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Saturday, January 16, 2010

UPDATE FOR DECEMBER

Book in publisher's hands. After many weeks of proofreading, the latest book, Between The Rock and a Hard Place, is now in the printer's hands. Because this cooperative effort can bring unity in one more area of the Lord's vineyard, we covet your prayers for its publication and distribution early this Spring among the various conventions where we'll be displaying our books.

We embraced our great-grandchildren in Germany. Our grandson Mike (Carrie's son) is in the army and stationed in southwest Germany, with his wife and two boys. We were able to visit these dear ones and help them become acquainted with the Landstuhl Christian Church near Ramstein Air Base. On the Lord's Day, we enjoyed fellowship with dear friends of this church too.

How do you encourage lonely missionaries? One way is to make it possible for them to attend the Mid-Winter Rally in Germany. This year's meeting of Christian workers from many countries, surprisingly, turned out to be an Ozark Christian College reunion. Many of the 78 attendees were Ozark alumni laboring in Europe and Jordan. Located again in the Colditz castle near Leipzig, the conference enriched us with Worship and Morning Prayer. Willard Black lectured on practical subjects especially helpful to this group of leaders. Rick Cherok taught on the tremendously significant contribution Martin Luther made for us both as the great Reformer and man. His home and church at Wittenberg were just an hour's journey from our rally site. Randy Smelser led a revealing panel on the "Schizo Missionary ? Neither Here nor There" i.e. neither totally native to his field and no longer integrated in his former home culture. Brian Rotert led people's thinking on Romans 12. Cindy Roehrkasse led the women's workshop on "Inner Beauty" while Jason Casey helped the men face the problems of "Outward Ugliness". Special guests were Harvey and Nancy Bacus from Jordan where they are endeavoring to set up a Christian Library. These splendid workshops helped us see and deal better with our discouragements and problems in God's timing and with His power.

Another way to encourage is for them to see the great works of God in their own time! Here's one story?

God's Hair Dryer. Before going to the rally, we knew we would be facing bad winter weather even before leaving Italy. To cross Switzerland, we must pass through the Milan area where chaos reigned as the public transportation and highway systems broke down leaving thousands of people stranded in their cars and trucks in and around Milan.

In Italy we have a hot, dry wind that comes from the south-southwest, called the Foehn. This is the origin of the Italian word for "hairdryer (fono)".

So we asked our church people and family to pray that God would use His "hairdryer" to clear up the ice and snow on our route. And He did it! He sent in His Foehn or hot wind. Incredibly, this hot wind began to blow, and it blew hard for several days bringing even unseasonably mild Spring-like weather to Rome and our area: no snow or ice, just sunshine.

The day before Christmas Eve, we loaded the car, prayed and left. Would you believe that we encountered clear, almost-dry highways all the way to the Swiss border? Would you believe that as we crossed Switzerland our most moisture was only light rain mixed with some almost visible snow? We faced practically no bad weather during our entire trip! Could it be that God really did turn on His "hairdryer" to help not only us, but also all who traveled with us? (See Acts 27:24) Would you believe that no sooner had we arrived back home in Italy, than the bad weather struck again both in Italy and in Germany? But by this time, other brethren who attended the conference were safe at home too. Thank the Lord!

Earthquake today close to us. The epicenter is roughly 40 miles away and 13 miles deep. We felt the shake but it was quiet, compared to the loud blast heard over on the coast. Thank the Lord for His protection!

