Monday, October 9, 2017

Humble Church Beginnings

Since the closure of our first church plant "Reset" back in 2012, it has been a long and slow process of (pardon the pun) resetting the ministry in Caselle. Our goal has always remained to see an evangelical church presence in this community of 13,000 people. God in his faithfulness and goodness has allowed us to share in His continuing work here. Rejoice with us...

On October 1, 2017 "Insieme" Evangelical Church of Caselle started Sunday services!

The most recent picture I have of us all, minus one.
The core group of faithful Bible study attendees were ready and asking for this to happen. We feel that by having waited as long as we did that there is a sense of ownership from the very beginning. Our services are very participatory and everyone has a role during the service whether that be reading scripture, leading prayer time, leading in worship, reading liturgy or providing refreshments. It is far from a one-man show and it is beautiful.

One of the most excited groups of people about starting services has been our kids. It has been a joy to witness their enthusiasm. We have a sign up sheet for each weeks responsibilities and Luca is THE very first one to run over and sign up for the following week. His turn around in attitude towards church from "there is nothing to do and I don't understand anything in Italian" to "I want to participate, and Dada's Italian is way easier for me to understand," has been so encouraging. This past Sunday Emma signed up for the refreshments and she made a beautiful amazing apple cake all on her own.

Our beginning is small and humble as we meet in our home. We are learning together as we go and adapting as needed. Now that we have a couple of services under our belts, we are ready to extend the invitation to others who have expressed curiosity and interest in attending a service. Pray that the seats (max. capacity 26) will be filled and that we will outgrow our home setting with lives being transformed and given to Christ.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Milestone Beginning

While the world tracked Hurricane Irma and its destructive path over the course of this past week, here a storm was also brewing. Of course, it was not all doom and gloom, however, having children learning and trying to navigate high levels of emotion that encompass both anxiousness and excitement was a test of patience and exhaustion for us parents. Allowing the expression of their fears, stresses and questions and subsequent venting with nervous wacky energy was a necessary exercise allowing us to then offer support, encouragement and hope through Christ. We have every confidence that this school year even with all of its changes will be one of great growth, maturity and another demonstration of God's faithfulness, love and grace poured over our children.

September 11, 2017
On Monday, all of the kids started school. We had to divide and conquer required parental attendance between the boys who both began new schools. Jonathan went with Samuel to Torino for his first day of high school to begin Prima Superiore (9th grade). They left the house at 7:30 to catch the bus to Torino. His first day was from 9:00-11:00. Emma started school at 7:55 and not wanting to walk alone on her first day, Luca and I accompanied her to the gate and then waited until he entered at 8:30. Both middle schoolers finished at 11:55.

Being the middle child has its always having a sibling at middle school!
First 6th grader to arrive at school
There was much relief given to Samuel in finally just starting. He was fairly nervous on his first day and even refused the briosse offered to him when he and Jonathan stopped for a coffee before entering the school. The parents and students had an hour long welcome and orientation meeting together before being called and divided into their class sections. Samuel is in 4G and one of seven boys in a class of twenty-three students. He likes the ratio since he has always formed friendships with girls better than boys. His homeroom professor teaches Greek and she made a good first impression on Samuel. One brief hour to introduce the students to each other and then they were done for the day.

Roll call
On Tuesday, Samuel began his regular hours of school, 8am-1pm. He nearly missed the 7:00 bus as he ran to catch it as the doors were closing. It will take us a few days to figure out the right timing of the bus schedule and when we need to leave the house. The bus stop is a good 10 minute walk from our house and Jonathan accompanies him each morning and then starts his day of "bar-hopping"(coffee shops are called bars here, so don't go getting all freaked out!) 

Looking up at my 5'11" son
Samuel had a good second day of school after worrying all the previous night that he might have given a bad first impression by raising his hand and answering too many questions in class. He was so happy to come and home and tell us he "socialized" with three other students. This is so very encouraging for him and us to hear as this was a major area of weakness in middle school. We are thankful for new beginnings and for this opportunity and new environment that he seems to enjoy. He came home on day two needing to memorise the Greek alphabet and do some translation work. Here we go... 

