In Answer to the Number One Question

13:55 Friday, 13 March 2009

I can’t describe the feelings Susan and I get when we receive some sort of connection from a friend. Being on the field, away from friends, and still learning the language is sometimes like being a huge isolation chamber. One is aware of the surroundings but hits a wall in the amount and depth of interaction. So, a card, a SKYPE call, an email, a facebook post or note — each time I see in our box downstairs something other than a “publicita'” from the local grocer, or one my computer a little red number indicating someone may have written on my wall, I get a certain lift inside or a fresh burst of energy. So, thank you, wonderful friends, who have written, mailed, called, or some other way let us know you are there, praying for us and remembering us.

The most popular question lately has been a variation of “So, how’s the language coming?” From a Georgia friend, its more, “So, hair yall doin with Etalyon?” There are ways to answer this that sound great, and not so great. Compared to August a year ago, I have come a long, long way from only reciting 1 to 12 and the primary colors. I can count upwards of a thousand now, and know “blu” can be “azurre” or “celeste.”

I can sit in church and understand, when I concentrate, about 60-70% of what goes on, and I don’t break out in a cold sweat when I am at a cash register or restaurant. I am able to negotiate my way around the piazza market on Fridays and when I lead a Bible study, I occasionally break out in Italian, and understand more than 80% up close one-on-one. The not-so-great part is, I am still far from conversational (after a few sentences, I get stuck) and it takes a huge act of will to concentrate on understanding and responding for more than an hour or two. Classes help; conversations help more; being in an Italian Small Group study (I am leading the new men’s study – or “Man Study” as one calls it – at church) is the real gift God has provided.

Our “lingua Italiana” instructor asks us occasionally to write about things in our life. This week, she asked us to write about a famous landmark or statue in America. I, in one of my weirder moments, bypassed stone mountains, and presidential monuments, and chose one that is perhaps more famous in Atlanta than any of those. Below, by popular request, is the Italian version (corrected by the teacher, as I really have trouble matching prepositions and articles with nouns for some reason.) If you have trouble figuring it out, there is always www.freetranslation.com.

“Vicino ad Atlanta, c’e’ un monumento famoso in tutto il mondo. Che e’ alto quasi quindici metri e si trova alla destra della strada inportante nel’ villagio di Marietta di fronte all’ ristorante famose per i panini di cotoletta. Il colore del monumento e’ bianco e rosso. Si chiama Il Pollo Grande.”

Ciao from your monumentally serious friend in Italy!

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Surprise Visits

One of my “jobs” is to visit different churches and connect with pastors and church leaders to see if we are on target with our ministry … our ministry here is to encourage and train the Church in evangelism, disciple-making, leader development, and missions. Yes, I love my job! I still can hardly believe I get to do this.

Over the weekend, a team of six from our staff traveled to Torino to connect with a large youth event. A dozen or so churches, more than that many leaders and pastors, about 300 youth, and a kickin’ worship band. They were of the pentecostal flavor in most every way that label offers. And for about three hours, so was I. Yes, my “worship tank” had been running low until this weekend…

The songs were good, harmonies were on target, pace was wonderful (it was good to have some “free worship” time to connect with the God who loves worship), and the musicians really worshiped with their drums, keyboard, and guitars.

Worship is so much more than that, however. Worship is a pouring out (heart, fears, hopes, sins, words of intimacy) and a pouring in (mercy, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, renewed passion.) Worship is a connection… a re-establishing of the heart to heart communion we all long for. Worship is an abandoning of all thoughts of independence or adequacy to the One Who loves unconditionally.

The surprise visit of God’s touch came not in a song, or word, or message. It came as a little boy.

While we were worshiping and lifting refreshingly new holy hands to God, this kid ran by, and ran by again… and again. He was about eight or nine. And he just had to run. (I know I sound like I’m going “gump” on you here.)

I am guessing he didn’t ask his parents, and he probably didn’t evaluate the timing, or check in with his mentor, and I’m sure it wasn’t on his objectives list. He just ran, back and forth. Some times his head was held high. Other times, his eyes were low and focused on… I have no idea what.

And it was done with such abandon. Oh, to worship, intercede, and serve with such focused abandon. It doesn’t matter what others think or say. It doesn’t matter what label I am given. Pentecostal, Charismatic, Third Wave, Evangelical, Protestant, whatever. Just do it with abandon.

Jesus admired this quality kids have. Yes, at least one day in his life, they were likely running back and forth while the disciples were trying to accomplish God’s will. But instead of hushing them, or stopping them, he invited them to his lap to take a breather… and to be blessed and encouraged in their abandoned passion.