Love from both of us,

Harold and Enid Fowler

UPDATE FOR NOVEMBER

Should we come to the States? We normally try to visit our family and support group at least every three years. Life events sometimes change this. The present economic crisis in America is one of those moments, so we would appreciate your input on this question: should we spend the extra money for long-distance traveling to report our progress here, or should we use that time and energy back here in Italy?
We plan to make a flying trip to the States for our family anyway, but a couple of weeks would cost considerably less than a full three to four-month criss-crossing the country. We also have good reasons to be in Italy this summer.
We hear from you, our support group, that churches and individual Christians across the country are facing radical shortage and comfort-threatening changes. So we wish to be especially sensitive in this time.
Would you mind dropping us a line to give us your thoughts, please? If you have already done so, pray with us that we'll make wise decisions.
Who Moved My Cheese? Spencer Johnson's little 94-page modern parable is about facing change in life and still finding life's deepest satisfactions. We found the Italian version right here in Matelica and shared it with one of our people who is going through incredibly difficult financial crises. Without being religious, the book's principles reflect God's reality and control our world, hence also the power of living in harmony with God's creation. After all, it was His idea! To begin to see how the great God of the universe is in control helped our brother enormously. If you are going through deep life crises, or know someone who is and whom you might help, you might like to check out the book (G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York) 1998. If pushing a "secular" book scandalizes, then consider it a parable. Remember: we serve the best parable teller in the universe, so we should not be surprised if someone comes up with one more parable that captures the essence of dealing with change in our work and in our life.
Thanksgiving with Americans at Ancona. No, Italy does not observe Thanksgiving; it is a strictly American tradition, so we drove down to the coast to celebrate with our fellow Americans who, as Christians, are launching a church in Ancona.
Proof-reading book. November has been proof-reading month for Harold. Working in harmony with the original author of the book and the publisher, he has been busy checking for periods printed upside down, straightening out inverted commas, trying to catch errors before others do, etc! We are praying that this study will have a double impact: encourage people to work together on both "sides of the keyboard", as we are, and encourage unbelievers to accept the challenge to take Jesus seriously as Savior and Lord.
Thanks for your prayers: Enid recovered from the flu that kept her down at little more than two weeks. She is back at work.
Thanks for your love!
Harold and Enid

Monday, November 09, 2009

UPDATE FOR OCTOBER 2009

TRIP TO THE STATES? We are beginning to work out plans to visit our children and our extended family in the States next year in May 2010. We can work this out reasonably economically. Our quandary is this: while we are in the States, should we prolong our stay and plan a full reporting visit to all of our supporting churches from Maryland to Colorado in this time of economic crisis? Some churches have had to cut back on their missionary giving, due to shortfalls in giving. So would it be wiser to postpone an extended visit until better economic conditions?
In the past a full visit of three months to the churches involved long-distance driving (± 10,000 miles). This time we would be paying gasoline prices of today. The Lord has always provided financial help for these trips, but we wish not to be presuming, but rather to do the prudent thing. What do you think?
SEMINAR AT COSENZA IN CALABRIA
Calabria is the toe on the boot of Italy, where poverty, tradition and the Mafia are rampant and the churches are very small or non-existent. But we have brothers and sisters in the Lord down there! Their leaders invited Harold and Enid to bring them a weekend of instruction, so we met with 20 people from four tiny congregations. Having already met the local preacher and his family, we singled them out for particular encouragement, as they try to minister to these struggling clusters of believers.
The theme was "The Risk of Taking Jesus seriously." Although everyone could benefit from this portrayal of Jesus as our confident hope, in his seminar, Harold targeted especially three college-age men: two are Christian university students, a third the (as yet unconverted) husband of one of the ladies in the church. The goal of this get-together was to reinforce everyone's confidence in Jesus as Lord, in the Gospels as trustworthy, in His lordship as real and in His promises true and faithful. Over the years, these people have had heavy doses "churchanity", and the best antidote is to bring everyone back to the core foundation of our faith, to Jesus himself. We all need to see once again his power, his loving kindness, his sensitivity to hurting people, his lordship in the world and his coming in judgment. These, not better indoctrination, will motivate people to do the impossible for Jesus' sake.
ENID'S A/H1N1 INFLUENZA
Enid has become part of the pandemic statistics for this year's new flu, by coming down with the A/H1N1, and Harold has been exposed too. Other church members at Matelica have it too. Please pray for full recovery and health for everyone.
UPDATE ON OUR CHILDREN. Roberta's spinal hernia has been operated and is in the process of healing. Debbie's broken arm seems to be healing well enough for her to return to work. Malcolm has had some serious dental surgery, but can now taste his own Italian cooking. Stuart and Lisa have undergone nasal surgery, and are getting back to normal. Thanks for praying for our extended family. The Lord knew exactly what to do with your intercession.
We really appreciate your loving care, and the Italian brethren too are in your debt because of your faithfulness in praying. We see at least one mountain that is beginning to move. More details will be forthcoming when we can measure its movement.
Harold and Enid Fowler

