Saturday, August 28, 2010

One Question

“If you could wish one thing from God today, what would that be?”

Richard Sharp, one of my colleagues here at OM, is a master of evangelism. He sent over 400 of us around the Mediterranean with this one question to ask people, followed by a second one when they answer:

“Would it be ok if I said a short prayer with you now, that God would help you fulfill that wish?”

Imagine 400 evangelists, young and old, green and seasoned, unleashed upon Rome in the heat of a July day, with this stunning mantra: “If you could wish one thing from God today, what would that be?”…”May I pray that for you right now?” Off we went…

One of our young people asked someone that question, and led that person to Christ.

Another group asked a confused Korean couple that question and helped them find lodging for the night. As it turned out, there was a Korean on the team, who learned that they were honeymooners, living a nightmare in Rome: due to a communications glitch, they were homeless for the night! A quick financial collection, a phone call, and the honeymooners were soon housed, and learned how much God cared for them.

Another of our group asked a Muslim that question, who agreed to prayer. As my friend prayed, she began to weep and kept repeating how much God loves the Muslims, and His desire was for them. The Muslim gave her a tissue and comforted her. She returned the next day with an Arabic-Italian bible for him.

We received so much during the Transform 2010 conference to equip us for ministry in the Med: training, language and culture cues, maps, emergency contact numbers and literature. We took in more information that we can digest in a year, more prayer cards, bookmarks, calendars and email addresses that we can cope with, yet I believe this one question may be the most valuable thing we received. We used it in L’Aquila and Teramo. I plan to use it as much as possible; may I challenge you to do the same?

Friday, August 27, 2010


When Marco showed up, another in our line-up of surprise guests, something about him struck me early on. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it; neither could I tell if it meant trouble or blessing. At the least, it meant another leadership challenge. Marco was, well, a guy, and had a strong personality; how would he take to a woman leading? He was a high producer, always wanting more work to do, but his English was poor. How much energy did I now have to expend, working with a translator to train a non-artist to contribute to an art exhibit? What jobs could I give him?

The challenges evaporated in Marco’s humility. He never flinched when I gave him the most menial of tasks. It always seemed to work out that he was ready for the next job when I was ready to give him more instruction, and a translator was handy. And he disappeared when I needed him to, without me saying so. Because of his help, I was able to complete two pieces of artwork that might never have made the exhibit otherwise (one of which is the piece going to Rosella).

The first potential leadership clash came when we were informed that Marco would be preaching during the art exhibit. (Insert audible gasp here.) I objected immediately. This was the antithesis of an art exhibit; we couldn’t in good conscience integrate a sermon into an art show without undermining the power of the art to speak. “People will feel manipulated,” I pleaded. But Marco would not be moved; Pastor Giorgio had spoken.

I informed the artists, and the artists bristled. One suggested that we pray God strike Marco mute at the appointed hour! I suggested we let God handle how he wanted us to get around this, but pray we did!

On Saturday, the day of our first exhibit, after the torrential downpour that sent us scurrying into the arcades, Marco pulled me aside for a coffee. As we entered the coffee bar, Marco, with broken English and broken spirit, confessed with chagrin his lack of submission to my leadership. I could hardly see where he had done that; I believed he had been operating solely in obedience to his pastor, and told him so. He was understandably caught between two lines of authority; perhaps he had sinned interiorly, but I had seen no evidence of anything but a servant heart. And bottom line: we were here to serve the pastor and the local church.

Marco apologized; I assured him no offense had been taken. With the air cleared, and my respect for Marco continuing to rise, we threw back our high octane espresso, and headed back to the square.

And I don’t know if it was intentional, the rain, or forgetfulness, but Marco did not preach that day—or the next. At least, not overtly. His life was a testimony to me, as I am sure it is to many, and it was a privilege to meet and work with Marco.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Wild & Lonely Salad of Italy

And while we’re on the subject of food…

Our diet in Italy revolved mainly around the four major food groups: pizza, pasta, watermelon, and gelato. There was the occasional tomato and mozzarella salad, and bread, plenty of bread. And coffee. The kind that spoons stand up in. But other than that, well, let’s just say the carbs were flying and I am paying for it now! Re-entry diet is almost as painful as jetlag, but lasts longer!

A steady diet of only four items creates some interesting dinner conversation: one evening as we were discussing our ability to eat yet another slice of watermelon (with the table evenly divided between “Bring it on!” and “Have mercy!”), the kitchen crew surprised us with a sort of ball of Nutella, chilled into a chewable consistency, and held together by cornflakes.

