I close this time in Italy with a full and grateful heart having experienced how God is able to do what sometimes seems in human terms to be the impossible, seeing how he loves each person greatly, how he patiently never stops reaching into the hearts of people and drawing them to himself. He is faithful. He loves us so. Thank you again dear friends and family for walking beside me, praying for both Luke and I as we were apart, caring for us as we strive to walk in obedience to the Father, step by step, in whatever he puts before us.
Dec. 13-21 – East Italy to Central Italy & Back
Beginning my 3rd week:
Monday, Mariela and I started our week of meetings by traveling from Parma to central Italy, beginning in Florence. After experiencing challenging train connections all morning, we arrived in Florence early afternoon. We walked to our hotel and were greeted once again by owners Pino and Carmela. Returning to the same businesses to build friendships over time is an important part of what I like to do as I serve in Italy. They were in the midst of repainting and freshening up their family-owned hotel, and we were welcomed as their only guests. With the recent attacks in Paris, all of Florence was pretty quiet (as it was in Venice last week) due to low, low numbers of tourists, Pino and Carmel explained. We enjoyed visiting with them and catching up within our short 24-hour visit.
By midafternoon we’d discovered our meeting planned with a pastor was no longer going to happen. So God blessed us with an afternoon and evening together to rest, wander and talk together. This was really the first break I had the entire trip so it ended up being a gift. Mariela and I talked more in depth about her own work in Italy along with her husband, Aldo, not only in Parma but their growing vision to branch out more throughout Italy, meeting needs around them in effective ways. I sponged every word she shared as we discussed their creative ideas and strategies.
Tuesday we traveled on to Arezzo, just south of Florence. Our plan was to meet up with Dawn and Luke, ACCI project leaders serving in the area, and meet a family who began a new church in Arezzo. We were greeted by Dawn and Luke at the train station. We walked past the language school I attended in 2013, then had a quick cup of coffee as we reconnected.
We drove to the home of N. & L. (not pictured and names not used for their protection) and their 4 children on the edge of town. We were greeted by L. and a wonderful lunch she’d prepared! As we ate together, we talked for a couple of hours, listening to L.’s passion for the needs of Arezzo, her work helping get woman off the streets who are sold into sex trafficking from other countries (which she usually does in the middle of the nights). I learned many new things listening to her. She’s an educator, a mobilizer, and a shepherd. She builds relationships with these woman over time, hoping to extract them to a safe house and begin their process of recovery. The stories she shared shook me to my core. Italy is presently the first place in the EU for transitioning young people into the sex trade by breaking their spirits in horrific ways, and then taking them on to other countries for permanent prostitution. She sees this as an opportunity to stop the process, right here in Italy, before it goes any further, one person at a time. She offers training to individuals and churches who desire to help. I left L. knowing in my heart that we would meet again in the future.
In the evening, we drove on to Citta di Castello and got settled in our new home for the next 2 nights.
After some much-needed rest, Wednesday morning, Mariela and I were invited to Luke and Dawn’s for breakfast. We had the opportunity to hear more about how they have been transitioning back into Italy from a furlough in the US. It was encouraging to hear about how God reveals his faithfulness to them in the midst of adjustment and change. After breakfast, we ladies headed out for a road trip to Assisi to visit with our ACCI project leaders there, Federico and Elisabeta, who are in the very beginning stages of a new church
Our time in Assisi seemed to have some importance in its timing. We arrived to Federico & Elisabeta’s home and literally sat for hours talking, listening, discussing their growth, challenges and plans as we ate our way through lunch, drank our way through coffee and dolce, and then ended our time together with a short walk to their new church space. We entered to an inviting, brightly decorated 2-room church. One side was for informal gathering, child care, relaxed visiting, smaller meetings, the other a worship area for their services. They shared how God has supplied their every need and how he overcame every obstacle they faced. What a blessing to see, firsthand, all that had happened in one short year. In Italian terms, these were huge breakthroughs.