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

UPDATE FOR SEPTEMBER

Women's Convention at Nettuno. Enid participated with 45 women from various parts of Italy. She was able to create a good display of our publications: Bible Study books, tracts on various subjects and workbooks for children. Because some of these sisters had not seen any of this material, they were glad to take some home for use in their families or churches.
Harold always takes Enid to the convention to transport the books. This year we were hoping to take three Matelica ladies with us, but one broke a leg, another was hindered by construction details on her house and the other began suffering from a spinal hernia! Incredible! Other churches were hit by similar problems, so attendance was a bit lower.
Harold preached at Aprilia. On this weekend, the church at Aprilia sent word that they would like to have Harold preach for them. We have always wanted to visit this congregation, but it was an even happier moment to be asked to preach for them too.
We are especially happy for the trust relationship that this visit meant! Harold had talked with the Aprilia elders before, and was looking forward to seeing them again, but this was not to be. These men trusted Harold enough to invite him on this unexpected moment to speak on a Sunday (now get this!) when the elders themselves would be absent! One elder was away, encouraging a small group to be a church, another was visiting a sick member at some distance from Aprilia, and so it went. This was no snubbing, because they trusted Harold enough to invite him to come to this non-instrument church even in their absence and preach the Gospel, without tearing something up for them. Harold said, "That kind of trust you can't pay for. The Lord simply gives it." The warmth and friendliness of these brothers was obvious and a vision of good things to come.
Some confided that they too are troubled by sectarian constrictions and disunity among the churches, and are asking themselves, "Isn't there anything better than sterile orthodoxy?"
Pray for the book. Harold has finished translating and correcting a useful book that challenges people to take a broader look at Jesus. This tool of evangelism especially targets skeptics both inside and outside the church. We often take for granted that the people sitting in church on Sunday morning are believers. They may well be struggling with the modern worldview that rejects the Judeo-Christian worldview. Their faith may be burned out, burdened with problems and struggling with life, so much so that the glorious message of Jesus and His offers of personal fellowship, go unheard. This study urges everyone to take another, longer look at Jesus. He is the Author of our faith and the Captain of our salvation. Sadly, "Churchanity" may well obscure the marvelous validity of his model, blind them to "the real Jesus" and actually discourage people from following him. So we publish this helpful commentary on Jesus. In Italian the book is entitled "Between the Anvil and the Hammer ? the Risk of Taking Jesus Seriously", and is ready for one more final reading, before going to press.
Update on our girls. Because our daughter Roberta's spinal hernia is still a source of unremitting pain, she goes into surgery soon. Debbie's broken arm seems to be healing well enough for her to return to work. Pray also for our other children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The Lord will know exactly what to do with your intercession.
We send you our love,
Harold and Enid Fowler

