Monday, December 24, 2007

Casey Christmas Plans

Hey all, hope your Christmas season has been joyful! Ours certainly has. Of course we've had to juggle extra activities like school performances and shopping. There has been extra traffic and longer lines. We continue wrestling with keeping the right balance between generosity and stinginess. We keep checking our motives - are we giving because we want to keep things even? Are we buying this present because we feel we have to? It's really easy to get sucked into the Christmas-shopping vortex and lose sight of the 'why'. This year our church has been doing a series of lessons on the Advent, the first for me, at least in a long time. It has been a really good reminder, not in some cheesy 'Jesus is the Reason for the Season'-way, but in a thoroughly deep way. We can argue about why we put up a tree, and whether putting up a nativity scene is a form of idolatry. We can study the history of why December 25th was chosen and argue about how much Christmas is appropriate to celebrate. What's important though, is to see the connection between the manger and the cross and how they both must be seen in light of the empty tomb and the purpose for which the Father send his Son.
In the past, I've gauged my success in this in terms of simply remembering the nativity, of Jesus' birth and life. But this year it really served as a reminder to be grateful for the 'why' - for God's grace and forgiveness and to let that gratefulness then turn into letting that forgiveness flow unto those around me.

OK - so plans.

December 24th - Our American friend Emily is spending the night with us and just being a member of our family. Our church is hosting a Midnight gathering where we will read the Nativity story, sing together and light the fifth advent candle.
December 25th - Open presents and lunch at the Rotert home. Final packing and preparing for trip to Germany.
December 26th - Leave at 7:00 am for Munich, and the next day on to Colditz. Check out www.midwinterrally07.com for a peek at what we will be doing there.

From our family, have a very Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Somewhere in Here Lies the Key

"Jesus gives us the classic picture of the failure of both religion and irreligion in his parable of the two sons in Luke 15. The elder brother represents the religious leaders; he never disobeys any of the father's laws. As a result, he tries to control his father and exclude his brother. In the end, he is the one who misses the feast of salvation rather than his profligate brother. There could not be a more powerful warning: The elder brother is not lost despite his obedience to the father but because of his dependence upon it."*

Go ahead. Let it sink in. Whew. Good stuff. Free-ing stuff, if we let it be.

*From the article, "Religion-less Spirituality" by Timothy Keller.

Thanks to Josh for sending it my way.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Let it snow...

Our annual Christmas-themed Coffee House is Monday night so we got together with the Roterts at La Via to set up the gi-normous fake tree, to listen to Christmas music and drink hot cocoa. As we were getting ready to head down, Heather noticed and then yelled at all of us that it was snowing! Those of you reading this from the snow & ice-pounded Midwest and Eastern U.S. probably think we're crazy, but in this mild Mediterranean port city, seeing snow is special. While we set up, the kids watched out the window as the flakes grew bigger and bigger. By the time we were done, it had stopped and nothing was left but wet pavement and a cold wind. It was fun while it lasted - hoping we run into more of the white stuff after Christmas when we head up to Germany...we'll see.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Innocent Until

Nervous chatter filled the room;

The big room where the great court met

To dispense justice and to free the oppressed.

And the one with the gavel,

Adjusting the skin that covered his face,

Motioned for silence, silence!


A man entered, cold and hard,

His was a crimson path to walk,

Padded, with trim.

His seat wide, soft, ornate.

Those with ballot in hand looked on with compassion,

Knowing the charges against him were impossible, ludicrous.


Their eyes were diverted when the doors again swung open,

When entered the flower.

A daisy.

Bright yellow was her face,

Her petals pearly white,

All but one,

Stained and wilted.


Boos and hisses echoed in the room,

Who was this flower anyway?

How dare she make such a fuss?

So she was stepped on?

She was in the man’s way!

No permanent harm was done,

Her golden middle was still gold.

Who cares if one of her petals

Is stained and torn?


Murmurs of assent circle the room.

A smirk crossed the face of the man,

As if to say, yes, who does care?


“I DO!”, came a thundering voice from above.

It silenced the crowd,

The man’s face was frozen ash.

“Justice is mine, and…it…will…roll!

The day will come when this flower

Again will be whole.

I care that her petal is not the white I made it!

I care that she has been stepped on!

I care that what was meant for my glory and my delight,

Was instead taken and thrown away, misused and disrespected!

I care that innocence has been stolen!

I care for this flower and my decision will be known!


Play your part, take your stand.

Bang your gavel and read your verdict.

Play at justice, with your man-made laws."

But I am the Judge and from me there is no escape.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Article on the 24/7 Prayer Site

Be sure and visit www.24-7prayer.com! They just put up our story which you have probably already read here - but you can check out all of their resources and encouraging stories of how prayer is changing lives and communities.

Ancona Prayer Room Video

Check out our first prayer room video created by our teammate Brian Rotert. You can also go to our church's site, www.laviaancona.it and click on 'Notizie' to get there.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Ancona 24/7 Prayer Room

Well, we’ve had three days or more now to debrief and reflect on the prayer room experience. Thanks to everyone who wrote to ask for more details. I wanted to wait until now to spend some time processing, to see how people would respond, to see how God continued to work, to hear testimonies from those who participated, to speak to our Life Group and to get the pictures that were taken. I’m glad I waited.


For those of you just catching up, we just hosted our first 24/7 prayer room. We are joining along with dozens of churches around the world involved with the 24/7 Prayer movement to host these times set apart for prayer. The general idea is to set aside a place (in a church, office, pub, van, tent, etc.) for a specified period of time to be dedicated to prayer. The location is set up creatively to encourage prayer in lots of different forms (painting, drawing, writing, meditating, kneeling, standing, sitting, pacing, dancing, singing, playing instruments, etc.). Heather took our team’s ideas and combined them with ideas we gathered at the Seville conference and mixed them with her own, God-given creative talents to create a beautiful prayer refuge. We took our little office space (about 15’x15’) and emptied it, storing everything in the backroom. Heidi helped her shop for supplies. She painted it a cream color. Brian and I mounted a large frame on the wall and Heather lined it with paper, creating a large, blank canvas. I built a rugged cross to place in one corner. Two maps were mounted in another. Heather created a veil of lights to hang over a couch. There was a small refreshment section as well as a musical station. On a large wooden plank, she took Brian’s idea and placed the words, ‘Dio è…’ which means ‘God is…’. We divided up the 48 hours and recruited 26 of those slots to be filled assigning people to be on-call. In the end, a few people didn’t show up and several of us spent a few 2 and 3 hour turns in the prayer room.