“Breakfast!” Meri squealed, as I passed her the platter. “Creativity!” I responded. “Camp dining at its finest!”

Another memorable moment came in the pizzeria in Teramo, when Jeff and Meri could be overheard to discuss the flora on their pizza:

Jeff: “What’s this on the pizza? I thought it was spinach.”
Meri: “It’s rugala.”
Jeff: “What’s rugala?”
Meri: “Rugala is rugala.
Jeff (more insistently): “What’s rugala?”
Meri: “Salad.”
Jeff: “Salad?!”
Meri: “Yes, rugula is salad!”
Jeff: “What kind of salad?”
Meri: “Salad!”
Antonella: “The wild and lonely salad of Italy…grown without the help of a man.”

Pizza! Sometimes it’s plain, sometimes it’s loaded with olives, pepperoni, potatoes or rugala. Sometimes there‘s nothing on it at all, just plain bread, brushed with olive oil. We wondered if we could stuff it with something, perhaps…watermelon! Meri declared her intention to launch the new, the first of its kind, in Finland: watermelon pizza...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

One Gelato at a Time

This may strike you as rationalization, but so be it. I cannot help but speak of what I have learned...

After surveying the city of L’Aquila in ruins, our team was in a somber mood. The city had become a museum, a tourist attraction. People were wandering through it as if they were in a cathedral, and speaking with hushed voices. Our translators shared what they were overhearing—memories of loved ones lost at a particular site, or where someone worked, now a pile of rubble; if the earthquake had hit during working hours…and the cafe that was destroyed--there was no way to find out where the patrons had been scattered to--if they were still alive.

The pastor brought us into a café to show us images of the aftermath. I was having flashbacks to New York, 9/11…the enormity of the destruction, the ash everywhere, the firemen as heroes…

And then, Pastor Gorgio proposed something outlandish: he suggested we get a gelato. Frankly, it was a jarring thought. Shouldn’t we be in sackcloth and ashes, mourning with those who mourned? Maybe, but…well…there would certainly be time for that. For now, it was a hot summer night, people were out for a stroll, and ice cream sounded good…how about eating gelato with those who eat gelato?! Grazie, Pastor Gorgio!

Suddenly, the mood lifted, as he steared us to the gelato stand (yes, Rosella's!). The team giggled at the weirdo flavors in the case, and asked for tastes. Soon the scoop was flying, and cups or cones were in everyone’s hands.

We passed a fence with poems posted on it. I penned a contribution later that night, which is below. It made its way into our exhibit, along with a few others, and I left instructions that they make their way to that poet’s fence after we left. In the midst of devastation, a gelato seemed the least likely thing to do, and yet it was exactly the thing to do—the most normal thing to do. Isn't this the way we humans survive? As I enjoyed my gelato, I realized Life would go on for L’Aquila, one gelato at a time!

(And for inquiring minds who want to know: my favorite is licorice!)

Buy a Gelato

Buy a gelato.
And tomorrow,
buy another—
try a new flavor.

And the day after that,
pick up a stone.
Buy a gelato,
and pick up a stone.

And the day after that,
dust off your shelf.
Buy a gelato,
dust off your shelf,
and pick up a stone.

And the day after that,
call your friend.
Eat some pizza,
drink a coffee,
pick up some trash,
and pick up a stone.
Buy a gelato,
and enjoy your friend.

Next week, call all your friends.
Eat more pizza, drink more coffee,
walk the streets, and pick up a stone.
Pick up more trash, buy a gelato,
and remember your home.

Pick up a stone, and rebuild a wall.
Buy a gelato, and rebuild your home.

Buy a gelato.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Church in a Shack

Well, not exactly…but we did meet for a second time with the church in L’Aquila. The first time, as you may recall, we met in a grove of black birches, in a field next to a restaurant. This time, we pulled into the parking lot of a shopping mall. Along one edge, we parked next to a line of those little wooden cabins you might plunk down in a mountain campground. We followed the singing (yes, we were late again), and climbed into one of the tiny, hot cabins, and there was the church! We were then ushered into an even tinier back room, where we would have translation. (We learned that the church doesn’t always know where it’s going to meet; Pastor Giorgio phones around 11:00 pm Saturday night to tell everyone where to go the next morning!)

