Our three week journey began with a weekend in Rome; this was our time to adjust from jet lag’ however we did more than rest, on Saturday we meet Joe and Mary Sirico, the GEM team leaders for Italy, along with Amy Williams, a GEM missionary serving in Montefiascone, Italy. We met at Piazza Republica and had lunch at one of Rome’s finer eating establishments, McDonalds. This was when Val learned that in Europe a Coke Light is 2.5 plus Euros and there is no such thing as free refills. After several hours of conversation, and a walk to Rome’s only Christian Book Store and a Coffee stop we were back at the Piazza. We were sharing a prayer with Amy before she boarded her train for home and during our prayers Joe’s phone was ringing; he ignored the call until we were finished. Then he checked the caller id but did not recognize the number, when he called the number to see who it was Arturo answered saying he and his family were at the Sirico’s home for a surprise visit.
For those of you from our area, no explanation is needed. Arturo Paulino was the Youth Pastor at First United Methodist Church of Dublin for several years before he and Tracy (and their five young daughters) answered God’s call to ministry in Italy. They are with Young Life and their ministry is dedicated to the children of our Military families in Naples. They had no idea we were in Rome. How lucky for us. Mary prepared a delicious dinner and we enjoyed visiting and discussing mission life.
We returned to our B&B at about 11:30 PM excited about the day and all that had happened and in the excitement and lack of adjustment to the time difference we stayed up until 5:30 AM talking.
On Sunday morning, Mark was up and headed for the A-Line with a transfer to the B-Line and to Piazza Bologna for a 10:30 service at a church that Joe, Mary and their friend Pastor Corrado Primavera had planted. The service was a pleasure and afterward we walked and found discipleship opportunities. Later that afternoon, Val and I headed for Piazza Spagna, (Spanish Steps area), with our final destination being Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina and the Rome Baptist Church for the 6:30 PM Italian service with Joe and Mary.
Prague, Czech Republic
On Monday, we were back at the Airport heading for Prague, Czech Republic, for a week of Discipleship Multiplication training. The training was hosted and lead by GEM missionaries serving in Europe. Many believers from Europe were invited and trained alongside those of us from GEM. This cross-cultural experience was a blessing that Val and I were most grateful to have participated in. Corrado studied along with us and we look forward to working with him soon in the field.
The training was held at IBTS, the International Baptist Theological Seminary. The complex that makes up the IBTS has had an interesting past.
Here is a brief history of Jenerálka Castle (described in fascinating booklet by Petra Veselá).
1939-1945 – THE NAZIS: The castle functioned as the HQ for the Gestapo’s activities in Czechoslovakia. During this time it also housed around 50 orphans of Czech political leaders killed by the Nazis. For more details check out the following links. For more details check out the following links Panenské Břežany and Operation Anthropoid.
1953-1990 – THE COMMUNISTS: The castle was then occupied by a Research Institution which worked closely with the Czech equivalent of the KGB, developing military and espionage equipment, and the State Police had offices in the castle buildings. It was discovered in 2000 that the castle had been also base for a major operation to capture people who attempted to escape to the west across the border into Germany. Many were beaten and tortured and some were shot within these very walls.
After the fall of Communism, the castle eventually came onto the market in 1993.
1997-2012 – THE CHRISTIANS: The castle was bought in 1994 by the European Baptist Federation, who had wanted to move their seminary from Switzerland to somewhere more accessible for Eastern Europeans. And now it is a truly international community, seeking to train people to the highest level for Christian ministry of all sorts.
Our time in Rome was very interesting to say the least. Not quite what I was prepared for and, at times, confusing and a bit unsettling. I have a story to share so please indulge me.
We embarked on our “Vision Trip”, with a calling brought forth by my initial contact with Joe and Mary Sirico in March 2010. Since that time, God has been continually moving us closer to His heart and the needs of His Kingdom. Our goal for this trip was simple. Val and I would be in Rome to pray for and to visualize the ministry God was planning for us. There were people to meet and places to see. I had it all planned. Just one thing wrong with that — I was forgetting that this was God’s vision for us, not Mark’s.
We had many wonderful moments in Rome and we felt a very close kinship to Joe, Mary and Corrado. We attended Bible studies, in Italian, participated in Italian church services, and went out on the streets to disciple, both with our GEM Italy team and on our own. We visited a Church with an immigrant support ministry, we learned more about the home for expecting unmarried young women, and we explored potential neighborhoods to live. Sounds good for a vision trip doesn’t it?
