Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas! Hope this day is filled with love and joy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Gift Idea

Well, we're heading out tomorrow morning, Monday, at 6 am. Heather's dad is driving us to Dallas and my folks are coming down to get us. It has been a great 10 days here in New Braunfels - it has been great seeing friends and family. The temperature has swung from the 70's down to the 30's. This evening we are sitting around playing the Seinfeld Scene-It. Fun stuff.

Hey, by the way, Heather's sister, Jennifer (Jenny), has recently published a children's book called 'A Match Made in Heaven'. It is a great gift, especially for Christmas. You can order it online or download the digital version immediately. Check out and search for the book title or click the book link above.

If we don't see you before, have a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Our Italian Blog

While we're stateside we are keeping an Italian blog for our friends back home. We will be putting pictures and things on there that you won't see here. Check it out at - you may not be able to read it, but you can enjoy the pictures and video. The last post is about Taco Bell's insane suggestion that we add a 4th meal to our diet...yeah, real healthy...(but delicious)...

On Being Stateside...

Well. We're in Texas. I'm sitting in my in-laws' guesthouse, listening to Bon Iver, studying and preparing lectures for a class I'm teaching in January. Man, it is a lot of work. It is one of those intensive, one-week classes - five days, 35 hours of class time. I'm reading the book Organic Community by Joe Myers right now - really, really good so far - putting into words things I've been thinking/feeling/experiencing.

Really smooth transition this time around. I miss my team, church and home - but it has been smooth. I feel some timid tendrils of cultural stress already, but different than ever before. Whereas in past trips 'home', I've raced out to buy the food and sweets I've missed or run to the stores to shop and see what latest game or gadget is out, this time I find myself, well, not.

It all seems too glittery. So big, so very, very big. And loud. So much junk, crap. I'm sure it is worse because it is the Christmas, shopping season, but I still feel it. My ears and eyes are especially sensitive to the commercial nature we're surrounded in. I'm not used to having cable. Not used to paying so little for gas, so much freedom, so many options.

I want to retreat to the silence of this little guest house and yet find myself wishing I were sitting at Yuri's caffe at Piazza Roma where I know how to speak and what to order.

I'm sipping a Dr. Pepper, happy to be with family and spending dollars. I'll lay down on this grass for it is green but I find myself increasingly homeless, increasingly rootless...

Go hug a missionary today. We're weird for good reason...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Secret Seafood and Side-by-side Scaffolding

I ate lunch with Josh and Maurizio yesterday. It was delicious. Maurizio can be temperamental sometimes and yesterday he was...about parking. So we ended up going to a new place - one we had never heard of. It is tucked into the old soccer stadium by the tennis club - a little hole-in-the-wall seafood place. There is no sign, no indication except for a rickety exhaust tube from the kitchen that rises over the wall.

Delicious. Spaghetti with tomatoes and clams followed by a shared fried fish plate accompanied by a delicious local white wine. Maurizio is an enigma to me. I can't figure him out. I baptized him last year and since then his life has been awful. Well, according to him. It hasn't been NEARLY the life-saving event he thought it would be. You know the country song - no girl, no house, no dog...

There are two buildings just down the road from our house next to each other and both of them are being redone - repainted. This is a major process that costs the owners of the apartments thousands of euros and hours of heartache. It happens every 20 years or so and the city is full of buildings that are surrounded in scaffolding as mostly foreign workers are busy stripping, rebuilding and painting. The scaffolding goes up, the transformation takes 2-3 months (or MUCH longer) and then the scaffolding comes down and the building is restored to its pristine, original condition. One of the two afore-mentioned buildings is covered in scaffolding. The one next to it instead has hired a new service for the job. It is two guys with a huge platform truck with a crane that allows them to reach great distances. No scaffolding. They peel the paint, fire the walls and go to town while everyone watches and while piles of crusty, cracking paint form around the base of the building. Bare, naked, patchy walls are visible to everyone.

Two buildings side by side. One covered in green canvas which hides the work, the other exposed, cold, shivering. In the end, the result is the same...I think. Maurizio is the scaffolding-less building. As I listened to him talk and waver between lamenting and laughing I just smiled and enjoyed the moment. He's a good friend. Maybe my best Italian friend and he's just like George Costanza. I'll keep praying for him, keep exploring new restaurants with him, keep sitting with him as the old stuff gets scraped away and the new stuff gets put on.

I'm pretty sure I still have some scaffolding of my own up in some places...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Memoirs of an MK, Chapter 1

Slipping on Figs

Cat urine, if it is the right kind, reminds me of my neighborhood in Santiago, Chile where I grew up. Our house was in a cul-de-sac, a dead-end street and there must have been eight houses on the street, each with an iron fence and gate, each with a Chilean family but for ours. We were American.

There was a little store on our block, just a three or four minute walk from our house. We would go there to buy basic staples - milk, sugar, or candy. Once I saved up enough pesos to buy a HUGE chocolate bar with a picture of a train on it. It was disappointing. The shaded sidewalk that led there was lined by a kind of cactus. I remember Felipe, the neighbor boy, telling me that if you broke off the tip and rubbed the green juice on a cut, it would heal faster.

