Monday, May 23, 2011

what it's all about

it's impossible to explain how incredible this weekend was, but i will try. it could have possibly been the most encouraging and reinforcing times for me since i have been here as an avanti worker. i saw God working so hard in the hearts of YOUNG PEOPLE here in italy and i can't even explain how wonderful it was to witness.

so this weekend was the official florence youth retreat for the people high school age through mid-twenties in all the churches of christ of italy. we held this retreat last year in the beginning of september 2 days after ryan and i arrived in italy. that is where we quickly met and bonded with a lot of the "youth" of the churches here. i think we had 6 or 7 last year, and this weekend we had almost 25!!! over 30 including all the avanti workers. we have been planning for almost a month and it could not have gone more smoothly.
the bible school
we went to the bible school early friday morning to begin the final prep. we cleaned, cooked, set up like crazy until the kids started arriving that evening. at 7 we ate dinner together and then played real life clue.
angela had been working all week and had planned the most intricate and well thought out game of human clue that has ever been made! it was a blast!!! some of us avanti workers were the characters of the game and we were in charge of rooms that the 6 groups rotated between. in each of our rooms the groups had to do mostly silly challenges to be able to see a person, weapon, or room card. needless to say, we all had a ball and it was a great way to break the ice with all of the kids that we hadn't met before and just fun with all the ones that we were already friends with!
after that we all came together and had a devotional, we sang some new worship songs that emily had translated with her student lorenzo and then a high school student from rome, joele, led us in a devotional thought together. we shared prayer requests and prayed together and then just talked and played cards into the wee hours of the morning.

fun side note: since the harding students are here now and sleeping in the "dorm" rooms upstairs, all of us girls slept on mattresses covering the floor of the classroom and the boys slept in tents with air mattresses in the backyard. i hope the italians didn't feel too inconvenienced because i though the sleeping arrangements made it even more fun!

so saturday morning, ermenita and i got up and began laying out a "make your own sandwich" buffet and getting everything together for our outing that day, while ryan, emily, angela, and our honorary avanti member arnold helped debbie and david with their famous pancakes and bacon. we all ate breakfast together and had a devo (brought by peter) before packing up 4 vehicles with sports equipment and food for 30 people and heading to vallombrosa. vallombrosa is a little forest town about 45 minutes outside of florence and i think the photos will say enough about why we chose to spend the day there.

when we arrived to vallombrosa, we ate our picnic lunches together under a huge tree and then split up into 4 groups to translate different parts of the worship song "there's a stirring" into italian. we did this activity last year and it was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. i think i love it so much because everyone gets into it and seems to really enjoy it. i don't think american teenagers would have this much enthusiasm about translating a worship song into english. i just love to sit back and watch their brains go to work as they search for the best way to convey the words of this beautiful song about our God whom they love. it never fails that i forget what i'm doing and find myself just looking around at all of them and crying. anyway, after we did the translating, then we got to practice. beautiful doesn't even begin to describe the sound. if the weekend had ended right then, it all would have been worth it.
luckily though, it didn't! and after we practiced the song we set up a volleyball net that we brought and played volleyball together. we probably played for at least 2 hours, we just rotated teams: boys vs. girls, north vs. south, italy vs. usa, it was so much fun!
after volleyball we practiced our song a couple more times and then headed back to florence just in time to miss the downpour that hit vallombrosa. when we got back to the bible school, the kids had about an hour to freshen up while some of us avanti peeps started helping david and debbie with the meal. we grilled out with chicken, sausage and ribs (oh my goodness), we had salad, debbie made her loaded mashed potatoes, we made like 20 liters of home-made lemonade, and then had strawberry shortcake for dessert.
after the cookout, we had another devotional, this one brought to us by eric, and then we practiced all the new worship songs because we were going to teach them to the congregation sunday at church. after we sang for about an hour, everyone was exhausted. some of the group watched a movie together, david gave ryan a buzz in the backyard, and everyone crashed.

sunday morning was our monthly breakfast together before church. this was especially fun because not only were there 20+ italian kids for the members to meet, but it was also the first sunday that all the HUF students were at church and they were assigned members to meet and sit with. after our breakfast, as we all began filing into our seats in the chapel of our church, i soon started to realize that the room was absolutely packed. there was not an empty seat. not only was the church full to the brim, but some of the people that we love and pray that they will come with us to church had come: rosa (the cook at the bible school) and her husband felice, sandro (an employee at the harding villa) and his wonderful wife chiara, anna maria and her husband alan (awesome friends of ours), and massimo and andrea (2 students of the bible school). on top of those people there were about 10 random members!!!! wow is all i have to say.
i videoed as the kids and david got up to teach the new songs to the congregation and all i could do was cry. i was beside myself with joy and i could tell that so many other people were too! this is the church (as in people, not a building) that God intended, the first century church, the body of it was. the singing was heavenly (led by ryan and giovanni) and the sermon that jim brought (translated by lorenzo) was by no coincidence on grace and so moving.
after almost an hour of meeting and talking to people after church, 100+ of us (huf students, youth retreat people, avanti workers) walked to a nearby restaurant and enjoyed a meal together.

sadly after lunch, we had to say goodbye to all the kids that had come to the retreat (except 4 from rome who were stuck in florence until this morning because of a train strike). but i said goodbye energized and encouraged that these kids had been touched and strengthened and were going to back to their homes knowing that they weren't in this alone. they didn't have weather this "not being of the world" thing by themselves. there are other people their age that are doing it too.
sunday afternoon, angela, arnold, ryan and i took one of the harding vans to wash it (that was an adventure in itself) and then we all went up to the harding villa for a devo, dinner, and a piano concert. we topped off the weekend last night playing volleyball for a couple of hours with the harding students, which was a great way to get to know them.