I counted 29 individuals who each spent at least an hour in the prayer room. Some of these were alone, others were in the room in pairs or small groups. There were 15 from our church, 5 from the Apostolic church, 5 Catholics and 4 who really don’t fit any of these categories. All of this to promote, foster and host 48 hours of continuous prayer in at least four different languages with people represented from the U.S., Italy, Romania, Holland, and Argentina. What was once a grey, dingy office space was transformed into a beautiful haven of prayer. Blank paper and canvas and walls were turned into praises, poems, drawings, paintings, songs, cries for mercy, thanksgiving and forgiveness. Our little community of believers rallied around the simple vision of spending time with Jesus. And that’s just what we did – we spent time with Jesus.

What were the results? Almost without exception, people came out of the prayer room with two comments:

1. Time flies in there!

2. When is the next one?

Lukewarm faith was inspired. Traditional religion was reawakened. Children were encouraged to use their talents to praise God. Trust was established and grown. One young mom came out and wrote us this note:

the prayer room was an extremely touching experience for me. Entering the prayer room was like entering in a separate world. My hour went by very fast and some time with myself and with God was very meaningful…sat down on the sofa and kept weeping. I felt I wasn't worthy enough to be in there where everybody had humbled and open their heart to God, put their pain and worries in the hands of God, sticking their prayer on the wall...”

Someone wrote a note and stuck it to the cross saying, “Lord Jesus…thanks to them (our team) it has been possible for me to be here today to spend time with you in this way…”

It was exciting, emotional, tiring, frustrating, refreshing and just, plain crazy. No one was healed, God didn’t speak audibly. There were no miracles except the miracle of prayer itself.

Here are my 5 favorite aspects:

-ownership: by our team and now, after, by our church, and all those who participated

-100% participation: this doesn’t happen often here – but everyone on our team and in our church participated

-promoted unity: not only between ourselves and the Apostolic church, but also between the leaders of the ecumenical group and several key priests of the region

-focus wasn’t ‘us and them’ but just ‘us’: so often I believe we err in sharing the Good News by assuming that we have it all figured out – it was really refreshing to not focus on ‘winning’ anyone to Christ but to merely invite them to spend time in communion with God – what the lawyer lay-leader wrote on the wall was equally valued and honored as what the six-year old drew.

-mission was granted: this one I didn’t really expect – you see, I’m already a missionary…but as I prayed in the early morning hours, somewhere between the loud, bass beats of the club downstairs I believe I detected the call of Christ to get to know the club-goers better

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. It has been so uplifting to partner with you in prayer. We are already beginning to talk about when we will host our next 24/7 prayer room. Maybe the Lord is laying it on your heart to get involved where you are?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Prayer Room is Open

It is a strange and wonderful and, maybe most importantly, new thing I’m experiencing with the opening today of our first prayer room: spending consecutive hours focused on Jesus. Yes, that means that a couple of people didn’t show up. Yes, I wish more had signed up today, but I’m finding myself drawn to this warm, cozy room; eager to see what new request or poem or picture hangs on the wall. We’re learning how this works. We’re learning the importance of communicating details, of reminding people, of being prepared beforehand, of being prepared for spiritual attack before, of keeping the focus on spending time with Jesus. I had hoped to have more manpower to be able to gather prayer requests from the city – all in time. I like that we are doing it anyway, flawed, imperfect, errors – it is OK, because we’re spending lots more time with Jesus than we normally would.

I spent an hour in the room this afternoon with Jacob after Heather did so with Haven. (Haven gasped when she first saw the room and upon exiting said, ‘Daddy, it was amazing. I loved it.’) It was neat for me to watch Jacob go around the room. On the wall that says, ‘Dio è…’ (God is…) he wrote a couple of notes. He drew a chalk picture of Jesus healing the blind man and scribbled in Italian ‘Now I see’ above it. He played with the guitar, read the story of Jericho from his Bible. We looked at the big cross in the corner of the room and talked about what it meant. He stuck a note to it that says, “Thank you for saving me.”

A Catholic lady named Raimonda came today for an hour and as she came out she marveled at how quickly the time passed. As Anna arrived and went in to replace her I prayed with them. Sandro showed up and joined his wife in the room – and they, too, were encouraged and said the time flew by. I find myself fumbling over how to talk about this with people here, how to explain it, promote it, invite people to it. To a traditionally Catholic mindset, the idea of walking into a church to pray is not foreign – I would venture to say that they make more of a habit of this than most non-Catholics I know. But the idea of a ‘place set apart’ and of signing up for hours and the creative expression all seem to be uncharted waters for most everyone here. I argued with our friend Emanuele this morning (he came to photograph the room before it opened) about how to translate the phrase ‘write down a confession.’ “You don’t do that,” he told me. “Only criminals write down confessions.” I smiled – he’s an aspiring lawyer.

So now, I sit here in the assembly room of our rented location at 1:20 Saturday morning. In the entry room, Massimiliano, who is on-call tonight, is trying to get an hour of sleep on an inflatable mattress and blanket that smells like mothballs. Brian is praying in the prayer room. I occasionally hear him strumming something on the guitar. And through the windows to my left, I hear the laughing, the clinking of beer bottles, the thumping of disco beats from the club below us. Father, do something crazy…starting in me.

Monday, November 26, 2007

My Mad Basketball Skillz

I have none. And it showed. I got schooled by an Italian banker last night at the birthday party for one of Jacob's classmates. I have never been very talented at it, but I thought surely I could beat an Italian - nope. Granted, it was with a child-size ball and there was no backboard, but no. I just ended getting really sweaty and red-faced. I normally can not stand these parties - because of the chaos and whatnot, but I had some great conversations and we all really enjoyed it. Heather talked to Anna about being her language helper and her husband told me about his involvement in his environmental crime investigations as a police officer. He shared with me about his passion for those who do not have rights and how it is important that we remember "the last ones."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Thanksgiving in Italy

Step 1: Make all the delicious family Thanksgiving recipes including: the main course - turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, gravy, cranberry sauce (imported), rolls, green bean casserole, etc.










Step 2: Make the precious, famous Casey
stuffing.













Step 3: Realize that you are out of sage and forgot that they sell sweet potatoes in a couple of stores so send your husband out in the freezing fog on his scooter to find them.











Step 4: Wash, peel and cook fresh, white sweet potatoes.













Step 5: Enlist the help of your youngest son and frantically mop the living room and clean at least one bathroom while stuffing anything loose into the bedroom.











Step 6: Take freshly butchered turkey out of plastic bag and prep it for the oven.













Step 7: Pumpkin pie time!














Step 8: Set the table.



















Step 9: Remove deliciousness from the oven.














Step 10: Walk down to the school to get Jacob and Haven and have them put their coats and scarves and backpacks away and wash their hands.
















Step 11: Carve turkey. I'm horrible at this. But it is DELICIOUS.


















Step 12: Go around and share what you're grateful for. Eat and laugh and take a group picture.