Felipe was a skinny child, skinny and short. The day we moved into our little, wooden house, Felipe came out of the yard next door with a hammer and hit my brother, Chris, in the stomach. No. This was not typical Chilean hospitality. It was plain odd. Felipe grew to be one of our best friends and he was there when we put on the play in our backyard.

The walls of our backyard met in the back corner at a sharp angle. Concrete walls, they were composed of cement posts placed upright into the ground with big slabs laid between them three high to form a two meter barrier between us and the neighbors. This far corner was paved and was joined with the front walk by a series of concrete stepping tiles. Built into the left wall was a concrete grilling area that I don't remember ever actually using. On the right was the fig tree.

Rising up to 30 feet or more, it shot up at a weird angle, as fig trees have the habit of doing. Back in this paved area there was often an ample supply of firewood stored for burning during the cold Chilean winters. This area was often slippery because of the bright red, seedy guts of fallen figs. The sweet smell of the fruit would blend with the smell of wet firewood and cat urine and create a unique concoction.

The day we put on the play must have been in summer and it must have been near the end of our stay there, sometime in the mid 80's. Our ham radio antenna that used to tower over our block was down and served as bleachers for the neighbor kids' parents. I don't think I've ever seen 'How the West Was Won' but I think that's what we called our play. At one point, in one of our only stunts, a fake punch was thrown and Felipe spit out rice which was supposed to look like teeth getting knocked out. And Pepe slipped. He was big for his age, and a bit clumsy. He was supposed to climb on the roof of our playhouse and he slipped.

My dad video-taped the play and he must have forgotten to push the AWB button which gave the taping a pinkish hue. We would watch it and laugh when Pepe slipped. I spent a lot of time in that backyard. It was the perfect training ground for my imagination and it was where I learned if you're not careful, you can slip on figs.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Random Video - Picking Grapes

November Pictures

Randy Gariss enjoying the view at Portonovo

David and Barbara, the newest family to join our church community

Group shot after our church gathering one Sunday

Halloween 2008 - Flamenco Dancer, Mutant Turtle and Hip-Hop Dancer

Cruses and Garisses enjoying breakfast alla italiana in Sirolo

Jacob at Pian'dell Elmo - Man, he's getting big...

Redcoats & Grass stains

Haven showing off a treasure

Marco & Lucilla - Ancona's Best Kept Secret

Haven's new bunk bed - part of remodeling for the baby's arrival

Corso Garibaldi

Well, the repaving of Ancona's main downtown street is about 75% done. It used to be a busy, one-way street where everyone would double park and run into stores but the mayor brought an end to all that. He had the street ripped up and paved to make it a pedestrian area. The shop owners all complained about their business decreasing, but they have quieted down. It is now much quieter. People are walking more and it is safe for kids to ride their bikes. It makes downtown Ancona a bit more like some of the more popular tourist centres in Italy. Mayor Sturani, I applaud you.


Actually it was only a bit over nine...but check it out.

How to run 10 kilometers...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


As any missionary knows, the closer you get to 'furlough', the more your mind, heart and calendar begin to be filled with the thoughts, concerns and tasks associated with it. I've held off as long as possible, but am now just three weeks away. I'm working on the two classes I'll be teaching at Ozark and am thoroughly enjoying it. I'm reading, researching, writing, planning and finding in the process that it is sharpening my mind, stretching my assumptions, strengthening my faith and renewing my heart for the work God has called us to.

Thanksgiving Party

Man, I've been dry lately. The Thanksgiving parties this weekend went really, really well. We had 31 Friday and 31 on Saturday. Great conversations. Very relaxed. It was great to see our team and church blend and work together. Thanks for praying for us and thanks to those of you who sent special food and decoration items - hope to share pictures soon!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Quote

"It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish."

-Mother Teresa

Yes. The Church must take better care of youth and women facing tough decisions and dark situations, but She must also stand up for those without a voice.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another 24 Hours of Prayer

Last week we hosted our fourth 'prayer room' in Ancona and were really blessed. We started at 18:00 on Satuday and ended at 18:00 on Sunday, just as our weekly Sunday gathering started. A total of 36 people spent an hour in the room, including two children. Heather and Jen decorated it to a 'Mask' theme to encourage our community to spend time talking to the Father about what we've been studying - the TrueFaced concept of trusting God and others with who we really are. Here are some pictures...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Long Kiss

Lately I haven't been reading as much as I'd like from the Bible. I'm reading lots of spiritually-oriented books, but have not been spending as much time actually reading through the Scriptures. So I decided to go back to an old college-days habit of reading through the New Testament in a month. This breaks down to about 9 chapters a day. Now, I'm already behind but I'm finding that I'm spending more time reading, reflecting and actually craving to spend that time in the Word than when I hadn't been setting this goal for myself.

I decided to do it in Italian and it has been really cool. Over the years, I've noticed several little differences between the Italian and English translations: simple nuances that shed a new light on well-known verses and phrases. This morning I came across another.

