Newsletter 34 - July 2000
Between June and July, I spent 22 days at Perugia in central Italy, in a team of students and others evangelising at the universities there, as part of the ministry of the GBU. This was in fact the third summer that I have done this. This had the advantage that a few people remembered me from previous years. True, I was usually recognised as the guy that does the Mr Bean impersonations, but it did mean that I could follow-up on what was done last year.
A major change to the structure of the team this year was to divide it into two distinct parts, an Italian speaking group and an English speaking group (for the many overseas students that study Italian at Perugia). This had two very positive results. The first was that it enabled the members of the GBU group of the city to participate, which they did in a big way, despite most of them having to juggle exams at the same time. [This was also a consequence of the increased growth and evangelistic desire of the group in the past year.] So for the first time it was not a case of people coming in from outside to do some evangelism, but working with an existing group helping them with their evangelism. Which naturally is always better, as we could build on the relationships they already had with their friends, and they can follow-up the friendships that we made with students whilst we were there. Which is probably why we saw the second very positive result: a much more effective witness to the Italian speaking students. Whenever I think of things we did both this year and in previous years, they always went much better this year, especially among the Italians. And with a good group of Italian speakers, we were able to do things that we have not been able to do before, like evangelistic events only in Italian instead of having to be in English only or bilingual. And the quantity and quality of the friendships we made, and of the opportunities we had to speak about Jesus, reflected this.
Here I will mention only one such example, because it was one that I was involved in personally. At the beginning of the third week, we decided to offer an Evangelistic Bible Study, since we had met a few people who seemed interested in reading the Bible with us. Perhaps we had misjudged their interest, as only one turned up, a student from Congo called Estino, who an English team member (Stephen) had got to know. But in any case we did the study, which Marco, a member of the local GBU, and I had prepared, in which we talked about our concepts of justice and Godís understanding of justice, reading most of Romans 3. Obviously Estino had continued to think about this, because three nights later at one of our events he came up to me to say that he had been reading the passage in a French Bible, and still had some questions. So he, Stephen and myself met for a second study the next day. I remember thinking during the study that it was one of the strangest that I had been involved with. There we were, three people from Australia, England and Congo, sitting on the steps of a cathedral in the middle of Italy, talking about the Bible. In three different languages - Estino could understand Italian when I spoke to him, but found it easier to express himself in French, which Stephen then translated for me into English. It was also strange because Estino practically led the study. He was putting a lot of effort into understanding the passage (if only all Bible studies were like that!), so he would read and think a bit, ask a question, which after translation I would answer, he would pause to reflect, and so we went around. After about an hour, and about three attempts to express himself correctly, he said, "So the only way that we can become just before God is if Jesus takes away the punishment for our injustice". Finally he had understood! Then Stephen asked the big question: "But do you believe this?" And after another pause, he said he did. So I believe he became a Christian at that point. In fact, two days later, at the last activity of the team, he demonstrated that he had still been thinking about the passage and what it means, because he came up to me to say, "It is all summed up by three words: 'Faith in Jesus'". The group at Perugia has now restarted their Bible studies in French, which they had stopped for the summer, and Estino is going to this, and has been to church as well. As I said, working with a local group means follow-up is much more effective. Pray for his continued growth, that having got such a great understanding of the essentials of believing in Jesus, that he would hold on to those, whilst building on understanding what it means to follow Jesus.
One other effect of the summer team was to remind me how much I enjoy ministering to university students. It is not that I have not enjoyed it recently, but that I have not had much opportunity to do it at Trento lately. A lot of what we did at Perugia is not translatable to the situation at Trento, but it has given me some ideas, and I have been thinking lately about some things to do differently when the next academic year starts here in October.
Since arriving back at Trento two weeks ago, I was able to catch up on some things which had accumulated whilst I had been away, and that I had not had time to do previously - with almost all normal activities (that is, except for the Sunday services) in recess for the summer, I have had more time. So what I have been able to do most is spend a lot of time with friends, and with people from the church. I know that with my regular absences over the last four months I have done a lot less of this than I would have liked. I was also able to do some things to prepare for the service last Sunday, which is one of our traditional highlights of the year. The church went up into the mountains, where we held an open air service, and continued to fellowship together over lunch, and then the left overs from lunch we had at dinner. I left at 7.30, and the majority of the church was still there. This year there was an extra part of the service, with three people being baptised (Beatrice, Silvia, Enrica). A fourth (Carmelo) could not be baptised that day, and will be baptised on August 20 - just before his wedding with Olga on September 9, another event for which I am heavily involved in the organisation. Pray for these people, that they will remember this day in which they have witnessed to their faith in Jesus.
Program for the coming months:
September 12-15: Apart from being my birthday, there is also a conference for pastors, elders and missionaries in Italy. I will be going, together with one of the elders of the church (Angelo), and also it seems with the majority of people I know that are ministering in the country.
October 11-14: GBU staff meeting.
October 20-22: A weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the GBU this year.
Which leaves a big gap between now and then - it will be a rare extended period at home for me. Which will also be the period in which most other people go away, for summer holidays. As I have said, apart from the Sundays services I will have no fixed commitments. I plan to spend a lot of this time on my computer ministry (which has a lower priority when I have other things to do), improving the tools I distribute over the Internet to study the Bible, and also to spend some more time on my own personal Bible study. When the Bible studies get going again, we will start by looking at the Holy Spirit, so I want to start my preparation on this subject now. Not only learning about him, but having him work more in my own life as well.