She's nearly eye level with me and checks daily to see if she has surpassed me
Emma, please don't forget Emma! Poor thing has felt like she is being overshadowed and that her year is less dramatic of a change compared to her brothers when in reality it is not. She is in her FINAL year of middle school (8th grade) and has much on her plate as she too will need to research and choose a high school as well as prepare for final exams. My heart almost broke with concern that she is stressing out way too soon over exams when I saw this picture on her bulletin board. Sweetheart, exams are 9 months away! When I asked about whether that might make her more stressed she assured me it is just serving as a reminder. And then my heart melted when I saw the notecard with the verse I wrote out for her on her very first day of elementary school.

Deuteronomy 31:6 "Be strong and courageous...for the Lord your God goes with you;
he will never leave you nor forsake you..."
But ever the prepared and organised studier that she is I guess it should not surprise me. This is a huge year of transition not so much on the front end like Samuel and Luca but on the back end. You've got this Emma!

Still holding my hand and heart
Luca began Prima Media (6th grade) and not only was he placed with one of his best friends but he also received ALL of Samuel's middle school professors. I have a feeling this was done intentionally as three siblings of Samuel's ex-classmates are now Luca's classmates. At least Luca won't be the only one potentially being compared to his older sibling. The very good thing is that we liked Samuel's teachers and they know us. Crazy to think that we will traverse a total of 6 consecutive years with the same professors.

Classmates and besties
Viva 1F...again!
Luca says he loves middle school and has demonstrated genuine excitement about the change so far. He is a social bug and has enjoyed seeing Emma during intervallo and tracking down other friends from elementary school. On his first day during his religion class the prof asked how the world was created. The response was the Big Bang and Luca raised his hand and answered "God created the world!" So proud of him for responding as he did and for the testimony all of our kids are leaving at this school.

We have done our best as parents to support each of the kids, but in all honesty they have been their own biggest supporters of each other. They seek advise from each other constantly, warn Luca of dangers to look out for and teach him swear words so he doesn't repeat them. They run to each other to share their experiences and days and in return receive moral support and encouragement. They love each other and look out for each other as siblings should. 

As the kids head out the door each day this is my prayer over them...
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever he may send you; may he guide you through the wilderness, and protect you through the storm, may he bring you home rejoicing, at the wonders he has shown you, may he bring you home rejoicing, once again through our doors.
We are still in the first week of adjustments as 5:45am rolls around REALLY fast! Luca and Emma will have two weeks of a reduced schedule with days that end at noon and then they will adjust to their days ending at 1:55. The frenetic running out after school each day to track down a new list of school supplies is still yet to end. The hours upon hours of covering school books and erasing all answers written in the books passed down from siblings is still a work in progress. But with each hour wasted--I mean invested--I keep reminding myself of the savings that this is to a month already heavy with steep start up expenses that included a cell phone for Samuel, a one year bus pass, paying for school books for all 3 kids, supplies, etc. I almost want to say "Merry Christmas!"

We would appreciate your continued prayers for our children. They are in dark places where their light might be the only one shining. Pray it burns brightly and that they will be strengthened as they lean on the one who will never leave them or forsake them.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Day in the Mountains

Since the spring and the increasing restoration of Jonathan’s health, he has been walking to the center of town on a daily basis often both in the morning and afternoon. He will stop in a couple of different coffee shops, sit and read his Bible or write and interact with the baristas and clients as he gets to know them. He has become a known regular as a result. His active presence of just walking in and around Caselle has opened up so many doors for spiritual conversations and only is increasing as time passes. He kind of (ok, really) has a distinct look with his red beard, Bible in hand and toe shoes. Yes, toe shoes have opened up lots of conversations! If they don’t do a double take at his Bible, then you can count on the toe shoes drawing a second glance. He even went out of his way to order a pair on Amazon for the florist who really wanted to try them out. She paid him upon delivery and she cannot stop raving about them.

After a coffee (or two) he makes it a point to frequent other local businesses. He’ll stop in at the bakery and buy some bread or treats for the kids, the butcher to get some meat or the vegetable and fruit store. Although this type of shopping from store to store on a daily basis is common in Italian culture, for our larger family we have in the past relied primarily on the larger supermarkets with lower prices and of which also accept credit cards. However, you cannot beat the quality and benefit of supporting the small business owner, even if paying in cash and higher prices are less convenient. Therefore, our shopping has now become a blend.

