We are nearly done with the first month of 2017 but in light of the “new” year it seemed fitting to take a look back. Our official one-year anniversary in Bologna was October 20, 2017, more than a year ago, but we will highlight the ten most significant things – blessings and challenges – that have happened since that day we arrived over a year ago.
10. Making A Home in Bologna
One of our main priorities during the past 15 months has been settling in and adjusting to life in our new home. There has been sadness and stress due to the grief and culture shock that comes with moving but there has also been relief and joy in being able to settle in to the place where God has led us and as we discover various things we particularly love about our new life here. Bologna is beautiful in many ways. It’s big enough to offer benefits and conveniences of city life (like how some stores here carry imported American peanut butter, BBQ sauce, and cheddar cheese which isn’t available in rural areas) but small enough that it’s not overwhelming. The food is pretty amazing (it is deemed the food capital of Italy after all). And we have built such meaningful friendships and ministry partnerships already in our local church community.
9. Vibrant Church Community
Our church here is pretty special not just to us but because there aren’t a lot of churches in Italy that are as big or vibrant as NV. It is composed of about 100 members when the typical evangelical church ranges from a handful to a few dozen. Most members are young people who are also fairly young in their faith but passionate Christ and building His Church in this nation. We enjoy contemporary praise and worship, solid exegetical preaching, gentle pastoral care, and collaboration among individuals and the various ministries.
8. Jon’s Back Injury
A completely unexpected hardship this past year was when Jon’s back was severely injured. In August of last year he collapsed in debilitating pain, which we later discovered was the result of a herniated disc and a ruptured disc. Scans were completed, consults were sought, treatments were given and lots of time was spent on bed-rest, but surgery was eventually deemed unnecessary. He has since been able to regain a lot of his strength and mobility. Though we have had to alter our daily life as a family to protect his back from being strained and worsening again, we are so glad he is doing so well overall.
7. Arianna’s Preschool Teacher
One of our biggest fears as parents was how this whole transition back to career ministry in Italy would affect our kids, especially Arianna. Many of you remember the petitions we posted for prayer during her first days of school when she entered a class being the only one who couldn’t speak Italian. Well, God really blessed us beyond what we dared hope when He gave us Cristina – a gentle, kind hearted, understanding woman – as Arianna’s teacher and filled Arianna with such courage. Now Arianna looks forward to school and is speaking Italian in full sentences!
6. Learning Italian
Our primary job this past year was to learn Italian. We hadn’t had the opportunity to focus fully on our language skills prior to this and we are crippled in so many ways without it. Learning a language is so humbling and draining both inside the classroom and outside when trying to navigate a world operating with a whole different language and culture. Jon and Erika have completed hundreds of hours of classroom study and are markedly improved. We still have a long way to go but what a relief to be able to speak for ourselves so much more than before! God has provided opportunities to share Him along the way whether to a classmate or an old man in the park who just wanted to chat and it’s encouraging each time we are able to use our new and improved language skills to touch someone we otherwise wouldn’t have shared a conversation with or met at all.
5. Losing Co-Workers
Another very tough and unexpected difficulty is that over the course of the past year both of the missionary families we were working most closely with in Bologna have had to move back to the USA. They were part of TEAM as we are and were one of the primary reasons we were excited to make Bologna our ministry base in this new season. They recruited us to join them here and we had great synergy and plans for doing ministry together in the coming years. Losing their presence here was a significant loss to us personally in many ways but also for our local church community where many looked to them as beloved leaders. While ministry can and will still continue we miss them and are now the only TEAM family in our particular location. National TEAM leadership is helping us restructure our ties to help ensure that we have enough support but it’s been a challenge to grieve what has felt much like a death and readjust to this new reality.
4. Our Italian Family
While we have lost the ability to be near so many loved ones, God has provided this couple and others who stand in the gap. We consider them our Italian family and Ema and Ilaria have become so dear to us. They are some of our closest Italian friends and are like an Uncle and Aunt to the girls. They have celebrated special occasions with us, dropped everything to be there for us during emergencies, and they intentionally help with the girls so Jon and Erika can get away for much needed quality time together.
3. New Connections for Anti-Trafficking Ministry
This fall Erika was able to travel to Berlin and to New Orleans, Louisiana to attend two important anti trafficking conferences. The one in Berlin allowed her to connect with anti-trafficking practitioners across Europe who are part of the same Christian network. The group pictured above is all the participants at the conference who came from Italy and it was special to have such a good group there to learn and grow together. The conference in New Orleans was an opportunity for Erika to learn from experts in the anti-trafficking field and simultaneoulsy earn continuing education hours needed to renew her social work license in the USA. Both opportunities made it possible for Erika to connect with some key people and gather some valuable resources to further the anti-trafficking working in Italy.
2. Arts Ministry Milestone
One Sunday at the end of last summer marked an arguably important milestone for arts ministry in Italy when Jon co-led the first meeting of an artist group comprised of believers from our local church (as far as we know these are uncommon in Evangelical circles in Italy). They are imagining together an Italy that is changed by the gospel as it is experienced through art in the church. This group has so much potential and we can’t wait to see how God will work through them in the months ahead.
1. “Love” and the Micro-Enterprise Program
We arrived in Italy with hopes and dreams of how God would allow us to build a micro-enterprise program to employ survivors of sex trafficking and while it hasn’t looked the way we envisioned God has been opening doors and giving us favor in ways only He can. We have employed a survivor of sex trafficking here in Bologna for a year now in this pilot program. There are major barriers in her way as she rebuilds her life but she is making great progress and it has been rewarding to see her find new hope and motivation as she takes pride in her work.
Our 2017 was certainly full of challenges and blessings. Surely you can relate. As we leave the past year behind it is with grateful hearts for all the good gifts God gave and for how He not only saw all the hard things but is able to redeem them, perhaps in 2018. Most of all, we enter this year with the peace of knowing that He is the same trustworthy, sovereign, loving, gracious, just, faithful God yesterday, today and forever!