Newsletter 42 - October 2002
Usually by this stage of the year, I am settled into a new rhythm after the summer break. This year though it has taken a bit long, partly because I have been away for three of the past five weeks. Firstly on holidays with my parents, and last week at a conference organised by ECM on the use of the media in church planting and then at a GBU staff meeting. So I have not been able to work as much on setting things up as I would have liked. But gradually things are coming together, especially two new groups that I will be involved with this year.
In the church
The last five months have seen the group in the Valsugana in a state of flux, as a number of people have come to and left the area, and sometimes both, in that period. But just now we have settled down, and apart from myself there will be two couples this year - Massimo and Ester that host the group, and Jury and Gloria. After having last year as the main aim of the group its survival, now that there is some stability we will be looking at how to evangelise in the valley, and see others join the group with the long term vision always in mind of having an independent church in the area. The other people in the group have a number of friends that they would like to come along, and we have been praying specifically for them, and we having started talking about what the five of us will be able to do as public evangelism one Saturday shortly we will meet to talk together about what we can do.
For many years, apart from the group in the Valsugana, there have also been groups in the Val di Non valley and in the church at Trento. The groups in the valleys sometimes have had problems with numbers, but have worked well in terms of learning from the Bible and praying together. The group at Trento though has always had problems in its dynamics being the 'church' study, there is little sense of belonging or commitment to it. So although lots of different people go to it, there are almost always different people each week, making continuity difficult, and meaning that there is less commitment to each other. We have changed the format of the actual studies many times without improving the situation much, because the real problem was not in the Bible studies. Instead, I have always thought that there would not be much of an improvement until the meetings were in a home rather than the church hall, and that there were at least two groups at Trento (so that people would feel as though they were members of group X rather than group Y, and not just an anonymous church study). It turned out that one of the best decisions I made last year was not to lead the studies in the church any more, so Pippo did most of them. And he came to realise first hand what the problems were (having changed the format of the Bible studies three times without effect), and now agrees with me. Then just before the summer a few people mentioned in passing how they would prefer to meet at homes rather than in the church. So now the church committee has agreed to try out a second group at Trento. It is not totally convinced for various reasons (some of which I agree with), but we are willing to experiment. To begin with there will be people that can not come to evening meetings, either because of small children or shift work. What worked out well is that for the most part the mothers with small children are married to people doing shift work, so there are three couples (Claudio and Nicole, Renzo and Elisabetta, Salvatore and Anna), who all live close to each other in the northern part of town. There are also some other people that will probably join the group (Daniela, Filomena) as I write this we are working on having the first meeting later this week, so I am not totally sure who will be there. My idea for the next two years (that is, until my next trip to Australia) is to end up with two or three cells in the city, either by starting other groups later on or growing and splitting this new one. The church group will probably be transformed towards meetings for a wider group, including people from the different small groups. Already this year it is heading in that direction there is a Bible study only every second week, with the other weeks being prayer meetings, music practice/worship evenings, and a deeper theological course. The major obstacle to this vision for Trento is that at present there are not enough people to lead this number of groups. So in the next two years, not only do I want to set up a few new small groups, but I will have to train people to lead them.
4 out of 4
Those that have been receiving this newsletter for some time will remember that for each of the past four years, all of the students that I had been reading the Bible with have graduated or left the university. So I have had an annual prayer request, for at least one student interested in attending the Bible studies. And every year at least one has arrived. This year is no different, as I have recently heard from somebody in a church at Vicenza (about 150 kilometres south-east of here) that will be starting an engineering degree. Unlike the students of previous years, he is Italian and intends studying here for more than one year, so he will be around more long term. Now that God has answered once again the first prayer, pray also that we would be able to help each other to talk with others about Jesus at the university. In the next two weeks, I will also be doing some advertising at the university, looking for other students interested in joining the group keep praying also for other new students.
As an aside, I mentioned last time that I had read a biography of George Mόller, which mentioned his prayers for the specific needs of his orphanages. Last week at the ECM conference I talked to some people from a church at Milan that has seen some spectacular growth in the last few years, and they put this growth down to some specific prayers for example they needed a music leader, so they prayed specifically for that, and a professional musician was converted. Whilst I was writing the preceding paragraph, I realised that I have been doing the same thing at the university, and God has not yet failed once to respond positively. On the other hand, my prayers for the church have been more vague. This year I want to be more specific in my prayers, and especially for the group in the Valsugana.
When I was at Florence for the GBU staff meeting last week, we talked about the various contacts we had had lately with some students at Verona, and planned for me to contact and try to meet with them sometime in November. When I arrived home from the meeting, I found two e-mails waiting for me from different students there, saying that they had already begun meeting informally and were planning on holding the first official GBU meeting at the university on the 28th, and to invite me to come some time. So I will be travelling down to Verona this month, and probably a few times during the year, to help and encourage them in their evangelism, even though it will be the students themselves that lead the group.
In the future
Both the church and European Christian Mission want to see new evangelical churches in the areas of the province around Trento where there are not any. The church does what it can with its limited resources in two valleys, but there are many other valleys and large towns where there is nothing and the church can do little. So ECM is looking for people to move into these areas, to stay long term to minister towards the planting of new churches, in collaboration with the church at Trento. In the next few months, we will be doing some advertising through the mission publications asking for people to come and help us. Pray (specifically!) for new workers for the province. (Warning: I remember 12 years ago, after reading one of Romeo Dinale's prayer letters, praying for someone to help at the university and in the church at Trento...). The result of this search for new people will also have an effect on my future. I am starting to think and pray about what I will do after the end of this term, when (I hope) there will not be anything to do that is new, or that the other church members can not do, at Trento.
Oct 17-20 and 24-27: GBU student training weekends for central/north and then southern Italy; I will be going to the first one.
Oct 22: Prayer meeting for northern Italy at Venice.
...and one date that has passed: September 16 was the 10th anniversary of my arrival in Italy. Thank God for all that he has done for me and through me whilst I have been here!