Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Lessons, Learning, and Life

This year is flying for us!

We loved getting to catch up with Laura and Sara
at the convegno
We started the year of right by going to Florence for the New Years to meet the new Avanti Directors and workers and to participate in the regional youth convegno held there.  It was a very uplifting and encouraging experience meeting with the new workers, and getting to spend time with some of our young Italian friends who we don't get to see very often in Sicily.

This was the first convegno of it's kind in that the youth themselves organized it. They focused on the topic of evangelization. Daily devotionals covered topics such as "How to evangelize to friends," "How to evangelize to people different from us," and "How to evangelize to the foreigner." Each day there was an activity to help implicate the lesson/devotional from the day. One day they spent at the church building playing games and meeting students of the Avanti Workers. Another day was spent singing at home for the elderly, and yet another day was spent going to meet and greet and have tea and a snack with some refugees at the center for refugees near Florence.  They were all very uplifting and educational experiences and it was very neat to see the youth reach out of their comfort zones to talk to people and the types of people who they normally have little to no contact with.

Singing at the retirement home
Unfortunately, one thing we did notice while we were at the convegno is that they youth, though eager to serve, are pretty unprepared.  There is a serious lack in basic doctrinal knowledge, and things are being discussed among some of the older church members in Italy on ways to rectify this and encourage the youth to not just step up and be leaders but be knowledge in the Bible as well.

Alan felt strongly motivated to help with this as well, so he is working on translating a series of videos from the app "Read Scripture."

After the convegno we resumed our normal schedule of church activities and English lessons. In addition to English class, there is now an Italian class organized for our Iranian students with three different church members rotating to teach them.  One of us usually sits in to help translate if necessary.

Two of Rachel's students have been coming to the house once a week for an in-home Bible study.  They are traditionally Muslim and have little basic knowledge of the Bible so we've been doing a very basic study that is going well.  I will be blogging more about this in detail separately later this week.

Saturdays are busy with the teens from the church.  The first Saturday of the month we continue with a Bible study, dinner, and games at our house. The second Saturday of the month is now spent in Paterno`, a town about 30 minutes away, with their youth. Alan takes a car full of the youth from Catania so that they can have an opportunity to be with the youth of Paterno`. The third Saturday the youth are at Stefano Spina's house for a Bible study, and the fourth Saturday is free (for now).

We are staying busy with lots of English classes. We have a few students who are interested in studying the Bible, including a new student, Adriana, who studies with both of us.  She has been very up front from the beginning that she doesn't believe in anything because of past experiences with the Catholic church, however she recently admitted that she thinks there's a reason she saw our advertisement for our classes and has been coming even though she doesn't "want there to be a reason." So if you all can keep her in your prayers, that her heart will continue to open up to having a relationship with God despite past experiences with other churches and religions.

We are starting to prepare for this summer. We have VBS to plan and prepare for. There is also a group of campaigners coming this summer.

Last weekend we were invited to go up and visit the church in Vicenza. We had a lovely visit and we enjoyed our time with the church family up there. In fact, we had such a good time talking to everybody while we were there that we completely forgot to take a photo with everyone. Whoops! It was a very enlightening experience learning about the needs and work of the churches in northern Italy. Thank you to the Fergnani for their hospitality!

Hanging out in Vicenza with the teens from the church 
Beatrice, Francesca, and Anna showing us their city
We'll leave you guys with a little summary of an interesting lesson we had recently. Rachel teamed up with Giorgia, one of the young ladies at church, to teach one of the ladies' Bible studies this year.  For the lesson we focused on the woman at the well, but we looked at it from a slightly different and new (for us) angle. Did you guys ever notice that the woman at the well was able to accomplish something that Jesus' disciples weren't able to do? At the very beginning of the story, we're told that the disciples go into town to get some food. While they're gone there's that famous conversation between the woman and Jesus at the well. But I'm not going to focus on that. You guys are probably familiar with it anyways.  If you want to read up on it, check out John 4:1-42.

What we noticed this time when we were preparing the lesson was that this woman, who was by no means perfect, accomplished something the disciples didn't. She went back into the town, where the disciples had gone to look for food, and told everyone about Jesus and what he had said to her. Then what? Well, she brought the town to Jesus! All those people came out to meet him because of her testimony. And what are the disciples doing? They're still focusing on the food, telling Jesus to eat. Then Jesus goes on to explain to them that he has food, but they still don't get it. While they are trying to figure out if somebody fed Jesus, Jesus explains to them that his food is do do God's will and to accomplish his work. He starts talking about sowing and reaping the harvest. Of course, he's not talking about actual food at this point but people. After this, we're told that many Samaritans came from the town and believed because of the woman's testimony, and then that they eventually believed because they heard what Jesus had to say for themselves.