Text: Matthew 26:49
Scene: Garden of Gethsemane. Judas and his large crowd of guards and thugs arrive and approach Jesus and his 11 disciples.

The Italian version says this: "E in quell'istante, avvicinatosi a Gesù, gli disse: «Ti saluto, Maestro!» e gli diede un lungo bacio."

My literal translation would be this: "And in that instant, coming up to Jesus, he said, "I greet you, Master!" and he gave him a long kiss."

So, you might say, what's the big deal? It's just an adjective. Well, it isn't a big deal. But it does add something to the scene. The Italian translation gives a more human, intimate portrayal of the contact between Christ and Betrayer. We're not talking about a peck or an 'air kiss.' We're talking about a lungo bacio.

The ONLY person I give lunghi baci to is my wife. Here we see Judas giving the sign to the crowd and it makes me for an instant stop and think. Why a long kiss? Did he really care for Jesus? Was he having second thoughts - coming face to face with the man who had called him and taught him so much? Or was Judas really so fake, so blind that this long kiss was meaningless, just a showy demonstration of his position as someone who was close to the Master?

Not sure - but as I read through the all-too-familiar scene this morning, this one word made me stop and picture the scene. I found myself re-reading, thinking through it, asking myself questions I hadn't asked before and getting another glimpse into the life of Jesus.

Friday, September 12, 2008

All Roads Lead to...the Fencing Complex

This picture is taken from our living room balcony. It captures the reality of living in Italy. Turn right and you will end up at the fencing complex. Go straight and you will end up at the very same fencing complex. Complex. Like so many things in Italy - there are many different ways of accomplishing a single task.

Both Barzini and Severgnini refer to the contradictory nature of Italy. Tim Parks, a British author, does a great job of creating tension in his stories that put a skin on this concept. We live in a land of contradictions. (Check out this post about some examples of contradiction in the city of Verona.) Just this morning, Jen was pointing out how contradictory it is that Italy's military is so small when it's renown for its military machine's place in history during the time of the Roman Empire.

No deep application here - just pointing out that it has often been tough to learn to live with the greyness of living the 'missionary life' in a land that is so very grey. Turn right, go straight, enjoy the ride, you will get there eventually. Think there are any applications here for Italians' spiritual lives?

Bitter Grapes

The other night our family visited the nearby town of Camerano with our intern, Jen, to take in the yearly Festa del Rosso Conero. The Rosso Conero is a red wine produced in the Marchegian hills that surround Ancona. The festival includes concerts, specialty food stands (piadine, olive ascolane and of course, wine), and craft booths. We had been several years ago but this time it was quite a bit bigger. We had fun walking through the little streets of the city center and taking in the sights, sounds and tastes.

Some of our best Italian friends live in this town. They are, in fact, the first friends we made in Ancona. I was hoping to reconnect with them since we hadn't seen each other in quite a while. Bad news. I called them and found out they separated recently. Kind of put a damper on the evening for me, but we still enjoyed the festa. Wish you had been there!

Check out the pictures and video below!

Haven and Harrison posing in the cantina

Isn't Heather the cutest?

Some of the workers posed for us in their 'contadini' hats

Camerano's central piazza

A little clip of some street in Italy is NOT like this every day...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Death of the Kebab

Summer of 2003. CIY group in Ancona. I head out with a few of the students one night to see who we can meet. We end up hanging out with some breakdancers and following them to a little hole-in-the-wall joint near the port. We line up and it is hot. The guy in front of the large spit of meat is sweating all over the place. People are standing around eating what looks like a gyro or burrito. We get up to the front and follow our new friends' example and our lives are forever changed by the kebab.

A couple of years later, due to the success of the little place, the owner opened up a new location nearby and it became a regular part of the culture of our team. It was our default place to go when we needed to talk, get away, celebrate or get a non-Italian snack. 3.50 euro got you a delicious wrap filled with grilled beef/pork (not sure really), falafel, tomatos, lettuce, french fries, onions, a spicy red sauce, a cucumber sauce and a lot of mayo. But it became more than that. It became an experience, a haven, a refuge. It became our place. The Cheers bar. Central Perk. Monk's Diner. I even wrote a poem about it.

We were shocked and saddened to discover last month that the owner, Khaled, sold the business. A fresh coat of paint, most of the familiar signs taken down, carrots added to the menu, falafel taken off. It looks the same. I want to believe it is still our place...but it's not. We went tonight after the Finance Party and I'm sad to announce that I may have eaten my last kebab from our place. I won't go into details, but I regret to announce the death of the kebab.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What a difference a point makes...

Wow - have you been watching the dollar climb slowly back up? What a relief! I was crunching some numbers today, curious to see how much of an impact it was making on our day-to-day living. Check it out.

(disclaimer: I was NOT a math-major...)

Our average monthly budget, including personal and ministry expenses is $5000 U.S. Of that amount, around $3500 gets converted into the local currency, which is the Euro.

When the euro was introduced in 2002, one Euro was worth 0.89 U.S. cents. E 1.00 = $ 0.89 U.S. This means that on a month-to-month basis, we had a spending power, in the local currency here, of around 3,933 euros. $3500 U.S. = 3,933 euros. That was 2002.