On our first Saturday, before Prague, we were taking the A-Line Metro (subway). As we were getting on the train, Joe and I were together talking. We entered through a different door than Mary and Val. A boy about 10 years old got on next to me and then put his right arm out in front of me. At first I thought he was reaching for the hand-bar for support. I looked down at his hand; it was not moving closer to the bar, it was just near my chest. As I thought this odd, Joe was thinking faster and he realized that this boy was either trying to pick-pocket me or was distracting me to allow someone else to do so. Joe grabbed his arm, pulled him away from me and, in fluent Italian, challenged his intentions. He looked down and did not respond. Even more suspicious was the fact that the adult male that got on with him did not come to his defense. Their reaction was to quickly get off at the next station we were pulling into. This event was taken in stride and as a good reminder of the threat of pick-pockets in the large cities of Europe. Thanks Joe for being alert.
During the early part of our week in Rome, Val and I were on an escalator coming up out of the Metro when a young lady crowded up behind us. This time it was Val that noticed that she was looking at the gap of my pocket with her purse pulled open ready to drop a wallet in. After being given the “hairy-eyeball”, the girl backed off. Event number two spooked Val, but I was still unfazed.
I thought I was being alert and protecting myself. After all, I had been in Rome before, traveled on the trains and buses and had been in crowds — none of this was new to me. Of course, there is the problem of my own self image, six foot two and bullet proof. Hadn’t that persona gotten me through 25 years of law enforcement?
Heck, I worked in Detroit! Let’s be honest here, in a street fight Detroit would kick Rome up one side of the block and down the other. I ruled on the streets, okay so that was one or two, well maybe 30 or so years ago. Whenever that was I was not prepared for this. And I was looking at it all wrong.
Thursday we decided to go to the Decathlon Store, this is a sporting goods chain much like Dick’s only better prices. I wanted a couple of tee shirts and I knew they would have my size and good prices. So off we went, go to the south end of the A-line, then take a bus for about 20 more minutes. After the bus dropped us off we then had to cross a busy street go down a steep hill on a dirt path and walk about 15 minutes to get there. There was probably a smarter way but that was the best I could do. Val was not too impressed, maybe more like your nuts if you think I am ever going to do that again.
We did get there and I did find four nice shirts for 30 €. That went well. Then we went to a store next door that featured women’s cloths, again a nice selection and good prices. Val was able to find three tops she liked so I went up to pay and she headed for the ladies room.
While waiting in line to check out I noticed a women leading a younger women with sunglasses on around like the younger women was blind, however just at that moment the younger, supposedly blind or vision impaired women, came to a point where there was a stroller in her path. Did she trip over it or stumble; no she swung her leg around it as swiftly and precisely as a young running back. Odd! Now I get up to pay and find out that the discounted prices clearly marked on the items apply only if you are a member of their loyal shoppers club and the lady waiting on me was trying to convince me to fill out a quick application, in Italian of course, I am refusing thinking I could end up the new owner or worse. The items were nice and Val is worth full price to me so I just wanted to pay and leave and I did. When I turned to walk away from the counter right behind me, actually too close for comfort, though I had not noticed due to my involved discussion about the quick and easy application, was the “blind” lady and her partner. As I turned I had to excuse myself to get around them and go meet Val who was waiting for me outside the store at a table enjoying a White Chocolate Magnum Bar.
I sat down and explained to her what the conversation was about that I had with the clerk and about the pricing, which I understood Kroger does the same thing. All at once I realized that the bag from Decathlon that had been on my left wrist was gone. I jump up and went back into the store and asked the clerk if I had left it on the counter, she acted like I was speaking a different language and she did not know what I was saying even though we had just had a conversation about the quick and easy application just moment earlier. The blind team was nowhere to be seen either. When I sat back down with Val and talked about what had just happened I could clearly remember the bag on my left wrist as I handed the clerk the items on hangers that I was holding with my left hand. But it was gone now.
Event number three, this time I was mad and disappointed.
During the week we had several incidents that were less than what we would have liked. Confusion about getting from one place to another, after we left the store to take the bus back to the Metro we went on a nice ride, which I classified as a learning experience and Val classified as something different. We expected this; we were in a foreign country with different customs, a language we were just learning and places we had never been before. There were bus strikes, subway closings, due to broken water main, whose fault is that, no ones. We had a lot to learn; we knew that and accepted it, but there was an underlying uneasiness all week.
On Friday afternoon I escorted Val to the Sirico’s where she was going to help Mary prepare for a group of mission minded ladies from Oklahoma that were coming for dinner and a presentation by Joe about what GEM is doing in Italy. I was invited but I had it my head that before I left Rome, which was Sunday morning, I was going to see and then sit and pray
at St Paul at the Three Fountains, the church in Rome dedicated to the Apostle Paul and located at the site of his martyrdom. There was rain predicted for Saturday but not for Friday, so it was going to be Friday. That water main break I mentioned that had shut down the B-Line Metro, that happened just minutes before I was to get on it and head to the church I wanted to see so badly. Not to be deterred I headed for the bus stop, I will just take a bus. Remember the bus strike, the bus line I needed was one that was being struck that day, and the rain for Saturday that I mentioned, it came just as I exited the train station and headed to the bus stop. Now I did not know the bus line was on strike, I still don’t, but after one hour and thirty minutes (and that is in Euros) of standing in the rain the bus I was waiting for had yet to show. Was I at the wrong place waiting for the wrong bus? No! The bus signs, numbers and system in Rome are easy to figure out, especially after several very good instructional sessions with Mary. I was in the right place; I just had the wrong plan. That is not even the end of that story of absent buses, but I will spare you the rest and just tell you that from 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM I was either walking to or waiting at public transportation sites in the rain. No I did not get to the church.
