Friday, April 7, 2017

Double "1"

Luca - 11 Years
Our most favorite youngest son turned 11years old the end of March. It is always a joy to celebrate the lives of our children and to reflect on how they have grown over the past year. Luca is a pretty special kid full of energy and life. He has grown so much in confidence this past year giving boldness to his speech in Italian, achievement in school and growth in friendships. He often will question with frustration why he struggles with things his siblings don't, but we assure him that God is using his weaknesses to make him stronger and more dependant on Jesus. God has made him with purpose, beautifully created with infinite value to his Creator and his parents.

Luca, you are a gift and blessing to our family! You make us smile and laugh. Your cuddles and hand holding with your Mamma are cherished. Somehow we still both manage to fit in the recliner together even though you are stretching in height with each passing day. It is a comfort to us both and we have learned to work well all squished together. We pray that God will continue to develop your heart into one of love and obedience for Him. We love you so much, Luca, always and matter what!!!

This year your birthday fell on a Wednesday. You enjoyed bringing treats to school to celebrate with your classmates before coming home for a 3 hour break in your school day, as is typical for Wednesdays. Then it was back to school followed by chess club. We picked up Superstar pizza for dinner, followed by ice cream. The cake was complete but you insisted that we save it for when a couple of your friends came over to celebrate on Friday afternoon.

The Kingstone Bible...look I'm like Moses with the 10 commandments!
What Samuel gets in February for his birthday is usually a request for your birthday.
Friday afternoon you consumed more pizza and had a fun afternoon of nerf and laser tag and table games before heading off to chess club. Thanks for being flexible and accommodating during a very busy week. Here's to making your 11th year one of the best yet!

Star Wars BB-8 Cake

Monday, March 27, 2017

:: Guest Post by Jonathan ::

Post Tenebras Lux: After 500 Years, Can Reformation Finally Come to the Heart of Roman Catholicism? 

No, your eyes do not deceive you. Yes, that is a picture of Martin Luther posted on the right in front of a Catholic Church in Italy in remembrance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Don't believe me? Here is a closer look.