Thursday, September 03, 2009

UPDATE FOR AUGUST

Urgent prayer for Fowlers' daughters. Roberta is suffering severe pain in her lower back and has been diagnosed with a totally degenerated disk. Lisa has been terminated at her profession, and is searching for another job. Carrie was involved in a car wreck, and although basically unhurt, the other party's insurance company does not want to pay for the damages. As parents, this gives us pain too. We would appreciate your prayerful concern for these women. A note of thanksgiving: Linda was awarded a prize and certificate for excellence in her care for the people where she works.
God is our only Supporter. As the present economic crunch leaves families without job support, missionary support too feels the pinch. In fact, one of our supporting churches announced that they are reducing our support to a lower level; another disbanded recently.
Perhaps some do not realize that, although our support is given in dollars, we exchange these for Eurodollars (our local currency) at the rate of $1,42 per Euro; so the US dollar is worth 70 cents. This exchange rate makes our mission support drop in value by this amount. We have felt this particularly over the last three years.
At the same time, God is our only Supporter, and He has used His people to provide our mission support. In 45 years, we have seen supporters come and go, but God came and he never left. At the same time, He said: "Mine are the cattle on a thousand hills" (Psalm 50:10). So, would you mind asking Him to sell off some of His cows to provide for His people?
"Faith Only," Baptism and Evangelicals. Davide Maglie, one of our young leaders, recommended that Harold check out a scholarly paper in which the author critiques Martin Luther's doctrine of Baptism, suggesting that the great Reformer compromised the famous Reformation motto: Sola Fide, according to which God saves man by his simply believing, without performing any human act, including baptism. Luther's high view of baptism, however, is generally biblically based, and his critics have misinterpreted the "faith only" concept, as do some of the Evangelicals we encounter in our work here in Italy. Therefore, Harold spent August updating his own Italian study on this question, to give it more precise focus to deal with the issue. This study is not just for that young leader?
Years ago, we heard about and met some American preachers in Christian churches who were watering down their formerly sound view of baptism. At the same time, some Evangelical Christians (Baptists, as I recall) chided other Christian church preachers, because, ironically, the Evangelicals were now convinced that the Bible gives baptism a significant place in the salvation process. They had just discovered what churches of Christ and Christian churches have preached for 200 years, and they were abandoning their "faith only" position! Astonished, they said, "It is ironic that you are embracing the very position we have now know is unbiblical, and you are abandoning the view that we have now seen to be perfectly Scriptural!" So, we need to hold the line here in Italy too.
What does this have to do with mission work? It raises the question as to whether we should "partner in evangelism" with churches clearly convinced of the neo-Calvinistic "faith only" doctrinal system. The message proclaimed in evangelistic campaigns and personal evangelism represents a rejection of a high view of baptism. But this is the Scriptural message Jesus told us to proclaim and the "faith only" message deprive the Gospel of one of the elements the Lord considered essential. We need to speak up and object, while continuing to proclaim the whole Gospel of grace, faith and obedience. And so we do.
We're gratified. At the Florence branch of Harding University's recent convention, several brethren took a stand and publicly praised our approach to unity through calm, quiet brotherly conversations that concretely express and encourage unity among our churches. Some are convinced that this approach accomplishes more than noisy disputes over plainly secondary issues. Thank the Lord; they too are seeing some of unity's happy fruit in this direction.
Love from both of us,
Harold and Enid Fowler

Saturday, August 08, 2009

UPDATE FOR JULY 2009

The Mystique of Missionary Work. How many foreign missionaries, at one time or another, have heard some admirer express this ardent near-veneration: "How wonderful it must be to be a missionary!" This awe may no longer be prompted by the vision of a white man, dressed in bermuda shorts and a pith helmet in the bush, surrounded by many dark faces, preaching through a translator in some foreign language. Perhaps that over-awed comment is inspired more by the admiration for anyone who is willing to leave his home and travel to an exotic land, eat strange foods and trek through country where no one else has gone with the Gospel.
This stereotype may have validity in some parts of the modern world, but the reality today, in Europe at least, is something else. Modern technology permits activities the apostle Paul never dreamed of: how did he manage without a computer?! And yet, he and hundreds of faithful evangelists over the centuries preached "Christ crucified" and made believers, built churches and left a legacy of faith, all without the benefit of "modern" tools. They did what they could with what they had. They lived normal lives, sometimes doing heroic things, but mainly "doing the next thing", whatever needed to be done, however noble or lowly.
As we endeavor to bolster weak, scattered Christians and encourage young men who are fast becoming the real leadership in the churches, we travel hundreds of miles yearly to wherever they congregate (in their churches or at conventions), furnishing Bible study materials that they can use at various levels in their ministry. Here is no mystique, no glamour, just plain work and hours of study, translating, writing, editing and re-editing, then hitting the road to meet their needs. Thank the Lord for the tools he gives: pray that we may use them effectively to fulfill his desire for the Harvest he seeks!
When do we take a break? This month we took two breaks! We relished the long-time friendship of Don and Janet Bridges and their daughters, as our guests from Germany touring Rome. We saw the ancient the new, and the usual sights ? from the Coliseum and Vatican Library and Museum to St. Peter's and MacDonald's (!). They relished the hospitality of Franca Gentile in Ciampino, getting a good sample of her Italian cooking.
Later, we participated in a "working vacation" about 70 miles from L'Aquila Italy's badly-hit earthquake center. About 40 believers gathered for rest, refreshment and Bible lectures. Physically, there was little "earth-shaking" about that mountain site, but we were challenged to reexamine questions like "What is our hope in the resurrection? And how does this affect our church life and evangelism?" Harold presented a morning meditation and we led the group in some "classic hymns" that touched the hearts especially of the older believers present. We renewed acquaintance with dear friends we have known for over 45 years and young church leaders whom we have watched grow up physically and in the faith. Their very presence and zeal underscored the importance of the work we are doing. We came home refreshed and challenged to take up our tasks with renewed zeal.
We really are grateful for your prayers for our safety in the earthquake zone. Now pray for our effectiveness as Gospel messengers.
Love from both of us,
Harold and Enid Fowler