In July of this year, the euro reached an all-time high of just over 1.60. This means that the same $3500 U.S. was worth approximately 2,188 euros. That, my friends, is a difference of 1,745 euros. Yes, you read that correctly. That means that in July of this year, we were living on 1,745 euros less than we had 6 1/2 years before.

Since then, the dollar has slowly regained ground and today is hovering near the 1.44 mark which means we're back at E 1.00 = $1.44 U.S. This means we have approximately 2,431 euros this month to spend which is an increase since July of about 243 euros - which is really nice.

If the euro dropped one more point, we would have an extra 17 euros to spend next month and with a 12-gallon tank of gas costing 75 euros these days, it can go a long way!

So, one might ask the ethical question - "In the dreamy situation where the euro fell back down to the $1 U.S. = 1 Euro level - what would you do with the extra 1,313 euros?" :)

God has taught us so much about learning to live on less, learning to trust Him, learning that needs and wants are two very different things. We would welcome the break, the cushion, the breathing room. We would lower our budget and probably save some in case it ever reversed again, which it probably will. Hopefully though, the lessons we've learned would stick with us and we'd be generous as our Father is generous.

And that, I believe, is a good point.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Let the games begin!

The soccer season started last weekend and Ancona kicked it off with a bang - they tied. 2-2. So we start off in 8th place among the 22 teams in the 'Series B'. This Sunday we play Ascoli Piceno which is Ancona's arch-rival. (Even a newby could guess this by looking at some of the spray paint around the city.) Several of us are planning on going and it should be crazy. One of the things I like about the soccer system here in Italy is that at the end of the season, the bottom two teams get bumped down a league and the top two get bumped up! This means that a seeminly small, unknown team has a shot of making it to the big leagues! It keeps the sponsored teams playing hard just to maintain their contracts and position in the A series. Last season Ancona got bumped up from Series C and they have a shot this year of making it up to A if they play well. Go, Ancona, go!

-photo taken by the very talented Aubri Casey

Monday, September 1, 2008

Paloma on Survivor

Crazy. I've been a fan of Survivor since the first season. My parents would send me vide0-taped episodes (we're talking VHS here, who has those anymore?).

We just heard that the daughter of a friend of ours will be one of the survivors on the new season, Survivor: Gabon. Our friend is a Chilean missionary working with a church in Los Angeles, Fernando Soto. This is the first MK that I know of on the show and we'll be watching and cheering her on! Oh yeah, her name is Paloma.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

McDonalds and Barbed Wire

The thing that struck me the most about the infamous city of Naples during our recent visit was how stark the difference was between the classes. We stayed at the Holiday Inn which is part of a large downtown, modern, fancy, clean paved island in the city. Skyscrapers all around. Shiny, glass windows. Concrete landscaping. From my view on the 17th floor we could see Mt. Vesuvius, the Bay and of course, the city. The Holiday Inn was on the very edge of the 'concrete island' and the street that formed its border was the dividing line between modern, upscale architecture and the run-down schifezza on the other side. Empty, trash-filled lots. Abandoned buildings. Graffiti.

We ate one evening at the McDonalds there near the hotel on the ground floor of one of the modern, clean buildings. I thought it weird that every 30 minutes or so an armed military police truck drove by and then I noticed the barbed wire that surrounded the Kid's Play Area. What would the McDonalds corporation say if they knew? Is it to keep the children in or the furbi out? And where is OSHA?!

-picture taken by Brian Rotert

Friday, August 29, 2008

Frogs on Crosses

EPA photo taken from msnbc article - see link below

I found myself rolling my eyes this morning, reading about the Pope's reaction to this piece of art in a museum in Northern Italy. Then I asked myself, "How many times do I waste time and energy seemingly defending something noble or sacred when it really is uninformed and unnecessary?" Guilty. So go ahead dear Benedict, anathematize. It really is quite ugly anyway.

My Next Scooter

Check it out. Oops...I dropped my keys...

A Profound Difference?

"Religion, precisely defined, is man's effort to please God. Any human system designed to reach and please any god is properly called a religion. Christianity is not a religion because its focus is not on man reaching God but on the reverse. God reaches out to man in the person of Jesus Christ. When we try to get men to God, then, we have things backward. We are being religious instead of being Christian. That, to me, is a profound difference."

The author goes on to talk about what he calls the 'Immanuel principle'. God with us. God with people, through Jesus, in us.

"That is Christianity - bringing God to people where they are. That means we don't have to get people someplace; all we need to do is get to them. When we reach out and touch them, God does."

-taken from "Love, Acceptance & Forgiveness" by Jerry Cook

Josh sends me articles that talk about having 'Third Places' - I think this guy, Jerry, was saying a similar thing back in the 70's...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ancona: An Artist's Perspective

This morning I was having coffee with Marcus in one of the caffe's that we frequent and we were admiring a painting above our table of a very familiar view of our beautiful city. I was jotting down the information of the artist when someone reached over my shoulder and dropped a business card on the table. "I noticed you admiring the painting," said a voice behind me. It turned out to be the artist - Antonio Daniele. Check out this link for some samples of his work. If you've been here before you may very well recognize some of these! My favorite is the one called 'sacro e profano'.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Missions and Surgery

I think I'm ready to say it. I've come to a conclusion. Like a puzzle, I've put the pieces together over the years but only lately have I really backed up and seen the image.