As if one picture of Luther were not enough, a nearby Church thought it necessary to post five!
Not only is this posting of Luther's picture in front of the Catholic Church in Italy a reason to celebrate, but it also holds a special significance for me in that my name is printed on it as well. Why? Because the Catholic Church in the community where I live has asked me to participate in a conference (April 7) that will be open to the public in which I will have the opportunity to discuss the significance of the Reformation past, present, and future with Catholic priest and eminent professor of theology and history Don Ermis Segatti. I have participated in something like this in the past, and I am very much looking forward to another occasion in which I will be able to speak on the continuing relevance of the Reformation in a public forum.
The reason why this is exciting for me is because, as it is well known, the Reformation had little to no lasting impact in Italy, largely due to its proximity to the heart of Catholicism in Rome. Five hundred years ago, the Catholic Church succeeded in stamping out the majority of the Protestant incursions into the Italian peninsula. Since that time, the Church in Italy, to say nothing of the wider culture, has borne the indelible imprint of the countermeasures adopted against the Protestant faith and immortalized in the decrees of the Council of Trent.
Times are changing, however, and the Catholic Church in Italy has experienced, and continues to experience, a severe hemorrhaging of its faithful. The number of Italians still claiming to be Catholic has dropped dramatically in the last few years and has reached an unprecedent low. In his book Can We Save the Catholic Church?, Catholic priest and theologian Hans Küng details this steady exodus of Italians away from their inherited faith when he writes:
It has become increasingly clear that the number of people who consider the Church necessary - or even useful - has continually decreased since the peak of public approval at the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962-5), and under Benedict XVI it dropped to an all-time low. The results of significant surveys conducted in a number of Western countries show that this decline is not a development restricted to the 'recalcitrant' German-speaking countries.
In Italy, the land of the pope, less than half of the population still consider themselves to be Catholic, 20 per cent less than in 2004 (IARD RPS). This is despite the fact that more than 80 per cent consider religion to be important, a drop of only 8 per cent compared to six years previously. But many people want to have nothing more to do with the Church as an institution. Only 46 per cent still have confidence in the pope; six years ago the number stood at 60 per cent.[1]
Since Küng wrote these words back in 2013, nothing seems to have stemmed the tide of Italians leaving the Catholic Church. A new article published last year documents that:
...a record number of Italian Catholics are also thought to have defected from the Church in 2015, according to figures published in January by the Italian Union of Atheists, Agnostics and Rationalists (URR), an organization that helps Catholics abjure their religion by providing them with forms that can be downloaded online and sent to their local parish. Some 47,726 forms were downloaded in 2015, beating the previous high of 45,797 set in 2012, while the not-so-popular Pope Benedict was still at the helm of the Catholic Church. [Full article here]
Not only are the Italian faithful disillusioned over the condition of their Church, but trouble is also brewing in the highest echelons of the Roman hierarchy. On March 2, 2017, CSN News reported the following:
According to a report in The London Times and best selling Catholic author and journalist Antonio Socci, about 12 cardinals who have supported Pope Francis since his election in March 2013 now fear that his controversial reforms may cause a schism in the Church, and so they hope to pressure the Pope to resign. 
"A large part of the cardinals who voted for him is very worried and the curia ... that organized his election and has accompanied him thus far, without ever disassociating itself from him, is cultivating the idea of a moral suasion to convince him to retire," reported Socci in the Italian newspaper Libero, as quoted in The London Times of March 2. 
The cardinals who want Pope Francis to resign are among the liberal prelates who backed Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis) four years ago, said Socci, and they would like to replace him with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state. 
“Four years after Benedict XVI’s renunciation and Bergoglio’s arrival on the scene, the situation of the Catholic church has become explosive, perhaps really on the edge of a schism, which could be even more disastrous than Luther’s...” said Socci. [Full article here]
Socci is manifestly not an admirer of Martin Luther, whom he holds to be responsable for a "disastrous" schism. Nevertheless, he fears that the Catholic Church is on the verge of a schism potentially more disastrous than anything Luther provoked, and this time the instigator is none other than the pope himself.
I do not write this as one who sits in judgment over the Catholic Church. I strongly disagree with Socci's view of Luther and of the Reformation in general, but that is really beside the point that I want to make, which is this: the Church in Italy needs gospel renewal! It is no mere Protestant polemic to acknowledge the fact that the Catholic Church, at least the part of it that lies closest to its center, is sick and bleeding out. Everyone in Italy knows this. According to Hans Küng, there is no denying "debilitating and potentially terminal illness from which the Church is presently suffering" [2]. Although I am sure that many Catholic apologists elsewhere will object, it is a fact that most Italian Catholics who live closest to Rome, like Antonio Socci, are gravely concerned over the languishing health of their Church and are fearing the worst. It is no unkindness to call something what it is.
It is no human strategy or solution that can bring healing to the fatal wound of Italian Christianity, but only the gospel of Jesus Christ which alone is "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16). To say that the increasing numbers of Italians turning their backs on their Church, and for that reason on Christ as well, need the gospel is simply to say that they need others who will share the gospel with them. As Paul argued in Romans 10, how will they hear unless they are told, and how will they be told unless others are sent to them?
All this to say, Italy needs missionaries. Not necessarily missionaries of the traditional "jungles-of-Africa" variety, but reformissionaries who are committed to bringing gospel renewal and revival to a land increasingly devoid of Christianity. The contemporary situation and need of Italy is not unlike that which John Calvin described in the 16th century:
...the question is not whether the Church suffers from many and grievous diseases, for this is admitted even by all moderate judges; but whether the diseases are of a kind whose cure admits of no longer delay, so that it is neither useful nor proper to wait upon too slow remedies.... We maintain to start with that, when God raised up Luther and others, who held forth a torch to light us into the way of salvation, and on whose ministry our churches are founded and built, those heads of doctrine in which the truth of our religion, those in which the pure and legitimate worship of God, and those in which the salvation of men are comprehended, were in a great measure obsolete.[4]
This is why I am in Italy. I long to hold forth the torch taken up by Luther five hundred years ago and play some small part in sparking true gospel reformation across the land that has always been the center of Roman Catholicism. For the last five hundred years, the light of the gospel has not been permitted to shine with its refulgent glory throughout the peninsula. Up until the 20th century access to the Bible was extremely limited in Italy, and not until Vatican II was full blessing given to the faithful to read it for themselves. For this reason, the Bible has been dubbed "'the absent book'" in the history and culture of modern Italy",[3] and the significance of this cannot be overstated. Centuries of suppression have ingrained within the Italian psyche a reticence, if not downright opposition, to reading the Bible. We can only pray that God would mightily work to change this tragic reality. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. If they will not hear, how will they have faith?
So I would ask that you would pray for me in my work here in Italy, and specifically as I prepare for this upcoming conference on the Reformation. Might God be pleased to use the current crisis in the Catholic Church to open wide its door that for five hundred years has remained bolted shut against the great truths rediscovered during the Reformation? I don't know, that is in his hands. For my part, I just hope to maybe push it open a crack! If nothing else, I would at least celebrate the small victory that is the local Catholic Church's decision to post pictures of Martin Luther just outside its doors and host a public event commemorating his work. Perhaps now is the time to start proclaiming again the great Reformation motto: Post Tenebras Lux! After Darkness Light!
[1] Hans Küng, Can We Save the Catholic Church? (London: William Collins, 2013), p.45
[2] Ibid., p.1.
[4] John Calvin, Theological Treatises (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 1954), pp.185-186.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

School Chess Tournament

On March 9, Luca participated in a chess tournament between schools in the province of Torino "Trofeo Scacchi Scuola" (TSS). He was one of the top six students selected from his school to participate in the tournament. He of course was more than happy to skip an entire day of school for the event! He left at 8am and got back at 5:30pm.

