Newsletter 62a - December 2007
In the church
This has been bookstall month in the church – we usually have one at Trento in early December to coincide with everybody being out shopping, but this year there have been four, with one still to go. We tried out having a stall at one of the shopping centres a couple of times, and with our emphasis on Rovereto at the moment there was also a stall at the town market day there; there will be another on the first Sunday of January. I wasn't present for all the time, nor even for all of the bookstalls, but in the shifts that I did, and talking to the others involved, there seemed to be more useful conversations than normal. It was also interesting to see a lot of new faces manning the stalls – it has been hard to get enough volunteers to be at the bookstalls in recent years, maybe because the "old generation" is losing a bit of enthusiasm after many years of this form of witness. This time there were many who helped out, who have started coming to church in the last year or two.
The teenagers' group is continuing to do well, with the studies and relationships with the leaders being a help to their Christian growth. The combined meetings with the Young Adults are having a very positive effect as well. Last week there was the second such meeting, this time at our house for eating pizzas, watch a film and then talk about it together. We managed to get 13 into our lounge room fairly comfortably, and it was a good evening together.
There is a Christian lady from Hong Kong who has been coming to church for about eight years, although most of that time she wasn't very involved in church life, partly because her Italian is not very good. A couple of years ago she started coming to the Wednesday night cell group, which has really helped her to become a part of the church, and although she still has problems communicating, at least in a smaller context she can ask for clarification and make a few attempts at explaining what she wants to say. Then a bit over a year ago she met a Chinese priest who is studying at the Vatican, and they have been talking and writing very regularly since then. She has been telling him what she believes; the problem was that at the beginning she was not sure exactly what she believed in and especially the differences with Catholic doctrine. So she has been consuming Christian books (which she had not read much before), asking others to explain things to her (the Wednesday night group has been very helpful in supporting her in this), and really coming to grips with what it means for the death of Christ to be central to the Christian life and sufficient for our salvation. She does however have communication problems here as well, because the friend speaks Mandarin Chinese whilst her mother language is Cantonese, but her Mandarin has improved a lot as a result.
About five years ago, there was a couple from China who started attending very irregularly, and it is now almost two years since we have seen them on a Sunday. They too have problems understanding what is said, and they own a shop at Trento which takes up most of their time. A few weeks ago they rang the Chinese lady of the preceding paragraph and told her that there is a group of about 8 Chinese people, all from the same city in China as the couple and almost all non Christians, that are meeting together, and they need the lady's help to do the Bible studies. A couple of years ago this would have been impossible for her, but these discussions with her priest friend have definitely sharpened the skills that she will need. She still thinks that it is beyond her, but that is a great attitude to have; it will put to the test her trust in the power of God to work through her, which these conversations have helped to grow as well. Many times she has wanted to give up because she saw no fruit, but she has learnt to continue to be faithful and leave the results to God. The other problem is that the group uses Mandarin, but once again her discussions have prepared her even for this; she now speaks it well enough, whilst a year ago she did not.
Often we don't know what plans God has for us that are behind the events that happen to us. The obvious conclusion had been that God had the lady meet her friend only so that she could witness to him. But the friend returns to China next month, and it seems to us now that God was using these conversations also to prepare her for something bigger in her life, for a new way to serve him. There is still one practical problem, that the Chinese group meets on Sunday mornings at the same time as our services. But the lady has gone to that meeting once, and will see if it is possible to change the meeting time.
On the computer
Helping other people to create web sites for their ministries has kept be busy lately, but the major new thing in my computer work was that finally last month I released a major upgrade of my computer program to study the Bible. It was in fact a complete rewrite of the program, as the limitations of the previous version (that in some parts still reflected choices that I made in the first version that I wrote 12 years ago!) meant that it was becoming increasingly difficult to improve it. The rewrite took longer than I expected - almost two years - but that was due also to my having less time now than previously. As the program does exist in English as well as Italian, if you want to see what I have done you can download it from http://www.laparola.net/program/.