The Father entrusted the Church with Mission as part of his process of renewing all things. We go to China and Kenya and Italy and Mexico as ambassadors, yes, with the Good News to share. But that's not WHY we go.

I'm going to stick my neck out there and say that whenever anyone says 'I'll go', they are essentially signing the waiver saying that they are allowing God to do surgery on their life. We arrive on the field and are surrounded by new sights and sounds and smells. We learn a new language, a new culture. We begin to see signs that God has been here all along and slowly the strands of the web upon which we rest our faith begin to be tested; shaking, stretching, tearing. And the surgeon begins his work.

At some point in time we arrive at the realization that our Father is aiming for something specific. Maybe it is an area of unconfessed sin. Maybe it is something we need to forgive and let go. Maybe it is simply learning to really, REALLY trust him with who we are, with our dreams, with our mission. Usually it is something deep, dark and hidden; something we desperately want to be rid of but something we tend to learn how to hide in our home culture. And this is where we see the inevitable fork in the road.

The thing about this fork, this junction, is that only we really see it. No one else really does. We're strapped to the surgeon's table, IV already in and the anesthesia ready. We get itchy, we want off the table, we start talking about going home, about transitioning to a different post or ministry.

People say things like, "Are you sure this is the right time to go home?"

"But you are just now able to speak the language."

"You're just now seeing the work take off."

Now you see, these are all valid questions and observations. The missionary who stays WILL get better with the language, WILL understand the culture more clearly and WILL see their ministry grow, but that is not WHY they stay and it isn't BECAUSE they stay. It is because they remain on the surgeon's table.

They trust the Surgeon, they allow him to cut, remove, heal and bandage and in the end transform them. This transformation process is absolutely necessary in the life of the missionary for it is only in this moment of weakness, humility and transparency that we can truly be used. Remember Paul's words about weakness and strength?

It is God who works through us, not the other way around. It is God's message through us, not ours through God. It is every bit as much, if not more, about our learning and being changed as it is about us teaching someone and changing something.

The cool thing about our Surgeon is that he is humble and gentle. When He sends us, He's really calling us.

Sure you want to go?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pirates of the Colosseum?

Just read an article about a plan the mayor of Rome has for building an ancient-Rome-themed amusement park. Sounds kind of interesting, but the article made me smile - gives you a little glimpse into Italian politics...and double negatives...

Jen the intern

Last night, Heather and I went out to celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary. We ate at Old, Wild, West, a new Tex-Mex restaurant in Ancona...actually the ONLY one in town. Heather had the fajitas, I the burrito. Fried jalapenos, stuffed with cheese for an appetizer. Pretty dang exciting. Not my point.

Jen, one of our 1-year-long interns, showed up at our house, after volunteering to watch our kids, with a bag like Mary Poppins. Out of it she pulls a movie (specially chosen for Haven), popcorn and ingredients for chocolate-chip cookies. Not only that, but she was able to create a party-like environment which got our kids SO excited. She's the beist.

This is simply a little post to say thanks to Jen and all the other hard-working interns out there that make a missionary's life easier. You are a true blessing to our life!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

August in Ancona and Inflatable Churches

I'm still surprised after all this time at how dead Ancona is in August. While most schools in the U.S. are starting back up this week, most people here are closing up shops and going on vacation. After dropping Josh off at the airport yesterday, I stopped by four, count them...4, computer stores to drop Heather's PC off and they were ALL closed for ferie. Most are closed for two weeks. Friday, the 15th is the big national holiday where even the bigger stores are closed. The banks and post offices restrict their hours to about half and it is hard to do much of anything except lay around in the heat. It is no wonder that everyone is at the beach here.

Interestingly enough, the other night on the BBC I watched a story on how the Catholic church is addressing this August migration to the beach by putting up mobile, inflatable church venues...check it out...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Europeans Shopping in the U.S. ran this article describing how Europeans are finding great deals on vacations and shopping in the U.S. because of the weak dollar. Thought it was a good way to help understand what it feels like on this side of the pond. Check it out:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Slaying a Dragon

About 6 years ago, Daniel Cormode and I went swimming in the sea at the Passetto here in Ancona. After treading water for a bit, he and I decided to swim out to the scoglio or the rock reef that blocks the waves from eroding the little stony beach nearby. Well, we got 50 metres out and I quickly realized that I wasn't a very fit swimmer and we still had a ways to go. Now, before you call me a wimp, you need to know that it is pretty choppy and that there can be some pretty big swells. I called out to Dan and told him I didn't think I could make it and he quickly swam to my side and helped me get to shore. I may have been able to make it on my own, but Dan pretty much saved my life that day.

We jump in at the bottom and swim to the far right bottom corner over
100 metres to the rocks (not in picture). Mussolini had the monument at the top
commissioned in honor of fallen soldiers in WWI.
The stairs are designed to look like an eagle.