I took a seat on a surprisingly fancy and upscale sofa, with carved wood and floral fabric, and began sketching our translator, the daughter of the pastor. She has been impressive, I thought as I sketched—20 years old, mature beyond her years, already tested and tried by the earthquake. She is well-positioned for a future place of leadership in the church.

After the singing, an invitation came to share: what has God been doing in your life this week? And of course, they wanted to hear from us. As that bit of translation came, I signaled our team member Ellie, who speaks some Italian; it would be a nice token of respect to have someone from our team give a report in Italian. Immediately our team translator came over and reminded me of a cultural faux pas I was about to commit: women don’t speak in churches.

After a brief inner growl, I thanked him for the correction, and leaned over to Ellie’s husband, asked him to take the lead, and asked another man on our team to also give a report. Our dear and nervous team translator relaxed. He would speak too, he assured me, and introduce me as the ‘one responsible’ for the team. Sigh…ok, got the script, and not that I’m looking for honor and glory here, but it seemed that we had just been asked to act out something that felt very wrong to me—like a cold bucket of water on a lot of enthusiasm to report what God had done.

What felt like the quench of the Holy Spirit in my own spirit was miniscule compared to all that must have been quenched in the women not only in this church, but across Italy, and across so many other countries where this was the case. I felt a deep grief for the loss. The Body of Christ was hopping on one foot in so many contexts.

What would it take, Lord, to be able to move in freedom in the Italian church as a woman? What about someone like Sarah? With so few committed, engaged believers, with so few ‘workers in the field,’ would the Italian church forego someone like her because she is a woman? Not that the women are perfect of course, but….

Well, this is not a battle for me. Women have a faithful Advocate on high, who does want to hear from them, and who will fulfill his purposes for them. I trust that. Sara is in God’s hands, and he will help her find her voice and place in the church. I am sure she will navigate the cultural waters with great skill.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dreams and Pine Trees

One of the particularities of missions is the way God uses dreams and visions in both the believer and the unbeliever. Although I had heard of it as a phenomenon in the Middle East and Africa, I was surprised by how common it was in France too; many of the believing French Christians there had come to faith through a dream or vision in which God or an angel appeared to them.

Another phenomenon that is quite common is for arriving missionaries to experience nightmares. It is as if the demonic world mobilizes as soon as a missionary arrives, to destabilize the person. Sometimes the person wakes with the impression that he/she is being choked. It happened again on this outreach.

I had a bad dream the first night I arrived in Italy, but that was as far as it went. But the first night of outreach, two of our artists were disturbed by nightmares, and one had the impression someone was trying to choke her. A third had a bad dream and felt a demonic presence in her room; her baby had nightmares. We prayed as a team to neutralize this weapon the enemy uses to deprive workers of sleep and peace. The disturbances continued briefly, with less potency, as the fear in the artists diminished by exposure of the tactic. They were surprised to learn how common a tactic it is.

On the other hand, God uses dreams and images to capture our attention and guide us through outreach, and that is what I want to concentrate on. As we continued to fight through this in prayer, and the disturbances stopped, the good stuff came!

I had two dreams during the outreach that gave me tremendous encouragement, neither one of which I completely understood, but at least got that God was trying to strengthen and encourage us!

In one dream, there was a huge pine tree, so tall I could see neither bottom nor top. I was ‘hovering’ somewhere in its middle, with another Italian, who was working on a wood sign suspended there from a branch. On the sign was carved “Italia Evangelista.” The Italian was rapturous, expounding on something unintelligible to me, with much hand waving. The dream was over as quickly as it began. But the feeling remained of great joy, and that the Lord was with us. Our strenuous weekend was about to begin: with our move to another location followed by our first exhibit in Teramo.

Was the gospel coming to Teramo that day? Hard to believe in retrospect! Was God with us? Absolutely! Was He pleased with our efforts? I’m sure. “Italia evangelista”—literally, female Italian evangelist—who was that?! Me, or one of the young Italian women I was working with? I don’t know, and don’t need to. And that was that…or so I thought.

Last night, I had another dream, referring me back to Italy, my dream of the pine tree, and a Scripture I read yesterday, as I continue the ‘decanting’ process of all that happened there, and prepare to launch into the next ministry year. In my jet lag, I forgot both the first dream, and the Scripture, but God reminded me through a second dream. The Scripture?