Step 13: After pie and coffee, play PIT!














video

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tucker Davian has arrived!

I set the phone by our nightstand last night, knowing that the call would come and it did! Though groggy, we received the news of the birth of my brother Tim's first son with great joy. Here's what the proud parents have to say:

"We had Tucker Davian Casey On Monday Nov 19 at 6:32 pm. He was 6 pounds 15 ounces and 20 inches long. We are all doing great and loving every minute of parenthood. He is so sweet and so cute and cuddly! I also updated our website with pictures of his arrival and my last pregnancy belly pics. Our website address is www.tscasey.phanfare.com

Love,
Tim, Shauna and Tucker Casey"

Congrats guys and welcome to the amazing world of parenting!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Kelly of Boystown

One of the most powerful testimonies we heard at 'The Feast' in Seville was from a young woman named Kelly Greene. I may get some of the details mixed up - but I'll retell it as best I can.

After visiting a place called Boystown, just south of the Mexican border, Kelly began praying that God would send someone to go and reach out to the people there. Boystown is a government-sanctioned, walled-in area dedicated to prostitution and crack bars. God called her.

With no plan and no way of getting into Boystown, Kelly moved down from Tulsa, OK, and began prayer-walking around the walls of this red-light district. She did this for 15 months. She was finally able to meet someone who made it possible for her to get in and begin meeting some of the 200+ prostitutes, pimps, drug-dealers and bar owners that live there.

She does things like host women's spa days in the crack bars, showing the women inside the love of Jesus. She plays with the kids. She gives away flowers. She shares Christ with these hurting people. She's willing to go in where no one else is.

She has recently been given permission to build a center just outside the walls which will house a prayer room, a clinic and a nighttime daycare for the children of Boystown. It was so neat to hear her sharing her story and challenging us to consider where God is sending us. On Saturday night we got to talk with her and ask her more questions about her ministry there - we were really blessed to see and hear the faith and strength that God has given her to continue working there. For more info on Kelly, check out her blog at: http://boystownreynosa.blogspot.com/.

And be careful what you pray for...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Messing with my theology

This morning Brian and I met with Marco, the pastor of the Apostolic church here in Ancona. We had met a few times but this was the first time that we had just been able to talk and get to know each other. We met to plan the joint prayer room that we're hosting at the end of November. Their church will be covering a 12-hour period on Saturday. The Thursday before, we will be having a joint worship service to kick it off.

I had heard from a mutual friend that Marco's testimony was a powerful one and I asked him to share it with me. He transported us back to his teen years in Sicily where he was introduced to the spiritual world through family members who practiced various kinds of magic and fortune-telling practices. He told us about his lifestyle and how he grew in his ability in various spiritual activities. Just before he was to participate in a rite which would have introduced him to the blacker side of magic, he stepped into an Evangelical service to greet an aunt. What happened during that service that evening set about a course of actions which brought him to his knees before Christ and his life was forever changed. He went from being a violent, frightening fortune-telling handball star to a gentle, kind Christ follower.

As he shared his perspective and experience I found, once again, my theology being shaken, not stirred. I began thinking of the people we've met in the last year or two who have had various spiritual experiences outside of the church, having been left hungry and thirsty for more than they find in their local Mass: exorcisms, visions, fortunes told, angelic appearances, New Age communities, horoscopes, astrological soul charting, rune reading among them. Just the other day, one young lady from our community asked me how to share the Gospel with her friend who tells people's fortunes and can talk to spirits. I'm convinced that another of our friends remains somehow still bound spiritually to spiritual experiences in his past. How do I account for all of this? How do we handle it? What do I believe about it when the teaching I've received up until now doesn't seem to fit or to be enough?

I have to depend on what I know about God, about who Jesus is and what he's done. I have to remember what is TRUE. I have to study the Scriptures and from there, delve cautiously out into the murky waters of the unknown and ask God to guide me. Am I bold enough to believe that others are experiencing God in a way I'm not? Am I courageous enough to admit that I don't have all the answers and that there is more going on behind the scenes than I'm aware of?

God is good, He is love. Christ paid the price, which means not only forgiveness and salvation, but freedom. If this is true then I have to believe that helping people see it and believe it means I'm going to get dirty, and that maybe my theology will, in the process, be refined. I have to believe that God can overcome any obstacle, that his love can reach ANYONE, no matter the challenges. I guess faith involves trusting, even when we don't have all the answers; maybe especially when we realize there's just a whole lot we don't know. It doesn't change what is true. Trying to cling to a theology in the midst of this setting is like trusting in a wet, slippery tree branch while being swept down a flooded river. It leads me to cling to the God behind the theology; in WHO he is and WHO I am because of Him.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

La paura e'...

Today at school, Jacob's class had to practice dictation. The teacher read a poem about fear and they had to write it down. Jacob did pretty well! As a follow-up assignment, there was the following written on the paper.

La paura e' _________.

Translated:

Fear is __________.

How would you answer?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Proseuche

This morning, while studying for Sunday's teaching on "Intimacy as Prayer", I was looking at the words used in the New Testament translated as 'prayer'. One of these is proseuche, which is what Paul was looking for in Acts 16 when he went outside the walls of Philippi, a place of prayer. I came across the definition that reads like this: a place set apart or suited for the offering of prayer.

Where do you pray?

As we continue delving into the world of 24/7 prayer and consider the idea of working a dedicated space and time for prayer into the spiritual and liturgical rhythms of our community here, I see the concept as being a very Biblical one. One of the thoughts that challenged me at the Seville gathering was the idea that life is birthed out of intimacy. OK, said like that, you may be questioning my intelligence. Yes, I know how babies are made. I have three, thank you very much. Life is created and formed out of intimacy. How many revivals and causes and churches were birthed because of someone who walked closely with the Father? How many were born when a group of people committed to exceptional prayer?

The reminder given at the conference, more phrased as a warning, was that if we're not careful, we can get too excited and concerned for what is born out of intimacy with the Father and begin to lose sight of what caused it in the first place. Communities across Europe are seeing incredible ministries, dynamic mission teams and heroic acts of social justice come out of these prayer rooms. Pete was wise in admonishing the leaders of this movement to continually go back to what caused the creation in the first place.

How many couples experience this? A child is born, a beautiful, incredible, terrifying experience. Suddenly the new life consumes the parents' every waking moment. They find they don't spend time with each other anymore. There may be hints of intimacy, fleeting moments, snapshots of what was before, but it takes hard work to keep the balance right.