i am so incredibly thankful for this weekend and everything that happened and the lives that were so touched. i know that God works in spite of us and he is more powerful than anything i can imagine, but i'm so thankful that he used us to be haven for these kids so he could touch their hearts in our presence. what an incredible blessing!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

mid-week encouragement

we have been blessed for about the past 3 weeks to have this man here with us in florence.

jim woodroof
he is the father of our director, david woodroof, and he was a part of the planning and teaching during our avanti training in searcy last august. we got to know him really well during those 2 weeks, and i can honestly say i don't think i have ever met someone who truly loves jesus like this man.

he made such an impact on me as a christian and i am so thankful for everything he taught us. every time we heard him speak we sat forward on the edge of our seats and soaked up every word like a sponge. he is so genuine and tender-hearted and it has been wonderful having him here these few weeks. this sunday was the first sunday he preached at florence because he has been in high demand at other churches all over italy. i'm happy to say though that we get to hear him again this sunday too as he continues his lesson on john 12:24-25.

anyway, a ton of his sermons are on this website and if you need some encouragement that "this world is not our home" you will really feel better after listening to some of these.

happy second to last week of may, the summer is almost here!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

since last time

since the last time i blogged, there has been a lot of activity around these parts.

first of all, 2 saturdays ago (may 7th) we had a women's meeting at the bible school with all the women from the churches of the region of tuscany (florence, prato, and pistoia). we got to know each other, talked about ways to encourage each other, talked about activities we could do together in the future, and planned some things for the future. our next meeting is going to be in pistoia on june 4th.

then, that sunday night (may 8th) at "the gathering" we had the biggest turnout so far! it was so encouraging and uplifting. on the second sunday of every month we work on more recent worship songs and translating them from english to italian. then we practice, and that it the best part. the singing was so beautiful i had goosebumps. God was at work in that room and we were all blessed to be a part of it!
then, the next day, last monday, we had a going away lunch party at the bible school for andrea, who left this past saturday for ferarra. she will be working with the church there like ryan and i are doing here, particularly targeting the school/university age people. rosa made a wonderful lunch (as always) and erme made a ridiculous cake. we all gave andrea bike accessories and money to get her own bike when she gets to ferarra!

after andrea's party, angela and i took 3 of our students to the iris gardens in florence to just walk around, take it the beauty and spend some quality time together. the gardens were absolutely beautiful and it was great to spend time with these girls outside of class time.
angela and daniella
olga, maria grazia, and me
tuesday, we had all of our lessons and cleaned our apartment because tuesday night at 8 we picked up our best friends (martha and dudley carter) at the train station in florence and began 4.5 of the funnest days that the 4 of us have ever had together (except maybe for 4 fun remodeling days at their house, or really any normal day we have with them).

i won't tell you everything we did because you probably don't want to read it and then it wouldn't be as special to us, but i know as long as we are all friends (a really long time) we will talk about this trip and remember this adventure we had together.

i only took pictures one day, martha and dudley have the rest
i was more than sad to see them get on that train sunday, but i know that we will see them in august and then after that we will have many more adventures together.

thank you for coming friends, you don't know what it meant to us!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

the last 5 days

friday night we had an end of the year cookout at the bible school for all of our students. 70+ people originally RSVP'd but i think only about 40ish were there (probably because it started raining about an hour before). regardless of the rain, it was a wonderful time! 2 of my students, olga and sara were able to come and it was great talking to them outside of our lesson setting. ryan did video interviews of several people who study at the bible school that i am compiling into a movie so be looking for that soon on facebook. we only have this month left for one on one classes until the next semester starts back up in the fall and i will very sad to stop my lessons. i feel such a bond with my students and such an appreciation to them for letting me talk to them about jesus whether they have relationship with him or not.

kyle and angela getting ready
making a berry trifle thing
the spread
the grillmaster himself, david
some of the guests enjoying the hamburgers and hot-dogs
then saturday, we had our 2nd official "dinner party" (but actually it was lunch). we had over some of the bible school peeps (emily, peter, angela, and andrea) to get to spend some time away from the bible school with them and just recharge our batteries as a group. after lunch we walked to the park across the street from our apartment and played soccer for hours.

later that night we all went together into florence together to "notte bianco" (white night), which is just something they do one night every spring where all the stores and museums stay open all night and the city is so lit up it is supposed to look like day. we at chinese food and then just walked around; there were bands playing in the streets and light displays and videos projected on a lot of buildings. it was another great time!

then, sunday after church we had our usual monthly potluck together as a church family
and then headed to a sports park where some men from our church played soccer against a congregation in prato. ryan played and scored several goals! wooo

this picture, magnificently captured by holland smith, is the only one we have from the game (notice the hubs in the red shorts)
then yesterday for lunch, the earharts had us back out to their beautiful home in fiesole for lunch because alan's parents are here for the month and they wanted all of us to meet them. alan and anna maria are the most wonderful people to be around, both of them are so laid back and it's so relaxing to spend time with them because you know they are both just totally honest and comfortable with you and it's a great feeling. i love them!

the only picture that we took at their house yesterday: a picture of alan with 2 noodles that were on his plate and connected by his wife's hair
last but not least, last night ryan's student valentino and his wife monica and their daughter olga (who is my student) had us over for dinner. we had so much fun just talking and laughing together. they are such a wonderful family and ryan and i have both loved being a part of their lives. valentino is a very talented artist and their home is full of his and many other artist's unique works. they also have one of the most beautiful terrace gardens that i have ever seen. of course we forgot to take a group picture but we have these:

monica and i stretching in their exercise room
ryan and valentino playing pinball