Monday, September 25, 2006 0 comments


Today, all of us from the Bible School, as well as several of the members of the church in Florence, drove about an hour and a half over to the town of Arezzo. There, we met with groups from the churches in Rome and Prato. There are still many cities in Italy with no non-Catholic churches, and one of the men from Rome, Paolo Mirabelli, has been organizing groups of Christians to go to some of these cities and pray there for the city, that people may be interested and that someday there will be a church in the city.

We met up outside the train station. We had a short devotional there, singing, praying, and reading scripture together. We sang "I Love You with the Love of the Lord" in Italian, English, Spanish, and Albanian, to represent all of us that were there today. The Spanish came in with a couple of families with the Prato congregation who are orignally from San Salvador. There are also many Albanian immigrants to Italy, including several of our members in Florence. We sang another song that was first written in an African language in the original African, Italian, Spanish, and English, even though none of the Ghanian brethren were on the trip.

We had a large supply of New Testaments at the building in Florence, so we took several boxes and we all wrote in the addresses and phone numbers of our churches in the front covers, and handed them out in the city. We made our way through town up to the old part of the city on top of the hill. In a piazza near the top, we sat on the steps by a fountain and had a devotional. We sang for a good while, and many people stopped to hear us. A Capella music is rare here. We gave a few people bibles. I met a couple from San Salvador (with the Prato congregation), Carlos and Elsa, as we shared a songbook.

After our devotional, we all wandered up by the cathedral at the top of the hill and into the park. There, we had one last prayer together before we all dispersed. From one side of the park, there was an amazing overlook over the city and the valley below. Anna, Christina, and I took pictures, of course. We then hurried back down the hill through town, still passing out Bibles and fliers as we went. One man we talked to was excited to see us out, and was sad that we did not have a church in Arezzo. Hopefully, more like him will take an interest and a new work can begin there. Overall, it was an encouraging day; it was beautiful weather to be out, and it was wonderful to meet some of the other Italian Christians.

I put my pictures from today on webshots, too. Here's the link for those of you who like to see the pictures:


On a beautiful sunny Saturday in late September, Anna and I took the 10 bus out to the end of the line, to the little town of Settignano. Settignano is at the top of a hill overlooking the city of Florence, and there are some terrific views from up there. After taking the typical panorama shots at the lookout point, we wandered through the town, and out of the city limits to Villa Gamberaia. The Villa supposedly has one of the most beautiful gardens in Italy. We got there late in they day, so we didn't go through them (besides, it costs 10 euros to get in!). The hedges we could see from the road were some of the largest I've ever seen. We went through a little tunnel just past the villa, and took some great pictures of the tree-lined road and the countryside. I posted the pictures I took on webshots. If you want to see my Settignano album, this link should work:

three weeks down...

Well, on Friday, I finished the language school course at the Istituto Italiano. On Thursday, several of us from my class, including the teachers, went out to lunch together. It's a little weird to spend several hours a day with a group of people for three weeks, knowing that you will probably never see them again. It was fun getting to know such a diverse group of people! Anyways, I now have a week before my next language school starts... I am going to do a course for foreigners in Italian at the Unversity of Florence. However, it does not start until October 2. I went ahead and did three weeks at the other school, where some other past workers had attended, so that I could get started.
Saturday, September 23, 2006 0 comments

Stopping to Write in the Piazza

The sun is at just the position to filter through the red brick and stucco buildings on the east side of the piazza.  in the afternoon light, the white facade of the opposite building (a church) shines against the cloudless blue sky.  A light breeze is blowing, and at least there is the shade.  It seems a little cooler than it has been.

I am sitting on the steps of the Istituto degli Innocenti in the Piazza S.S. Annunziata, listening to the water splash in the small fountain just out into the piazza.  The stone is stained with rust on the sides where the water has bounced off for so long.  An identical fountain is situated on the opposite side. 

Th focal point, however, of the piazza is a large statue of a man on horseback. A sign posted at the base reads:

"Equestrian monument to Ferdinand I, Bronze Giambologna--1608. The sculptor was eighty years old when he created this statue that was cast by his pupil, Pietro Tacca, using bronze from the cannons captured from the Barbareschi during the North Africa expedition led by the Knights of the Order of St. Stephen in 1607.  

To commemorate this event, the following words, dictated by Giovanni Villafranchi, were engraved in the girth of the saddle: De metalli rapiti al fiero Trace [from the metals taken from the proud Thracian].  The device of the sixty bees swarming around their queen on the bronze plaque (added to the base in 1640) on the side facing the church, was suggested to Ferdinando by Scipione Borghese (who found it in Book XI of Naturalis Historia by Pliny) to extol the generosity of the grand ducal government." 

