics, and to those who are just apathetic. Please continue to pray for these contacts and our interactions/studies with them!

Thank you all so much for your continued prayers, support, and love you send our way! We could not continue to do this work without them. It means a lot to us to have your support. Attached are some pictures from the past few months just for your amusement. :)

Christmas Eve with the Lastrinas 
Homemade Gingerbread house...completely homemade people. Not a kit. Sabrina is amazing! 

Christmas Eve Games

Taking the kids to the park 

Going to the park with some families form church. 

We took Vanessa's kiddos to the circus when it was in town. They'd never been before and loved it! 
They especially loved the elephants
New Years Eve with church family and friends 

Davey on New Years Eve...yes they were all up till 2am or later! 

Church going out to get pizza to celebrate Adele and Orazio redoing their vows. 

At one of the local offices to get our paperwork done...Davey literally makes friends wherever he goes. 

We went on a hike with Rachele and Giorgio in late fall and found some blackberries that we later made into jam. 

Agostina had everyone over one night for pizza and a game of spoons. 

My little Olaf. This is what he was for carnevale, which is like halloween here except the kids get to wear their costumes for two weeks and they wear them wherever they want - the grocery store, park, etc. 

Stella came to visit us from Albania in the fall.

Our little kids English class. 

We did Thanksgiving at the church building this year because we had so many guests! 

Youth Bible Study. The girls arrived early, much to Davey's delight. He's already a ladies man.

Grandpa Dave and Davey 

Grandpa and Grandma came to visit so we took them to a local tourist site - The Valley of Temples. 

Grandma Kirby and Zia Sarah got to come visit this year too! 
Davey's first birthday with all of his friends. We are so blessed and thankful! 

Youth Group at our house playing spoons. Davey crashing the party.

Discepolato - A Youth Retreat held in southern Italy last fall. I've just got a pic of the guys here, but there were girls as well.