The shops are not known so much by their store name on the front of the building but by the owner’s name. For example, we buy fruit and vegetables from Massimo and Sabrina, not “Il Mercatino.” Everyone knows who you are talking about when you just say the owner’s name because they are the sole vendors. Jonathan has struck up a relationship with this couple and they invited our family to join them for a day in the mountains where they escape for weekends throughout the year and vacation for the entire month of August. We have for a long time wanted to explore the mountains surrounding us but did not know where exactly to go. So this was a welcomed invitation to go with someone who knows the area.

Ghigo - Prali
On August 23, in between hosting Munga and Gramma on their European visit, we took the opportunity to visit our friends in Prali which is about 1.5 hours from Caselle and on the border of France. The day was absolutely spectacular with cooler temperatures, clean mountain air and breathtaking views. The warmth extended to us by this family was truly amazing considering they had not met half of us, including myself. They were ready and waiting to take us on a morning hike at 10:00 when we arrived, but only of course after a quick coffee. Massimo knows that we are evangelical and so he really wanted to show Jonathan places in the area significant to the Valdese (Waldesians), the branch of the Italian Reformers that endured much persecution for their beliefs in Piemonte. Massimo loves to talk and his knowledge of the area and its history was fascinating. Our first hike was up above the village of Ghigo.

In 1533, on this open grass field high above the town, the Sinodo Pra Daval
was held to discuss and confirm the acceptance and participation of the valdesi into the Protestant Reformation movement.
"Il giusto vivrá per fede"// The just shall live by faith

A learning from each other lesson in Italian reformation history
 with Jonathan and Massimo

Walking down the ski slopes back to Ghigo
Unfortunately the Valdese museum was closed, but Valdesian presence
and influence in this zone is still very strong.
When we completed our first hike, we went back to their apartment where Massimo’s parents had prepared lunch for us. The kids loved the fact that Massimo and Sabrina’s high school age son is a magician. Oh, the entertainment and wide-eyed fascination of watching our kids try to figure out his tricks. Fabio is super good and he appreciated our interest in his life and hobby.

With satisfied stomachs and rested legs we set out again after lunch to take in the other side of the valley. It rained on and off for this hike which prohibited the kids from taking a dip in the water near the waterfall, but maybe next time on a sunnier day. We walked through each little borough of a community along the mountainside and enjoyed our conversations with locals and seeing lots of animals.

In each borough we saw a building that said "Scuola Beckwith" and Massimo did not know the historical significance, but Jonathan did. Charles Beckwith was an English colonel and is  one of the most important characters in the Waldesian cultural panorama in the 19th century: he is the man who is responsible for organization and education in the "Italian Evangelical valleys", to which he moved in 1827, promoting the building of schools of primary education and at the same time organizing the training of teachers. 

Original furnishings in this Beckwith School.
It is no longer an active school but opened and used monthly
for village meetings.
As Jonathan was explaining this to Massimo some elderly people stopped and started to listen in and were fascinated that Jonathan knew this part of their local history. When he told them he too was evangelical they lit up with smiles. From there the doors were burst open as they began to share their life stories. One woman attended elementary school in this one room schoolhouse back when the Germans occupied the village of Ghigo in WWII. I wish we could have stayed longer to chat with this generation of locals who experienced this part of history and who continue to live this mountainous life.

This man confirms Jonathan's history knowledge 
We spent quite a bit of time conversing with this group.
They still on occasion will wash their clothes on those wood boards
in the mountain spring water.
The locals recounted how this outdoor communal wood oven was used to make
bread on a monthly basis. Everyone cooked their bread on the same day to
maximise the oven heat and resources. They loved baking day because
it was the one day of the month they enjoyed fresh bread.
Any house adorned in flowers is beautiful
After drinking their fill of icy cold amazingly clear water, the kids had
competitions of who could hold their hand in the water the longest
before going numbness forced them to pull their hand out.