We said our goodbyes, knowing we’d see one another the next day in Fornovo at our ACCI gathering, and drove back to Citta di Castello. We continued with more time with Luke and Dawn, visiting with them in their home as we got out of the chilly damp air and enjoyed conversation around a roaring fireplace.
Luke and Dawn amaze me. Their prayerful approach to every situation, whether their own personal needs or the needs of others, is humbling to witness. Their patience in waiting, listening and being obedient to God’s leading encourages me in my own faith.
Our visits around Italy over the past two weeks have proven to be important to Mariela. She possesses a deep passion for church planting and through her firsthand experience was able to offer valuable wisdom and insight in all of our discussions together with those sharing in this area of service.
Thursday, we were all packed up and on the road by 9 a.m. heading back to Fornovo to begin the 24-hour retreat with all of our Italy ACCI project leaders, 14 in all. Our goal was simple: to celebrate victories and breakthroughs in each person’s work, to share challenges and spend time praying for one another. Getting everyone in the same room was visual evidence of how our ACCI Italy team has grown in the past year alone. Some were meeting each other for the first time. We began our time together by Skyping in Tony Hedrick to share a devotional with us and each staff member Skyped in for a few minutes to say hello as well. After several hours of meeting, we continued our discussion over a family-style evening dinner and then finished our meetings on Friday, ending at 1:30 p.m.
ACCI members attending:
Giacomo in Lavagna–church planting, sports outreach
Salvatore in Milan–3 buses that serve throughout Italy offering prayer, study materials, outreach to refugees, etc.
Emily in Milan–Alpha training, beginning new research for a new endeavor (tba)
Dawn and Luke in Citta di Castello–one on one service, intercession, discipleship
Izabella–joined us by Skype and is returning to Italy this month
Giulio in Bologna–Youth For Christ, Bologna University Linguistics student
Francesco & Alessia in Fornovo–ACCI staff, Member Care, Partnership Development, counseling, outreach
Aldo & Mariela in Parma–church planting, leadership training, outreach
Federico & Elisabeta in Assisi–church planting, discipleship
& myself, Ann–ACCI staff, Member Care, Partnership Development, short term teams
This gathering proved to be of great importance. I’ve learned more about church planting in Italy and how each leader is creatively helping meet the needs of people around them, one by one, in effective ways. It was encouraging to hear them compare their experiences, share strategies, ideas, offer help and prayer to one another. It will be interesting to watch what will be the outcome from this time together in the months ahead. Several of us stayed afterward and had an extended lunch together, talking about church planting in more detail.
In the evening I attended a Christmas dinner held in Fidenza. This is the second church Aldo and Mariela have begun in Italy. It was wonderful to see familiar faces from years past and see how this church has grown and is helping the Fidenza community while offering the love of Jesus in very tangible ways. After a 4-course Italian meal and a lot of loud and wonderful conversations, I was ready for bed.
Saturday was my day to spend with Alessia and Francesco. We decided to go for a long walk together above Fornovo. We walked and talked our way through the hills with their dog Willie and enjoyed absorbing our experiences from these weeks together and all the conversations we shared with our project leaders while absorbing the beauty around us.
Upon our return, I did some packing. I also visited with Francesco’s sister, Silvia, who was packing to travel to Greece to work for 3 weeks on a rescue team from Norway. Her mission is to help extract African and Syrian refugees from the water who are boating into the country. It was interesting to hear about her plans, her honest fears, her willingness to go in spite of the unknowns.
Sunday morning, we headed to church in Parma. It was a great way to close my time in Italy by worshiping with so many friends I respect and love. It was a joy to see our friend Kevin at church who was home for Christmas and is currently a university student in South Carolina. After church and lunch, we drove back to Fornovo where Francesco and I had a skype meeting with one of our missionaries and then he kindly drove me to my hotel in Milan. I had a 6 a.m. flight out the next morning back to the US. We were able to get in our last discussions during our car ride to Milan.
