Today there was the first service in the church’s new hall, almost a year that it was purchased, due to bureaucracy and renovation work. There were a few technical hitches and there is still some work to do, but the tripled space was a breath of fresh air. Due to a larger than normal number of people, we ended up with people standing up anyway, but at least we have the room to fit them in – we just have to buy some more chairs.
One of my jobs in the afternoon whilst Pinuccia is at work is to go to the nursery to pick up Mattia and Luca, take them to the school to get Daniele, and then take them all home. A 2km round trip, including 4 level crossings and 3 times through the ever changing labyrinth that is the construction site as they put the railway underground. Whilst Luca and Mattia were in the double stroller it was not too difficult, but now that they are bigger and there is fine spring weather, I am using more active methods – walking (sometimes with an elastic strap on the wrists) or pushing their tricycles. However, Luca is a faster walker than Mattia, so I am often running back and forth between the two to keep them going and on the footpath (or going in the right direction through the maze), or walking sideways as Luca pulls the elastic on one arm forwards and Mattia the other one backwards, or keep having the two tricycles hit each other. Fortunately, there are lots of damsels around at that time picking up their own children, and who help this poor knight in distress. So in the past couple of weeks I have had ladies offering to push a tricycle for me, or to hold the hand of one of the children. Now, Lavis, the town where we live, is fairly small, and thanks to the twins and Pinuccia’s work at the preschool, our family is quite visible. So the first time that I was helped, when Pinuccia returned home she immediately asked, “You had trouble picking up Mattia and Luca today?” – someone had spied on me and told her at the preschool. Then yesterday, a lady who I don’t ever remember seeing before took Luca’s hand, that started chatting, “You are going to school to pick up the other son now? But the daughter is at the middle school, right? Next year the twins will be going to preschool. Will the mother be there as well?” Such is the result of having twins in a small town.
Some snapshots of church activities in this period:
1. On Saturday, the women of the Valsugana valley held an evangelistic dinner. The 10 ladies in the group had 53 friends come. My usual rule of thumb at Trento is that to have the same number of people not from the church as from the church is a good sign, but to have more than 5 times the number is amazing. Many of the friends commented on how much they felt the love between the members of the group, but also towards each one of them personally.
2. Last weekend the Christian groups at the universities (IFES) of north-east Italy had a camp together. A group has just been started at Trento thanks to the witness of Bruno, a Brazilian student. At the camp there were Bruno, two of his friends, and two students from the church at Trento and one from Rovereto who are studying in other cities. It is great to see the university ministry taking off again – it remains close to my heart (it was the main reason why I came to Trento in the first place).
3. This weekend Ruben (a Brazilian missionary working with refugees), Latif (the pastor who fled from Pakistan) and two other Christian refugees from Pakistan drove to Switzerland to speak at the United Nations about religious freedom in Pakistan. Our ministry to refugees is to not only help with their immediate needs, but to give them a political voice as well.
4. Next Saturday there will be the second meeting on raising children, to help both those in the church and their friends in this important role.
5. On Saturday morning, the cleaning group will be hard at work again preparing the new hall for when we move. A very important ministry! It is probably not a typical couple of weeks, but it gives an idea of the range of areas in which the church is trying to reach out.
I was looking forward to last weekend, with a couple of good opportunities to encourage others and be encouraged by them in different ministries – a visit to the group in the Val di Non valley on Saturday afternoon, and the lunch with the refugees on Sunday. However, I missed all that as my weekend, and in fact most of my week, got wiped. It all started on Monday afternoon, when Luca picked up a fever. And a couple of hours later had a febrile seizure. This is more frightening than dangerous, but Pinuccia took him to the hospital where they stayed the night. I thought it was a bit strange that Luca had a seizure and Mattia did not. But sure enough on Thursday morning Mattia got a fever and a couple of hours later had an identical seizure. So back to the hospital with him, although at this point everyone knew the cause so he came back a few hours later. These seizures are not too rare in small children, but having happened once they are a lot more likely to reoccur. So for the next three years we need to keep sure that their temperatures remain under 38.5°, and always have near the children a medicine to give them if the seizure is longer than normal. Both had a strong fever for two days, which was impossible to keep under this level, and the fever returned intermittently for the next three days. So Mattia still gets the fever occasionally, but has been so filled with anti fever medicines that his skin and stomach have started to rebel. Then on Thursday evening Stefania and I got the fever as well, so I spent an unpleasant weekend at home rather than doing the things I was looking forward to. Stefania and Daniele both had a slight fever this morning (Monday), so they had no school, whereas I still have a higher temperature than them. At least I am becoming a bit more active now. But probably the person who was hit hardest by the fever was Pinuccia, who has done a great job of running the house and nursing five sick people, whilst I spent most of my time moving from bed to sofa and back. Those Sicilian women are small but tough! However I think she is more tired than me now. Anyway, I had good reports from the refugees lunch, and there lots of ideas to work on now.