The Lord, speaking to Israel, says: “I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me.” (Hosea 14:8)

Wow! I had a good laugh, and yes, it is hard to see fruit from our work in Teramo, but what a great, funny, unorthodox reminder, through two dreams, that I can rest in what was done. God, who sometimes symbolizes himself as a pine tree, will do the rest (no pun intended!).

And I am thoroughly enjoying the fact that outside my front picture window and door, a pine tree forest is all that I see…

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rosella and the Ice Cream Shop

Although I never saw her at the exhibit, Rosella had at some point sneaked out of the ice cream shop on the piazza (which the team had been known to frequent, um, frequently) to see it. When I took a toilet/gelato break about midway through the exhibit, she came right up to me from the tables she was waiting, and asked to buy one of my pieces. I thanked her, but had to let her down: the artwork was not for sale.

She persisted—in Italian, with much passion and hand waving. I responded—in English, and American guilt. I hated to say no, and hate when I can’t speak a language I need!

Later in the day, during another bathroom break, with another coffee, I another round with Rosella, who insisted that she wanted my artwork. I used every Italian word I knew to explain they weren’t for sale, had been committed to others already, etc., etc. Rosella glared at me, waved her hand in disgust, and went back to work.

As the exhibit came to an end, I stared at the piece she wanted so badly. Some of the artists had also been asked to sell their work. What should we do? We had already committed to giving the artwork as gifts to our Italian helpers, our translators, the church, and OM Italy. Could we make some exceptions?

I spoke to one of the church elders and we agreed on a plan: we took the names and phone numbers of everyone who wanted to buy artwork. They would be contacted by the church after the exhibit. Anyone who wanted to buy could make a donation instead to the church. In this way, the church would have further contact in the community with a number of people, and benefit financially as well.

And I would go with a translator (Ursula, who I mentioned yesterday) to see Rosella one more time. We would offer the artwork to Rosella for a donation, and Ursula would bring it after the exhibit.

Rosella looked like the least likely candidate to be an art patron. She reminded me of an Italian Fantine (from Les Miserables)—hard-working and sweaty, with thin, stringy hair, and very little eye contact as she scooped cone after cone for L’Aquila’s gelato lovers. When she did make eye contact, one could see the deadness in her eyes.

But those eyes bored into me as she insisted she must have my piece of art, entitled “Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh” (see photo), a work based on Ezekiel 36:26-27: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

The piece calls the viewer to choose which heart he/she wants: a heart of stone, or this new heart that God offers? Is Rosella looking for a new heart?

She wants to hang this in the gelato shop. Can you imagine how God could use this one piece of artwork to speak to the steady stream of customers coming in and out every day for ice cream or coffee?! It blows my mind, and is one of the most gratifying results of this outreach for me.

Pray for Rosella! And Ursula as she goes with this precious delivery. May a new friendship form, and above all, may Rosella receive a new heart—one that God puts in her!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mission Accomplished!

As we discovered in our last episode, all is not sweetness and light on the mission field! But you knew that already…

There are those moments, however, and Sunday, Aug. 15, was such a day.

After a new high in bizarre-church-settings-that-I’ve experienced (another post for later), we were sent off with sandwiches by the church in L’Aquila to set up and exhibit in the city’s main piazza. This was truly that for which I think I had spent several months preparing, and the team had focused on. It was time to tell Antonella’s story to the people of L’Aquila.

This was a gorgeous sunny day that did not even think about raining.

This was a day the artists set their faces like flint and pulled off an amazing installation in record time.
With improvements learned from Saturday’s fiasco.

This was a day when the firemen of L’Aquila, local heroes, stopped to see what we were doing in front of their make-shift tent at one end of the piazza. What a delight to show them some of our artwork—including some that honored them as heroes. They were deeply touched, and helped us find some fencing that we could more easily use, rather than our makeshift scaffolding/chicken wire contraptions.
I’ve asked leaders in the church to present gifts of artwork to the firemen after the church has selected what it wants to keep.

This was a day when it seemed we could do nothing wrong. When the team could relax and enjoy all their hard work, and watch God honor the effort by bringing literally hundreds of people through our exhibit.

This was the day when we sowed at least 500 seeds into L’Aquila: the exhibit brochures with Antonella’s story included. I have no idea how many books, Bibles and New Testaments were distributed—the book table was swarmed regularly and the literature was flying! And pockets of conversation continued throughout the exhibit with our artists, translators and Italians—some for minutes, some for longer stretches.