Proseuche. A place set apart for prayer. Could this help keep the balance right?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Guy Named Urs

He was the first one we talked to upon arriving in Seville for the 24/7 Prayer 'Feast'. He boarded the plane in front of us in Milan and we didn't know we were heading to the same destination. Older guy, longer, thinning hair, glasses, he carried a small suitcase with some sort of sheepskin rug draped over the top. He stood waiting with a British guy named Jim with a sign displaying our name, ready to ride into downtown Seville. As we walked to the car, he introduced himself as Urs, currently living in southern, Italian-speaking Switzerland after having grown up in the northern part of the country and living and ministering in Spain for a few years. He had started a 24/7 prayer movement years before upon his own response to the Lord's leading and had just recently picked up a copy of 'Red Moon Rising' and found out about the folks at 24/7. Quirky sense of humor, a quick mind and a passion for prayer, this was our introduction to the people involved in this movement.

Monday, November 5, 2007

"I hate it when they do that!"

The other day I took Jacob back to the dentist to have his stitches removed. While the Dutch doctor hovered over Jacob's wide-open mouth, the head dentist, also Dutch, walked by in the hallway outside. The first hollered at the second to come in and he did. They proceeded to talk to each other in Dutch at a very animated and rapid pace. They seemed to be concerned about something in Jacob's mouth and then they both started laughing until the head dentist walked out. The dentist resumed her work on Jacob's teeth and didn't bother to explain or translate. The Italian nurse looked at me and whispered, "I hate it when they do that!". I smiled. I know the feeling.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Liberal

I find that the longer I live in Italy, the more I slide toward the center when it comes to politics. I still maintain a strong conservative stripe, but I think my eyes have been opened a bit to seeing things from the other side.


video

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Jacob, the Saber-Toothed Wonder Child

**Warning, the following photographs may cause
nausea and light-headedness**

A couple of months ago we took Jacob to the Dutch-run 'Dental House' and the orthodontist suggested that we pull four of his permanent teeth and allow his mouth to grow before adding on years' worth of braces and retainers. Well, today was the day when the first two extractions were made.

Jacob was nervous and Brian and Lance volunteered to accompany us. We drove out to the office and made it right on time for his 15:30 appointment. A few minutes later they called us back and the little operating room was quickly filled with two Americans, three Dutch and two Italians. Poor Jacob did well considering the circumstances. He was very scared and began crying and asking questions. They gave him a couple of shots of anesthesia and wrapped his face in a towel so nothing was showing but his mouth. The doctor pulled a baby tooth before working on the two permanent ones. Whew - Jacob may have been in pain, but I was in agony watching. Orders were being barked out in Dutch and English and Italian and Jacob didn't know who was talking to who. A couple of times he reached for the instrument or the suction tube, thinking the doctor was talking to him and everyone would jump up and yell at him not to touch anything because his hands weren't sterile.

The baby tooth was normal-sized. The first permanent tooth was large. When the third tooth came out, the doctor turned to me and raised it, pinched in some metal instrument, and made a face at me like, 'Can you believe the size of this thing?' Makes sense, Heather has big babies, Jacob has big teeth.

Whew. Well, 90 minutes later, we checked out and made an appointment for next week to have his stitches taken out. When Brian and Lance came out of the waiting room and Jacob, ice-pack shoved against his face, showed him his teeth (placed in a little, blue, plastic treasure chest), Lance's face went pale. A minute later he stumbled and hit his head on the wall and then walking out to the car, he fainted and fell to the ground! He recovered quickly and is OK now.

Jacob is OK too. He's taking it easy, enjoying Nurse Heather's top-notch care. Never a dull moment around here!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Moving Day

Yesterday, we helped Matt & Angie move out of their apartment at Piazza Malatesta, #25 and into a storage garage until their return next year. Up until yesterday, there had been fleeting moments of emotion or nostalgia at the thought of their leaving. After all, we've had going on a year to get used to the idea. Yesterday though, there was a defining moment for me. Not defining in the life-changing sense, but defining as in definite; the specific moment in which the reality hit me.

I spent most of my time working in the kitchen, dismantling cabinets and appliances and this moment happened early on. You see, the Crosser's kitchen, like the large majority of Italian kitchens is small, and theirs is packed full of memories. Who knows how many times we've been over for meals or snacks or coffee or just come into the kitchen for a drink or a bit of conversation? I surely couldn't count them. But nearly every time I would come in, I would inevitably reach for a cup which meant I would open one of the cupboard doors and every time, I would forget that the light hanging from the middle of the kitchen ceiling hung just a centimeter too low and that the door would just ding it, sending it swinging. This action was almost immediatley followed by a grimace and then a quick glance up to make sure the lamp was OK.

Well, yesterday, as I opened THE cupboard door to remove some screws and take it down, it happened. I 'dinged' the glass lamp, but instead of wincing, I just closed my eyes and a melancholy smile crossed my face as I realized this was the last time it would ever happen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Feast - Initial Summary

We got back from the 24-Prayer 'Feast' last night at 21:00, tired but filled, blessed, challenged and encouraged. I've been thinking about the best way to share about our experience there and I believe the best way will be to share a series of stories as I have time to process them. For now, a summary will suffice.

Here's the program:

Friday 19th
19:00 – 21:00 Main Session 1 - John 15 – We Are A People Of Destiny

Saturday 20th
10:00 – 11:00 Small Group Session - Meet people from different nations
11:00 – 12:30 Main Session 2 - John 15 – We are a people of Mobility
13:00 – 14:00 Seminars
Leaders stream – What kind of leader are you?
Prayer Stream – Maintaining your spiritual life
Communities Stream – Boiler Room Basics
14:00 – 17:00 Siesta
17:00 – 18:00 Case Studies
- Hear what people doing round the world
18:00 – 19:00 Open Forums
19:00 – 23:00 The Feast! - Tapas, Flamenco guitarists, communion and commissioning

Sunday 21st
10:00 – 11:00 Small Group Session
- Meet people from different nations
11:00 – 12:30 Main Session 3
- John 15 – We are a people of Eternity
13:00 – 14:00 Seminars
14:00 – 17:00 Siesta
17:00 – 18:00 Case Studies
18:00 – 19:00 Open Forums
19:00 – 21:00 Main Session 4 - John 15 – We are a people of Community
21:00 – 22:00 24-7 Auction

OK. Here were my top 4 favorite things:

1. Emphasis on intimacy with Jesus

This was the main theme throughout the weekend - but it was not just spoken about, it was encouraged, modeled and applied.

2. Unity

It was stated at the outset that people of many different backgrounds were present (200+) who may disagree on doctrines concerning prayer, worship, alcohol-consumption, etc., but that we were coming together to worship and it truly was beautiful. All kinds of expressions of worship and community and no judgment.

3. The new 24/7 Prayer video series coming out

A guy by the name of Rob Job (sp?) has developed a series of short videos of EXTEMELY high quality that will begin to be available soon - they were a highlight of our times together and I look forward to sharing them with you.