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

UPDATE FOR JUNE 2009

Victory funeral for Rosetta Cassano Italiano. Can any funeral be a blessing and turn out to the victory of the Gospel? It sure can! Rosetta, wife of Giuseppe Italiano, preacher at Terracina, lost her battle with brain cancer of the very virulent type, but she had already won the hearts of those who knew her. Three different posters announced her funeral, using the various names by which people in town knew her for over 40 years of Christian witness in the seaside town of Terracina. The church there is small and their worship building also. However, such had been the testimony of Giuseppe and Rosetta, that the bishop of Latina (!) offered them the use of a spacious building for her funeral. This structure seats 250-300 people, and it was full on the day of the funeral. A number of brethren from the churches of Christ in south Italy made the 1000-km roundtrip journey for the occasion. Some of them led the program, read Scripture, prayed. Enid played the electric organ, Harold preached the Gospel of God's grace to a full house. Rosetta's son, Roberto, himself a well-known local TV sportscaster, recounted later that at least 50 people from the Catholic congregation had approached him, happily surprised and impressed by the quality of the Christian testimony that the church of Christ people had left in the minds of the Catholics present.
Only the Lord knows for sure what good may come from this event. Pray with us that the incredible events that came together here may give God glory and lead to the building of the Lord's church in Terracina, Italy.
Church Growth conventions. In May, the Viale Ionio church in Rome an "a cappella" church sponsored its 29th lectureship at Velletri. In mid-June the "instrument" churches led by the Lecce church pulled together brothers and sisters from both groups for a fine meeting. The dates were close together, but we experienced no conflict, but rather a warm sense of brotherhood. This is coming together out of many friendly contacts over the years. The theme chosen for both was "Church Growth," so, not surprisingly, both groups tended to work on expressing some give very practical expressions of real unity.
At this latter convention, Harold spoke on "The Church that Teaches", emphasizing various areas in which the local congregations can organize courses on the four Gospels to develop their members to be greater disciples of Jesus. He urged courses on the Old Testament that "is able to make the church wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." He urged the audience to proclaim and practice the grace of God in three sectors: the so-called "pattern for the church," in the area of church unity, and in the area of what to do with groups of believers that are not associated with our movement. He mentioned prayer to depend on God as an area of needed by self-made, self-dependent pragmatists. We need courses in defense of the faith and explaining Scripture correctly and Christian ethics. All this, because some congregations have slipped into a stultifying style of Christian life and worship that is unattractive, unconvincing and unproductive. The other speakers emphasized other questions that brought balance to the overall picture, and blessed their hearers.
Enid distributed more of our books at this convention than at earlier ones, because, like any bookstore, we are reaching out to new people every year.
One of our neighbors who owns some land in the country, has been giving Enid farm-fresh eggs from her hens. Recently the woman invited Enid to pick cherries from her tree. (An afternoon's work yielded 13,2 lb of fruit.) This contact with her has already raised some spiritual issues. So, Enid is going right ahead in this friendly context.
Thank you for the consistency of your praying for us! This is encouraging.
We send our love and prayers,
Harold and Enid