We had offers from several who wanted to buy artwork; we left it to the church to bring these pieces around now to them, and thus connect the church further with the community.

The atmosphere was so delightful in our open air gallery that people came by and stayed for hours. Some of the church folk started this trend, which helped set the tone for a relaxed, friendly, comfortable church. Thank you, L’Aquila brothers and sisters!!! One sister, Ursula, an artist herself, was overwhelmed with inspiration when she saw what we did; she vowed to take up the baton and invited us to come and help her reach further into the arts community she knew in L’Aquila, including a local arts university.

One of our artists invited a group of hip hop dancers to see the exhibit; they came over and spent about an hour with us, finishing up with a demo in the piazza.

We set up ‘walls’ as part of the exhibit—places where guests could write out a thought, prayer or dream for L’Aquila on paper ‘bricks’ and post them as an act of hope in their future. As the sun set slowly over Piazza Duomo, I thought, "Yes, this is what we came to do. Mission accomplished!"

Well, I could go on and on…but this is a long enough post. More to come, including one of my favorite moments of the exhibit, with Rosella of the ice cream shop. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rained Out!

I woke up Friday before the exhibit with a nagging concern about the weather. The Italian team didn’t seem to deal in ‘what if’s’ (nor do I as a rule) but one does need to consult one’s left brain from time to time and be practical. I could see the Italian creative process was at least in motion, with hints of tents, but nothing was definitive. Prayer always works well in these situations, don’t you think?!

The response to prayer time was…unexpected: God reminded me that Jesus’ commanded the wind and the waves, and I could too. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not there yet!!! I was about to get my faith stretched.

To my relief, Saturday dawned bright and beautiful. No tent appeared, but we did find a large patio umbrella, unused for the past several years. We set up under a hot sun, joking that maybe God could arrange for one little cloud, directly overhead. A Catholic cathedral loomed over the piazza; we sat on its steps, in the shade, to eat lunch. And then a little cloud appeared.

We went back to work, ignoring it as best we could, until Meri came up to me, her big eyes wide with fear. “Look!” she pointed, leading my gaze up to an ominous cloud bank forming over the cathedral. Hmmm….now comes the stretch of faith part of the day…I grabbed her by the shoulders and we prayed. The clouds moved off.

More installation…chicken wire to scaffolding, artwork carefully wired to chicken wire. Our translators were already busily engaged with Italians circling the exhibit, wondering what was going on. We were just about finished...and the sky was completely covered with clouds.

The looks on everyone’s faces were as dark as the clouds. I gathered the troops under our umbrella, and we linked arms. After a few anemic prayers, I shouted out for a song: “Cantiamo!!!” Startled, the artists began singing…hesitantly at first, and then with more verve. We may not lick this rain thing, I thought, but we are not going down without a fight! The sky and the artists brightened. We resumed our work.

As the last of the exhibit was set up, I noticed a few rain drops on the ground. I sat on the steps again with a forlorn Sarah, who was eyeing the darkening sky. “We might want to start thinking about moving the artwork closer to the arcades,” I suggested…

KABOOM!!! The skies opened and under a torrential downpour, we scrambled—SAVE THE ARTWORK!!!

A maddening fifteen minutes later, we were drenched and huddled under the umbrella, the artwork under our wings, with every available towel, tablecloth and jacket conscripted into service. The boxes of literature were soaked, and being run to the arcades by several on our team. Cameras got wet. The looks on everyone’s faces…well, watch for photos on Facebook!

But we had managed to rescue most of the artwork. Diving first for the watercolors and collages, we sustained minor casualties, mostly with the photography and literature.

Time to regroup. When the rain let up, we had a quick discussion. Technically, we didn’t have the right to set up under the arcades; if the police didn’t come after us, the shopkeepers might. What did the Italians think? “Bouf,” grunted Sarah. “God’s law.” Good enough for me!

Again, my team gets high points for perseverance under difficulty! We marched the whole exhibit under the arcades, in flagrant violation of Italian law, and defied anyone to roust us. We did not come this far to be rained out!!!

The police did come…but not for us. The shopkeepers didn’t complain. In the end, however, we were licked by apathy. The Italians didn’t come. Well, not many.

I’ve never drawn in public without drawing a crowd, except in Teramo. Even face-painting couldn’t draw folks in, and the artists were soon painting each other; eventually they abandoned the effort altogether. Suspicion was so strong, not many even ventured down the arcade to see the artwork. When they did, the Italians set to with earnest expectation and traditional hardcore street evangelism, getting dangerously close to a fight at least once!!! We were there for four hours, then packed and left to no one’s regret.