This Samaritan woman, who the Jews at that time would have considered unclean, just went out and brought a whole town to Christ through her testimony, while the disciples are too busy being preoccupied with finding food to eat.

We see throughout the Bible that God uses imperfect, unlikely people to accomplish his work; and this is just another example.  So we just wanted to leave you with that thought. Never think that you aren't good enough or qualified enough to do His work. One of my favorite quotes is "God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called." And we're all called to do his work and share the Gospel.

Thank you again for all your prayers and support! We pray for and love you all!

Going to Villa Bellini for Carnevale with some of the kids from church one day after worship. 

Family picture in Florence. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

An Open Letter About Future Plans

Hello from Italy. 
Rachel and I are currently in the process of trying to decide what direction we want to go in life. We are currently considering three options.
1.Staying in Italy 
2.Going to Albania
3. Returning to America

We’re at a very interesting point in our work here in Catania. We’ve been here for three and a half years now, and I am starting to see "recycled students" - students who came when we first got here. Ninety percent of our students come because they want to leave Catania and go to England (or anywhere else) for work, which they usually do. They come for a few months to learn English and then they are gone. We try to teach them about God and tell them the good news about Jesus Christ. Many times it feels like nothing is getting through to them, sometimes (0.001% of the time) it feels like they are understanding everything.
Speaking of these "recycled students," right now I have two. They came when Rachel and I first got here. One of them went to England, and for family reasons is back in Catania speaking very good English and looking for the truth about life/God. It’s pretty incredible to see the change, and it’s pretty awesome to get to speak with him about the truth. We’ve only had four lessons but they are the highlight of the week. It’s very exciting to speak with someone who is ready to learn. These students are few and far between but they are here. So when do we say, "Ok that’s enough. It’s time to move on?" It’s impossible for us to answer.

We’ve been working with the youth here in the church for three years. We had planned on doing Bible bowl again this year, but it seems like they are at a point where they are ready for more in-depth study and discussion so we are working through that now. Some Italians have expressed interest in teaching immigrants the Italian language as a form of evangelization. Sicily is a door to Europe, so there are plenty of immigrants to teach. So we are starting to work with them on that.

Then we have been invited to move to Albania to do similar work there. We went to a church camp in 2013 and every time we see Sokol he says, "Come to Albania." Recently, I was in Greece for a workshop and he was also there. He said again, "Come to Albania." So I asked him, "Do you say this to everyone? Do you try and get everyone to move to Albania?" He replied, "No. Just you. I think the youth in the church need to see examples of young Christian families. Many missionaries have come, but they are all old. It's hard for a 20 year old to connect with an 80 year old."
From the first time we visited I have always loved Albania, and I would love to live and work there. But we’re in Italy, we finally speak the language, and we see things moving in the right direction here. I want to move to Albania, but I feel like maybe I want to move there for the wrong reasons. We see a need in the north of Italy - the youth are looking and asking for guidance on how to be Christian men and women, but we have not been invited to any specific place. We have just talked among ourselves about the possibility that maybe Catania was our training ground and now we should move up north.

And last but not least we want to go home to be closer to family. There are many opportunities to serve, to do foster care, and to do other things in America. So, in reality, we have four (Catania, Northern Italy, Albania, America) good options in front of us. We have good and bad reasons to want to try and do all of them. So how do we decide? That’s where we are in our work right now. Interesting right?

I am writing you this evening to ask for prayers for wisdom (I need a lager portion than most) and to let you know we are thinking about continuing some form of foreign missions. To those of you who have supported us these past four years, we want to say thank you.  If we continue foreign missions longer than the original plan, we are aware we might have to fundraise again. And that's ok. God has always provided for us and we know he will continue. I'm just trying to say that you guys have been great! Your support has been a huge blessing, but we're not taking it for granted. 

Alan and Rachel

Monday, January 9, 2017

Four Years Ago Today

 Four years ago today a young, married couple arrived in Florence Italy with plans to do some mission work for two years.

Four years and two kids later, and we're still here.  We can't believe how fast this time has flown.

I just want to give you a small summary of what's happened this past year, and then I'll include photos from the last year.

