Italy 2014

OM Italy Staff Training

OM Italy Staff Training

My time in Italy was divided between two very different organizations.  The first, Operation Mobilization.  This was my fourth time working with OM, Italy.  OM is an excellent organization, established many years ago and is active in 100 nations.  In general they are organized, staffed and focused. However, like all organizations they have their strengths and weaknesses.  OM Italy was/is in an acutely critical season of transition and the word from the Italian director on down confirmed the timeliness of my visit.  Much of what I was involved

Giuseppe, the OM Sicilian Cook (along with Dawn Mann.  I loved his smile and his cooking!

Giuseppe, the OM Sicilian Cook (along with Dawn Mann. I loved his smile and his cooking!

in is simply too sensitive for publication. I came prepared with a particular focus of teaching and ministry and  by the Lord’s grace it seems to be exactly what was needed.  Luke and Dawn Mann, our wonderful friends, coworkers and missionaries with ACCI were once again critical to what was achieved during my time in Italy.

The “young” team being trained at a farmhouse.

The “young” team being trained at a farmhouse.

The second and very different organization truly captured my heart. It is a fledgling ministry that is reaching out to their community by serving the homeless, drug addicts, neighbors and friends. They are unique because they are primarily Italian.  The younger folks of the group are first generation Believers.  Their families are not Christians and they receive no support; financially, spiritually, emotionally or otherwise from family or churches.  They have simply banded together to share their love for the Lord in a practical demonstration.  And the Lord is blessing their work! The older folks of the group are also amazing.  Sadly,

The “Oldies” at their “Free Clothing Center”

The “Oldies” at their “Free Clothing Center”

the local church frowns on caring for the poor and needy (yes, you read correctly), but unsupported and undaunted these oldies pool their resources and reach out to the Gypsies, Muslims and the poor.  And lives are being changed! Their joy, energy and unity were absolutley infectious.  While I came to this group as teacher, encourager and trainer, I was the one encouraged!

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Tasmania 2013

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C 3 Church, Hobart, Tasmania

What an incredible time in Tasmania!  Diversity of ministry was the name of the game.  The ministry venues ran from a high tech church conference center in the city of Hobart to rugged Wadamana, deep in the Tasmanian wilderness.  The one phrase that I heard over and over was “Ray, the Lord has you are here at the perfect time!”  And I too believe that to be true.  There is much I could say but I will share with you two portions of feedback I received.  The first was from a young man, a husband and a dad who I actually knew when he was a little boy when we lived in Tasmania.  After I spoke on gaining freedom from past hurts that have affected our lives he told me “Ray, I wept my way through your message.  So many roles and expectations were placed on my life as a child.  Thank you for bringing the truth I so needed to hear!”

In a sleeping bag, covered with a blanket, wearing two shirts, wool socks, a wool hat – and still cold in Wadamana!

I also had the privilege of once again working with Directions Tasmania.  S2S and Directions are ministry partners. Directions, directed by my good friend Phil Harback, along with the amazing Directions team is a powerful outreach to men.  My roles, as I participated in the JourneyRetreat included meeting with men one-on-one as the need arose and being a support to the staff of Directions.  As you know, the primary focus of S2S is to help people in ministry stay fresh, motivated and healthy, in order to see them fulfill their “calling” to reach the lost and hurting.  Below is an excerpt from a letter I received from the wife of one of the Directions staff.   “My husband has come home from the men’s retreat with more passion and more commitment to his ministry for and with , men. He mentioned you were one of the major parts of the encouragement he received on the weekend and I am writing to say thank you for YOUR commitment to helping others in their walk as men and people of God”. 

I love Tasmania!

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Italy 2013

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View from Forterocca Headquarters of Operation Mobilization
Bobbio Pellece, Italy

I recently returned  from nearly one month of working in Italy.  I worked in several parts of the country from Trento in the north to Naples in the south. This was my 4th ministry trip to this very unique country and the Lord certainly blessed and expanded our work there.  My work included training/teaching and staff development of missionaries.  There was also a good deal of pastoral care as well as quite serous individual and couples counseling.  HE is faithful!  I want to share with you some of the life-stories of the missionaries I worked with.  The Lord is weaving a very diverse international fabric of people reaching out with His Truth to the beautiful yet spiritually desolate people of Italy.