6 years have gone by and every time I go down to the Passetto and I spy those rocks I remember that and it brings back memories of jogging the 199 steps and the early days of exploring our city. I always wondered if I'd be able to make it out there to the rocks someday, if I'd be able to slay that dragon, to face the fear and do it.

The Germans have a saying, "Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is." It is true. Maybe this is the sole reason I have been brought here, the lesson I am to learn and yet which I resist the most; resist because of the very response, the exacting effect which courses through my veins, the way in which it seizes my heart. Maybe I have been brought here to face and embrace the wolf. As they say, 'Crepi.'

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
-Frank Herbert, Dune

Well, last year, I started jogging 2-3 times a week with Brian and we've kept at it now for nearly a year. A couple of weeks ago we started substituting jogging for swimming/treading - why not, right? It is so nice, we dive off a rock into the deep, cool water and tread and talk and try to get in shape.

Today, there were five of us. Brian and I were joined by Josh, Marcus and Kyle (our newest intern). We had been out for about half an hour and I realized that I was about half way out to the rocks. I looked at the guys and said, 'Boys, I think this is the day!' and started out toward the reef. I made it with no problem and climbed up on top to signal the victory. They swam out to meet me and we had a blast diving off the rocks and acting like teenagers. As Marcus, Brian and I took our last jump in together, the rain and sleet (yes, sleet) came down and we swam back in to shore, laughing and enjoying the cool weather. The people on the shore watched us as if we were illegal immigrants arriving clandestine from the East.

It felt good. It wasn't that I was that afraid to try it again, it was mainly that I didn't want to do it alone. The good feeling was the not being alone. It was trusting them to help me if I needed it. It was that they knew my story, my fear, my dream and my vision. It was their cheering me on and celebrating the little victory together. It was the weaving of our stories together that made it so memorable. We walked triumphantly to our rain-drenched towels and shirts and the slain dragon sunk beneath the crashing waves.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Short-Term Groups

We are hosting a group of college students from our supporting church, College Heights Christian. As I write this on the couch of our living room, Marcus is getting ready to lead the group on their second 'culture quest' - what amounts to a video scavenger hunt. The group's schedule is pretty busy but I find myself surprisingly relaxed and able to not be overwhelmed by their activities. Not only this, but their presence and the various planned events allow our team to have extra contact with people and more time with our friends. While some might worry that exposing our friends to a group of fifteen college-aged students would be detrimental or 'too American', I find that since we try to frame up these encounters simply as that, encounters among friends, that they are beneficial to everyone involved. Tonight, the group will be participating in a live art project with some friends from the Atopos crowd followed by a picnic together. Tomorrow they will be touring out beautiful city, led by one of Marcus' friends, Angelo. Tomorrow night, the group will be hosting an Encounter Coffee House. Sunday, the group will be hosting and leading our church's Gathering. This is one of the very first times, if not THE first, we've had a foreigner teach via a translator. Monday night the group is hosting a Grill Night at the beach to which we are inviting our friends to come and hang out. Tuesday night we are gathering with some Catholic friends for a fellowship and prayer time followed by a meal together. Wednesday evening they will be co-hosting English conversation sessions. So yes, they are busy. And yes. Many of the things they are doing sound 'fun' - and they are!

Is it worth it? Does our community here in Ancona benefit? Do these students really benefit? Does our supporting church grow through this? Does the mission of the church (on the macro level) get advanced through this kind of 10-day experience? Would there be a better way for these students to use the money they raised and time they set apart? These are all questions I hear others raising and they are all ones that we are trying to answer as well.

The group sitting on top of the port wall at La Lanterna Rossa in Ancona.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Don't be sad Papa...Jake lives on...

Papa and Nana, we wish we could be there to cheer you up in person. We love you!

24 Hours of Prayer in Ancona

Last week we hosted our third prayer room in Ancona. This time we shortened the time to 24 hours and moved the location. Our friend, Francesco, let us use his place, ATOPOS, to host it. We used a room in the back where he has some art by a Romanian guy (brilliant) on display. It was so cool to see everyone get involved again. Jen, our intern, and I went out in the city and asked for some prayer requests to bring into the prayer room. It was interesting to see people's reactions. Here are some pictures...

Happy 4th - Italian Style

May your day be GLORIOUS! Whether at home in the a/c, at the lake getting burned by the sun, gathered around the grill or hanging out at the pool - have a great day and please, PLEASE don't take family for granted! We're heading to the beach for the afternoon and grilling this evening with the team.

This picture, taken from our balcony, has nothing to do with the 4th except for in the distance you can see the beach where we will be (and unfortunately an oil drilling platform...).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wasps, Overgeneralizations and Clam-loving Three-year-olds

Want a little peek into our day? Thursday mornings are "Girl's Morning Out" - Heather, Heidi and Jen went out for coffee and accountability and fellowship. Meanwhile, the kids worked on homeschool and chores and we began studying the States and Capitals. For lunch I warmed up leftovers. "Of what?" you may ask. Of Heather's first-ever attempt at fixing seafood. Well, other than tuna fish sandwiches (for me) or fish sticks (for the kids). She made spaghetti alle vongole. (little clams steamed in oil, white wine and garlic and added to fresh spaghetti) Out of the park, delicious. The kids and I love was a kick for us to watch them devour it, especially Harrison.