Results? In spite of as lackluster a day as you could imagine, what did happen in Teramo is important for the church.

We connected with some isolated believers, who didn’t know that there were any churches in the city. An Assembly of God church identified itself, and so we were able to connect that group with Jonathan’s house church, and the isolated believers. Jonathan was greatly encouraged. And Pastor Giorgio got a text message, in Germany, from someone responding to our distribution of literature. We hope to hear more positive fruit in the future, but only God knows all that happened there that day.

And my faith? I am still in the school of prayer, pondering what it takes to command the elements. When I grow up, I want to be like Elijah…“a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”—James 5:17

But I won’t agree to an open-air art show any time soon!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Leaving Isola

It was an early start out of the mountains. Our first group rose at 5:30 am, the second group at 6:30, and mine, thankfully, at 9, for a departure at 11:00. We were beyond groggy—between the heat and lack of sleep, and with end-of-outreach exhaustion and emotion. But off we went, group by group, with goodbyes and hugs, email and Facebook addresses exchanged, gifts given, cards written, photos taken—the OMArtslink L’Aquila team officially disbanded.

Saying goodbye too to the Gran Sasso, that towering mountain that had so inspired us, that we had nicknamed “Alejandro” for some bizarre reason, our Italian “Mount Sinai.”

I made my descent out of the mountains with Marco and Dellis. We passed L’Aquila one final time, seeing the damage from the road, the valley it sat in, and wondering about the future. The further we got from the region, the higher the temps rose, until finally we were in Rome’s furnace again, and dripping with sweat. First stop: Dellis’s hotel, near the Termini station. Then onto Nettuno, my destination, to see friends. But let me back up….

Two days earlier, I didn’t know how I was getting to Nettuno, but imagined it would be a disagreeable schlep with luggage through Rome’s train and bus stations. But God is soooo merciful!!!

On the ride back from the Teramo outreach, driving with Marco and Meri, we talked about what each one of us would be doing after the outreach. When I mentioned I would stay on a few days and visit friends in Nettuno, Marco smiled, “Oh, I have friends in Nettuno!” Would it surprise you to know they were the same friends?!

We had a good laugh, shook our heads, and Marco immediately pulled out his cell phone. He called them to announce, “I’m coming to Nettuno!” and passed the phone to me. “Hey, Chris! I’m in the car with Marco! I have a ride!”

And so here we were, in the car heading south out of Rome towards Anzio, after dropping off Dellis, and getting some pizza and coffee. Of course, nothing is straightforward in Italy, so the trek south included a stop at a hospital to visit someone in Marco’s family who had just had a surgery, and running smack into rush hour.

A few grueling hours later, melted and exhausted, we arrived at our friends, and collapsed into their welcoming arms. It was 7 hours since we had left Isola. Marco stayed a day and left, but not before I heard more of his story. I’m deeply grateful that God provided these last gifts of transportation and testimony, which I’ll share more later.

In the meantime, the R & R begins, and the decanting of the many stories and experiences still circulating in my head…to be continued!

Friday, August 6, 2010


Today's the day we move!

And exhibit! We are not quite ready, but will be, one way or the other, at 4:00 pm. We covet your prayers.

Not much time to post, and may be without internet now till I return to the States, but will write my posts anyway, and post as I can. This has been an incredible journey.

And before closing out here, I want you to hear from Antonella in her own words...

For 308 people, the earthquake meant the end of life. For others, it meant the loss of a loved one or friend. For many, it marked the end to normal life; but for me, it marked a new beginning to life.

I am a student, and had come to L’Aquila for my studies. Although I had received Christ at the age of 12, I tried to live life my own way, hanging on to it so tightly that in fact I was choking it off. Jesus said, “I have come to give you life in abundance.” (John 10:10) I wanted that life, full of peace, joy, and love.

The night of the earthquake, while the earth shook under my feet, its deep groaning so loud that I had to cover my ears, I crouched under a desk in the old student house, waiting for the earth to stop moving. I was screaming to God for mercy, for the chance to live.

The earth stopped shaking and my life started from that point on, for God heard my prayer, and spared my life. I have not stopped crying and still feel fear, but now I know that there is always Someone with me, who shows me the way to overcome every difficulty. Every part of my life now belongs to Him.

