When Peace is Nothing but an Illusion

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Perugia, seen from our house

Perugia, seen from our house

It’s early Sunday morning. It looks like another lazy summer day here at the gates of Perugia. It’s so quiet I hear a dove coo, and then flutter away.
I couldn’t think of a more peaceful start to my day. The sun is rising over the steeples, I hear a bell in the distance marking the time.

But all is not peace.
The people of Perugia are on the verge of stepping into a Christless eternity.

As most people around the world, the people of Perugia seek to ignore the signals of their demise. Perugia is full of wonderful little town festivals during the summer, with the best local food you can imagine and plenty of folk dancing. It’s enough to temporarily drown out their sorrows for a life without hope and without God.

But tomorrow morning they will wake up and the burden is still there.

  • Their soccer gods failed them completely during the World cup, ranking one of the worst teams of the tournament.
  • The economy gives them no hope, with an all-time record unemployment.
  • Their religion gives them no hope and no certainty.

In fact, the word hope itself in the Italian language speaks of uncertainty, not of certainty.

As I talked last week with  Maria, a very catholic woman, I saw how proud she was of the humility demonstrated by her favorite friar because he told his flock that he doesn’t know where he is going when he dies and he needs their prayers to move him toward heaven.

As I think of what Maria told me, there is turmoil in my heart as well.
How do we reach the thousands of damned souls, even within eyesight of my balcony, with the message of hope that only Christ’s atonement can give?

There is hope, and there is certainty.  That hope is in Christ, that certainty is in Jesus, and nobody else.

And God is certainly at work in Perugia, Italy.
We have seen several new doors open to the Gospel within the last month:

“So what can I do?”  I can almost hear your voice echo in my ears…

PLEASE PRAY.
When we are overwhelmed, when we are weary, when we are confused by all the opportunities coming our way, there is nothing more vital than the prayers of God’s people uplifting us, providentially moving the Spirit to accomplish His work through His unworthy, ineffective servants.

  1. Pray for the people who we are reaching out to with the hope of the Gospel.
  2. Claudio

    Claudio

    Pray for Claudio, my dear brother who has accompanied me to most of my oncologist visits to Milan, broke his femur, had an embolism in his lung and had to be put on oxygen.  Praise the Lord, because after a near death encounter, he is making a comeback.  Most of all, pray for his wife Donatella , who has been able to share the Gospel with many people in the hospital.

  3. Pray for the work in Spoleto, which is only a little more than a dream at this point. Christine and Maddie, Romanian women living in Spoleto, an hour away, have come to faith and have Spoletoasked us for help because they do not have an evangelical church in their area.  My Dad and Giuseppe have been going to Spoleto every Thursday to minister in the high security prison there, so they were able to meet with these women as well.  It reminds me so much of Acts 16, when Paul received the “Macedonian call”.  In Philippi it was first of all through Lydia, a godly foreign woman, that Paul’s ministry in Europe began.
  4. Pray for the nomination and training of deacons at the Centro Evangelico Battista.
  5. Pray for the training of Italian pastors, Sunday School teachers, worship leaders and families.
  6. Pray for my uncertain health. My health is stable at the moment, but not progressing.
  7. Pray for our uncertain residence permits.  We applied for a permanent residence for Melodee, but unless God intervenes, it will probably be rejected.
  8. Pray for more workers in the harvest and the ability for new missionaries to reside here legally.
  9. Pray for boldness in sharing the Gospel in our families, with our neighbors, friends, countrymen (I hear a slight echo of Shakespeare in this statement).
  10. Pray for good management of our time, ministries, money, health, spiritual health.

Pray most of all that Italians will give up their false sense of security in exchange for the peace that only God can give.

If you have prayed for these few things, you have done more than we could ask for and we can only thank you and praise God because His answer is sure to come.

Noah & Eva

Noah & Eva

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World Cup Soccer

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20140614-210259.jpgIn case you didn’t know this, the biggest sporting event in the world is not the Superbowl.
The biggest event is the World Cup of Soccer!

It comes every four years, and this year it is hosted by Brazil.

Many countries in the world come to a halt when their national team is playing.

Since Italy plays at midnight tonight, I am guessing tomorrow morning our church people will be a bit sleepy.

Melodee was surprised when we got married. She didn’t even know I liked soccer…but when the first World Cup rolled around, her usually indifferent husband became an avid fan!

This year it seems a given that Brazil will win, but I’m very excited to see Italy and USA team compete in the big cup.

If you would like to follow some of the best games of the world’s sport, here is the best way to get them right on your phone.
Click here!

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Shock Wave – by Bethany Bassett

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Worthy insights from a friend and fellow culture-observer…

Why we Italian culture can drive us crazy, but we cant stop loving it…all in one soccer game!