I picked up my scooter today...grr... It is SO efficient having a scooter here - a gallon of gas ($10 US) will get me by for 10 days' worth of driving and you never have to pay for parking. The seat was torn and falling apart so I took it in a couple of weeks ago to see how much it cost - 50 be recovered by a guy who normally does seat covers for sailboats. That's quite a bit of money, but we had a little money set aside so I said go ahead. So, I picked it up last week - and was informed that it was time for the bi-annual revision which meant it needed new tires and a brake pad. Gulp. So, I pay my due and drive it home only to find two days later, the back tire completely flat. Where was I? Oh yeah, I picked up my scooter today...again.

On the way home I stopped by the bank to make a deposit and while sitting there I watched the lady who stocks the shelves (they sell all kinds of gift items) get frustrated by a little Ukranian boy who kept walking around and looking at the toys and books for sale. She made faces and even called the mom down for not having control of her son. As I left, I overheard her telling an older Italian man - "It's always the foreigners! Always the foreigners!" Deep breath - keep your calm, Jason.

Then, when I got home, Heather said she thought we had wasps building a nest in our bedroom. Huh? Well, she was right. Behind our dresser we found the beginnings of a wasp nest - Jacob and I destroyed it - crisis averted.

The rest of the evening Haven will be celebrating her Cabbage Patch Doll's birthday. JayLynn is two years old today. Marcus pronounces it, "Jay-lay-en" - Southwest Missouri-style. Chloe Rotert is bringing her doll over for the overnight party. I may make some cookies. Jacob and Harrison made me drag out the old hamster cages from storage and they are putting them together - they have saved up enough to buy a couple.

It is about 90 degrees in our house right now- trying not to use the A/C - but boy is it a temptation. What's going on in your world today?

Monday, June 30, 2008


The lights dimmed making the numerous little, green candles on the steps in front of the altar the main source. A woman in a dark dress had slipped in the back door and as we waited quietly she began to sing to us, sing out to us in an absolutely enchanting voice. Middle-Eastern sound, Spanish words. As she finished a young man with long, straight hair picked up a large, circular metallic object and sat down on the steps. His white-gloved hands began to flash across the surface of the instrument and I was spell-bound. For over an hour these two performed together in the little restored church that stands at the edge of the sea at Portonovo. Literally breath-taking...there were moments I had to close my eyes because I couldn't take it all in. These two were meant to make music together. The young man, sitting on the floor next to the woman who sat in a tall, straight-back chair, looked up at her face as he played, letting her lead him, smiling, loving what they were creating together. She would smile back and motion to him and he knew exactly what each look meant and together they wove an incredible Spanish symphony. It was one of those spiritual moments for me that made me glad to be alive, that made me love this place even more and made me realize that my heart will always be here. Thanks Marcus for suggesting it!

Monday, June 23, 2008

4 Dips on a Trip

Well, there were two of us: Jacob and I. The conference in Lecce was over and it was Sunday, Father's Day and we didn't have a nickel to spare. "Here's what I want for Father's Day, Jacob," I said as we loaded our things in the little rented Nissan. "We are in Puglia and we have to drive through Molise and Abruzzo to get to the region where Ancona is - Le Marche. How about we stop in each of the four regions today and jump in the sea?"

Jacob was a bit confused, but quickly came to understand and embrace the idea. So we did it. I'm partial to Le Marche - stunning beauty here - but Puglia really is beautiful. We drove away from the 'resort' where the conference was held and quickly stopped at our first Dip.

Dip #1 Puglia
Time: 15:00ish
Location: Torre dell'Orso
Rating: !!!!!
Summary: We parked our car in front of a closed-up apartment and changed into our trunks. We walked about 50 metres and arrived at the point where there was a set of stairs carved or paved into the short cliff face. I asked someone sitting in the sun, "Com'e' l'acqua?". He replied, "Not bad, once you get in." He was right. Down a few more steps into the incredibly clear water onto soft white was divine. Jacob and I swam around for just a few minutes, looking at a couple of caves in the cliffs around us. Clean, clear, deep - great experience.

Dip #2 Molise
Time: 18:00ish
Location: Termoli
Rating: !
Summary: We stopped and got some fresh bread and mortadella and Jacob made us some delicious sandwiches as we sped along the Italian autostrada - we kept an average speed of about 145 km/h. We finally crossed the border into Molise and stopped at Termoli, quickly making our way toward the water. We finally found a place, near the port and parked near a bunch of campers. We had to hike about a 500 metres to the water which was brown. The sand was dirty and the port was too close. We had to wade out quite a ways in order to get completely wet (that was the rule - had to get our heads wet). The only saving grace was that a ferry passed by as we got in sending some pretty cool waves our way. We hobbled back to the car, feet dirty, shivering and raced on to the next.