Italy like Thailand? Really?  Thailand prepared me to work in Italy. There are interesting similarities to these two countries.  Both have populations around 60+ million.  Thailand has less than one percent Christian.  Italy also has less than one percent evangelical (born again) Christians.  Superstition runs high in both nations. Italy actually has a higher missionary attrition (burnout) rate than Thailand!  Only about one out of ten missionaries to Italy will continue past their first year.

DSCF8277Luke and Dawn Mann Americans working with Adventive Cross Cultural Initiatives in Italy and are our wonderful friends and ministry partners.  It was through their hard work that all the missionary organizations connections and travel came together.  The Mann’s have amazing international experience plus hearts of passion. Their multifaceted ministry in Italy is truly making a difference!

Marcieo and Noemi Ciechanovicz and family are from the DSCF8280country of Brazil.  They have been serving in Italy for several years.  They have had unusual and amazing success in reaching the Italian youth.  They have weathered and persevered through many difficult challenges and the fruit of their ministry is growing.

DSC_0022Fabian and Charlene Abrahams are South Africans also working in Italy.  I had the privilege of meeting an Italian man they led to the Lord. I asked him what was different since He came to know Christ.  One phrase would sum up our lengthy conversation “I lived in death – now I have life!”  Fabian and Charlene grew up under the horrors of the Apartheid system of racial segregation.  Of the 3 racial categories (white, black & colored) they were labeled “colored” or people of mixed races.  They remember violent attacks on their villages by club wielding police.  The Lord transformed their hearts from pain and bitterness to forgiveness and passion, and then planted them in Italy!

DSCF8303Ronel and Ferdi – South Africians  In this photo you see me alongside two missionaries that really touched my heart and to whom I bonded quickly.  Ferdi and Ronel are missionaries to Brussels.  I met them in Italy however while they were taking some “time off” to give a couple of weeks of service to Operation Mobilization.  This couple carried an amazing joy, a zeal for service and pain in their eyes.  This beautiful couple has been touched by very painful loss.  The three of us wept together as they somehow managed to share their story with me.  Their journey, a journey where this is no answer for  the tragedy they experienced, has taken them to a few conclusions that fuel their sacrificial ministry today.  “God is good, He is for us and sharing His love with others gives purpose and meaning to this life”. 

Below are just a few snapshots of the culturally diverse fabric of those He has called to serve Him in Italy.  It is a good work that they do!

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THAILAND

 

Motorcycle Taxis – Bangkok

We once again found Thailand to be wild, warm, wet and wonderful.  I had to laugh our first day in Bangkok.  Patty and I needed to go somewhere and it was rush hour traffic in a crazy city of 10 million plus people.  So we decided to take motor cycle taxis!  As we sat on the back of the motor cycles, swishing and swerving through unbelievable traffic, at times going the wrong direction on one way streets, I could not help but wonder “what would our mothers think?”

Deeper Still Ministries International

Deeper Still Ministries International:  We had the privilege of spending some time with a Chiangrai mission called Deeper Still Ministries International.  I had the privilege of teaching the Thai staff on finding our identity in the Lord.  It was a joy to watch the Lord impart the very necessary truth of who we are to Him.  To discover who we really are to Him, how He values us, sees us, defines us and loves us changes everything: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends…(John 15:15)

Timely: If there is one word that describes our time in Thailand it is most certainly the word “Timely”.  Whether it was helping a young missionary family to get some healing and direction with their marriage “at just the right time”, or helping a young pastor find balance, as he carries the weight of a heavy ministry and a young family.  Or, seemingly a chance encounter with a missionary to China, clearly on verge burnout and helping her to make good and wise decisions that will not only sustain her ministry, but her love and zeal for the Lord. We were at the right place at the right time over and over again.  Our work connected us with missions ministries involved in trafficking rescue, children who have been abused, evangelism and discipleship.  The Lord is faithful to sustain His friends.

Thank you – We want to thank you our friends and family for being an integral part of Shoulder To Shoulder Ministries.  New doors continue to open, both overseas and domestically (we’ll share more about that next month).  It is your prayers, encouragement and support that enable our work to continue and to grow.  You are indeed impacting the lives of many.  Thank you for making a difference.