Alan has had several new students this year.  He has had a handful of students who are genuinely interested in studying the Bible.  These students not only study the Bible in English with him, but also meet with one of our elders to do a regular Bible study in Italian.

We have started a work with foreigners who want to learn Italian.  We've gotten 5 students over this year who've asked us for Italian lessons instead of English.  Four of them still come, and they come every, single day of the week. So some days they do just an Italian class, and some days they study the Bible in English and/or Italian.

Can you imagine telling someone about Jesus and his teachings for the first time in their lives? It's such a strange and beautiful experience. We (Americans and Italians) live in a country that is fairly familiar with Jesus and the stories about him. These four students who study Italian are traditionally Muslim and are from Iran. They have SO many questions about the Bible.  They've only been coming for a couple of months, but we've already had many conversations talking about issues such as how Jesus can be God and man, woman's roles in the church, how the Bible views women, forgiveness, grace, sin; basically you name it and we've talked about it. We specifically ask for prayers for these four students. Ali and Shiva seem especially interested and studying to discover what is, in fact, the truth.

One day, while walking in the park with Shadi and Shiva, they asked me if the Bible is against women. In talking about women's roles and how women are viewed in the Bible, we discussed the fact that a husband is commanded to love his wife as Christ loved the church - even giving up his life for her. Next thing I know, one of the girls is crying saying that it's one of the most beautiful things she's ever heard.

So we ask for specific prayers for Ali, Moji, Shiva, and Shadi. That they won't stop searching for the truth.

In addition to classes, we stay busy with church events - pot lucks every month, volleyball every week, youth group meeting twice a month, Sunday school, English class on Thursday evenings for the kids during Bible study, and VBS in the summer.

This summer we had several visitors from VBS, and a few of them studyied the Bible on a regular basis afterwards.

We also spend a lot of time with our church family - eating in each others homes, going to kid's birthday parties, and just spending time together. Catania is an amazing church and they are awesome at sharing God's love with each other and with those around them.

And of course, on a personal note, Alan and I had our second child this year. Sunny Faith arrived in August and she and big brother Davey are keeping us busy. They also have helped us make friends with most of our neighbors and the local businesses around our apartment.

Speaking of births, there have been nine baptisms this past year. Our new brothers and sisters in Christ are getting involved and growing already. Continue to pray for them as well!

We have many plans for this coming year that we are super excited about, but I will include that in the next blog, which I hope to post later this week.  For this post I just wanted to give you all a summary of this past year.

Thank you all so much for your support and prayers. We appreciate you all and pray for you as well! May God bless you in this new year!

Ringing in the New Year 2016

2016 New  Year
Two of the Nine baptisms we had this year! 

David was Olaf for Carnivale

David makes friends everywhere....even at the offices where we go to get our visas done

Sunday School Class
Bible Bowl for the teens/pre-teens

Support for the kids doing Bible Bowl

Playing basketball when we had Agape in the countryside 

Angelica - one of my students who sadly moved away this summer! I miss our talks and walks! 

Youth Group

Hanging out with Naomi and Elisa 

Family came to visit 

Hanging out with some of our favorite Roman people. :) 

David loves scooters. 

Laura came to visit Catania! 

Giulia has grown up so much these past few years! 

Every once in a while we all go out for a pizza. 
Sunny Faith was born 

Friends, church family, and students came to visit Sunny after she was born. 

Some local food - arancini! 

Some local pistachio desserts! 

Downtown Catania with family when they came to visit 
Rachele and I got to be pregnant at the same time together! 

Pregnant girls date! 

Vacation Bible School 

Two of the new Avanti workers - Bethany and Erin - came to visit us and help with VBS this year

Claudio volunteered to help us with VBS this year. 

Sila and Sunny at church. She gets passed around a lot. 

Antonella, Agostino, Favor, and Sunny 

Going to the park with Naomi and Elisa

Kid's birthday party 

Learning to make meatballs the Italian way. 

Buying bread at the panificio

We threw Davey a little bday party in the park. 

Eating traditional Iranian food that Moji prepared for us! 

Hanging out at church

Mogi and Ali made has us over for dinner one night

Sara and Sunny
English Movie day at our house, 
Eating with Christians from Italy and Germany.

Thanksgiving with some of our students and a family from church


Celebrating Yalda night (Longest night of the year) with our Iranian students and friends

Yalda night 

Christmas cookies for the orphanage

The church gave gifts to a local orphanage

Spent Christmas Eve with the Lastrinas

Sunny and Sabrina 

Playing scopa on Christmas Eve