There are a few special events in the church in this period. Last Saturday there was the first of three meetings on parenthood, using the expertise of a couple of people in the congregation (Daniela and Enrica). It is always a good sign when half the people who attend at not from the church. The next meetings are in March and April. Next Sunday we will be continuing our reflections on what ministry God is calling us to amongst the refugees. This time we will be listening to the refugees, to understand their needs and what they would like to see. So they will be coming to a lunch hosted by Ruben (a missionary specialising in refugee ministry, who is a part of the church), with a few non refugees coming as listeners.
Renovation work always takes longer than expected, but we are getting very close to moving to the new hall. So there will also be some working bees to do some cleaning up in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, the folding walls which were between the Sunday School rooms have been taken down and moved to the new hall. This makes the Sunday School lessons a bit of a challenge. Pinuccia rose to the occasion and was happy to do her first lesson for a few years (since the twins came along) – also because she was the only person courageous enough to prepare something for all the children together, from 4 to 13 years old!
Last night we continued our program for the integration of and help for the refugees, with the working group meeting for the first time. The group, with a few other interested people, are looking at meeting and listening to the refugees at the end of the month. We shall see where to go from there, when we have heard their stories. It was good to work with this group – apart from myself, there are Ruben and Mary, Brazilian missionaries with a vision for refugee work who are leading the church in this integration process, Maddalena who is a social worker, and Cassia. We have been trying to get her involved in the life of the church for some time, and it is good to see her finally mobilised in a ministry. As she said herself at the end of the meeting, “I enjoyed this time together. I was missing being useful to others”.
On Saturday afternoon there will be a training meeting for the Sunday School teachers. Pinuccia is organising it, but it will be run by Enrica and Daniela, two members of the church who work in the area of training and coaching. The meeting will not be so much on how to teach the children, but how can we serve and work together better. There have been some difficulties recently in the relationships between the teachers, so we hope to improve this.
The most notable feature of the meeting last night about the refugees was that there were not any refugees present. This was despite personally encouraging them to come and getting some positive responses as well. So we learnt a few lessons about cultural differences and reflected on them, for example meetings at 9pm might be best for the Italians, but not for the refugees, and that it is hard for them to say “no” to an invitation. But the meeting was positive anyway, with a consensus on some ideas to try. The meeting was too large to work on the details (that was a great thing!), but formed a group to start talking with the refugees (at a time that is convenient for them) and to create a concrete proposal that everybody will be happy with. Making a committee is not always a good outcome from a meeting, but I think it is the best way forward. Ruben, the missionary who specialises in refugees ministry, will be leading the group, and I am looking forward to being part of it as well, at least until there are enough other people of the church to keep it going.
Less than two days now until we leave for Australia – time to start doing some packing.
A couple of things to pray for this week:
- On Wednesday evening there will be a meeting on the ministry to and of the refugees. This meeting is for the whole church, hopefully with the refugees attending as well. It should be a concluding meeting, wrapping up the reflections and discussions of the last couple of months. And if it goes well, also an introductory meeting, if the church decides to do something and not just talk. Pray for Ruben as he leads the meeting, and that we will be led by the Spirit in all we say and do.
- On Saturday we will be flying to Australia, for a 3 week trip to stay with the family. The plane trips will be interesting with all the children – Stefania and Daniele should be fine with the personal TV screens (although Daniele does not eat airplane food), but we don’t know if Luca and Mattia will be able to sit in one place for so many hours. So you could pray for the travel and for the time with the family.
Each year, the church children’s camp is a bit different from other years, and this time it turned out that the main benefit was the time that the children spent with each other. This was in part due to the theme (sport and especially the Olympics), which meant more physical activities and less reflection, but it was also due to how the children are now. Certainly what our children were looking forward to most in the week leading up to the camp was seeing their best friends in the church for three days in a row. So the boys spent a lot of time on the football field, and the girls camped out in their bedroom, and I was happy to see that happen. There were also some children outside of the “groups”, due to differences in age or culture or personality, and although they did get a little bit better known, there is still a lot to do there.
On Thursday, the three day children’s camp of the church will be beginning. There will be 12 children, including two friends of church children, and that is more than we were hoping for. All of out family will be going, and it is good to be involved in this ministry together. But it will be interesting, as Pinuccia and I together will be overseeing all the camp, running about half the activities, pretending not to be the parents of Stefania and Daniele, and looking after Luca and Mattia, who will be the mascots for the first of maybe five times. So you could pray for the camp, for us as a family, for the work of the team of leaders and helpers, and especially for the children who will be present.