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The Island of Tasmania

S2S Marriage Enrichment, C3 Church, Bathurst, Australia

Bathurst:  Our first stop on the way to Tasmania was Bathurst, Australia.  This was our third ministry visit to Bathurst. This rural, Aussie country town holds a special place in our hearts.  Our dear friends Jeff and Rowena Lloyd pioneered a church there a few years ago.  The Lloyds were not only coworkers with us in Thailand many years ago, they, along with their 4 boys are like family to us.  The Lord has called them to a tough ministry in a spiritually dry location. They are faithful servants and we feel honored to come alongside them in their ministry.  Our very full schedule with them included staff development for their leadership team, one-on-one counseling/pastoral care for a number of families, a marriage enrichment night and my personal favorite –  speaking to a group of several pastors from the local community. Our work there was clearly timely and very blessed.

Tasmania – Cold-but-Beautiful!!  Many of you know that

S2S Marriage Retreat, Directions TAS, The Island of Tasmania

Tasmania was once our home for 4 years.  And to be honest, in many ways, it remains our home. We had the privilege of providing NOT one, but two Marriage Retreats.  As Patty and I reflect over the two weekends – we do not believe they could have gone any better. We are confident that the Lord revealed Himself, touched some hearts, ministered some healing and brought some measure of freedom.  He is faithful!  It was a joy working with our wonderful friends Phil and Anne Harback and the leadership team for Directions Tasmania. Directions TAS is a ministry aimed at the Aussie man and is doing an amazing work in “Elevating men to their rightful positions as husbands and dads”.  One fun fact of the weekends – the Homestead, the rambling old farmhouse, where we held our meetings, was built in Australia’s early history by convicts.

S2S Marriage Retreat Number Two was again sponsored by our good friends at Directions TAS.

S2S Marriage Retreat Number 2 – Island of Tasmania

It was an amazing weekend of openness, genuine revelation, and I believe, some healing of relationships and hearts.  As the marriage goes, so goes the family and the church and generations to come…..

An Amazing Gift– We served with YWAM in Tasmania from 1995 until the very end of 1999.  Our ministry involved families, young people and more.  In 1995 we took a team to work in Russia.  On that team was a teenager named Louise Wolfe, now Louise Filleul.  Earlier that year, Louise lost her fiancée in a tragic hiking accident.  It was very special for all of us to have Louise on our team.  Louise was also on a team we took to Fiji and eventually on a team to Thailand as well.  Louise and her husband, Martin, who are now the parents of four amazing children, attended the Marriage Retreat.  What an amazing gift from the Lord to us, for special relationships to continue and grow through time, stages of life, and even global locations.  There are other similar stories, clearly marked by the finger prints of God, we could tell if space would allow.  HE is faithful!

Untold Stories – As most of you know the nature of our ministry is often of a deeply personal and therefore confidential nature.  The time in Tasmania included that ministry as well.  We connected with shattered lives moving toward restoration.  We were able to minister to some teetering on brink of life altering choices.  And there was more, much more.  Once again we were humbled by the Lord’s timing of our ministry in Tasmania.  There is indeed…. healing in His wings (Mal.4:2)

It’s Working!  We believe the plan for S2S to be most effective was NOT to go to new place after new place, but rather to go to a few places over and over again.  We believe the Lord was showing us if we did that, trust would be established and grow, hearts would open, and our ministry would be more effective. Without a doubt that is what we have experienced so far. I know I say it often but it is so true—-HE IS FAITHFUL!

 

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OPERATION MOBILIZATION (OM) – ITALY

OM Staff - Bobbio Pellice, Italy

Operation Mobilization Italy - Missionary Staff

Missionaries to Italy?  Really?  Italy, like much of Europe has around 1% Evangelical Christian.  Italy is home to the second largest satanic church in Europe.  Over 32,000 Italian communities have no evangelical Christian witness inviting people into a personal relationship with Christ.  Yes, missionaries in Italy!

Ray Teaching OM Staff

Patty Teaching OM ARTS Students

Patty Teaching OM ARTS Students

Beautiful and Ancient Bobbio Pellece, Home to OM Italy

We recently returned from five weeks in Italy.  We were working with the nearly 30 staff of OM Italy.  The staff was an incredibly diverse international group coming from Italy, USA, Australia, Scotland, South Africa, Canada, Germany and more.  Our month with OM was focused on pastoral care, training and staff development.  This committed group of missionaries is working in a hard in a spiritually challenging  environment. In our work in over 20 countries, we have found no rival to the oppressive spiritual atmosphere in which we found ourselves, giving us insight on how to pray for our OM friends.  The OM team is doing a very good work, but by their own description we found some feeling spiritually/emotionally depleted, running on empty and needy in a number of ways.  We thank the Lord for the open door to come along side and minister to this hard working group.  Through group teaching, small group activity and individual counseling we believe we left the team different than when we arrived. The Italian director, Eliseo Guadagno shared with us and our co-workers Luke and Dawn Mann that “the timing and the positive impact of our visit was clearly God ordained”.  We thank the Lord for His faithfulness!

