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Monday, November 24, 2008

UPDATE FOR OCTOBER 2008

Men's Retreat at Florence. Christian men from congregations in various parts of Italy assembled in Florence. On the first day, leaders debated whether to cooperate with "non a-cappella" churches of Christ. The majority considered dialog far more important than isolating these churches. For this we rejoice.
Harold distributed books. "Although I am not often asked to speak," he said, "my books get to be the teachers of teachers, and so I rejoice." The convention moderator, in fact, called attention to the books and encouraged everyone to invest in them for personal growth and to strengthen the churches these men lead.
We met Jim Woodroof. For a number of years, we have published a 72-page book of encouraging sermons by Jim Woodroof. Kay Kendall shared tape recordings of these messages with us; we loved them and immediately set about translating them for the Italian readers. What a joy it was to finally meet the author at this convention! (Jim is the father of Tim, author of our latest book A Church That Flies.)
Jim Woodroof's theme comes out of a glorious discovery by a new Christian: "I have found in the Gospels the power to live the life I see described in the epistles!" In Italy, we have seen old-time Christians meditating on these messages, as if they were hearing the Gospel for the first time. The message is powerful, because it brings brethren who have "heard it all before" back to the Lord of the Church and the centrality of Christ.
Ciampino (Rome) Seminar. In the 60's and 70's we worked around Rome with the Ciampino congregation. The children we taught back then are now leaders in this church. It was like a homecoming for us to bring a seminar on A Church That Flies. While they had already implemented some of the book's concepts, the leaders requested more materials to develop the concepts further. What a joy it was to preach the Word of God so simply and clearly to a group that is eager to grow in the Lord and "reason outside the box" that tends to limit church growth.
Thanksgiving is coming up and we want to say a big "THANK YOU!" for your loving prayers and encouragement. Even if, over the years, you have forgotten what, when and how you cheered us on and gave us confidence, you will be hearing more about it from the Lord.

UPDATE FOR SEPTEMBER 2008

Prato. This city in Tuscany just west of Florence has two congregations of a cappella churches of Christ. That there are two should reflect a strategy of evangelism, a plan to reach more people for Christ. Both groups are composed of friendly people who, sadly, are divided over personality incompatibilities. In the midst of some severe emotional pain, they are beginning to recognize each other as brethren in the Lord, and are working toward heart-felt fellowship, even if this latter goal has quite a bit of road to travel.
We had visited one of these churches a couple of years ago, and longed to encourage the other too. Thank the Lord who helped us build credibility, because this latter group invited Harold to speak on Christian unity, presenting the book A Church that Flies. Because we knew most of the congregation from previous contacts at the national conventions, the entire event was a deeply satisfying experience of Christian family.
Health. At the last end of September we both were hit hard by bronchitis, and were knocked out for over a week. We have a good doctor who makes house calls, and he got us on antibiotics and inhalants. So we were able to do the minimum: teaching twice a week and go out for some groceries.
Teaching. The Matelica church requested studies in Ecclesiastes, and this street-level philosophy is proving intensely interesting and helpful, because it shows God's practical concern for man's well being. In Italy, it is easy to be unjustifiably skeptical about the practicability of God's Word in everyday life! One brother must really struggle with faith, because, at the practical level, he is deeply fearful that Christianity might turn out to be just "unrealistic religious froth" while the "real world out there" is untouchable by Christian moral principles. Harold continues his weekly preaching on the Gospel of John to build faith on Sunday morning; other men lead the worship.
Another brother from south Italy was scheduled to preach a critical message in a hostile situation, so he sent it for Harold's evaluation. The final presentation did not produce the hoped-for results, but he preached it anyway, hoping it might lay the foundation for further consideration. Pray hard for these dear brothers that God may use them to lead ailing churches back to life. They are trying to do their best.
Enid's garden. She created a framework of cane poles for some Blue Lake climbing green beans. The harvest this year was less than expected for the beans, the potatoes and the Italian tomatoes. Even the zucchini produced badly! The rhubarb did very well producing two crops since May. The neighbors have a lovely 45-foot tall tree that doesn't help our garden due to the shade it gives. The cold weather has come, so we dismantled the beanpoles for the winter. Her little ground is ready for winter plants. Sickness delayed preparing it, but we hope to get it ready soon.
Thanks! With the economic crisis in full swing, we are especially grateful to you who are providing financial help that we may do our work here with a minimum of hardship. It could get worse, but in the meantime thank you for praying that the Gospel may have free reign in Italy!

UPDATE FOR AUGUST 2008

Our ministry beyond the local congregation was underscored by a leader in a church in south Italy. He asked for information about Bible texts that some troublemaker in the church was using to achieve psychological control in the congregation. Believe it or not, they were Old Testament questions about ritual purification! Are we ever glad that we read and love the Old Testament: you just never know when someone is going to spring a new doctrine on you, even based on a revival of OT religious practices.
Another brother in the same area asked us for help with to deal with some so-called "Biblical" arguments an intimidating leader is using to maintain their political influence in their congregation.
A heart-warming experience: the convention sponsored by Harding University in Florence. Usually, we attend conventions to share our books and be of help and encouragement to our brothers and sisters present. This year, instead, some of them especially warmed our hearts and affirmed our ministry. Sarah Bailey had already arranged for a table on which to display our books, and commented: "We really appreciate your writing ministry. Who knows? Sometime in the future some young person, who knows you from these conventions, will ask, 'I wonder if Harold has something in one of his books?'"
Encouragement that goes around, comes around. Giovanni Albani, leader in the Florence church, affirmed Harold's ministry to him, defining him a "point of continuity over the years." We have known this brother since his high school years and rejoice in his maturing as a valid teacher in the church. Vittorio Vitalone, evangelist in Rome, cited Harold in one of his messages. Alfredo Gennari, curator of the Florence church library requested copies of everything we publish, for their library. This heartening sense of participation in the edification of the Italian church goes a long way!
Years ago, someone asked why we work in Italy. We rejoice because we could answer: "Brothers and sisters to help, to teach, to encourage, to strengthen in times of pain. "Brothers and sisters" to pick us up when we fall, to give us insights about the Italian people, to correct our mistakes in Italian. "Brothers and sisters" with whom to pray and for whom to intercede. It's simply amazing: investments made in people's lives 25-40 years ago, continue to pay rich dividends, and we praise God for them.
Thank you for praying for the kind of love that these Christians show us. It keeps us going! Pray for all the Christians here, especially the discouraging and the discouraged ones. The battle is not over and we all have yet a long way to go.