EXTRA: A few facts about refugees in Italy:
– It’s a challenging process of identifying people as refugees or immigrants. In Italy, most refugees are often on their way to somewhere else in the EU and wanting to just pass through Italy. Especially those from Syria who would rather be in Germany and other European countries where many already have family members waiting.
– Italy will offer good aid to those once they ask for asylum, and then they have to be identified so they can go through an asylum program. What they receive depends on what country they are from. The law says they have to apply for asylum in the first country where they land, and not all of the EU countries supported that at the beginning, including Italy (who is now being sued by the EU for not doing this at first) but they are now. It’s difficult if refugees don’t understand or cooperate with these policies, as this prevents the system from working in their favor.
– EU countries continue to argue about who has to take care of them because this is new territory for everyone. Aid is being set up slowly, little by little, while the refugee numbers are quickly increasing. Everyone is overwhelmed by the needs, but doing more and more, developing systems and aid to help as best they can in the EU. It’s been reported that 2016 will bring an even greater number of refugees into the EU.
Dec. 7-12 – From East to West Italy
This has been a full week combined with meaningful visits with quite a bit of train travel, but well worth the effort! As I’m sure you all will remember, because the purpose of my travel with ACCI involves many private conversations and prayer, there is quite a bit I will not be able to share with you. So I will do my best to bring you into my experience as I value our relationships and your partnership as I serve with ACCI.
Beginning my 2nd week:
Monday, I hopped on an early train to head to Chiavari to connect with our dear friends Imra, Emile and their family. Over time their family has become such a blessing to our lives, as they are to many of you who are reading this blog. We spent time talking together catching up on our lives, work, ministry, and families. Imra serves as the Italian director to Mom’s In Prayer. Because my previously planned meetings had changed, we were able to spend Tuesday together doing more talking and walking a bit in town while experiencing some of the Italian hustle and bustle of Christmas. Chiavari is on the seaside on the east shore of the country and unique with a Mediterranean, climate making it seem like all the seasons were happening at once around us.
Wednesday began a full schedule for me starting with train rides from the east side of the country completely over to the west shore and the Venice area. I started at 7 a.m. making 3 train changes, picking up Mariela, one of our ACCI pastors and contractors serving in Parma, Italy. Fog surrounded us the entire trip, the opposite of yesterday, yet when we arrived to Venice early afternoon, the fog lifted and the sun was shining again, but it was very cold.
Our ministry partner and friend, Fosca, was there to greet us. We listened to Fosca’s story and update of life as we walked through the alleys and streets of Venice toward the Jewish Ghetto to her grandmother’s home, which she is now living in.
The next day, ACCI contractor Emily joined us in Venice having traveled from Milan. We spent the morning sharing around the table in Fosca’s home, reading Scripture together and worshiping. In the afternoon we traveled by bus to Mestre, a suburb of Venice, to meet with Fosca’s pastors and learn about their work in Mestre.
Then we walked to a prayer meeting with their church family. The evening ended with two of the men from the group preparing a spaghetti meal for us while we continued our all continuing our visit. We were given a ride back to the Venice canal and were in bed by 1 a.m. What a rich, rich time together. Our conversations were sprinkled with learning about the spiritual needs of Italy, methodology in sharing the love of Christ with others, cultural adaptation, the needs of immigrants and their transitions, the growing needs of refugees in Italy, relationships in the church, the balance of how to care for our families while serving others around us, how to handle stress, dependence on God, and much more.
Friday, we began our second and last morning together over coffee and had more discussion. Mariela and I got packed up and walked to the train station to catch our next train north to Rovereto/Trento.
This was already a full day and it wasn’t over yet. We said goodbye to Emily and Fosca and journeyed up toward the mountains, changing trains quickly in Verona. We arrived in Rovereto and took a taxi to our hotel to drop our things off in our room and get settled. We “took a quick rest” and then taxied back to the train to head to Trento, just 15 minutes away. We had a little of time to get hot chocolate and see some of Trento, which Mariela hadn’t seen before, while walking our way to the church to meet their worship leaders and friends for dinner.