Italian soccer team pre-2014 World cup in Perugia!

“On Wednesday night, the four of us had the chance to watch Italy’s national soccer team play a friendly match against Luxembourg right here in our local stadium. This felt… epic. The World Cup is the only sporting event I’ve ever really followed, and the Italian squad has reached Dream Team proportions in my mind. That the very first live soccer game of my life would be the NATIONAL TEAM, playing in my OWN NEIGHBORHOOD, felt significant enough to inspire a ballad or two. Or, at the very least, a live-blog.

That was before we got in line outside the stadium though….”

Read it all right here! http://bethanybassett.com/shock-wave/

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Waiting……

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Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
    but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
        they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary;
        they shall walk and not faint.  (Isaiah 40:30-31 ESV)

We all take comfort in the strength that is promised in this verse.  But there is a key word we often forget: “wait”.

Since my surgery on April 24th I have had to do a lot of waiting…

waiting

Waiting and meditating on my trip to Milan

  • waiting to get out of the hospital (two hospitals, to be precise).
  • waiting to go home from Milan after another week of constant checkups
  • waiting to be able to eat real food again
  • waiting to be able to read to my kids and pray out loud with them
  • waiting for biopsy results
  • waiting for stitches to come out
  • waiting for be able to preach, teach, disciple, talk, eat without pain(I’m still waiting on that one!)

Waiting has been a blessing in many ways.

  • It has helped me appreciate the patience and hard work of those around me, picking up my slack.
  • It has helped me have something to look forward to.
  • It has helped me delegate and swallow my pride as others excel at things I love doing.
  • It has helped me have time to reconnect with God on a deeper level through prayer, reading and meditation on God’s Word and truth.
  • It has helped me see God at work.

And God has been at work!

On May 22nd I went back to Milan with Claudio for my one-month checkup.  They gave me more good bad news… an in-depth biopsy of the part of tongue they removed found another carcinoma in situ.  So…more cancer, but the doctor does not see the need to take more (up to half my tongue)!  You can imagine the roller coaster of conversations I had with myself and those around me.  Here is a sample:

Pessimistic me: “More cancer!” 
Optimistic me: “But they got it all.” 
Pessimistic me: “But this is the fourth time!”
Optimistic me: “Well, in situ is the best kind to have because it didn’t spread.”
Pessimistic me: “But when will it end?”
Optimistic me: “Hopefully now!”
Pessimistic me: “But what if it doesn’t?”

How did I end this cycle?  I had to got back to a previous foundational thought: God is good.  Once we learn to trust him we can finally move on with our lives.

John Calvin said it this way:

“not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or power, or rectitude, or genuine truth, will anywhere be found, which does not flow from him, and of which he is not the cause; in this this way we must learn to expect and ask all things from him, and thankfully ascribe to him whatever we receive.” [My emphasis]  (Institutes of the Christian Religion Book I Chapter II p. 40-41)

Despite the setbacks and the waiting we have much to be grateful for. In fact, God is working above and beyond our expectations and we can only look ahead to all He will do.  Here are a few clear signs of God’s blessing and protection:

  1. The carcinoma was in situ, therefore it did not spread.  The doctors don’t even want to see me again until September!
  2. We are so loved and feel so loved!!!
    1. When I got back from the hospital I had almost 800 e-mail messages…mostly of encouragement or of people wanting to help.  (Now you understand why it has taken me so long to write again!)
    2. MANY people have sent money to help cover my medical and travel expenses and even just to help me buy books to read during my recovery!
    3. Despite the burden of work of the ministry, our co-workers/family have encouraged me to take all the time I need to get better.
  3. God has amazingly mended some relationships that are very important in our life and ministry.
  4. We have had and will have several outreach opportunities:
    1. Music outreach
    2. Soccer outreach
    3. Baptisms
  5. We have had some precious family times!
Soccer Outreach

Soccer Outreach with Christian Artist Angelo Maugeri

What more could we ask for?  This very well may be one of the best years of our life!

Here are just a few important requests:

  1. Pray that my tongue would heal enough to get back to preaching and teaching, since Dann and Liz leave on June 13th for their 8 month long furlough.  I will be taking over several of their responsibilities in their absence: youth ministry, men’s ministry, staff leadership and…administrative duties (Lord help me!).
  2. That God would help us to catch up on so many things that I am behind on because of my illness and that we can manage our time and finances better.
  3. For Sunday’s baptisms and the choosing of our first deacons.
  4. That we can continue to improve at training leaders, in order to bring this church to independence.
  5. Our residence papers. Apparently they won’t renew Melodee’s residence papers without further documentation, including a marriage certificate with an apostille from Michigan that is translated and legalized.