It was a full and very special day and one we had to sadly conclude before it got dark so that we didn’t have to drive down the mountain road at night. We have since seen this family regularly around town and in their shop and imagine another mountain visit will be in our future.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Sunrise — Another guest post by Samuel

Most people would enjoy watching a sunset, mainly because they’re beautiful and they’re always there when you’re awake to see it. I actually like watching sunrises better, especially when it’s in a landscape like the open sea. Some people may think I’m crazy for wanting to wake up early in the morning at the crack of dawn, but I don’t exactly value my sleep as much.

The first sunrise I remember witnessing was about two years ago while I was at a family reunion at Mammoth. In case you were wondering, I did not bat an eye that night, mainly because I was having recurring nightmares nearly every night and I had just finished a book with a very haunting end. So I just laid there. Scared. Of drifting to sleep, back into whatever my anxious mind had in store for me. Hours, minutes,  seconds could not tick away slower. But through the window shades I saw a light: white but somewhat pinkish red. I looked through them, and there it was. Through slits of shades, and needles of pine trees I saw the sunrise.

I also came to a realization. I had been stupid to lie awake at night. Very, very stupid. Why? I didn’t trust God to be watchful over me. Being scared to death of a nightmare is understandable, but it reached the point where the translation of my thoughts was: “God, I don’t trust you to look after me, protect me, and know my every need. I don’t believe in your omnipotence and omniscience and I will try to protect myself.” It’s actually amusing how just the Sun peaking out of the horizon can be so convicting. From then on, every sunrise I saw stood as a reminder that I could be certain that God would be there for me as I could be sure the sun would welcome the new day every morning.

Now let’s jump a couple years into the future and to a little town named Kirkcaldy, Scotland. When I saw the shoreline there I immediately thought: “I have to get a sunrise picture or two.” 

Kirkcaldy's shoreline from the Ravenscraig castle
My parents kept encouraging me to watch the sunset instead. But the sunset where we were at was disappointing. Way too many buildings covering it. I took the pictures eventually, but no: it didn’t require me being a teenaged rebel. My mom eventually agreed to accompany me (which never happened)--because that would require her getting up at 4:30am.

I went out with the sting of salt in the air, and frigid cold. I didn’t even care that I had nothing but shorts, flip-flops and a heavy sweatshirt at 4:45am. I was told not to have high hopes since it’s always cloudy and I probably wouldn’t even see color of sunrise. That was only partly true. There was actually a lot of color, with a nice contrast of a dark blue sky. The cloudiness actually made the pictures better. Here are a couple pictures of my time out there, but note that I edited all of these with the intent of making it look like a painting. Hope you enjoyed my story and these pictures!

Seagulls flying out on the horizon
The tides receded very drastically. Here's a rock covered in algae.
The sunrise behind a dock

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Scotland: Days 1-3

With record setting high temperatures across much of Europe this summer, you better believe we applauded ourselves on selecting vacation destinations up north this year. It did feel odd packing pants, sweatshirts, rain coats etc. and leaving behind our shorts and sandals, but this family has too much northern blood in it to lament over leaving the heat. Our week in Scotland was a week of refreshment for our family and not only from the heat.

We are so thankful for the Lord's grace and protection over us. I started to have severe sinus cold symptoms the day before we left and felt awful on our travel day but it dissipated by the time we arrived in Scotland. Jonathan then had the same symptoms upon our arrival but also short lived. The whole driving from the right side of the car on the left side of the road added a level of stress for both driver and passenger (me), however, despite our misfortune a time or two of which I will share about later, God kept us safe and it all just added to our vacation memories.

We flew into Edinburgh on Wednesday, July 26 and then drove north across the Firth of Forth to the region of Fife (try saying that fast 5x) where we stayed in the quaint seaside town of Kirkcaldy. The apartment we rented was another stellar find and our host greeted us with a semi-stocked fridge, fruit, chocolates and snacks which was super generous of them. We found the Scots to be very warm, helpful and down to earth people. And of course, who wouldn't just want to linger in conversation with a person speaking with a Scottish accent?!

DAY 1:

Our first full day we decided to keep things low key with no real agenda. Everyone was able to sleep in and then late morning we set off on foot for a walk along a portion of the Fife Coastal Path that connects Kirkcaldy to Dysart, the next town over. It was the perfect cloudy, cool and breezy morning to leisurely explore the Ravenscraig Castle, beach comb for rocks and shells, walk through shaded forests and enjoy the North Sea views before arriving at the Dysart Harbour.


