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.
This morning I taught my last lesson in the Sunday School for this school year. (There are still three Sundays to go, but the 2 other teachers of the class will look after those.) We were up to chapter 4 in James, and it turned out to be a good opportunity to think back at what we have done together over the last three years (or seven years in the case of one of the girls), and what we want them to remember as the whole class heads off to Youth Group and High School after the summer:
- Be thankful for what you have, not complaining about what others have
- Don’t be friends of the world – be in it and critical of it, evaluating what it teaches, as we have done discussing together films and music
- We draw near to God through repentance – mourning for our sin and purifying ourselves from it, not reading the Bible, praying and going to church which are the usual answers from church children
- Think about your future (as they all are, having to make big decisions now about schooling that will determine what work they will be able to do) with humility before God.
So it was a good way to wrap up our lessons together, although I will still be spending some time with them in the next couple of months, and then more in the years ahead as well.
Yesterday seemed to be Family Day in church. First there was the new Pakistan family with 6 children who came for the first time, and who immediately created some space problems for the Sunday School. (It is a good thing that they will be getting larger classrooms in a few months!) Then during the service there was the simultaneous presentation of three boys born in February and March. All three fathers are in the music group (which created its own problems with the rosters in those months), so they collectively dedicated and played a song to their sons. Then we could joyfully celebrate all these new children in our monthly lunch together as a church after the service. There was then also the annual meeting of the church, but that too was a joy to hear about God’s working in the church this year, and not just bureaucracy!
Some more good news in the church. About 10 days ago one of the Pakistan refugees got his residency after about 5 years waiting. This meant that his family was finally allowed to come to Italy to join him. Thanks to the great generosity of one of the church members, the plane tickets was quickly arranged and bought, and yesterday morning his wife and five children arrived in Italy. I’m looking forward to meeting them all soon!