Dip #3 Abruzzo
Time: 19:00ish
Location: Pineto
Rating: !!!
Summary: We didn't drive too far into Abruzzo before the highway again came close to the sea. We got off and drove into the little town of Pineto and found the beachfront road. We pulled over in front of a restaurant and ran across the manicured beach into the water. The sun was setting as I coaxed a shivering Jacob a little deeper. The water wasn't very clear, but the setting and depth were better. We ran back to the car, drawing some stares from people out for a pre-dinner walk and were off to our last stop.

Dip #4 Marche
Time 21:00ish
Location: Numana
Rating: !!!!
Summary: Yes, it was dark. Yes, it was less than 30 minutes from home. And yes, we did it. We stopped at one place first, but as we got out, we noticed the neon markers indicating there were several fishermen busy. Not wanting to get tangled in their lines we arrived at a different spot where one lone fisherman was a ways down from us. We parked 20 meters from the water. By this point, we were still wet and our towels were soaked. We walked across the rocky beach and I jumped in. Jacob got in to his knees (it gets deep quick and it was DARK!) and dipped his head under the water. It was quick but beautiful. Sirolo illuminated Monte Conero to the north showing us the way home. We dried off quickly (barely since the towels were saturated) and drove home to our 3 H's - Heather, Haven and Harrison.

Only regret: didn't have a camera!!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Off to Lecce...

Tomorrow morning, Jacob and I are heading 7 hours south to the annual Christian Church Restoration Convention in a little rented car. We'll be back home Sunday night. I'll be speaking Saturday evening on 'The Visible Fruits of Grace'. Here's a picture Aubri took while she was here - one of my all-time favorites...

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Random Bits - May 31st

Everything is OK in Ancona. My brother, Chris, and sister-in-law, Aubri, are here with us which has been a blast. Our team is doing OK after the funeral, but still showing little signs of mourning. We're checking in on Rosa and Massi's mom. Today is Haven's school program. The kids' last day of school is a week from today. Sunday we begin our new combined Life Group/Celebration format into the Sunday evening Gathering which will include a little bit of everything - worship, teaching, discussion and a potluck meal during which we will celebrate the Lord's Supper. Monday the Serpilli family is going with us to Castelluccio. The Euro continues to pelt us. God is good, even when He seems to be silent. We appreciate you all!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Massi has died...

Today our friend and brother, Massi, died and we mourn with his family that he is no longer with us, but we celebrate his upgraded, healed body and are envious of the company he's keeping now. We are sad and hopeful in some weird, strange and somehow sacred way.

Maurizio said it well. Let's remember him like this!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"In Italia"

The other night we were out celebrating Marcus' birthday and a video came on the screen to the song 'In Italia' by Fabri Fibra, an Italian artist/rapper. It was a remixed video done in collaboration with another Italian artist Gianna Nannini. I was captivated by the words and the images so when I got home I watched it again and was really moved.

Fibra paints a pretty dark picture of his country, something most Italians are not averse to doing. In this song and video he captures things that we've seen and experienced here. It is interesting to me to note that if Fibra were to take my position and go around to churches to raise support for the vision we have, citing the needs he sees in Italy, there would be very little difference. He mentions astrology, mafia, corruption, violence and empty religion.

I suppose the difference is that he leaves his viewers with a sense of hopelessness, emphasized by giving the screen the 'double bird' at the very end. I'm captivated by the imagery, both visual and lexical, of this auto-critical poem about 'la bella italia'. The video starts and ends in a therapist's office - we know so many people here who visit psychiatrists and therapists for personal and relational struggles - the therapist in the end switching with the patient and telling her to come back next week. Also serving as bookends, Fabri is shown walking through a cemetery while choral 'churchy' voices are heard in the background as the lines of his rap break in and fade out. The refrain, sung by Gianna goes something like this:

"There are things no one will tell you...
there are things no one will give you...
you were born and buried here
you were born and buried here
born in the country of half-truths
Where will you flee?"

"Ci sono cose che nessuno ti dirà…
ci sono cose che nessuno ti darà…
sei nato e morto qua
sei nato e morto qua
nato nel paese delle mezze verità
Dove fuggi?"

Ready to watch it? May it open your eyes. May it bring you to your knees and make you cry out with us to the Father for the real church to rise up and bring hope and color and life 'in Italia'.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I dedicate this song to the dance between the euro and the dollar...

Slow down, baby, slow down
slow down, darling, slow down
There ain't no reason you got to be moving around like that
There ain't no reason you got to be moving so, so fast
Slow down, slow down

Sitting here in this living room
Waiting for you to come home soon to me, to me
Thinking about the times that
We used to rap and rhyme about life

Slow down, baby, slow down
slow down, darling, slow down
There ain't no reason you got to be moving around like that
There ain't no reason why you got to be moving so, so fast
Slow down, slow down
Slow down, slow down

Slow down, baby, slow down
slow down, darling, slow down
There ain't no reason you got to be moving
There ain't no reason you got to be moving
Slow down, baby, slow down

Shawn McDonald, from the Album 'Roots'...