It was very interesting to see boats sitting on the harbour floor just waiting for high tide in order to head out to Sea.

Since it was lunch time when we finally got to Dysart, we stopped in at the Harbour Master's Café and got some hot chocolate, coffee and pastries to warm us up and hold us over until we got back to the house.

We arrived back just as it started to rain. And so it was on most afternoons that the rains would come and we would settle in for reading, knitting, movies, baseball games, billiards and just chilling.

DAY 2:

We woke up early in order to walk to the train station to board a train to Edinburgh. We pre-bought our tickets online for the first entry time at 9:30 to enter Edinburgh Castle. We enjoyed the free 30 minute tour with a guide who gave us a good overview of the history and highlights of the castle, before we then were left to explore on our own. We saw the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny, which were all very cool--but no pictures allowed. The Scottish National War Memorial was also very moving to visit.

Mons Meg weighs 3 tons and could fire 330 lbs. stone balls up to a distance of 2 miles

Oldest structure on Castle Hill: St. Margaret's Chapel

King James later commissioned the Bible to be translated in English

Coming off of Castle Hill a couple hours later it was shockingly crowded with people. The Royal Mile was just jam packed with street performers, mimers, musicians and the like. We figured that with the masses of people that we better just head to the sites we wanted to see and not linger in the crowds. We grabbed some Starbucks coffee and found a bench for us to eat our sack lunches before continuing on our journey with a lighter load on our backs.

Yoda is floating?! Darth Vader and Storm Stroopers were across the street.
Next stop was the St. Giles Cathedral where John Knox preached. Knox was the Scottish Reformer that did much to advance the gospel and fight for the reformed cause across Scotland. His burial location is outside the church that is marked with a plaque but is now a parking lot.

John Knox's pulpit

Just down the street from the cathedral is the John Knox House. We took some time to visit his house now turned museum. The highlight was seeing the Kleis men having fun dressing up as Knox.

The Royal Mile starts at the Castle and ends at the Holyrood Palace. It is here where the Queen of England resides when she visits Scotland. We received headsets for a self guided tour and this was again a unique and informative historical visit. In this palace is also where John Knox was called by Mary Queen of Scots to debate reformed theology in relation to her Catholic convictions.

Ruins of the Abbey

It was a long day on our feet and everyone was pretty much ready to head back by late afternoon. And so it was that as we walked back to the train station the rains came.

DAY 3:

Saturday's adventure was had in the town of Stirling. One cannot visit Scotland without seeing such a significant geographical location to Scottish history, such as Stirling, where William Wallace led the Scots against the English for their fight for independence. Samuel read G.A. Henty's historical fiction novel In Freedom's Cause for his TPS English class this year that revolved around William Wallace. It is a wonderful privilege when you can visit places you have read about. One day our kids will have a great appreciation for all that they have seen.

We did not completely avoid the rains on our tour of Stirling Castle nor the William Wallace Monument, but a steady drizzle is better than a downpour. So we weathered the weather like Scots and waited for things to change in 15 minutes.

Again, we took an indispensable 45-minute free tour of the Castle before exploring on our own. The castle was beautiful and they have done an excellent job restoring it to it's fifteen and sixteen century look, with a few structures from the fourteenth century.

The Great Hall with a roof assembled with zero nails
Very large fireplaces
The Queen's chambers
From the castle you can see The National Wallace Monument honoring Sir William Wallace, the patriot, martyr and Guardian of Scotland. The spiral step climb of 246 steps was so worth the view from the top. Along the way there were three levels each highlighting Wallace and Scottish history. At the top it resembles a crown and it was extremely windy which was very unnerving to see the kids peering over for a view.

Location of the Battle of Stirling Bridge

Upon descending there was a theatrical performance by two men talking of Wallace's fight and victory over the English at Stirling Bridge. It was very entertaining and again, accents for the win! Everyone enjoyed holding a real Clamour sword after the performance.

And that concludes the first half of our vacation in Scotland! I realize that maybe only my children have reached the end of this photo heavy post, but since they are the ones who read and reread and reread every entry, this is their vacation scrap book written and shared for their sake.

Stay tuned for the second half that includes tow trucks, tires, kilts and the Highlands.