Friday, July 03, 2009

UPDATE FOR MAY 2009

A church that grows. This theme for the 29th yearly convention for the churches of Christ in Italy brought people together at Velletri, south of Rome. Among the high quality messages, Paolo Mirabelli, leader in the Rome congregation, preached a fine sermon on Christian brotherhood around the theme: "Growing in Brotherhood". We have experienced this sense of belonging in the heart-warming camaraderie among the fine folk gathered there.
Paolo illustrated his message citing the treatment Joseph, son of Jacob, received from his brothers. Having no cellular phone, Jacob had sent Joseph to look for these men, and bring back word of their well-being. Instead, these brothers were willing to sell him into slavery in Egypt. A man noticed Joseph as he wandered around searching for the men, and asked, "What are you searching for?" Joseph answered: "I am seeking my brothers."
We too are seeking brothers and sisters, the love, warmth, fellowship, mutual encouragement and coworkers from men and women who belong to Christ. By our participation in similar meetings, we experience this loving fellowship year after year with these brothers and sisters. So we can say joyfully, "I have found my brothers." In various parts of Italy, we have family, and we are family to them. The Lord is keeping His word. (Luke 18:29-30)
Guests from America. Mark Moore and Mark Scott, both from Ozark Christian College, guided a Bible study tour following Paul's missionary journeys, visiting sites in Turkey, Greece and Italy, enriched by the daily Bible studies. In the group were some very dear people, Enid's sister and brother-in-law, Carole and Frank Martin, and Don and Nadine Hart. Their fellowship enriched us because some of the people knew of us and of our work, even if we had not met them, and could rejoice in our common bond in Christ.
Preparations for our next rally. In between trips to Rome for these events, we worked to print books to distribute at the coming conventions and messages for preaching and teaching meetings in June. More about these in the next update.
Please pray with us that these Bible study helps will have a long-lasting effect in the coming generation of Christian leaders in Italy.
Thanks for your love and prayers.
Harold and Enid Fowler

UPDATE FOR APRIL 2009

Earthquake! Thanks for your expressions of concern for our safety when it hit the city of L'Aquila. We were awakened about 3:13 in the morning as we felt the shock. Thank the Lord, the epicenter was located about two hours southeast of us, so we suffered no damage whatever. The reports coming in are bad, because of the thousands left homeless. The earthquake damaged the regional hospital too, leaving it in danger of collapse, so it could not handle the number of wounded brought it from the outlying towns also hit.

A big concern about the 50% damage report on schools, civic buildings and dwellings is the Mafia criminal element that over the years has secretly controlled construction companies from behind the scenes, and cheated big-time on public safety by using shoddy construction methods. They hid their crimes for years, but this earthquake exposed for the entire world to see the true character of their fraudulent authorizations and fictitious documentations of usability. What a striking illustration of the truth: "Be sure your sin will find you out!"

Italy?s civil defense is really good! The good news is that the civil defense, the military forces and many volunteer workers and civic groups have acted with incredible speed to take care of the thousands of people, providing shelter, food, services, getting kids into makeshift schools and helping homeless to get to hotels in nearby areas.

Interns from Ancona helped us. We enjoyed these mission apprentices working with us for those few days they were with us. They did a competent job. They all brought their laptops and each one listened to a Jim Woodroof sermon in English from his MP-3 live presentations, then transcribed it onto a Word document so that Harold can translate and publish them later, Lord willing. These heartwarming messages glorify God's matchless grace and are really needed teaching for perfectionists here.

New book in the works. Harold finished translating a fine book that presents Jesus as a viable alternative to any other belief system. While targeting the unbeliever, its basic approach can become a good model for believers to use in presenting Christ Jesus in a sensible way. Please pray that we may be able to publish this fine book this fall.

We are thankful for the Lord's care and protection and to you for your love! We send our greetings to the folks there.