That night, many cried out, “God help me!” But the next day, many were saying, “Where was God?” Only a few thanked God for being alive.

Today, I am one of many who has shared a story of living through the earthquake. My name is not important. What is important is the name that is above all names, the name of Jesus. Because by His name, you can be saved for eternal life (Acts 2:21). As His word says: “One that listens to my word and believes in the one that sent me has eternal life.”

What has the earthquake meant for you? Don’t let it be the ending of something, but the beginning. Transform it into a beginning.

More than 2,000 years ago, a group of men came to Jesus with their friend, who could not walk. Jesus did not heal him immediately; He saw the men’s faith, forgave the paralytic’s sins, and then healed him. For God, the soul is more important than material things.

That man, after being healed, went away glorifying God. I too want to glorify God here in L’Aquila, because though the city has been destroyed, my heart has been renewed. I found life in the midst of death—the true life I was looking for—and now see the city with new eyes, walls and buildings as majestic as before. What do you see?

Are you scared of the future? Or do you have peace in your heart? The law of God is written on your heart, and though you may feel far away from God, and He from you, He loves you and is seeking relationship with you today. He will never stop seeking you.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”—Rev. 3:20


Well, we've made the local news! The media found out about us, and interviewed Marco, our Italian worker bee, who was on the news last night. This morning, a news paper article is in a local journal. We expect to have the camera crews there over the weekend - wow!

But I owe you a on!

Antonella, a student at a local university in L’Aquila, was asleep in her dorm when the earthquake hit. She jumped out of bed to protect herself under a table, and cried out to God for help. She managed to get down the stairwell before it collapsed, but the exit was blocked by collapsing concrete. Someone helped her get outside, and she found herself running up the street and over the bridge, away from the disaster which took the lives of several of her fellow students.
Another miracle was taking place behind her: the dorm stairwell collapsed, leaving a number of students trapped on the upper floors. A human pyramid began forming; more tragedy was averted as students were rescued, one by one, down the human pyramid (inspiring one of our pieces in the exhibit, “Pyramid of Hope,” by Anna Smith, OM UK).
We first heard Antonella’s story after walking the city streets, seeing the damage firsthand. Antonella was one of our guides; we learned about the heroism of the fire fighters, the corruption of those in power, and the meaning of the keys left hanging on a fence—symbolic of a people’s desire to return home.
But it was Antonella’s story that captured our hearts. As we heard her story, we asked to see the student dorm. Viewing the building sheered in two, the wreckage below, and the photographs and memorials, our group went silent. As we turned to leave, Antonella commented, “I wonder when my photo will be on a tree.”
How does one live without fear in the fragile future of a city whose history is marked by earthquakes? We asked Antonella. “It’s hard,” she admitted. “God helps me.”
Last weekend, as I looked around at all the artwork being produced, and revised a few poems I’m working on, I realized they all revolved around one story: Antonella’s. The human pyramid, the young student cowering under a table crying out to God for help, the survivor…yes, Antonella was our story, the ‘person of peace’ that God had literally brought into our midst. Wow.
I asked Antonella for permission to focus our exhibit on her, and she gave it. The team was galvanized. A new surge of creativity began and floundering projects finished. We had our story.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

E-2 days

Framing done. Artwork stacked. Installation tools, wire and other assorted materials mostly packed. Final photos being printed out. Artists statements are through the first round of translation, ready for review tomorrow, and then on to the print shop. We have scaffolding and a table, and will buy some chicken wire tomorrow to create a hanging system.

We have a tentative plan of action to install, but will mostly have to figure it out when we get to the piazza on Saturday. Eder is monitoring the weather.

We still need an exhibit title--none of our suggestions are working in Italian.

Tomorrow we clean, pack, and debrief. Saturday morning we move. Then we go straight to the piazza in the first city to install, then the exhibit begins at 4:00 pm. Uninstall. Sunday move to L'Aquila for church, dinner, install in Piazza Duomo, and exhibit. Uninstall. Monday we leave. Whew!!!

We are seriously pushing through, and seriously tired. We can only hope for a good night's sleep...the dorms are VERY noisy into the wee hours, and earplugs can only do so much! Pray we run this last bit well, sleep well, and dream up a good title for this show!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

E-3 days

Today Anna, David and David arrived, requiring that we revisit sleeping arrangements again! This team gets high points for flexibility.