4. How non-U.S. it was

It was weird going to a conference where we knew absolutely NO ONE but it was so cool to see people represented from Australia, New Zealand, China, Tanzania, South Africa, UK, Ireland, Finland, Lithuania, Macedonia, Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, the U.S., Canada and Mexico. We're so used to being involved with U.S.-led missions and ministries that it was surprising and very refreshing to be led by Europeans who are passionate at seeing ALL people, including their own, come to Christ.

Look for more stories to come - and please be in prayer for our very first Prayer Room the last weekend of November!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Safely in Seville

We landed 15 minutes ahead of schedule in Seville´s little airport at 8:35 this morning. After getting our bags we walked out into the airport lobby and saw a young guy, Jim, holding a 24/7 sign. Next to him was an older gentleman whom we later found out is from Switzerland. His name is Urs and he started a 24/7 prayer movement in his home country 30 years ago and just recently found out about this movement and the Lord led him to The Feast here in Seville. Jim didn´t know where our hostel was so he dropped us off at Plaza de Armas and we found it without too much trouble, Heather and I pretending that we were in the Amazing Race. ("Hurry up, Victoria!") We tried our hand at a Spanish breakfast and ended up with two different-sized caffe con leches along with an order of mini-churros with sugar sprinkled on top. It is weird and crazy and fun being in a country where I understand what I see and hear but can´t form phrases very well anymore. It is coming back already though. OK, now we´re heading back to check-in (the hostel room wasn´t ready) and then we have the afternoon to go see the world´s 3rd largest Cathedral and some other sites here in Seville. The first session starts tonight at 19:00. Hasta luego!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Heading to Seville

Thanks to some great friends through whom the Lord provided, Heather and I are heading out in an hour to catch the train, then train, then bus, then plane to Seville, Spain for the 24/7 Prayer 'The Feast'. We'll tell you all about it when we get back.

Friday, October 12, 2007

New Glasses

My birthday is next week (the big 33) and I'm getting new glasses. It has been 7 years! Makes me think about this bit by Brian Regan.

"I always get nervous with that one test. "Tell me the exact moment point A is directly over point B." I'm like, "Ahhhhh! Now! No, now! Now! Then! I don't know, I don't know." I'm afraid if I get it off by an eighth of a second I'll get these big, Hubble coming attraction glasses. "You must have messed up that A B test!" "Did I ever. Hence the corrective spectacles!"

Favoritism

How do we miss it? Are we really that deceived? That prideful?

We have been shown mercy. God has not judged us at 'face value', by what we we've done or what we look like. We have been loved.

The result should read something like this:

We show mercy. We do not judge people at 'face value', by what they've done or what they look like. We love.

If the above statement isn't true about you or me, if it isn't true about the church, then my hypothesis is this: we have taken mercy for granted. We don't believe that God really does look past our deeds and our 'face'. We don't really believe in or understand what His love is or its implications in our life. Either that or we're just plain hypocrites and Pharisees.

James' admonition, secondo me, to not show favoritism isn't about tacking on one more thing not to do, one more chain or shackle. It is ALL about understanding, believing and living the truth that we have been shown mercy, that we are accepted for who we are and that we have been loved. If that penetrates, permeates, germinates, then and only then will we live and love as we should, looking past the external and seeing the intrinsic value of each and every person around us.

What kind of world would that be?

WHERE Is Your Mother?

Remember those commercials? Whew, it has been a long week without Heather here, but the kids and I have done well and I've enjoyed the extra time with them. We miss her though and are ready for her to be home.

Right before Heather left last week, we switched some furniture around in our living room. The armoire where we keep the TV is now on the south wall. This is an external wall with the only neighbors being downstairs - which allows me to relax more about the volume level.

Earlier this week, Telecom Italia sent out a technician to install 'Alice TV' which is an internet-based TV service they are offering for free. One of the cool things they offer is concerts. So tonight, while I put the final touches on this Sunday's sermon on James 2 (favoritism), I'm listening/watching the Rai National Symphonic Orchestra perform one of my favorite classical pieces - Ravel's Bolero.

Heather's doing well - haven't heard much from her because she is in rural Romania and has been having email problems. She and Heidi have been able to see where Heather Wimsett lives and works, meet the people that she knows, experience Romanian culture and even visit Dracula's castle. I'll try to get her to post a summary on here.

34 more hours, but who's counting? Heather is truly amazing - loving mother, affectionate wife, Godly woman, great cook, creative decorator, among other traits. This week has reminded me how much I often take her for granted.

Tonight, Maurizio came over for dinner and after the craziness of fixing dinner, setting the table, eating, getting two kids in the bath, the other in the shower, laying out pajamas, setting backpacks by the door with snacks in them, all while entertaining Maurizio and trying to get coffee going, Harrison went to the bathroom in the bathtub, the kind that requires some level of attention. As I hollered for Maurizio to stay away and to Jacob to get out of the shower so I could have enough water pressure to clean up the mess I took a deep breath and thought to myself, 'WHERE is your mother?'.



And I won't go.
I won't sleep.
And I can't breathe,
Until you're resting here with me.
-Dido

Saturday, October 6, 2007

And She's Off!

Well, Heather kissed me goodbye this morning before I woke up. She and Heidi are on their way to visit two fellow missionaries in Romania. They will be gone a week which means I'll be balancing my roles and hers for a few days. I already dusted, washed the dishes, picked up the living room and prepped laundry this morning! Please pray for her while she's away - I'm praying for safety, refreshment and that God would show Himself to her in a new way. Us? We'll be OK. Just please don't tell Heather I let Haven wear those socks to school today...

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Best Thirst Quencher

Dante, a very friendly, retired God-fearer and one of our newest English 'students' shared with me that the best thing to do when you're really thirsty is to put just a dash of mint syrup in an ice-cold beer. My grandma used to say, 'Water is the best thirst-quencher.' I think I'll stick with my grandma's advice. :)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

...con la puzza sotto il nasone...



Piazza Pertini's famous 'rinoceronti' from an interesting angle.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mechanically-Inclined Individuals Everywhere, Lend Me Your Ears...

Make: Renault
Model: Scenic
Year: 1997
Other: Standard transmission, front-wheel drive.
Symptom: When I get into 3rd gear or higher and my RPMs get up above 2000 there is a loud whirring sound which doesn't seem to get louder whether the windows are up or down. Even when I slow down, it remains loud until I get under 2000 rpms or so. The only other thing I can think of is that it seems to get slightly louder if I'm turning to the right and only slightly so if I'm turning left.
Prognosis?

We dropped Marcus and his parents off at the airport this morning at 5:00. While speaking to his father, Richard, he suggested maybe a bearing? Anyone else out there care to venture a guess before I take it to the mechanic?

