Newsletter 33 - June 2000
Last time I wrote, I was having a small break at Easter from my spring travels. These soon restarted, with a week in Spain for the two yearly ECM conference, and then a few days at Florence for a GBU staff meeting. In fact, it turned out that the only extended period of time (i.e. more than a couple of weeks) that I have had at Trento in the last three months was over Easter. Which for the university work was a disaster; with the Easter break and another public holiday immediately after, there were few students around in this period, the only time that I was present. Added to this, Patrick was away at a European student conference in Germany. This conference had, by the way, a very positive effect on the Italian students that went. I have heard good reports from most of the cities represented by GBU students. And certainly I saw the change in Patrick, who was still more enthusiastic to try to start some Bible studies after his return. I am sorry for him, that we were not able to do more together this semester. At least he was able to give a hand with the church work, helping a few times with leaflet distributions and book tables.
Although my absences had a negative effect on the university work, I think that the more that I am away the more good I do in the church. Although they do not always agree, and for the same reason: they have to do more of the work. (Having said that, continue to pray for a pastor or other person to work full-time in the church. The more we go on, the more problems we have running things ourselves; we just donít have the resources, both in terms of gifts and of time, to do everything that we would like to do or could do.) This effect of my absences was especially evident in the Valsugana group, where they came to realise that if, when I am away, they donít do something, then nothing will happen. But to be honest, lately they have started to take on more responsibility, if not all of it. Some examples. Giorgia has led her first study there, and is happy to do others; I will be working with her to help her to improve. Ester organised a meeting with her friends about raising a family, with a guest speaker that was also give a Christian message. (A very imaginative piece of evangelism, I thought. Last week one couple - Alessandro and Alessandra - returned to talk with Ester and her husband Massimo about what was said, and are now reading the New Testament and will return again with their questions.) Some of the members of the group have restarted regular letter box distributions in the various towns along the valley. And we are currently preparing for an event that I will mention later on.
Now that I am back at Trento from my spring travels, I have another rare three week period at home, before going to Perugia for a summer evangelistic team for three weeks (from the 19th to July 11). Pray for this; this will be the third summer that I have gone to help out. With a much stronger Italian GBU group there now, they hope to have a larger effect on the Italian students this year, whereas in past years we have spoken more with the foreign students there. Personally I will be helping more the Italian group, although a lot of things will be done in common and at times I will be floating between the two groups.
These three weeks at home have certainly not been without other organised activities. The first Tuesday night the church organised an evangelistic public meeting in town. There wasnít a lot of response from the advertising and invitations that we did, but enough to make it worthwhile. We donít expect a lot. And when we talked about it, we were happy that there was probably more participation by the church members in the preparation and prayer that we have ever had for such meetings. Usually it is only a few people that do everything. Since a secondary aim was for the group at Trento to do something together, to try to create more cohesion and communion amongst them, it was certainly a step in the right direction.
Then last Saturday was the end of year Ďpartyí at the university. This was the fourth time I had gone with a stall for the GBU, expecting the usual handful of contacts in the four hours that I would be there. But I organised the stall a bit differently this year, and about 20 people came, talked, and took some literature. Basically, instead of giving away something few were interested in, I made everything a gift for anyone that filled out a survey (on their religious beliefs). And it turned out that people were much more willing to take something if they thought that they had earned it. So without a doubt the quantity of conversations was the best ever. It is hard to say for the moment anything about the quality; that will have to wait a few months. Certainly, at least two of the people would have been interested in coming - if we had meetings at the moment. This is the problem with this event at the end of the year, we have always finished up by the time it arrives and meet new people. But I left my phone number with most of the people that I talked with, and we can pray that they will contact me after the summer break so that we can start reading the Bible together.
The third event is coming up. On the 18th the Valsugana group is hoping to do some open air evangelism at one of the lakes in their valley, where a lot of people congregate on Sunday afternoons in the summer. We have been practising for awhile, but at this point I am not sure if we can get ourselves organised in time. If we donít do it then, we will probably try again in July, after I return from Perugia. Of course, their willingness to do something like this is a big step forward since October, when they probably would have stopped meeting if I hadnít started going up there weekly to lead the Bible studies.
I have mentioned that this Spring my travels had a negative effect on the university work, and a positive one on the church. The beauty of my computer ministry is that being away has absolutely no effect on it. There are still 56 copies of the Bible downloaded every day from my Internet site whether I am at home or not. And I might be a week late replying to some correspondence, but nothing drastic.
I want to give one example of my electronic correspondence: certainly not typical, but gratifying. Out of the blue, at the end of April, I received a message from a certain Simonetta, who wrote:
"I am a Catholic in crisis, in that I canít believe in many, perhaps too many, of the things that characterise it. The only certainty is faith in Jesus Christ. He is essential, but I need help to orientate myself: I donít manage to understand the Jubilee, I donít believe in the Pope, because I believe that I have to give account only to God and my own conscience, even though I understand that others that have studied the Bible can give me a lot of help. I need a compass: could you indicate to me a study plan and some texts suitable for my research?"
After an exchange of messages in which I made some suggestions for reading the Bible and other texts, she wrote:
"My reading of the NT proceeds even if I realise that I read too fast and then have to go back because a lot of things escape me. And in the end I take more time and understand less. I need to learn patience. Anyway, new horizons are opening up to me and my heart is filled with hope.
I miss a bit the possibility to discuss what I read, because my husband is not very interested in these matters, and my friends and mostly convinced Catholics, with whom it is difficult cast doubt on Catholicism, or indifferent. And anyway no-one is interested in a personal study of the Scriptures. Or maybe I am not convincing enough. The Spirit still needs to work a lot in me and I need to let him do it!!!"
I replied that I can certainly sympathise with her difficulty in finding people to read the Bible with! Then I offered to put her in contact with someone that would be prepared to discuss the Bible with her. She agreed, and through my contacts on Internet I found someone in her town (Savona, almost 400 kilometres from here). As I write this, I am still in the process of putting them in touch with each other.
After my return Perugia, there will be the remarkable situation of two months at Trento. Not only with no travels, but with little to do, as the university will be closed, the Bible studies in recess, and most activities taking a break. But more on my summer plans next time I write.