We are having a crowded Christmas break. Instead of visiting family, we invited them to Trento, so there are nine of us in the house at the moment. This means spending a lot of time with them – especially it seems playing Sicilian card games, as some others at Lavis take advantage of their holidays and the fact that there are a lot of extra Sicilians in town at the moment. But I also get some good time to work on my projects, with my mother-in-law looking after me and taking over most of my house work responsibilities. So I was able to publish a new version of my Android program this week, and having been making good progress on some other projects as well.
…where Church is with a capital C, ie the whole Church, although now I am thinking I should have entitled this message “International God”.
Last week someone sent an e-mail to the church, in English, asking to talk to someone about faith. After a few difficulties working out when and where to meet, I managed to go to see him last night, and it turned out to be one of my best evenings for a long time. We went to a nearby bar, where he told me a bit of his story. He is from Pakistan, and had been attracted to Christianity for a long time, but could not even ask questions about it. Now he had come to Trento on a scholarship to do a Masters degree, and wanted to learn more about the Bible. After hearing this, over the noise of the bar and the football being played at maximum volume on the TV, I realised that this was not the divine appointment. 500 meters down the road lives the person who was a pastor in Pakistan before he was forced to flee the country a couple of years ago, and who now attends our church. So we left the bar to go to visit him, who happened to have another Pakistan Christian with him. So I had a wonderful evening listening to them tell their stories and evangelising in Urdu, giving thanks to God that he brings people from the other side of the world and puts them near to each other, and that he is using a little kitchen with a couple of stools in a village just outside Trento to bring about his purposes. Later I spoke about the evening with the person who runs the international Bible study in the church, and he said that he had been praying for more contacts with the Indian and Pakistani students, so that helps to explain the evening as well.
Even though the student is freer to ask questions and learn about Christianity in Italy, he is not completely free. The other Pakistani students at Trento are already a bit suspicious, and ask why he does not go to the mosque or say the daily prayers. So the Pakistani pastor warned him to be careful, because he could create problems both for himself and the pastor, but promised that he and the church will support and help him in every way possible. Pray for them, and give thanks to God with me for how he is using our small church for his Church in Pakistan (and many other countries).
Last Sunday there was the Sunday School’s annual fund raising event for a school in India. But more than fund raising, the aim has always been to have the children give what they can offer for the good of other children. This year we did something new, transforming the monthly church lunch after the service into the Sunday School Sandwich Shop, with the children busy making bread rolls and waiting on the tables, and the “clients” making a donation for the lunch. The church hall was nicely transformed into a restaurant for the occasion, and unexpectedly more people turned up than usual for a church lunch, which stretched our resources. But we found enough space, even though not enough tables, and had enough food, with a little left over which we could give to a couple of homeless people who have been attending the church lately. We raised over €400 for the school, but more importantly it was the children who, indirectly, gave the money.
Daniele and I however had to leave half way through the event, for his first chess tournament, which he was excited and enthusiastic about. He had two draws and five losses, which is not bad considering all the others were 3 to 6 years older than him. He proudly wore his medal (which all the participants won), and was really happy to win a Christmas bag of chocolates as the youngest player.
In local news this week, Trento topped the table this year as the best Italian city to live in. And there are lots of events in town to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the end of the Council of Trento. It is indeed a great place to live, where we can proclaim the grace alone of God in the place in which that doctrine was cursed.
Sometimes I refer to what I did in Australia as “my previous life”, as it seems so different and distant from what I do now. But every now and again things happen that bring back recollections of my past life. For example, on Friday I was remembering a conversation I had with some good friends at Newcastle at least 25 years ago, when Don Carson’s book Exegetical Fallacies had recently come out. One of the group said, “That would be a book for Richard!”. An accurate assessment, and in fact a few years ago I was asked to translate it into Italian by one of the local publishing houses. It is just been printed, and on Friday I received a few copies of the book for my work, and for my memories.
Last Easter, Stefania and Daniele saw me look at some chess news on Internet, and wanted to know all about it. So they learnt the rules, and started going along to a chess club at Trento, although only Daniele has continued after the summer. As I have taken them to the children’s lessons at the club, I have got to know some of the other members, and regained a bit of interest from my teenage years. It is also another opportunity to meet people outside of the church circles. Since the summer I have played in three single afternoon friendly tournaments, being a bit the unknown and unrated dark horse. The third one was today, when I also picked up my first placing (3rd). Which was the best result I ever obtained in my teenage years as well. Next Sunday there is a family day, with a tournament for children and one for their families, so we’ll see how Daniele fares in his first official matches.
But what made me the most excited all week, and brought back lots of memories, was discovering on Saturday morning that the Dr Who special (to celebrate my 50th anniversary a couple of months ago?) would be shown on Italian TV that night, at the same time it was shown in England. Usually I have to wait a year for shows to be dubbed and come out in Italy. Instead, I had an expected evening being nostalgic about my previous life.
A few days ago, I finished preparing the Bible studies for the church this year. This means that until May, when I will start preparing the studies for after the summer, I have a bit more time for other projects. Which is principally the computer work, of which I have quite a few ideas which I would like to implement. What is different now is that I have a virtual team helping me: people that I do not know, but who have offered to help me with their time and abilities, and that I give direction to and incorporate in the whole LaParola vision. So in the next few months the main computer projects I will be working on are:
New graphics for the site – after 12 years essentially the same, it is getting a bit dated. But I am no good on graphics, so someone is working on a new site design into which I will slot the contents of the site.
