It is decision time in Ancona. Let’s start off with the exciting one, shall we?
Some eight years ago while hosting a short-term group from the U.S., one of the students invited a tall, lanky Romanian construction worker they met at a park to come to an English party there were hosting. That worker, maybe 20 years old at the time, began attending various activities that our team hosted and we formed a friendship and found in him an openness, a sincerity, and a hard-working spirit that continues to impress us to this day. During the course of the last eight years, he got married to Simona and just recently celebrated the birth of their firstborn, Emanuel, this year. You may remember from previous updates that I’m talking about Daniel.
Daniel has grown in so many ways over the years and been our most faithful participant even though he had never made a public decision to follow Christ. He has been great at inviting others to come check out our gatherings and events. He has shown a natural knack and passion for calling and checking on people. When he sees a physical need he will do everything he can to see it gets taken care of, including getting others to chip in. And most recently, he has helped our community see the need to give and support those in need outside our beautiful Adriatic Ancona area by taking care of a very needy family in Romania.
Last Easter, I believe, was crucial for Daniel. While it is normal for Orthodox believers, even nominal ones, to make it to Mass on Christmas and Easter, Daniel made a decision for his little family. “We’re not going,” he said. He told me that evening that they see things differently and they aren’t going to just keep doing the same religious things because that’s what people tell them to do. He drew a line.
Whenever we talked to them about their walk with Christ, Simona was the one to put on the brakes. Daniel was ready a long time ago but wanted to be baptized together. Simona had doubts and questions. She wanted to be good and mature before deciding. This summer they returned to Romania to visit family and to satisfy their family they had Emanuel sprinkled in the Orthodox Church. As she was at the church she was going to ask her priest what he thought about her getting baptized but as she waited for him she realized she didn’t need anyone’s permission. This was something she needed to do for herself and didn’t have to do with religion or family, but herself before God. She drew a line.
Simona told this story to me and to Brian around their little dining room table Friday night. The Sunday before we had been talking about the characteristics of a disciple and the question was thrown out: have you ever made that public decision to follow Jesus and chosen to make him your Lord? Simona told us she wanted to talk about it which brought us to that conversation on Friday in their home. It was clear that they were ready so we called up the pool and set everything up. Sunday morning at 11:30, Daniel & Simona drew a line together. They confessed Jesus as their Lord and were baptized into Him. It was a beautiful moment, one that validates so much of what we’ve been talking about, one that confirms that disciple-making in Europe requires, to quote our friend Brett Seybold, tenacious patience.
Please pray for them as they continue their walk, that we will disciple them well and teach them to disciple others and that they will continue to find ways to use their gifts to build up the church in Ancona and beyond.
As a family we have also made a decision regarding our future. For a couple of years now, I have felt the Lord releasing us and preparing us to move away from our direct leadership and involvement with the first church plant in Ancona. In the process we have prayed about where God would have us go next. We have drawn this process out for a long time, for several reasons. We desire to honor God with our lives and be where he wants us. We desire to seek his blessing and find a sense of peace about where we head next. We desire to thoughtfully and carefully evaluate our family’s needs. We desire to evaluate the options before us and consider each cautiously and yet courageously. We desire to transition away from the team and church-planting effort well. We desire to be good stewards of what God has given us and taught us.
In the end, after prayer, reflection, tears, and conversations with advisors we have decided to move back to the United States. I will be working with Heather’s father in New Braunfels, Texas and we will spend the next few years processing our experience in Italy, furthering our studies, getting our kids caught up and boosted forward in their education (and specifically addressing Jacob’s special need for educational therapy) and finding ways to use our gifts and experience in the local church there. We are in the process of figuring out how we can continue being a support and encouragement to our co-church-planters here in Italy and hope to continue the relationships we’ve formed after these 10+ years here.
Our hearts are heavy at the idea of leaving this place which has become home. I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve lived here, in this apartment, in this city. For me, growing up without many geographical roots, I find myself confused and somewhat afraid to pull them up, having found much strength in them. Leaving teammates who have become close friends and brothers and saying goodbye to our Italian and Romanian brothers and sisters is something that brings more sadness. Saying goodbye to this culture and this city is hard to even imagine. All this is tempered by a sense of peace that we know does not come from any earthly source. As painful as it may be, as surprising as it might seem, we know that we take this step of faith with the Lord’s blessing.
Please know that we take this step with eyes wide open for God’s leading. Please know that we take this step fully aware and very grateful for your partnership all this time. (Somewhat ironically and yet completely unrelated, just in the two months prior to our decision, three of our key supporting families and churches informed us that for financial and policy reasons they would have to stop our support – this totals $900/month as of the end of this year.) Please know that the team we leave in Ancona is moving forward with both ability and confidence under Brian Rotert’s leadership, committed to see this church community grow and wean itself from any American lifeline. Though they are sad we are leaving, I think it is important you know that they support our decision and the transition has been better than we could have dreamed. Please know that the other two teams (in Verona and Rome), though at the very beginning of their journeys, are also moving forward.
We will continue working with the team until the end of December and spend the month of January packing and saying last goodbyes. February and March will involve much travel as we visit supporters and Team Expansion’s International Services in Louisville. We will also spend a week at MTI’s Debriefing and Renewal program in Colorado. We humbly ask that you continue your financial support while we are getting settled until the end of June. For those of you that are able, we have some extra expenses like airfare and shipping that we could use help with. Please keep the team and church here in Ancona and in Italy in your prayers through this process. And from the entire family, thank you for the part you’ve played in all of this. We really, literally couldn’t have done any of this without you.
For Christ and for Italy,
Jason, Heather, Jacob, Haven, Harrison and Jenova