We were welcomed by our friend Ovidiu, who drove us to his apartment where we had a short worship rehearsal and enjoyed supper before prayer meeting. We were greeted by Jessica, Simona, Alena ,and Andrea who all serve with the youth and worship ministry with the Trento church. These are valued relationships that developed through the worship workshops and worship conference in past years, which I had the privilege to be a part of in Trento. We’ve all been friends, participating in ministry together in Italy, ever since. What a joy to see them all again, even for this short time.
Saturday, we weren’t sure what the day would bring. Pastor Angelo picked us up at 10:30 a.m. and began the day by walking us to the Christmas booths their church had put together at the Mercartino di Natale (Christmas Markets) that Rovereto holds in the streets each year as a way to bring
encouragement to the community and share the love of Christ to passersby.
He led us through town explaining it’s history and the challenges they’re facing as a church, as well as the victories. My conclusions and preconceived ideas were redirected as I listened and learned from this dear pastor. He also drove us to the top of the town so we could pray together for the people of Rovereto. This was a precious time together as we stood in agreement, in prayer for the city.
We headed back down the mountain to our hotel to study and prepare for the women’s meeting that we were to lead at the Evangelica Chiesa di Rovereto from 6-8 p.m. Our evening was centered around Proverbs 31. Mariela presented the teaching while I shared a craft for the women to make bracelets of prayer symbolizing the teaching that we shared together, followed by a powerful prayer time and an delicious meal the women had prepared. Some of the husbands joined us as well. It was a meal filled with laughter and conversations Italian style! Which I love.
We were in bed by midnight, packed and ready to leave to return to Parma in the morning, and we felt so blessed!
Sunday, we trained back to Parma and grabbed a taxi to church joining the serve already in progress. I spent the day at Aldo and Marielas with them sharing a yummy lunch and nap in the afternoon. Tomorrow, Monday we will train on to central Italy: Florence, Arezzo, Citta di Castello, Assisi, Fornovo, where I will remain (Parma area) until I leave on Monday the 21st.
Due to the weather’s moisture and different power plugs around the country, I’ve been having technology issues the entire trip with my iPad, camera batteries and spotty tower service for my phone, but even so, God has been faithful to help bring quick resolution to every challenge I’ve faced thus far. I remain healthy, sleeping quite well, all for which I am truly grateful. Thank you for covering me with your prayer–it IS making a big difference.
Dio ti benedica (God bless you)!
Extra: TRUTH about today’s refugees–Did you know…
– 59.5 million people have fled their home country and are displaced to another country
– 30 more people are uprooted every minute
– 38.2 million more are displaced within their own countries, with no home, no job, no provision
– There are now 700 refugee camps officially identified worldwide:
– Significant populations are from Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Chad, Tanzaniea, Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, Umar, Uganda, and Nepal
– The average stay in a refugee camp is 17-20 years
– The larger the camp, the longer a person stays
– Less than 1/2 of 1% of refugees end up resettled from the camp populations
CHALLENGES–inside the camps:
For example: out of approximately 186,000 people in a camp, over half are under 18. So what is their future? What is their identity and country of origin?
– 70% get a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet consisting of limited water, rations which are mostly cornmeal, beans, and oil
– There’s a mind-set of refugees being there temporarily, so a person doesn’t feel safe in the camp or even safe in their home country.
– Conditions are not meant for humans but for animals (food and all). BUT people prove to be resilient and live with some kind of hope in the midst of horrible circumstances.