Harold and Enid Fowler

Saturday, April 04, 2009

UPDATE FOR MARCH 2009

Another good book on the way. How would you go about sharing the New Testament Gospel with an Italian who has heard about Jesus, God, Peter, Paul and Mary all of his life? Especially, if he has rejected the Church and discarded the Bible "the Church's book"? One remarkable move of the Roman Catholic Church in relatively recent times is to put the Bible into the hands of the laity, encouraging people to read it. What a time of opportunity this represents! That is, if the prejudices toward religion in general permit people to read the Scriptures. New habits are required to develop the discipline of regular Bible reading, but where are the prejudices going to be faced and the new habits formed?
We think we have found a fine book that engages the mind and challenges us to come to grips with Jesus and his claims on our lives. James S. Woodroof, the author, presents in reasonable, easy to follow and even humorous, but not complicated form, Jesus' impressive methods, his impeccable teachings, his imposing philosophy of love and impelling relationships. He labels these "The Undeniables." Then he presents Jesus' Signs and Claims, calling them "The Unbelievables". The book's title "Between the Rock and a Hard Place" refers to the dilemma all of us must face: the things that we find unbelievable about Jesus and his message become believable in light of his undeniable character and miraculous signs. With real humility, the author suggests a method of pursuing and processing the valuable evidence about Jesus of Nazareth as a possible alternative to unbelief.
The book's subtitle is: "Adventuring into the Life of Jesus of Nazareth." Pray that we may publish this book soon and that this avenue of proclaiming of the Gospel may get past the prejudices and touch the heart of anyone who is willing, as Brother Woodroof says, to give the record regarding Jesus a fair hearing long enough to determine whether or not the Bible claims are credible."
Help us get another good book on the way to readers who, by grace, can make a real difference in the faith picture here in Italy.
With love from both of us,
Harold and Enid Fowler

Friday, March 06, 2009

UPDATE FOR FEBRUARY 2009


Im Westen nichts Neues. In 1929, Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I, published a book the title of which, loosely translated, is "All Quiet on the Western Front." The author depicts the war's horrors and the broken dreams of many men. The book's German title refers to the relative quiet encountered on the western front, a calm sufficiently real that the army dispatches for the day could write that there was nothing new to report from the western front. However, the book's title rings with bitter irony, because Paul Bäumer, its principle character, is ordered to the western front where he faces the devastating physical and psychological consequences of relentless combat and the dreadful suffering and death of his comrades. He reflects on the war as he witnesses the dehumanizing conditions of combat that deprive soldiers of their humanity and future. The tragic story ends when a French sniper's bullet kills Paul as he was reaching for a butterfly. For this man who loved life, the Western Front, after all, was anything but quiet.
All quiet on the Italian front? When we moved to Italy in 1964, we began meeting churches of Christ that numbered around 50 congregations. These came into being after the Second World War as American veterans who had served in Europe, inspired by missionary ideals, returned to evangelize here. Later, new laborers joined them on the field. Happily, many of these brought with them the high ideal of replicating the ideal New Testament church in Italy.
Regrettably, some "restorationists" also imported "patternism." This approach to restoration asks: "What are the marks of a faithful church? We must reproduce the true and authoritative pattern, or restoration cannot occur." Promoters of this view proceeded to create their own detailed blueprints of "the Church," utilizing (presumably) apostolic precedents, human logic, Biblical "silence," historical confirmations and other criteria. Their laudable goal was to promote the unity of the Lord's Church. Paradoxically, this approach cannot produce unanimous agreement on these details. Ironically, this unity movement splintered into factions that fostered, or opposed, a given practice and disfellowshipped anyone who was not in agreement. Today, these once numerous churches count a reduction in membership and a number of the first generation converts has passed on. Eventually, the graying congregations lose their first love, dwindle in numbers, become ineffective and die. There is an eerie quiet on the Italian front? and the battle is never very far away.
Several factors account for this condition, but most often, we hear it said: "The Americans brought Stateside problems to Italy and infected our churches with them." We must see clearly that the seed of division is not one particular issue, American or not, but a congenital weakness imbedded in "patternism." This philosophy brings with it legalism and reduces churches to warring factions. People are hurt, congregations fragment, evangelism goes begging, and the love of many grows cold.
Some may feel that to compare today's religious situation with World War I is exaggerated and not fair. On the other hand, sectarian strife is far more devastating than armed combat, because it harms not merely the bodies of people, but also affects their souls adversely for eternity. In the midst of these conflicts, the pain is real and the casualties are people whom Christ loves and for whom he died. ?
The Good News is that God is still on the Throne! He is answering prayers in the midst of turmoil, and we see some interesting moves in the right direction. All of us must win the battle against legalism by grasping God's concept of Grace. Pray that we may proclaim the Gospel of Grace widely, exalt Jesus Christ, and, above all, that the Lord's church may open up to all the fullness of God's Grace and prosper. And, while you're at it, join us in prayer that our Lord may reign in the hearts of all the believers in Italy, whether they have ever heard of "our" Restoration Movement or not. Pray for our efforts not only locally, but also among other believers too. ?
Pray also for the conferences scheduled in Italy from May to September, that these may glorify Jesus and encourage Kingdom building and promote unity and a vital sense of brotherhood in the local churches. ?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