Marcus, you will be missed! Get some rest, raise some funds and get back over here!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Shifting Cells

**Warning: this post may be longer than most!!**

In January of 2002, just after arriving back in Ancona following our first furlough (and Haven's birth), our team began meeting as a small group, a cell group which we called Life Group. We had been studying the cell model of churches and seen that God seemed to be blessing some of the churches in Italy that had followed it, including the largest Evangelical church in the country, the Parola della Grazia church in Sicily. For nearly six years we have been committed to the cell model of ministry and church-planting, not believing that it is the perfect model (as if a perfect model exists), but that in it exist qualities or characteristics of community that would be especially beneficial to those having grown up in a nominally Catholic religious background. These would be, to name a few: proactive accountability, small group intimacy and emphasis on lay leadership. We have sent teammates to Singapore to study how best to do children's ministry within the cell model. We have purchased sets of discipleship materials to be used with the cell model. We have visited two different Italian cell churches to find out how they do things and to learn from them. In other words, we've made a pretty significant commitment to figuring out how it can or should work in our current context.

A few years ago, we tried adding a Sunday morning 'Cell-abration' service and moved our Life Group to a mid-week time. This more than doubled our work-load on a team that was already close to burn-out and moved our focus prematurely off of building relationships. After six months we changed the Sunday morning service to monthly and a few months after that cancelled it all together. We went back to our roots and focused on our Life Group and on building relationships with the 'unchurched'.

Last fall, still meeting as one Life Group on Sundays, we had grown back to the point that we needed to multiply into two (a GOOD thing). For nearly a year now, we have been meeting as two Life Groups and slowly growing. At our retreat last month, our team talked about how we were shifting in our view of the 'need' here, about where people are and about the need stated by several of our church core for a regular gathering of everyone together. After talking and praying we decided to refit our Life Groups to focus more on community and prayer and to reintroduce a Sunday morning gathering. We met with the five core Italians and presented our ideas and concerns to them, asking for their help and their commitment. They were happy and helpful! Afterwards, our teammate Marcus commented that this meeting was the best thing we had ever done as a team since he had been on the field.

So, a week from today, September 30th, will be our return to having a Sunday morning celebration service. In the past, our Life Groups have been structured around 4 'W's: Welcome, Worship, Word and Witness. The new Life Groups, will be very flexible and transportable, but focused, instead, around the following five characteristics:
1. Leader - each group will have a servant leader, a facilitator whose main job is prayer, pastoring and communication
2. Weekly - this is one of two wings of our community here and thus will be meeting weekly
3. Meal - sharing a meal together is foundational - it fits with the culture and encourages a laid back comfortability (ask Josh for more on this!)
4. Deeper - the focus of these groups is NOT Bible study, but instead, simply to do life together. Thanks to our friends at Real Life Church for maybe even inadvertently helping me to see this. During the meal and anytime before and after (or anytime!), the group is encouraged to process the message from Sunday and to ask each other how they're doing, what they're struggling with, how they can be ministered to, etc.
5. Prayer - most importantly, the groups will pray together. I LOVE that Rosa, in our meeting with our core, insisted that this not just be 'lip-service' to prayer, but actually be a time where we all pray together.

This makes it easier to invite people into our homes, takes some of the structure out of Life Groups into a time/format that most Italians are comfortable with and continues our focus on the principles behind the cell model. It also makes it easier to train cell leaders and hopefully will help everyone see that they can start a Life Group.

Please pray for our team and church as we transition here: that we would continually evaluate and change, attune to the Spirit's leading. Pray for Brian and I during the coming months as we share the bulk of the preaching/teaching. Pray for real, Italian ownership. Pray for those who will be invited to step further into our community's circle.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My Old Man's Blog

Check out http://caseyslatmtravels.blogspot.com to follow along with my parents' travels in the Northwestern School of Missions. This blog is bound to be dripping with equal parts of wisdom and wit and the occasional picture. They just left yesterday and will be on the road for five weeks teaching, preaching and presenting their work with Literature & Teaching Ministries.

Monday, September 17, 2007

First Day in a New Class in a New School

School is back in session in Ancona. Yes, that's right. School started today, September 17th. Haven began her elementary education by being the first to school. She got to pick which desk would be hers. Jacob started his 4th grade year at the same, new school and entered a class with 14 boys and 6 girls. We decided to switch schools this year so that the kids would be done each day (including Saturday!) at 13:00 (that's 1 pm). This way, Heather can supplement their Italian education with some American/English homeschool in the afternoons. They both gave the first day a positive review, although Jacob's was much less enthusiastic than his sister's bubbly, effervescent version. On top of the regular subjects (math, language, grammar, science, religion and computers) they will be participating in Music and Chess classes. We also hope to be able to afford to let them attend dance classes (Jacob chooses Hip-Hop and Haven ballet). To those of you who know me, Jason, you might be asking yourself, 'dancing?'. And I would agree. I have no skill whatsoever. None. They get it, thankfully, from their mother.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

If you want washboard abs...

My super secret fitness guru challenged me to the following 6-minute Ab workout...for anyone out there needing some pointers...

Start with 30 seconds of center crunch (just a regular crunch).

Then follow that with 30 seconds right crunch (if your hands are on your head…you can try to let your right elbow touch your left knee).

Then 30 seconds of left crunch (you should get the picture)…

The second half is like this…30 seconds of “bicycles” which is pretending to peddle a bicycle with your feet while alternating moving your elbows (hands still on head) to each knee…you look like a drunk 2 year old on this one until you get it down, but when you do…look out cuz it hurts.

The final two are “ups and “up and outs”…the ups are simply raising your legs as high as you can (try to get those truthful hips off the ground each time…again for 30 seconds) and then up and outs are when you go up…hips off the ground…and then stick your legs straight out in front of you without letting them touch the floor.

We started this with only going 1 time through, but once the soreness starts to die down, you can do it for the whole 6 minutes (that’s 2x’s through for the mathematically challenged).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

My First Italian Root Canal

After several days of persistent toothaches, Tuesday night it got so bad that I went to three pharmacies (all closed) and considered going to the emergency room. I was light-headed and nauseous from the pain. I finally went back home after picking up Marcus and his parents at the train station and dug around for my leftover pain-killers from my wisdom tooth adventure last December. No luck. I took some migraine medicine and was able to fall asleep. The next morning, I called my dentist and asked if they could squeeze me in and they did. As it turns out, (I'll leave out all the details) I had the beginnings of an abscess. My dentist explained that while my fillings were belli, they require the use of a paste which can kill the nerve if it gets too close. I guess that's what happened. The nerve was dead and infection was beginning to build up. So, he cleaned out the canals by hand (the first time I got a root canal it was all using machines) and medicated them, hoping that it would kill the bacteria. I have antibiotics just in case. When I went up to pay, their computer system was down so I have to go back next week. This is just the second time we will have used our newly purchased Italian health insurance. Gulp. We'll see how much it will cost. So, my first dental visit in Italy gets a thumbs up, even though I nearly punched the dentist and came close to crying. If you're ever in the neighborhood and looking for a good, reliable dentist, be sure and check out the "Dental House". Yes...that's Italian but run by the Dutch.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Top 10 Differences Between Camping in Italy & the U.S.