Anna, David and David are the OM Italy film crew, visiting all the 9 teams working in Italy this summer. We actually knew they were coming, and met them accidentally in L'Aquila, though there was some sort of loose plan to do that, and before we knew sleeping arrangements were going to be such an issue.

But back to L'Aquila...we visited to distribute invitations for our exhibit on Sunday, prayerwalk, and to visit the student dorm, infamous here for a drama that took place during the earthquake (more on that later). The city seems completely different than even a week ago. I would love to think it has something to do with our presence and all of our prayers (yours and mine), but—could that be?!

Before we came, we were told we had no access to the main piazza; it was in a condemned zone, inaccessible to all. It opened about a month before we arrived. Although the Italians walk it with a bit of reverence, and all was hushed and quiet when we first walked it with them, today it had a lot more energy. Work crews were at it—banging, hammering, drilling and cabling were going on all around us.

Last Sunday, none of the fountains were working, and the main piazza was pretty deserted. Today, the fountains were flowing, and people were gathered in a tent in the main piazza for some meeting (probably political). A new art exhibit by students graced the wire fencing along the main street.

After a copious lunch at the only café open in the main part of town, we went to the main piazza, Piazza Duomo. We poured a bottle of water into the fountain, as a sign of refreshment which we hope to bring the city through our artwork on Sunday. A bottle of oil was poured onto the ground by Pastor Giorgio’s daughter, another symbolic act of softening the soil of men’s hearts, and of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. We invited Him to come and do what He does so well. I am looking forward to see what happens on Sunday. Then we prayerwalked around the piazza.

As we began distributing the invitations, the rains came, and we took shelter in a café. Our film crew from OM Italy arrived. After an hour of waiting out the rain, we headed for home.

I have had the deep assurance in my heart since yesterday that we need no invitations; God is going to bring the people He wants on Sunday. We have prepared our messages; tomorrow they go to our translators. We have one more day of artwork, then we have to clean and pack up on Friday, for our next move on Saturday. Though the weekend promises us to be more than full, I can’t wait to see what happens!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How Do You Spell Outreach?

Antonella, the young student mentioned in a previous post, moved in with us last week, to help.

Katia arrived over the weekend. “Who’s Katia?” you might ask (as we are). No one seems to know, except that she is here to help. Apparently Pastor Giorgio sent her. Her arrival, along with a group of about 50 Italian young people for a camp, necessitated the move for three of us to the next building.

Katia moved in with Meri and Phoebe, and helped us with translation and distribution. She left two days later, although we thought she was here for the week, to be replaced by Marco. At least we found out that they are both linked to Pastor Giorgio through a sister church in Rome. Any bit of clarity in this outreach is a windfall, and as deadlines continue to shorten, we are quite content to welcome Marco and ask him if he’s ever cut a mat. Marco’s English is as fractured as his work ethic is strong, given us moments of delight; he has proven to be an enormous help, and probably the reason I’m going to have two more pieces in the show that I might not have been able to finish otherwise. (And his cappuccino NOT to be refused!)

The decibel level has risen dramatically on campus, while available laundry and shower time has reduced considerably.

The best news is that our daily rations of pizza, pasta and watermelon have evolved through the efforts of a mysterious someone who is obviously into the culinary arts, and we are saying thank you…..

In the middle of all this transition, we learned we must also move to another location on Saturday, the day of our first exhibit, and no time is scheduled for the installation on Sunday. Groans from the team, gulps from the team leader, and another revised schedule to try to cope with the changes.

How do you spell outreach? C-H-A-O-S!!!!

And yet…in the middle of it all, a germ of an idea came over the weekend…we sat by the beach for a few hours decompressing on Sunday after church, and after an emergency trip to the pharmacy for an artist in respiratory distress. I thought about it a bit as I stared at the beautiful Adriatic Sea, and decided it was from God. How would the team take to it?

On Monday as I rose early for some quiet time and an available shower, I had the full assurance that God was with us and about to meet us in a big way; I went into our devotional time ready to announce that to the team, to try to encourage them as we began our second week. God beat me to it 

But that’s a story I will tell you next time. For now, the team is off on errands and distribution, and I am hunkered down producing an exhibit brochure, a list of the artwork and artists’ statements, and laying out an installation plan. Soon the team will return and many questions will need answers, and probably one meltdown will need a little attention. I still need to wander around the property, looking for a wireless connection to post this…wondering how it can all happen that God delivers us exactly what we need in the midst of chaos, confusion and speaking in several different tongues…