Newsletter 38a - November 2001
At the university
The problem with newsletters is that they so quickly get out of date. These e-mail versions help a bit, but even their news can rapidly become incomplete. Last time, for example, I wrote that whilst I was in Australia asking everybody to pray for a new student for the Bible studies at the university, there was already one here (Miriam). But then, the week after that newsletter I heard from an English Christian student (Robyn), who is studying at Trento this year. So now there are two. Since they both speak English better than Italian, for the moment the studies continue to be for English speakers (with Ellenor, Yvette and Julie as well) and not just students. But my main desire is still to see Italian students come along, and in that case I will split the group to be able to work both among students and among English speakers. I have just done some advertising for the Bible studies around the university, so you could pray that as a result there will be a third student that comes.
We have still not been able to get everyone together at the same time, due to public holidays, not being able to find the room, and timetable clashes. This last reason could be a particular problem this year, because some of the courses have moved to a modular system, which means new subjects and timetables every month. So whilst Miriam can not attend at the moment, there is no point changing the time we meet because her timetable will be different again at the end of the month. So I hope that then she will be free on Thursday mornings.
In the church
Quantity are not everything, but the most obvious change in the church lately is a sudden spurt in the attendance. In all the time that I have been at Trento, the most we have ever had at a service is 35 adults, not counting guests and visitors. Then, all of a sudden, three weeks ago there were 42. And then the next week as well. Last week, due to a few people being away, there were 'only' 32. Since we have short memories and all tend to take God's work for granted, there were a few comments along the lines of "There weren't many people at church today" - when even a few months ago we would have thought that it was a good number.
This growth is due to a number of factors. One is demographic: the children in the church are growing up, and participating more in the services. There has also been a sudden influx of new members - in the first month that I was back, each week there was at least one new person who started coming, for a total of six. And I have heard that tomorrow there will be yet another. These are all Christians who either recently moved to Trento for work or for study, or that were already here but not attending any church. Pray that they will quickly feel part of the church. To help this, we will be having a meeting on the 28th, where they will be able to introduce themselves, and we will explain the vision and life of the church. It will no doubt be good also for those who have been around for a while to be reminded of why we exist! The third reason is that those who have been coming are now coming more regularly and are more committed to the ministry of the church. This final reason, and the fact that all of these new people live at Trento rather than in the valleys, means that there has been a flow over into the other meetings of the church. I mentioned in my previous newsletter that there are now about 12 people at the Bible studies at Trento, compared to half that number last year. The problem remains that they are a different 12 people each week, with not much consistency from week to week. Also, in the first monthly prayer meeting of the year for the Trento residents, there were 18 people. Again, I can remember not too long ago when we would have been lucky to get three. And I can remember when I arrived nine years ago when on an average Sunday there were 13 adults in the church. It is good sometimes to look back, and be reminded of how far God has taken you.
Due to the difficulties I mentioned last time, it is not possible to get all seven people together at the same time. So we are holding the Bible study in a different house each week (of the three available), changing day each week as well, and I meet with the people of the house and whoever else can make it. In this way each week there have been two or three people present, plus myself, and we read the Bible and pray together. The group is surviving, but only just. The numbers do not concern me too much - I have done years of Bible studies at the university with less - but I am not sure what is the best way forward for this group, especially to use it as a base for the planting of an independent church in that valley, which remains my desire, as well as the vision of the church and of ECM. The Mission would like to send missionaries there to plant a church, but there is no-one to send. There have been similar problems in the Val di Non as well. Again, someone there full-time would be a great help, rather than the present situation of Angelo travelling up there once a week.
The Youth Group still has not got off the ground. Here too it is proving difficult to get all the teenagers together. So I will keep trying dates until I find one suitable for all.
The last few weeks have been a bit difficult for me. Part of the reason is that it took me a lot longer that normal to adapt back to life in Italy. Even now I do not really feel completely settled in. Although last Thursday there was a good sign - during the study I got terribly confused speaking English, and I could only say the Italian word without realising the problem. Apart from that, as I mentioned above, of my three major responsibilities this year, one has only just got going, one is just surviving and one has not even started yet, so I have not been able to get into a pattern of ministry. But problems with my work and my activities are not the major difficulty. It is more coming to grips with how I am. Through various books that I have been reading and through various happenings in my life, I am not just understanding but feeling more than ever my own shortcomings towards God and towards others. Having prepared some sermons on the Sermon on the Mount this month has been the last twist of the knife, as God has spoken first of all to me. Someone made the comment after the sermon last Sunday, with a sense of surprise, that I was "contemplative". The surprise was right, because usually I can think the right thoughts to lead to the right actions, and then leave the thought process behind. But this time I have held on to the thoughts and feelings, because I have found that although I have felt a worse psychologically, I have never felt better spiritually. I have never prayed better in my life, I have never read the Bible with such enthusiasm, I have never felt as much concern for other people. Most importantly, I have never felt as much desire to grow in holiness, and recognised my need of the help of the Holy Spirit to do so. One practical step you could pray for is that I "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness". This verse sums up well what I learnt from the Sermon on the Mount, and I find that as I constantly reflect on it throughout the day, it changes a lot of the decisions that I make, or if not my decisions and my actions then my motivation for them.
30/11-2/12: Training weekend at Rome for leaders of GBU groups throughout Italy - I will be doing a seminar on "Conflict and reconciliation".
8-9/12: Bookstall at the town market days; the church's main activity at this one is giving out scripture calendars. The same weekend some Christians from Rome and Tuscany have been invited by the president of the local branch of the National Deaf and Mute Association to hold an evangelistic meeting at their headquarters. Since the Christians felt the necessity of the support of a local church, and knowing of me because they use my computer program, they have asked for our collaboration. So we will help however we can at the meeting, and they will be able to share something of their ministry at the Sunday service.