Not to be denied my visit to St Paul at the Three Fountains, Val and I headed out Saturday morning, a beautiful day I might add, no rain in sight. I had checked the news reports and the B-Line was running from Termini south to Laurentina Station, which was where we needed to go. We jumped on the A-Line to transfer to the B-Line at Termini then south to Laurentina, good plan. We made all our connections and walked from Laurentina station to the church, about one kilometer, a nice walk with beautiful scenery. St Paul at the Three Fountains was not a disappointment, I was very happy to be there even though we arrived at 1:08 PM and the church was closed from 1-4. Not a problem I was thrilled just to be sitting outside reading from my Bible and praying. Shortly after 2:00 PM, Val graciously suggested that we go to the café that was located onsite, get some lunch, relax and wait until the church reopened. I don’t think that was what she wanted to do, but she does love me and she didn’t want me to be disappointed, I assured her I wasn’t and that I would be back again and next time I will plan to be there while the Church was open. The café was a wonderful place with many products made by the Trappist Monks that live at and maintain the site. We ordered lunch picked our drinks from the cooler and I went up to pay, Val went outside to secure a table. When I reached for my wallet, which was in the front zippered pocket of my shoulder bag (“it’s European” as Seinfeld would say), the zipper was open and my wallet was gone.
Wallet, money, credit cards, personal documents and 61 years of pride were gone, just like that. My remaining 16 hours in Rome are a little fuzzy, but I do know that it was the most unsettling experience of my life and I have been shot at!
I quickly got to a phone, the desk-clerk at the Hotel located on the site of the church, was kind and very understanding and did everything he could to help us, including letting me call the Bank of America from their phone to cancel my debit/charge card.
At the time each card was cancelled there had not been any attempts to use any of the cards, which are all protected in case of fraud or theft. I have frozen my credit, which according to Clark Howard is the best and only true way to be protected from ID theft, we will see. As I write this it sounds way below average on the scale of bad experiences, but it did not feel that way when it was happening.
The next part of our “Vision Trip” was the Connecting Hearts conference in Athens, Greece, or Athens Jr. as I referred to it. This was a gathering of the women of GEM and a chance for Val to meet and become part of this wonderful group of women.
As you know I have come to the point in my life that I believe God has planned my life from the very beginning and I believe He has been directing the events that have occur along the way. You should also know that I accept and respect His plan for my life. I believe the week in Athens was very much a part of that plan and a most important stop on the journey. Why?
Because when I was in Rome I forgot to ask God for direction and care, I figured I could handle it on my own, I knew all I needed to know and I let my pride run the show. That was a Bad Plan.
In Greece while Val studied and prayed with her fellow missionaries and was having a wonderful time, I was coming out of my fog. In part because of the Bible lessons Val was studying and sharing with me each day during her breaks. On Sunday evening Val had her first Connecting Hearts gathering. This gave me an opportunity to reflect on all that had happened in Rome and to go to God in prayer. When I opened the Kindle App on my iPhone to read my daily devotionals, by the way this was the first time I opened my bible since Saturday just before discovering my wallet was missing. How’s this for the first scripture reading to come up? Joshua 1:9, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. With that passage I began to regain my focus.
When things good or bad are happening to those around us it is usually easy to see the reality of what is happening and to understand why. When it is happening to you it seems to take more time and effort to make sense of it. As the fog began to clear in my head I realized that I had been in Rome as a missionary and I was making plans to move to Rome to share the message of salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus. Would the Devil be hard at work trying to discourage me, trying to make me feel unwelcome, and trying to get me to change my mind? OH YA!
When I was a detective there would be occasions when the person I was focusing my investigation on would squawk, and promise me that if I continued down this road it would surely end in the loss of my job. The more squawking, the more certainty that I was pursuing the right suspect, so why did it take me so long to realize that the more trouble I experienced in Rome the more certain I should be that this is exactly where God wants me.
James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Both Val and I felt tested while on our “Vision Trip” and we both felt stronger and more committed by the time we arrived back here in Dublin. We want all of our current partners and those God is still working on to know “we are fully committed to serving God and our mission has already begun”. We continue to pray and be in the Word as we seek God’s Heart for our ministry and we ask you to keep us in your prayers.
If you feel God calling you to support the expansion of His Kingdom please contact Mark at (478)697-6609, Val at (478)697-0612, or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become part of our ministry at Greater Europe Mission, gemission.org/donate Account #13770
May God bless you and keep you in His care.