10. No building campfires.
9. There is a quiet hour from 2-4 pm where you can't even drive your car in the campground.
8. Even the pool closes down during the quiet time.
7. In the evening there is corporate dancing to loud techno/pop music.
6. There is a bar on-site where you can get a shot of whiskey or a stout espresso.
5. You can order fresh pasta at the bar to be ready the next day.
4. Even while camping, the main dish eaten is...pasta. (No Dutch girls, hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.) (The picture at right is of an Italian vending machine - olives available!)
3. 95% of campers are in campers (as opposed to tents).
2. Most campers are 'seasonal' campers which means they are there for the WHOLE summer season - they even bring major appliances and do landscaping around their campers!

1. And the number one reason camping in Italy is different than in the U.S. ... they all wear bathrobes to the bathroom!




MY favorite part of our last camping adventure was getting to stop by the nearby UPIM store.
(This is for Heidi :) )

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Amare Terra Mia

Tonight, Brian, Marcus and I met up with some friends at Piazza del Papa to hang out and spent a wonderful couple of hours freezing our tails off, sitting on the stone steps in the shadow of the Pope's statue, listening to some great world-genre music by the group Piccola Banda Ikona. (That sentence was simply WAY too long.) One of the songs, Amare Terra Mia, written by Domenico Modugno, from what I gathered, had to do with the pain of leaving one's homeland, one's terra, to move to another place in search of work or a new life. An ode, if you will, to the immigrants of the world. The lead singer, Stefano Saletti, was quick to point out that while Italy is now the scene of much immigration, it was not too far in the past when many from here were packing up suitcases and heading off to foreign shores to start a new life. Somehow, I really connected with this song...

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ladybug Liquor


Last night we had two Italian friends over for dinner. Here, it is customary for the guest to bring a gift or something to contribute to the meal like a bottle of wine or a dessert. Last night, they brought dessert. Made in a small, inland, Marchegian town, they brought delicious pastries. Inside, they are filled with cocoa, nuts and raisins and on the outside, on top, they are covered with a red frosting made from a liquor made from the "wings of ladybugs." Huh? Alchermes is the name of it and we're still trying to figure out if our friend is telling the truth or pulling our proverbial leg. In the meantime, we keep eating them and don't suffer any adverse side effects...except for this white, spotted, rash...

A Rough Afternoon

First off, I smelled something burning. I was in the living room and I could tell it wasn't food but didn't think much of it until I saw Harrison's little wooden Thomas train. Yes, it seems our little 2-year-old wanted to see what would happen if he drove it into the little blue flames on top of our stove. Fortunately, he was not hurt. That can not be said about what happened next.

Haven had just gotten up this morning and found a euro under her pillow. The tooth fairy had come and made the switch. One front tooth down, one to go. Silly parents, we thought the next one would come out a few weeks or months from now, but no. Her big brother Jacob had something else in mind. During an altercation in her bedroom, Jacob got mad and punched her in the face. Heather called me from the back side of the house saying, 'It's an emergency!' I ran and overheard Jacob saying, 'I punched her and knocked two teeth out...' After a moment of looking at him funny I took Haven into the bathroom and had her wash her mouth. I glanced at her mouth and saw that only two were missing. 1+2=3. Something wasn't adding up. I asked her if she was OK and through sobs and tears she whimpered, "How much will the Tooth Fairy give me for this one?" Dang capitalists! I asked frightened Jacob where the teeth were and he led me to Haven's room. He handed me one tooth and one small piece of white plastic. OK, so he only knocked out one tooth. "You knocked out your sister's tooth!" Whew...after a LONG speech about 'With great power comes great responsibility' the punishment was handed down. No video games for 5 days. For Jacob, that will be enough. For Haven, well, she now has permission to sing a Christmas song early which is ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN in this Casey home. How was your day?

We say Wee for the Wii!

At least since January, Jacob and I have been salivating over Nintendo's latest console release, the Wii. You've probably seen the crazy commercials that show old guys boxing the air and the like. Well, back in May we made a 'Wii Jar' and the kids started saving. They did SO well. Allowance money, extra chore money, spare change, started adding up. They didn't ask for any extra goodies from the store. Jacob even sold his old nintendo and a couple games. Well, they were still a bit shy of the price tag, but when I picked up Jacob's report card the other day (we had to wait and pick it up at the administrator's office because we missed the day they handed them out in June), he did SO well, that I told him we would make up the difference. It is lots of wireless, family fun and will surely get us into shape as well. If you're in the neighborhood, come on by and give it a try.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Pistachio Flavored Coffee House

Tonight we hosted our monthly coffee house and it went well. Twenty Italians participated with us Americans. (Not sure about the grammatical structure of that sentence.) We have been having live music lately which gives it a different feel, but this time we just had music playing and we sat around and talked, played games and drank milk-shakes. Our friend Francesco brought a DVD with his new short film (see post below) and we showed it three times throughout the evening. He had invited friends and brought several people he had just met off the street to come watch. We had purchased pistachios and pistachio-flavored gelato to give the evening a green theme as well (see previous post about his film). There was lots of good conversation. I really enjoy sharing with people our idea of church or community and challenging them to look at it from a different angle. I was also really sharpened by some of Francesco's thoughts tonight on what we call in our churchy circles 'integrity'. He, in his own, poetic way, talked about the need to say what you mean and do what you say and about his passion to learn from people. I also met a new guy, Nicolas, who works in a pizzeria downtown and he told us to come by and try their specialty from Taranto, the puccia, which incidentally, in my native Chile, means 'darn it'. Also, not to be forgotten, one of Francesco's friends, Lorenzo, showed up for just a little bit. When I introduced myself I knew I had met him before but he was sure we hadn't. I kept talking to him and figured it out, even if he didn't remember it. In the summer of 2002, he and his friend Alessandro (both scratchers), invited me and two short-termers from a CIY group to try a kebab. Long story short, our team owes this young man a HUGE debt of gratitude. Lorenzo, this kebab's for you!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

I Walk the Middle

Downtown Ancona is nestled between two sets of hills, the second of which ends in cliffs that fall to the sea. In the very bottom of this little valley is a street that goes from one end to the other, each end opening up onto the sea. This is the 'elbow' of land that juts out into the sea which gives the city its name (ankon is greek for elbow).