– Tribalism and a gang dynamic are common among those who don’t have families
HOPE–for the refugees living in camps:
For example: With 22,000 refugees living in a former prison camp in Malawai, being the 4th poorest country in the world, the Malawian church is doing their part:
– saving rice rations as a tithe for orphans in the camps as well as piglets
– they’ve started a Bible school
– offering training with whatever knowledge they have, sharing it with others
– planting churches IN the camp
– Building skills to help people prepare to leave including English classes, providing volunteer teachers (ratio of 1 teacher to 140 students), a pig-raising project helping provide income in the camp, preschool, business education, leadership training, pastoral training
– they are seeing refugees bring hope by creating answers to their own problems within the camp
– 17 denominations are serving together, agreeing to make the gospel their central focus, utilizing their spiritual gifts and working together within the camps
Travel Blog Entry #1
Dec. 3-6 – From Minnesota to Germany
My travel really couldn’t have gone smoother. I’m grateful when this happens as it doesn’t drain me prior to beginning my visits when I arrive in country.
When I landed, I figured out how to buy a ticket (thanks to a wonderful airport staff member who walked me right to my bus stop.) I took the bus to the train terminal, bought my ticket and had an hour to spare so I took a bunch of pictures around the Frankfurt, Germany airport. I headed down to my train track and met a mother and daughter from Georgia who came over just for the day (the daughter worked for Delta) to shop the German Christmas markets which is a favorite event for all country residents.
I arrived in the Siegburg/Bonn area 40 minutes later on the fast train. Our ACCI project leader Daniel was right there to meet me. Daniel and Irene work for Literature Mission out of Norway. Daniel currently helps with printing customer relations, giving quotes, handles prep for production and helps with leading the customer through the entire printing process and then offers a follow up with customers or the specific ministry. They are building a partnership with To All Nations and look forward to all the possibilities ahead as they work together to offer literature and printing all around the world of Bibles and leadership/discipleship materials for those in need. Daniel and Irene recently completed their time serving in Sri Lanka at a printing company under Literature Mission, that he now visits 2x per year as well as other customers around the world. We picked up Francesco Abortivi from his flight from Milan and headed to TO All Nations to meet the staff and hear about their ministry and Bible school, serving about 120 missionaries in approximately 20+ countries. What a valueable and blessed time we had together discussiong our visoins, sharing stories and the desire to partner together in some way in the near future.
Saturday, we had the privilege to sit together with Daniel and Irene and talk for hours about their work, and offer some member care, a listening ear and learn about their lives. What a precious family.
We were able to also walk through one of the Christmas Markets done after the Mideivel time, sample some food and see a bit of the town.
On Sunday we attended their church, Evangelische Freikirche Siegburg.
Germany and the refugees: Their church have refugees that come every Tuesday to the church, who enjoy the use of the youth room and receive teaching, prayer and encouragement. They have Bibles and literature in multiple languages to offer them as well. Their church has specific groups who are assigned to help carry out their part of the service to these refugees.
As a church body, they are preparing 4-500 Christmas boxes for the refugees, filled with gifts and literature with a New Testament in 3 languages (English, German, French).
EXTRA: What I learned about the refugees in Germany:
– There’s a high standard in Germany in regard to helping the refugees Within German culture I was told, they deicide what to do and do it with incredible followthrough.
– There are great benefits in Germany, England, Sweden and Norway so this draws the refugees to those areas.
– Germany can find jobs for them them, train them, and provides social welfare and social security.
– The problem is the country is realizing they won’t be able to keep this up permanently and they are are concerned how to maintain the quality of care when millions are expected to come eventually.
– They were expecting 800,000 people by the end of Dec. and have already reached 900,000 now.
– There’s not enough space for refugees so they are using empty buildings and school gyms to house those that are in transition.
After lunch on Sunday, we said our tearful goodbyes to this dear family and flew from the Cologne airport to Milan, Italy–my first experience on Ryanair, two of us for $64! What a trip (look them up on line if you’re curious). Francesco and I met a young Romanian man named Dan who sat next to us on the plane. We offered a ride to his town outside of Milan as we headed to Fornovo.
Monday, I leave on a my first train ride, of many to come, to Chiavari, Italy to meet with the Dillis Family.