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Thailand Once Again

It is hard to imagine that we have been working in Thailand for over 12 years!  What changes we have seen and experienced.  I find that when I arrive in Thailand, or any other country  for that matter and to … Continue reading

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Guatemala Outreach

John and Rita Pappa

One of the greatest joys of working in Guatemala was reconnecting with our dear friends John and Rita Pappa of Teams Commissioned For Christ International. We first met John and Rita over 30 years ago when we were brand new Christians, trying to rebuild a life together. With generous hearts they welcomed, loved, nurtured and discipled us. The Lord used this wonderful couple to lay the foundation that He has built upon all these years. As you can tell, we love the Pappa’s. They have been serving in Guatemala for the last 18 years with amazing zeal and passion. To actually work together all these years later was a blessing that words cannot capture.

Pastors and Leaders at Joyobaj

Guatemala is a beautiful yet rugged country. The crime rate causes the need for continual vigilance. John and Rita do have some stories to tell! But our work with them was far out of the City and up in the mountains. We were at elevations of around 8000 feet. The Pappa’s work with the indigenous mountain people of Mayan descent. We were invited to teach village pastors on the topic: The Father Heart of God. Due to the culture, training and a number of factors the idea of a personal, intimate and loving relationship with our Father is a very foreign thought to the pastors and village churches. The result causes a gospel that is pretty dry, heavy on legalism and with little depth or maturity. Our goal was that the pastors would not only learn something new – but experience something new! And for the pastors to take their new insights and experiences to their village churches. We believe that indeed the Lord opened a number of hearts to know and experience the Lord in a new way. The first stop was in the village of Joyobaj. We spent two days teaching 18 pastors and church leaders. The nights were spent sleeping on the church floor, there were no showers and one “toilet” for all of us. But the joy of spending time with these wonderful and humble servants far outweighed any discomfort. It was a privilege to learn from one another.

Tuk Tuk Taxi

We also ministered in Nabaj, situated in the mountains 8,200 feet above sea level. There were many similarities between these beautiful mountain people and the Hill Tribe people of Thailand. In many ways it felt familiar. As in Thailand they even use the three wheel motor cycle taxi known as Tuk Tuk’s. Also, the indigenous women wear tribal clothing and men and women sit on opposite sides of the church.

Nabaj Pastors

Pastors, representing 16 different churches attended the conference, traveling by motorcycles and buses, sometimes for hours. In the final photo you see Edgar, our amazing 14 year old translator. Edgar was a great sport and in the photo he is tied to me in a demonstration of the heart embittering effect of carrying “unforgiveness”.

The Lord genuinely blessed our time with the pastors. We believe that the Holy Spirit opened their eyes to see the Heart of the Father like never before. We also believe, because of the feedback we received, that many pastors were able to forgive those who had wounded their souls. We believe that a number were set free from bitterness that was poisoning their hearts and casting a shadow over their lives and ministry. Our hearts were deeply moved when the Presbyter, responsible for the pastors who were attending, said “what you have heard is truth, it is good, take this message to your churches!”

Breaking Free From Unforgiveness

Only the Lord knows what actually occurs in the heart of a person. We believe He was faithful to reveal Himself to the heart of His servants.

Rita and Patty with Indigenous Woman

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The Italian Job and The French Connection

The Italian Job Update

Ah Italy!  The very name awakens ideas of travel, wonderful food and beautiful people.  And I totally agree that Italy is a place of beauty, rich history, amazing foods and interesting people.  BUT, it is also wrapped in spiritual darkness and is a very tough mission field.

Belgium Family, Missionaries to Italy along with Luke and Dawn of ACCI

Italy is steeped in both; an often-empty traditional religion as well as the occult. Only about 0.4% to 1.2% of the population consider themselves as ‘born again’ Christians.  In addition to that, one Italian mission’s leader, with sad humor, told us the Christian church in Italy is small and well divided!”  We are told that most missionaries do not return after their first term.  Italy has been dubbed “the missionary graveyard”.

Why so tough? First, as mentioned above, most hold to religious traditions versus a life changing personal relationship with the Lord.The need for a genuine, intimate relationship with God, that we are all born with, has been replaced by a mediocre attachment to empty rituals and traditions.