He was bused to the PalaRuffini in Torino for a day of chess competition along with 174 other elementary students, plus middle school and high school students. In combination with the other elementary school in Caselle, the players were divided into teams of four with a total of 44 teams (for the boys). Luca was selected as team captain for the Caselle B Team. With great responsibility comes great expectations, because the Captain is also the top ranked player of the team, meaning they go up against the hardest competition.

Luca did very well and won 4/6 games. He said he won the first game and then lost the two following. His school coach said to him "did I bring you here to lose or win?" Luca rebutted that he was doing his best, but clearly the fire was relit and he won his final three games after lunch. There were no timers so it was a play to "Check Mate/Draw" scenario for each of the six rounds.

We are so proud of Luca! It was an honor for him to be selected for this opportunity and we are so glad he took his losses well and just had fun. He has come a long way in just 1 year of chess playing.

The final rankings are as follows:

Team Caselle B
10 of 44

Ranking Board 1 (Top seed of each team)
10 of 44

Overall Individual Ranking
42 of 174

For posterity sake, I am posting a photo of an article in Italian about the tournament.

Monday, March 20, 2017

SHARE 2017

I think it is safe to say that we have now established an annual family tradition with our participation in the SHARE Family Education Conference in Hungary. This week is hands down one of the most anticipated weeks in the year for our family, and for 85 other families too as this year’s registration was full in a matter of days.

Why do we keep going back?

For the relationships, the feeling of belonging, the encouragement, the learning, the pool and the list goes on. Samuel described it as a “family reunion.” Families return year after year and so the people start to feel like a second family. The kids know the hotel like the back of their hand because the location remains the same every year. If you could see the joy that pours out of our children as they are surrounded by other MKs you would understand why we desire to prioritize this conference. This feels like "home" to them and they absolutely thrive and are so encouraged as they reconnect with old friends and make new ones. For our kids who have no Christian friends and no youth group this gathering is even more cherished for them.

My good friend, Karilyn (Mom of Claire). The most generous of friends, who always makes me smile, listens and  just loves the Lord! Oh, and we are always exchanging travel tips and good finds.
We are so thankful that ALL of us were able attend this year, as Jonathan’s health has been unpredictable over this past year. Unfortunately, we all got hit with bad colds (including Mac!) the week prior and in fact I lost my voice the day we traveled to Hungary. I did not fully regain my strength until returning home. That was such a bummer to have to lip sync during worship for the first few days. Jonathan held up well for the first three days before taking a nose dive with gut pain that confined him to bed the rest of the week. Most likely it was something in the food or the fact that he was in the course of another treatment to kill off parasites and they decided to fight back. He was able to get some pain meds from the in-house doctor that helped take the edge off allowing him to drive us 9 hours home by the end of the week.

The kids and I soaked up every moment of the week. Emma shared a room with Claire, while Samuel and Luca had an adjoining room to her brothers. We only saw the kids in passing throughout the week.

Samuel spent a day in Budapest with the teens for an “Amazing Race” competition. In groups of 5-6, they raced around the city seeking to complete their twelve tasks. It was an educational experience as most of the tasks involved historical landmarks.

For example, they had to count the shoes along the Danube River that are placed there in memory of the Jews who were forced to jump and drown in the river.

Count the number of bullet holes in a wall that were made in the 1956 uprising.

Find a “SHARE 2017” lock on a cage full of locks.

Accurately count the 1500 Jewish Stars outside a Synagogue, and the list goes on.

They had time to stop for an ice cream too and this is the ONLY picture that Samuel actually took on his Amazing adventure for the day.

Emma participated in the Talent Show once again. This year she performed a gymnastics routine as a four some. Months and months of coordinating across three time zones took place through Skype to pull this off. It was a sheer delight to see the girls perform! 

Emma, Claire, Lenna and Abigayl

They are already thinking about next year and have changed their Skype chat group name to “SHARE Dancers 2018”. (No assumptions being made or anything about next years expected attendance!) The video doesn't capture the full synchronized routine, but you will get the gist.

Luca was always running out and about with friends or perfecting his pool table skills. He also was able to get assessed for some sensory processing concerns. We found the resulting information to be very helpful and will continue to seek ways in which to better equip him and help him.