UPDATE FOR JANUARY 2009

The Gospel of John. Greeks came to the apostles with this request: "Sirs, we would like to see Jesus." The need is still there, so Harold is preaching through John's Gospel, a faith-building exercise for the church here, both for studying Jesus himself as well as for understanding better the hindrances to faith that would-be believers must overcome. This latter emphasis opens believers' eyes to understand better what they will encounter in personal evangelism.
Surprising insights in Ecclesiastes? The Matelica folk actually requested that we study Solomon, his reign, his public works and his writings. This choice was unexpected because of Solomon's brilliant beginnings and his mediocre finish. Ecclesiastes presents a depressing initial negativism that underlies a worldview that is absurd and empty without the hope available only in the God-centered life. Surprisingly, there is so much that is positive. Harold commented: "The one big surprise for me was not the commonsense advice about how to live life despite the evil, the vanity, the injustices and the uncertainties of life; we could expect this much. Ecclesiastes picks up this theme written into the Mosaic Law: God gave His word so that his people 'might live, be happy and live a long life in the land' (Dt. 4:40; 5:33). But I was not quite ready for Ecclesiastes' surprising emphasis on the well-being and joy of the believer. (Take a look at Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; 3:12-13; 5:18-20 and 6:6.) Our God is not the heavenly killjoy some imagine! These texts decidedly picture our God as a heavenly Father who really does want His kids to relax and actually enjoy life, and not just stoically endure the meaninglessness and injustices that plague everyone.
Our Italian brothers are very work-oriented, so they were relieved to hear Ecclesiastes embed the "eat your food with gladness, drink your wine with a joyful heart and enjoy life with your wife" ethic in the context of "your toilsome labor under the sun". This happy worldview does not exclude hard work: "and whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might?" (9:7-10), "finding satisfaction in [your] toilsome labor?" (3:12, 13)
Job Crisis. It does not matter how you pronounce "Job", because the economic crunch is hitting hard here in Italy. So many have lost their JOBS that they feel like the Biblical JOB. This affects especially our Nigerian brothers here at Matelica. Were it not for some "financial shock absorbers" (they receive a percentage of their pay), they would be very helpless and completely dependent upon others, like many of their Stateside counterparts.
TRAVELS IN JANUARY
ANCONA.
The church led by Team Expansion at Ancona, just under an hour's drive over to the coast, invited Harold to share in the preaching assignments, by speaking on Mark 10. This meant a great time of fellowship with Brian and Heidi Rotert. After worship at their evening fellowship supper, we enjoyed renewing our acquaintance with those who attend regularly, and meeting some new people. We were able to talk again with Carlo Lainò, the representative for Compassion International about adopting children long-distance. At the meeting he presented this organization's work, and one more family signed up to support a child.
ROME. We took advantage of a medical appointment in Rome to spend a couple of days with Franca and Roberto Innocenti, dear friends from the Viale Ionio church where he is one of the four elders. While in Rome we discussed church problems with him. At dinner, we relished the warm camaraderie of Vittorio Vitalone and his wife, Tonia (he leads as evangelist in the same Rome congregation; she is our long-time friend from Bari). In the midst of lively conversation around the dining table, we were able discuss future activities and publishing projects with the two couples.