Luke records that Jesus said one time, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

My western mind has trouble absorbing this verse. But if you follow Christ in a culture that considers naming Jesus as Lord to be a heresy or act of defiance, then yes it does look like hatred toward parents, culture, or whatever else keeps you “in line.” And if you follow Christ in the West in a way more passionate than “the crowd” you will be looked on with wary eyes.

Abandon reputation, all you who enter here… into the abandoned, passionate walk of the disciple of Jesus. And keep running, straight to His lap.

In The Running – Rick

Round-Abouts and Obeying God

From the autostrada to my house, there is one stoplight and there are eleven round-abouts. Most people are familiar with the round-about way of negotiating intersections, but unless you face them each day, the negotiating can be tricky. Some are simply the “glance left and go” types of round-abouts. Others have three roads and six points of traffic entering, and looking front, left, beyond left and back to your right (to make sure a car behind you isn’t “cutting you off”) is a must.

There is a round-about in Torino that I hit occasionally with eight points of entrance and exit and three lanes around a central statue (most likely a version of Garibaldi.) Traffic is entering and exiting at each point in two or three lanes. It does not look safe to go there. From the air, it must look like Daytona Speedway, or worse, the Watermelon 500 (if you ain’t from Atlanta, that’s the big round-about around the city.)

To navigate this one, you don’t look. You point your car, go, and hope for the best. Its a lot like Luke Skywalker learning to fight the light saber training droid – you cover your eyes and feel your way through it. Really, the first time I negotiated it without getting a horn, finger, or fig (for another post), I think I said outloud: “I did it, I felt the force!”

But, for mosts round-abouts, just a glance ’round and a quick tap of the breaks before going is sufficient. When it goes right, its like a dance. Each partner taking the next step, no hesitation, just move with the rhythm. (And, assume you are next, unless someone else beats you to it.)

Oswald Chambers talks about obedience on March 25 in My Utmost (if you don’t have a devo alongside your Bible, this is the one, hands down, to get.) He says, “Sometimes there is nothing to obey, the only thing to do is to maintain a vital connection with Jesus Christ, to see that nothing interferes with that.” Our main obedience is to choose to stay connected. Stay plugged in. Don’t disconnect from His love and ways in order to connect to something less.

Some days, it may be a little chaotic with a lot of decisions and noise coming in and out of the intersection. You may be navigating a lot of traffic – options and choices relating to work, family, health, relationships, all relating to your calling before God, and all intersecting at once. You may, perhaps, need to pull over for a moment. But, you may need to pause at the round-about for a brief prayer, then move forward trusting the God will direct, give wisdom, and take you through it all.

Most days, its the simple process of staying connected and moving forward. Spend that all-important quality time seeking His face in worship and His heart for strength and wisdom. Then, head out for a day of life with Him. Each round-about just requires a quick tap of the breaks, a short prayer for his wisdom, and taking the next step in the dance. Two great theologs, Henri Nouwen and Garth Brooks, remind us that life is a dance we are invited to join. And who wants to sit out when the dance is on?

The Message, a lively Bible translation by Petersen, suggests that each day is a gift for us to enjoy in a spirited interaction with God and His Word. Its not a dirge-like drudgery based on “have-to’s,” but an intoxicating, sometimes risky, dance filled with “get-to’s.” The Apostle urges the Thessalonians, “We ask you—urge is more like it—that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance.”

So, today, stay connected and enter the round-abouts in your day boldly, confident that God is leading and will give you the timing, the wisdom, and the strength of heart to go through. But what if I miss a cue, or take a wrong step? Here’s something we’ve learned in Italy… there’s always another round-about to help us get back on track.