Thank you for sticking with us as I continue to wait on God’s renewing of my strength, meditating and delegating!

whitmans_easter 2014

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Still in Milan

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God doesn’t always answer the way we would have imagined.

Wednesday morning, as I was reading my devotions, the Lord put some verses on my heart.  In Psalm 77:1 the Psalmist describes his situation:

I cry aloud to God,
        aloud to God, and he will hear me.
    In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
        in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
        my soul refuses to be comforted.

There is no description of a deliverance in this Psalm, but it struck me that the turning point was in verses 11-13, where he affirms:

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
        yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
    I will ponder all your work,
        and meditate on your mighty deeds.
    Your way, O God, is holy.
        What god is great like our God?

What struck me was that the Psalmist did not reflect on his deliverance…but on the fact that God had delivered in the past. Reflecting on God’s perfect holy ways and on his power was enough to give him comfort.

Little did I know just how soon I would need that truth.

Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori

Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori

Our train left at 5:45 pm from Milan.  Around 5:35 my mom and I climbed onto our train, anxious to get back to our families.  As I lifted the suitcase onto the overhead compartment I felt something warm and different in my mouth. I sensed that something was wrong, so I turned to my mom and to the other passengers with me.  They all looked white as sheets.  I looked at my reflection and I could not see my teeth (remember, my mouth was still numb from the operation).

I touched my mouth and got a handful of blood.  I ran to the bathroom and tried to rinse the blood out.  No water came out of the faucet, so all I could do was spit.  As soon as I spit my mouth was full of blood again. I tried the other bathroom.  No difference.  Another sink full of blood.  Panicking, we decided to get back off the train before it left for a 6 hour trip (it was the last train of the night for Perugia).  My mouth kept filling with more and more blood.  I began swallowing it, because I didn’t know where to put it.  I couldn’t rinse out my mouth, so I didn’t know where the bleeding was coming from.  At this rate, I figured, I would pass out before I got to a bathroom in the station.

The police called for an ambulance, but it felt like forever before they came.  I kept losing more and more blood.  Finally a policeman encouraged me to spit the blood on the ground.  Then I remembered all those movies where they would put pressure on an artery to stop the bleeding, so I stuck my thumb on my tongue and kept it there until I could get it checked.  The ambulance came and brought me to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.

By the time a doctor saw me, the bleeding had stopped.  In fact, he couldn’t even understand where I bled out.  Everything seemed to be in place.  We got in touch with my tongue doctor, and they decided to keep me for a couple nights in observation at this little hospital (the cancer center doesn’t have an emergency room).

As they brought me to my room, my mom asked if she could stay the night with me.  The person bringing us was categorical: she would have to leave the hospital immediately after dropping my luggage off.  I prayed in my heart to God:  “Lord!  Where are you??  I haven’t seen my wife and children in over a week.  We missed the last train of the night. I may have to be operated on again, including the wretched feeding tube. I almost bled out and now they want to send my mom away in the middle of the night!”

It was then that Psalm 77:1,11-13 came back to mind. “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.”   I figured God had given me those verses for a reason so I forced myself to focus on the fact that God had been mighty in my life to this point.  After all, the present seemed pretty dismal.  Even now, as I write this I can’t help tearing up as I think about it.

The nurses brought us to my room, where there was already another patient.  Then something happened…the one nurse looked with compassion on my mom and changed his mind, bringing us to another room, where there was only one bed and a recliner sofa.  They attached me to an IV and brought me a bowl of milk and even gave my mom a sandwich, and brought sheets and a pillow for the recliner for her to sleep on.

Before we went to sleep Wednesday night all I could do was look back amazed at how God had taken a situation of utter desperation and turned it around,  giving us above and beyond what we needed.  Once again.

Duomo of Milan with Claudio

Duomo of Milan with Claudio

Needless to say, I am still in Milan. Friday, Claudio from my church came to trade spots with my mom (he just happened to be a little over an hour away visiting relatives!)  Friday morning I went back to my cancer center, where my doctors checked me at regular intervals.

Claudio and I checked into a hotel near the hospital.  Today my doctor came again to check on me, even though it’s his day off.

Monday I have one last checkup, then Alessio and Roberto from our church will come pick us up and bring us home, Lord willing.

Every checkup has been perfect.  They have no idea what happened to me.  And I have been on strict orders to take it easy and relax. I have not even attempted to pick up a suitcase! We have walked a bit, I have rested some, I saw Milan’s main square for the first time in my life.

It feels like the calm after the storm.  I wrote this little poem as I reflected on this moment of stillness that God is giving me after my near-death experience.

Lord, help me not forget.
When the storm is over,
When gone is all that tore
  at my very life and breath.
Lord help me not forget.
 
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