Anna told me another story about the statue: instead of looking forward down the center street, which has a magnificent view of the Duomo two blocks away, the statue's head is turned so that he gazes searchingly into the corner.  Supposedly, there was a woman he fell in love with, but couldn't have as she had already married.  He never forgot her, and when his statue was erected he requested that it look towards the corner--where her window opened onto the piazza.  In this way, he would always be near her. 

I like this piazza because it is open, uncrowded, and quiet except for the buses that drive across the west end, by the church.  I especially like the view framed by an archway over the road when I look to the right from the Ospedale degli Innocenti: through the gateway, there is a succession of golden-stuccoed, red-roofed buildings so typical of the city, and beyond them, a hill dotted with villas.

I suppose I should have begun this journal on the plane or in the airport, the mark the beginning of this fresh part of my life; however, I am glad to start it now, and spare myself the recounting of the jet lag, caffeine headaches, and the adjustments and frustrations of the first few days.  I have been here for three and a half weeks, and I know I have plenty of adjustments and frustrations to go, but I am beginning to feel comfortable.  I bought this little book yesterday at the San Lorenzo market.  I know it's touristy, but after only three weeks the touristy things and places have not yet lost their appeal.  Besides, I love the smell of leather; that is something you certainly can't find in one of the chain bookstores.

[Note while typing this up, years later: I have never before nor since been bothered by jet lag much at all; I just stay up one night and get myself right on schedule without too many problems.  However, that time I had terrible headaches and fatigue; probably was a combo of the jet lag and the sudden and complete deprivation of Mello Yello, which I had drunk massive amounts of for years up until the day I flew to Italy.]

Today was my last day at the Istituto d'Italiano in Via Martelli.  Since the first I have planned--well, with the recommendation and request of the other workers-- to attend a semester of the 'corsi per stranieri' at the Universitá di Firenze.  However, the course does not begin until the second of October, so I did three weeks of language school at the Istituto.  I certainly did not want to sit around at the bible school being of little use to anyone for over a month. 

After three weeks, I am making progress in Italian, although it seems frustratingly slow right now.  I did well enough on the entrance exam to be placed in the second-level class--which was a good placement during the two-hour grammar half of the lesson.  However, the conversation class in the second two hours was over my head.  There are some disadvantages to studying alone. 

The sun has now lowered enough to be shining into my eyes from the direction of the duomo, and the steps are no longer shady.  I think I will go through the arched road and look at the gardens that should be a block in that direction, and then catch the 6 bus for Scandicci.


Instead of going the way I planned, I turned to the right when I reached the corner of the piazza, through a long tunnel of sorts.  I wandered along past the Archaeological Museum, and over onto Via Laura.  Luckily, I am following the route of the 6 bus, so I will be able to wander further since I don't have to walk all the way back or find some other bus route.  I kept walking until I came to a large park, which after looking at the map, I think to be the Piazza M. D'Azeglio...In a city, I am always happy to find large trees and the smell of grass.  There are two large fenced sections: one, with a playground for young children, the other full of teenagers playing soccer.  There is a green-and-turquoise carousel on the far side, but it isn't running today.  Looking at the map, I should be very close to the Jewish temple with its sea-green dome.  I'll tell the story of our rainy Saturday spent at the temple some other time.  I feel like I'm beginning to get a feel for directions in the city.  The trick is to always know what direction the Duomo is.  Time to wander on...I wish I knew what time it is; my cell phone batteries are dead.  

Friday, September 15, 2006 0 comments

Language School

Well, I have been in language school for two weeks now. The first week was rather overwhelming. Mostly, I learned just how much I don't know. This week has been better, as I am still behind but learning a lot, quickly. I have to keep reminding myself, it's only the first week, only the second week...I will be in language school for three months. It is frustrating not to be able to say what you want to people. For one thing, learning another language teaches you to be very good at playing charades! I also can see a little bit what it would be like to be illiterate--unable to understand the signs around you, the directions on the back of bottles. I get frustrated, but like Gary, our director, told me, a person's brain can only soak in so much information in a day. So, it will come. It's easy to be impatient; I want to know it all now!

Right now, I go to language school for four hours a day, from 9 am to 1 pm. The first two hours, Beatrice teaches us grammar. In the second session, Enrica teaches a conversation class. The students in my class are from all over the world: Cristiana from Quebec, Canada; Ximena and Ariana from Mexico; Salvatore (an Italian name he is using becuase he says his real name is difficult to pronounce in Italian) from Korea; Evan from Panama; Zoia and Genia, sisters from Russia; Jill and Sara from Germany; Alba from Spain; and I'm the only American. Many of our conversations have been about the cultural differences in all of our home countries. It is quite different from studying a foreign language in school here; we have to use Italian to communicate with each other, because it is all we have in common.