Enjoying the Dance – Rick

Notes From Italia: The Best Ever Italian Meal

7:07 p.m. Sunday, November 30, 2008 We are in Torre Pellice in the Alps of Italy looking for an “appartemente” to move into near the end of December and we worshiped at Chiesa Cristiana Evangelica here in Torre this morning. Our plans were to return to the office kitchen after worship and stir up some pasta… but one of the elders at church invited us to his wife’s parent’s home for lunch. We, for this trip includes me, Susan, Rachael, Anna (our OM-Italia graphics guru/fellow language student) and Ashlyn who is a friend, a fellow lingua Italiana student, and a Dutchie (see note from August.) She and our crew have had some great spiritual conversations, and she and God are having a pretty neat conversation, too. And, she has never had a Italian meal with a real Italian family. (She asked me to fish around at church and see if we could get invited, for the record.) So, Hugo and Rosa have us over for lunch. For starters, do you have three or four hours in one stretch that you can devote to one meal???! And for the atmosphere… you need a great kitchen, a big casual kitchen table, and it helps to have a garden and an orchard in back. Hugo has a vineyard nearby, also. Here is the typical Italian meal — the bread, the wine (his vineyard) and the bottled water are on the table the whole time. First round (primo) is plates of veggies, olives, pickles, etc, and plates of sliced meats all around. Second round (secundo) is pasta, this time lasagna with all kinds of great stuff inside. Then, more pasta. Third round (terza) is cooked meats, maybe some more veggies and salads. By this time, you are two hours into the meal, perhaps more! Fruits and sweets follow (dolce), this time apples and tangarines. Yes, the apples came from his orchard. Follow with seconds of anything left in the kitchen. Cap it all with caffe’ Italiano all around. The best part of the meal? Oh, you might say the sweets, or the pasta, or maybe the vino rosso. But I’ll vote everytime for the conversation, the relationships, the laughter, the storytelling. An incredible experience. And a dying art in our world. To spend four hours around the table taking life to another level together. Early in the give-and-take, Rosa made it clear (to me, especially) “non parlate Inglese niente!”– so it all happened (for the most part) like it is supposed to in Italy. In Italiano. Hugo came to Christ out of Jehovah’s Witness, because someone shared time and words with him. Rosa said yes to Jesus from a Catholic background because Hugo wouldn’t quit reading the Bible to her. Her daughter and son-in-law? Both believers serving lovingly in a local chiesa. And our Dutchie friend perhaps saw a little more of Jesus living through his people… At least once a week, this could get to be a habit. Rosa invited me to come over every week. But just for caffe… but if life is shared over the caffe, I’m in! Signor Ricardo

Notes from Italia – Finding Our Way

I got lost for the first time in Italy today. A momentary panic and then I realized the town I’m in now is only about 9,000 people. How many side streets and alleys can it have? Ninety minutes later I spot an internet cafe I’d seen 87 minutes before, and I paused… just down the sidewalk was the Esso station our team had gassed up at last year. (If you know Ken Berkey, you can ask how many Americans it takes to work an Italian gas pump — nine, but only because that’s how many were in the van at the time.)

At least the Esso station was familiar territory and I was back at our temporary flat in five minutes. (For math experts, that means I turned an eight minute walk into ninety-five.)

I have heard a lot about comfort zones in the past few months as we have prepared for missions in Italy. It doesn’t take a nine hour flight to Europe to shake your comfort zone, however. It could be a ninety second conversation with someone you don’t know who needs truth.
Ciao,
Your monolingual friend, Rick

Points Along the Journey – Answering the #1 Question

I can’t describe the feelings Susan and I get when we receive some sort of connection from a friend. A card, a SKYPE call, an email, a facebook post or note — each time I see in our box downstairs something other than a “publicita'” from the local grocer, or a little red number indicating someone may have written on my wall, I get a certain lift inside or a fresh burst of energy. So, thank you, wonderful friends, who have written, mailed, called, or some other way let us know you are there, praying for us and remembering us.

The most popular question lately has been a variation of “So, how’s the language coming?” There are ways to answer this that sound great, and not so great. Compared to August a year ago, I have come a long, long way from only reciting 1 to 12 and the primary colors. I can count upwards of a thousand now, and know “blu” can be “azurre” or “celeste.”

I can sit in church and understand, when I concentrate, about 60-70% of what goes on, and I don’t break out in a cold sweat when I am at a cash register or restaurant. I am able to negotiate my way around the piazza market on Fridays and when I lead a Bible study, I occasionally break out in Italian, and understand more than 80% up close one-on-one. The not-so-great part is, I am still far from conversational (after a few sentences, I get stuck) and it takes a huge act of will to concentrate on understanding and responding for more than an hour or two. Classes help; conversations help more; being in an Italian Small Group study (I am leading the new men’s study – or “Man Study” as one calls it – at church) is the real gift God has provided.

Our “lingua Italiana” instructor asks us occasionally to write about things in our life. This week, she asked us to write about a famous landmark or statue in America. I, in one of my weirder moments, bypassed stone mountains, and presidential monuments, and chose one that is perhaps more famous than any of those. Below, by popular request, is the Italian version (corrected by the teacher, as I really have trouble matching prepositions and articles for some reason.) If you have trouble figuring it out, there is always http://www.freetranslation.com.

“Vicino ad Atlanta, c’e’ un monumento famoso in tutto il mondo. Che e’ alto quasi quindici metri e si trova alla destra della strada inportante nel’ villagio di Marietta di fronte all’ ristorante famose per i panini di cotoletta. Il colore del monumento e’ bianco e rosso. Si chiama Il Pollo Grande.”

Ciao from your monumentally serious friend in Italy!