Recently, the downtown section of this street (Corso Garibaldi) was permanently shut off to all but foot and bicycle traffic. This plan, approved by our mayor, Fabio Sturani, involved re engineering the flow of traffic downtown so that anyone coming from the north into downtown enters through the new tunnel and drives DIRECTLY IN FRONT of our facility.

Anywhoo - those who have shops along Corso Garibaldi have supposedly seen a drastic decrease in business and about half of them are complaining by putting neon stickers in their windows protesting the creation of this isola pedonale (pedestrian island) saying that the island isolates the shops from customers.

It is funny to see how the mind of the Ancona people works. They are so used to there being traffic on this street that even now, though the street is completely empty of cars, they walk on the sidewalks. I, on the other hand, am proud to walk the middle. I embrace the new Ancona and am excited to see it transformed, renewed and to see old ways made new.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Amore al Pistacchio

One of our friends here in Ancona, Francesco, has been busy lately filming and editing an indie film. Late one night in September, 2001, while in NYC, he got the idea for it and is just now getting around to completing it. Check it out here.

Guests from Romania

Well, we got back from camping yesterday afternoon and had just enough time to put everything away and clean up before picking up Heather Wimsett and Darlene Runner at the train station. Heather has been working in Romania for several years and Darlene is her intern, there since February. They will be staying with us until Monday. We house lots of guests in our 'line of work', but it is a special honor to host these two - you can just sense God's presence when you're around them. As soon as I have the photos downloaded from our camping/rafting adventure, I'll post them.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Going Camping

Well, at 7:00 am, we're heading out. Heather and the kids will go with the Roterts to catch the bus to the train station to Terni. Meanwhile, Marcus and I will ride in the camping-equipment-laden car to the site, near the Marmore Waterfalls in Umbria. We will spend the week there, fending off a rainy forecast and making memories. Tuesday, Massi and Maurizio will be meeting us to go rafting and to celebrate Mau's 45th birthday. (We all are chipping in to buy him an MP3 player.) If you need us, you'll have to wait till we get home or call our cell phone. The kids don't start school until September 17th! I'll post when I get home about the experience - camping in Italy is NOT like camping in the U.S.!

Extra-long bed available upon request...

Our 11th anniversary was Friday and I surprised Heather by booking a room at the Hotel Federico II in nearby Jesi. We enjoyed the 18 hours away from the kids, the dinner in Moie and each other's company. I'm so lucky to have Heather and love watching how she continues to grow and blossom into the woman God intends for her to be.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's a Date!

The other night as our family walked in front of Ancona's principal theater we noticed the new poster announcing the coming concerts and performances. We got really excited when we noticed what was scheduled on November 17th (the 12th anniversary of our engagement). A ballet (Heather's favorite) set to the music of Vivaldi's Four Seasons (Jason's favorite) here in our very own, beloved Ancona. Yahoo!

Ancona Team Retreat - Day 3

Well, we're done. After three straight days of meetings with very few breaks, we emerged tired, yes, but united, excited and ready for action. I'll be sharing with you in the next few days some of the results of our conversations including our reworded vision statement, our primary purpose for the next 5 months, our 6 primary objectives which will get us there and some explanations of some of the changes.

One of my favorite things about the retreat was the emergence of the primacy of prayer - more than just a value or a 'we should because we're Christians' there seems to be a passion for it and a commitment to make it central to everything we are and do: in practice, in teaching, personally, corporately, in discipleship and in evangelism.

I am very proud of our team for being willing to be very honest and transparent, willing to sacrifice and share for the furthering of the church here. For all of your prayers and encouragement, thank you! If I can now ask you to pray for our team as we take the next step, which is to, together, turn these conversations into goals. Please pray for wisdom, unity and above all, protection as we all sense that Satan, he who would keep everyone from getting any closer to Christ, is not pleased with our progress.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ancona Team Retreat - Day 2

Whew, just got back from jogging with Brian - we broke through another level today - jogged for 4 minutes/walked for 2, five times for a total of 30 minutes. It feels really good to push through the pain and discomfort, knowing that my body is burning fat, building muscle and that my lung capacity is improving.

I feel a similar way about our conversations today. We met again from 8 to 5 with just a few short breaks and though we were tired, sleepy, and we didn't always agree on everything, I feel we were able to really push through and get to a new level today as a team. We're trimming away unnecessary things, building new and healthy habits and improving our ability to work together toward a common goal. Thanks for praying!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ancona Team Retreat - Day 1

We just finished our first day of meetings and I couldn't be more pleased. We are meeting at the Rotert house today, tomorrow and Wednesday. Matt & Angie are watching the kids for us this week which is a real blessing. We dropped the kiddos off before 8:00 and started our conversations with a mug of Swedish coffee and some pastries. Today's agenda was mainly team-building and I feel we were able to lay a really good foundation for the next couple of days' worth of conversations. Tomorrow we will be revisiting some of our team's core values and documents as well as talking about the vision for what's ahead. Thanks for praying!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ancona Team Retreat - Takeoff

At 20:00 we kicked off our retreat at our house. Jacob volunteered to take care of the kids while the adults shared a worship & prayer time. Here was his 'order of service':
-opening prayer
-icebreaker: what are you thankful for?
-sing three songs (in italian)
-Bible story
-coloring page
-closing prayer

Meanwhile, the adults (Heather & I, Brian & Heidi and Marcus), gathered to pray, sing and worship together. Afterwards, the guys and older kids went up to Forte Altavilla to lay on the grass and watch the shooting stars.

I'm excited about the next three days - there's lots to discuss. Tomorrow, Monday, we will be focusing on team building, looking at lots of things, among them some of Lencioni's principles of teamwork. Thanks for praying!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Trigger

I've often said that the hardest thing about living overseas is watching my kids adjust back-and-forth between American and Italian cultures. Whether at school, at home, traveling, at play, however it manifests itself, it is the hardest thing for me to accept about cross-cultural ministry. Today, I was able to pinpoint one of the triggers for this sentiment.

I've recently begun jogging again, thanks to the promptings of my teammate, Brian. We drive up to the Cittadella park and jog around for 30 minutes. It is a beautiful setting: a park on the top of a hill overlooking the city inside the walls of an ancient fort. There are lots of families with kids at the playground and people laying on the grass or walking around. As we were jogging this evening, I saw two grandparents sitting on a bench, baby grandchild in a stroller. They just sat there together, smiling, looking at their grandchild...no hurry, no rush, just enjoying the cool, summer evening with their grandchild.

Gulp.

While our parents do a good job of keeping in touch and showering us with love, both while we are away and 'at home', it is a gut check every time I see it. It makes the times when we do return to the U.S. that more special, that more important. It pushes us to pack in as much time and as many memories into those weeks and months as possible. It encourages us to be creative in how we communicate with grandmas and grandpas. In the end, it makes us grateful for having the kind of parents we want our kids to spend time with.