Thank you all again for praying me safely to Germany and beyond. May the Lord bless you as you continue to bless me.
“I ask the Father with his great glory to give you the power to be strong in your spirits. He will give you that strength through his Spirit.” Eph. 3:16
Hello Friends and Family,
Thank you for helping make this next mission trip possible through your prayer and kind financial donations. Grazie, tutti avete molto gentile (Thank you, you all are very kind). Some of the meetings I had hoped to have, didn’t end up coming together due to people’s schedules and the holidays while others indeed did develop with additional surprises and opportunities. God is definitely directing my steps for each day and it’s a privilege to follow his lead.
PLEASE PRAY WITH ME
Please join me by choosing a day to put on your calendar and remember us in prayer.
- For our health and safety as we travel throughout Italy
- For unity and breakthrough in ministry relationships & vision
- For Luke’s health, peace & good rest as he remains home
Here’s what’ ahead…
Dec. 3, Travel Day
Dec. 4-6, Germany Member Care Visit
I will begin by meeting our ACCI EU Director, Francesco Abortivi, in Germany to spend some time with our ACCI project leaders there, Daniel and Irene Kort and their two lovely children. We look forward to learning more about the investment that they are making through their work with New Life Literature around the world.
Dec. 6th, Francesco and I will fly back to Milano, Italy and will be picked up by his family and head back to Fornovo/Parma area.
Dec. 7-8, I will be heading to Chiavari to visit with the Dillis family and visit with our ACCI project leader in Lavagna, Giacomo Lirici and his family. I am hoping to go with the Dillis’ to visit the Genova area and do some refugee service together.
Dec. 9-13, I will begin my travels with Pastor Mariela de los Santos visiting several church leaders, networking partners and hoping to build some new relationships each day. Our objective is two-fold; to help bring the opportunity for Mariela to meet other people who share the same vision and concerns for the spiritual needs throughout Italy and develop partnership. I will also be researching with each visit what role others are offering in the refugee service throughout Italy, listening and taking notes. My hope is to bring back some possible short term mission team opportunities of service as well as be more “in the know” about what others are doing regarding the refugee needs it this part of the world and to learn from them.
We will begin by heading to Venice/Mestre area to meet up with Fosca and her new church in Mestre. ACCI project leader, Emily Saylor will travel from Milano and join us as well. We’ll then head on to Rovereto and Trento to meet with the church leadership in both places, Pastor Angelo and Pastor Pippo and many friends there. Mariela and I will lead a women’s event in Rovereto on Saturday evening. Sunday the 13th, we train back to Parma to prepare for a Christmas concert and event in their church.
Dec. 14-16, Mariela and I will head to Florence to meet with Pastor Nehemiah Brown, a new contact to give Mariela and Pastor Brown an opportunity to visit and share their vision together. On Tues. we head to Arezzo to meet up with ACCI project leaders, Luke and Dawn Mann who will host our visit with their church friends in Arezzo and with Charlie Worthy, an incredible person serving and offering supportive resources to Italian leaders. We will be hosted by Luke and Dawn in their town of Citta di Castello for 2 nights.
Wed. we drive a short distance to Assisi to visit our ACCI contractors there, the Francinis. Federico and Elizabeta are faithful in serving in their community and this will be a first time visit for Mariela. We look forward to hearing about their vision and seeing their work in their city.
Dec. 17-18, The 4 of us will drive back to Fornovo together to host and attend a 24 hour ACCI members gathering. Our project leaders from all over Italy will come together for a time of sharing, prayer and dinner together. This will be a first time for several of them to meet one another.
Friday night the 18th, the Parma church and their sister church from Fidenza, will gather together for a Christmas banquet and celebration.
Dec. 19-20, I’m leaving open for possible visits that form from the previous connections. I will let God lead these days along with Francesco and his wife Alessia, and see what God opens up for those days as we flow along.
Dec. 21, is my Travel day home, I’m leaving Milan and connecting through Amsterdam on to Minneapolis.