Operations Mobilization Unfinished Outreach Center

Italy is also a hot-bed for the occult and dark spiritual practices. This occurs primarily in the northern regions where we were. Added to that; the Christian church is small and divided.  Pride, jealousy and divisive factions keep the church inward, weak, ineffective and a poor representation of heart of the Savior.  This is not all churches of course, there are some wonderful churches doing a great job, but the local missionaries tell me they are few.

Patty worshiping in a cave where early Christians were martyred

I also can’t help but wonder, if another factor might be, that the missionaries in Italy and other European nations are less supported.  I heard no complaints from the missionaries by the way, but the truth is prayer support, financial support and encouraging words are often the result of hearts being touched by visual needs. Photographs of needy children and rustic villages awaken our compassion, while thoughts of European nations are less apt to do so.   Yet the heart of the Father longs to make Himself known to the hearts and souls of those who live in spiritual and relational poverty.  Something to think about, eh?

Over the mountains lies France

Those on the front line. We had the privilege of connecting with a number of missionaries and the leaders of a healthy local church.  Operations Mobilization (OM) and Adventive Cross Cultural Initiatives (ACCI) are two mission’s organizations that we connected with.  Both are doing a wonderful work in Italy.  We were able to teach, brainstorm with leaders, provide some counseling and pastoral care and get a good taste of the heart and direction of the ministry.  Both groups based in Italy are relatively small in numbers but big in heart and vision.  We are talking with both organizations about the possibility of S2S connecting with them in the area of staff training and development, pastoral care and more.  This would require more travel and ongoing periods of time in Italy.  We shall see how the Lord leads.

The French Connection

Right: Missionaries to France. Center is Pierrette, our kind host and prayer warrior

Our time in France was quick and full.  It involved ministry to the hurting, encouraging some missionaries as well as meeting some wonderful stout-hearted believers.  France is truly secular and hardened to the Gospel.  Those who share the truth there need our prayers!

A Thought about America? I could not help but wonder, as Iexperienced post-Christian Europe, if I was seeing the future of America?

 

A special blessing was meeting with Patty Wolf, our good friend and a fellow missionary to Thailand.

The trends and pressures of our culture seem to be driving our country in the same direction: Secular, morally bankrupt and spiritually dark and empty. I am aware of no greater time for the believers in America to lovingly let their Light shine and their Salt bring flavor.

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The Aussie Outreach


Bathurst, Australia Our work first took us to the city of Bathurst.  We connected with our good friends and former S2S staff Jeff and Rowena Lloyd.  Jeff and Rowena planted a C3 Church in Bathurst a few years ago.  Their vision is to reach this rural community for the Lord and see lives transformed.  Our ministry activities in Bathurst included leading at a marriage group, providing leadership training, pastoral care, teaching and more.

Unity!  Jeff’s vision is a citywide vision for the people of Bathurst.  Jeff and some local pastors have been meeting in order to build relationships and find mutual encouragement.  We all know that the prayer of Jesus for unity among His bride is one that has not been fully answered, but the desire is growing.

The pastors invited us to provide a mini-retreat for themselves and their wives.  The goal was to bless marriages and build relationships between the families.  Pastors and their wives from several denominations attended.  Around the evening meal, following the questions we provided, fun stories from the marriages and families were shared.  Laughter was lively, guards were dropped and common ground was discovered.

During the course of the retreat a greater measure of trust was established.  Both the joys and the hardships of ministry were shared.  Tears began to flow and hearts were exposed.  Something changed, something shifted.  It was a step, a small step perhaps, but through the prayers of Jeff and others the Lord’s grace connected brothers and sisters at a deeper level.

Tasmania!  The beautiful island of Tasmaniawas formally our home for four years.  And in many ways, it still feels like home.

Phil's Shortcut

Again, we had the privilege of providing ministry in a number of settings; from ministering in a prison to pastoral care for those going through difficult seasons, formal times of teaching and informal ministry encounters that were clearly ordained by the Lord.

Directions Tasmania

Phil and Anne Harback

We also had the privilege of working with my good friend Phil Harback.  Phil’s passion is that Aussie men to be encouraged, empowered and enabled to fulfill their vital roles as husbands and fathers, as well as impact their communities.  His organization, Directions Tasmania is doing just that.  We were able to teach and encourage the men as well as speak to a special gathering of the men and the wives.  It was a joy to contribute to the good work that Phil and his staff are providing for the men and ultimately the families of Tasmania.

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