Bible quiz – someone has sent me over 1200 questions on the Bible, for which it was easy to create a web interface (it should go live this week), and I will put into my Windows program and create an independent Android app.
Windows program – I’m working on this by myself still, because it is a mature program with little work needed. But last week I finally added an often requested feature, to project the Bible text onto a second screen. So once I have added the quiz I will publish a new version of the program.
Android app – I wrote the core part of this program, and someone else the interface. There is not much else to do in the core, but I give advice to the other person as he adds new features to the program in the interface, calling the parts of the core that are already written.
iPhone/iPad app – I have two volunteers to work on the interface of this new program. First I have to modify the core of the Macintosh program to create a new core for an iOS program – they are similar, but not identical.
Hard Passages of the Bible – answers to common questions on the Bible that I am writing. I am continuing this by myself, both to keep it consistent and to keep me studying the Bible whilst I am not preparing Bible studies.
On Saturday the church has its first leaders’ “retreat” – a day at a house in the mountains for the leaders of the church and of its various groups and ministries, including a few who are in preparation. There were 29 adults and 18 children, plus five others to give us input and help with the food and children. It was a privilege to be a part of this group, many of whom I have served together with for over 20 years, others who I have helped in becoming a leaders, others who have helped me a lot. Also the other leaders expressed their appreciation of being able to get away for a day, with other people to look after the children, and concentrate on their relationships with the other leaders and on how they can help even more the church to grow as a community. And the children loved having a whole day to play together, rather than just a few minutes after church. Definitely something to repeat in the future.
An update on Pinuccia’s family situation I mentioned last week: her nephew has been taken off the drugs which were keeping him in a coma, but he has not woken up yet. From the worry, Pinuccia’s mother’s blood pressure shot up, and spent a few days in hospital as well. So Pinuccia has been feeling the distance from her family even more.
Next Saturday there will be the church’s first ever leaders’ retreat. It will be for the church committee (elder and deacons) and the leaders of the small groups (Bible study groups, young adults, youth, international and Sunday School). This actually leaves out quite a few people who serve in other ways, but despite that there will be 16 leaders present, together with their families. So it is a fairly large event for our church, which is an indication of how much the ministry of the church is spread out over the whole church. The aim is not so much to talk about our ministries and to plan, but more to talk about ourselves and how we are going as leaders. So please pray for this day together next Saturday.
On a more personal note, Pinuccia’s 18 year old nephew had a serious motorbike accident during the week. He is still in an induced coma, and will probably have an operation in the next few days, after which they will see if there was any permanent damage to the brain. Pray for him and his family (Pinuccia’s brother), and also for Pinuccia, who found it hard this week to be at Trento rather than in Sicily.
Last week was mostly ECM work, with a trip to Germany to meet with the other leaders of the various countries to or from which the mission sends missionaries. It was for a week, but it is difficult for me to be away for so long due to Pinuccia’s work hours this year, so I had to miss the training half and was present only at the half with the meetings. I act as a kind of secretary for this group, making sure that the paperwork is done and that decisions are followed up on. I enjoy that sort of work, and the others are happy that I do it for them. Then when I returned on Saturday night, it was time to catch up on some family celebrations, as Stefania had turned eight whilst I was away. So she got two family parties (one on her birthday, one when I returned), which meant that she was not too upset about my absence!
This weekend was a big weekend of teaching and training put on by the Young Adults, but for everyone, with others both from our church and other churches attending. We were encouraged to go out as a church to witness to the world. I was very excited to see people reflecting and changing what they thought about the church, and wanting to do something as a result. The prayer now is that it will result in concrete action and changes to our witness as a church.
On Friday afternoon, just before this weekend’s activities started, the church had a stand in front of the government offices at Trento, to inform, protest and collect signatures for a petition for religious liberty in Pakistan. The immediate stimulus was of course what happened in Pakistan last week. But it was also the result of a commitment to the persecuted church that there has been in the congregation for many years, and in particular to Pakistan since the pastor that was forced to flee his country turned up at Trento a couple of years ago. Last month another Pakistani Christian ended up at Trento, and so in our church, after death threats had made have leave his country in a hurry. Pray also that our commitment to religious liberty, and especially to our persecuted brothers, will continue to be a voice in the city, and be a part of its transformation.
This has been and still is a long week-end of parties. First on Friday there was the birthday party of one of Stefania’s class mates, and on Monday there will be another one. On Saturday morning there was a beginning of year party in the school courtyard, and in the evening an almost surprise party for my round number. Sunday was the first day of the Sunday School after the summer break, so we had a traditional party to kick the year off. Although I did not actually participate, as the other teachers of my class and I took the 11-12 year olds outside for some group bonding activities. I am looking forward to the near year with them, after a difficult year last year. Only one person remains from last year’s group, and the new ones are more enthusiastic than the ones who moved to the teenagers’ group. Then in the afternoon there was a reunion party for the children’s camp that we ran in June. It was good to see almost all the children there, welcoming towards a few new people who were present, and enthusiastic to come to next summer’s camp – even though the majority where not from the church.