On Sunday nights, the Avanti Italia group organizes a devotional at Pepperdine Unviersity's study-abroad program building. While it was first began to give the university students a chance to worship, it is now also advertised as an English service as well as the only Sunday night service available. I mentioned in an earlier post (Domenica...) four girls (Laura, Sarah, Katie, and Stephanie) who are studying in Florence for the semester. They found the Florence Church of Christ on the internet, and are now coming to both the regular Italian service as well as the Pepperdine devotional. We have all been encouraged by their enthusiasm and excitement at finding other Christians in this country where we are widely scattered.

I also mentioned two girls who attend community churches in the states who are here studying Italian. They also found the English service on the internet, and sought us out. This past Sunday, they came again and brought three friends. Although our primarly purpose here is to work with our Italian brethren, it is also great that we can be used to give Americans traveling and studying here the chance to worship in their own language and grow in their faith.

Anyone want a hot dog???

Harding University has a study-abroad program that is based just a couple of miles from here. Last night, we had all forty-three (the largest group ever!) over for a cook-out. We usually see a lot of the group; they go to our church when they are in town. Our director, Gary Williams, is teaching their Bible class this semester. It was a good chance to get to meet the students, and also explain what we do here and how some of them might someday want to be involved. I met a couple of girls from Spring Hill--it's a small world! Anyhow, we were a little overzealous on the hot, if anyone is interested in leftover hotdogs, they are taking over our fridge...

Rificolona (Paper Lantern Festival)

September 8 is the traditional day that Catholics celebrate the birth of Mary, the mother of Jesus. During the time of the Renaissance, pilgrims would gather on the eve of the holiday with lanterns in front of the Church of the Most Holy Annunciation (Santissima Annunziata). Today, it is mostly a family holiday, known as Rificolona. The crowd gathers in front of Santa Croce. Most of the children carry paper lanterns, lit with candles, on long sticks. They can be bought from many stores around the city, or handmade. There were stars, suns, animals, and even one in the shape of a castle. The rest of the children carried pea shooters and plenty of ammunition in the form of play-doh.

Anna, Matt, Lauren, and I went to join in the fun. Lauren made a lantern out of cardboard, and we joined the procession. From Santa Croce, the brightly lit crowd paraded through the streets of downtown Florence over to Santissima Annuziata. There, various dignataries gave speeches, and a children's choir sang several songs. Several trailers were set up along the back selling drinks and snacks. As we all milled about, listening to the program and meeting acquaintances, the pea shooters came out. It is also traditional to try to shoot each other's lanterns to smitherines. You are a great pea-shooter if you can get one to catch fire.

Anyhow, it was fun to get out and participate in one of the local holidays. I've been meaning to write about it all week, but I kept waiting until I had a better picture. I still don't have a great one--my camera's batteries were dying, and the light was awful--but I will go ahead and post. Anna took pictures, too, and maybe some of hers will come out better. If so, I'll add a better picture later.

The crowd begins to gather...
Monday, September 4, 2006 1 comments

Domenica (Sunday)

Well, yesterday was my first day worshipping with the Florence church. A lot of the members were just coming back from vacation. In Italy, everyone vacations in August--many businesses and restaurants even close in the cities, while everyone is at the beach or the mountains. By next week, the building will be quite full with everyone back in town, and many of the students with Harding University's overseas program here will also be worshipping with us for the semester.

The church just got new songbooks. With so few non-Catholic churches in Italy, a new Italian-language song book is a major event. The last ones they had were falling apart; when a song was announced, everyone had to flip through a few books to try and find one that still contained that page. In class, we sang and discussed several songs (well, I'm assuming we were discussing the songs; we could have been discussing socks in between bursts of singing for all I would notice with my Italian...). One of the men in class, Luigi Giardino, was one of the translators who adapted many songs from English into Italian. After church, we had a fellowship meal. It's universal...there was a plate of chicken legs at the end of the table. I enjoyed meeting many of the church members while we ate.