Kyle and Luca

Although three families from our agency where on furlough this year and unable to attend, we were happy to have three first time SHARE attendees from our agency that joined us. It is always wonderful to expand out network of friendships through various regions within our organization. One of those families was from our own Italy team, so it was great to have some extra special time with them as well. In total there were 6 families from our organization and we enjoyed our traditional Thursday night pizza together at a local restaurant. We got in on a good deal of half-price food nationwide since it was “Gluttonous Thursday”. (It is similar to “Fat Tuesday”)

Ladies Tea...colleagues from Central Europe and Italy
Luca's SHARE teacher and fellow laborer in central Italy.

The drive home was either laced with tears or deep in sleep for our kids. The M family caravanned with us to the Italian border so at least Luca and Emma got extra friend time in the car. An emotionally charged week, ending with emotional good-byes. 

Life of a MK is so tough, and yet I don’t think they would trade their experiences for anything.  The countdown is already on for next year, but in the meantime texting, video chatting and emailing will keep these kids occupied and connected with their life long SHARE friends until they meet again.

Claire and Emma 

Goodbye Siófok

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Fourteen in February

Samuel, you might have thought that I forgot to commemorate your birthday this year since it is now over two weeks past. Never fear the post is finally here! One of your great virtues is patience with others and you have certainly displayed that with your mother. Thank you!

You are now fourteen years old and you have made our first year of parenting a teenager more than fabulous and less scary than we imagined! Yes, there are challenges with the changes and the occasional unexpected hormonal eruptions, more hard life questions etc., but you have maintained a mouldable heart that is willing to listen, that seeks counsel and is most of all growing in your relationship with God. Life is not easy having no Christian friends at school and constantly having to swim against the flow. We are so proud of you and the great courage that it takes to just walk out the door each day. You are leading your siblings with your wonderful example and we are learning from you too.

Passionate about music, especially Hans Zimmer instrumentals
Keeping to the music theme for this year is a new set of headphones
This year has brought you joys and hardships, one including a sick dad in which you have had to step up to the plate and carry a heavier load. Thank you for helping me and being willing to serve. My heart melts every time you see me carry groceries of whatever, and you quickly offer to take it off my hands saying "Mamma, you shouldn't be carrying that!"

Just like your grandpa, Papa--you LOVE cheese cake!

You are a loyal and true friend that is always seeking the best for others and seeing the best in them. You never give up on people and always maintain hope that God can turn things around. Trials will continue to come in your life, but having a hope and faith in God and his plans is something we have been so encouraged to see you believe and cling to recently. He is growing and maturing you into a man of God, which gives us no greater joy to witness as your parents. You are so special in so many ways making you our most favorite first born son!! And yes, you will roll your eyes because you are our only first born son...but you are still our favorite in that category!

Our tenderhearted son, we love you to pieces...always and forever, not matter what!!


Diavola pizza from Superstar Pizza was your meal request

Thursday, February 2, 2017

First Gymnastics Competition

Let's do this!
Emma has been wanting to do artistic gymnastics for the longest time. Her best friend, Claire, had been giving her tips and stretching challenges for nearly a year and a half before Emma was able to start training at a local gym. It was so cute to see how-to videos come through text messages and to hear the girls video chatting regularly with Claire coaching Emma through different moves. Thank you, Claire for being an inspiration and amazing virtual coach from Ukraine!

Getting final tips from Coach Lara before floor routine

Usually new students are not allowed to compete in competitions until they have completed a full year of training. Therefore, you can imagine our surprise when Coach Lara told Emma after two months that she thought she was good enough and ready to participate in her first competition in January. Emma was elated with the news and continued to push herself in the gym week after week.

She has been twirling around, throwing up her arms and holding poses at random times all around the house over the past couple of months. The constant banging on the floor is a steady reminder of her practicing jumps and moves in her room. No matter. It has been a joy and sheer delight to see her embrace this sport whole heartedly and see her pursuing her dreams. It has never been about anything other than just having fun and doing something she is passionate about.

Girls from her club-Fenix Nova Gym
This past weekend she participated in her first competition in Castano Primo, which is a suburb of Milan. She participated in the individual competition for the Junior Corallo Level, basically the middle school level for beginners. There were a lot of gymnasts! She completed all three events of trampoline, beam and floor in back to back rotations.

...perfect landing!
She was so calm, composed and confident for her first time in front of a crowd. I think she gets her performance bone from her dad because she did not appear nervous at all! We stood back and watched in awe wondering how our little girl grew up so quickly!

Beam routine

Filing out for awards ceremony
Participants for her level
Allieve and Junior "Corallo" level from her club

She was glowing with excitement on the success of her first competition and so happy with her participation medal!
Here is a video of her performances. She wants me to note that the music got cut short on her floor routine, so that is why it looks like she didn't finish with the music.