On Sunday night, we (AI workers) held an English devotional at Pepperdine University's study-abroad building in Florence. The Pepperdine students won't be in until later this week, but the devotionals go on even in the summer so that any American travelers will have a place to go. We were happy to have four girls, all members of the church, who are spending a semester abroad on their own studying at an Italian university. They found the Florence Church on the internet, and came Sunday morning. They were very excited to find Christians they could spend time with in Italy. We invited them to the Pepperdine devotional, and they plan to be with us at both services for the rest of the semester. When we arrived at the Pepperdine building, two more girls were waiting who had also found us on the internet when they searched for English-language services. They normally attend a community church in that states, but they hope to be with us at that devotional again. Hopefully, we can be an encouragement to all of these girls.
Saturday, September 2, 2006 0 comments

First few days in Italy

Ciao! Well, I am finally here in Italy! It still doesn't seem real that I'm actually here now, after talking about it for so long. I flew out on August 28th, and arrived at the Florence airport 24 hours later (less seven hours time difference) at 6:00 pm on August 29th. Gary Williams, the director, and the rest of the AI workers--Matt and Lauren Freel, David Hopper, Kelly Fann, and Greg Seiders--were there to meet me. Anna Madox is also an AI worker, but she was out of town. That night, I went out for pizza with the rest of the workers at one of their favorite places. We stopped for gelato on the way back. If you have never had Italian gelatto (ice cream), you don't know what you're missing!

Wednesday morning, I learned how to do "pubblicita`" (I can't get the accent right on an English keyboard, and I can't find the thing to switch it at the moment...). Most Wednesdays, the group takes a different part of town and stuffs mailboxes (this is legal here) with flyers for the school, offering English/Bible lessons.

Thursday, Lauren took me to the Questura (police headquarters) in Florence to register for my permisso di sigiorno (permission for sojourn). All foreigners who plan to live in Italy long-term must register. We had to wait in quite a long line, but there were no problems and I was able to turn in my paperwork. That night, our directors, Gary and Jennifer Williams, took me out to dinner to get to know me. Mario, a long-time church member here who is currently staying at the school, and Brandon Marshall, a former AI worker who spent several years in the south of Italy who is visiting from the states, ended up going along, too, as we ran into them as we were leaving and they had already decided to go to the same restaurant. More pizza--good thing I like it! After dinner, Mario took us to his favorite gelateria (ice cream place), run by a childhood friend of his brother. They had cinnamon gelatto, which was very good. They tend to have a wide variety of flavors here--from the expected chocolate, strawberry, mint, and such, to melon, fig, blackberry, rice, nutella, lemon, and more. I have heard of such things as fish or ham-and-cheese.

Today, David took me back into town to sign up for language school. I will start Monday. I am looking forward to getting started. The language school is just a block away from the duomo, the famous cathedral in Florence. It's amazing to think of walking past that beautiful marble building every day. The people at the school seemed very nice, and I took a placement test to see what class I should be put in.

I am finally beginning to get over the jet-lag from the time difference. I was so sleepy the first couple of days. I am beginning to learn my way around--I know how to get to the bancomat (atm) and to the bus stop, and I know what buses to take to get into Florence. I am looking forward to meeting with the church on Sunday. I am beginning to settle in. The Bible School is in a quiet neighborhood, across the street from a park, in the suburb of Scandicci. Across the park is a hospital and an old castle, the Torre Galli (tower of the Galli family).

Well, I hope that you are all doing well. Feel free to e-mail me or leave comments on this site. I will let you know how language school goes next week...

A little more about training...

Hello again! I wanted to let you all know a little more about the training we did in Searcy in August. Here is a list of the classes we had:

Group dynamics, Dr. Carl Mitchell
English Using the Bible, Ryan Butterfield
Catholic Doctrine, Howard Bybee
Overview of Church History, Dr. Don Shackelfrod
The Holy Spirit and Miracles, Keith Cronk
Faith and Evidence, Dr. Don England
Romans, Dr. Warden
The Gospel and Post-Modernism, Bruce McClarty
The New Testament Church, L.V. Pfeifer
Evangelism, Noel Whitlock
Eastern Religions, Oneal Tankersley
Children's Classes, Dan and Suzanne Reed
Singing (we learned several songs in Italian), Joli Love
Sharing Evangelistic Experiences, Carla Lowe and Brandon Edwards
Cross-Cultural Communication, Dr. Howard Norton

On the Saturday we were there, we went out to Wyldewood camp and did a ropes course. Well, some of the group did a ropes course...those of you who know me now khow unathletic I am. I never actually made it to the rope...I am not a good pole-climber. :) Oh, well.

Altogether, it was a good two weeks with a lot of information to soak in. Many of our teachers had been missionaries in Italy themselves, and it was wonderful to hear their stories and experiences. Our group got along well, and although I am the only one going now, I look forward to working with Andrea, Brandon, and Kristin when they come in January.