It Has Been A Year May 14, 2014

Thanks for being at my side.

Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it. Ezra 10:4

It is hard to believe but it has been one year since our first arrival here in Rome.  It has been some kind of year, WOW. I came with ideas and plans and as I sit here today I can say I have gained love and faith. God didn’t necessarily have the same ideas and plans as I did but He did have a plan and in retrospect I must say His was much better and I am glad to have learned that. 

Val and I have kept a journal where we share our thoughts each day. Val keeps telling me I should share my experiences with all of you and I keep saying it is hard to (at least for me) open my heart and share the emotions of daily life as a servant of God.  And honestly most of my journal entries are too long. So I will pick a few parts of a few entries to share with you.  

    I spent a several hours today with …. We had our deepest conversation yet about Jesus and the teachings of the Bible. Very open and honest. They are clearly desiring a closer relationship with Jesus ….  Good way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon. Love you, miss you and thank you for your understanding and love. To God be the glory. M

    Last night I went out with the Angel Squad to reach out to the Treasures (women enslaved in a life of prostitution) on Via Cristoforo Colombo and Viale Guglielmo Marconi.  I served as the “watcher.” The ladies of the Angel Squad go out in teams of two, the watcher goes with them but keeps a discreet yet safe distance and monitors the activity surrounding the visit. The driver remains with the car ready for a quick departure if one is needed. The ladies share God’s love with them as well as applicable  scripture, snacks, convenient toiletries, and information regarding local services that available to help them. It is a very simple and effect outreach. All but a few welcome the encounter and openly share their stories, none are in this situation by choice. They are glad to hear that God loves them, they feel that because of their life style God has/would reject them, so when scripture that tells the story of Jesus compassion for the lost is shared with them it gives them a glimmer of hope. You could see it very clearly in their body language. After each encounter the team records the context of the exchange and the name, country of origin and age of each Treasure. Many of the Treasures were know by the team from previous encounters, some asked for bibles in their native language so the team provides one, in cases where one was not immediately available they would get one and keep it until the Treasure is located again. Last night we had one where they had been looking for this Treasure for more than two months. She was very excited to receive her bible. None of the Treasures were Italian. To God be the glory. M

    I am going out Friday night with the ladies to reach out to trafficked women. Remember the Sunday night we had so much fun riding the buses coming home from Peters and we ran into a bunch near St. Paolo’s? Well that’s where we are going. We will be meeting at McDs at 10:15 PM. Another new road on my life journey. “Not all who wander are lost.”  M

    Good day at JNRC, the guys all know me now and know why I am there. I get a lot of friendly hand shakes, hugs and greetings, they know I care about them and their well being. Even those that were hostile in the beginning have now become friendly. M

    At bible study today we read the passion. I am thankful for this group and their faithfulness. I did not ask but during the prayer time one of the ladies said a prayed for you and our family in the US, and gave thanks for your sacrifice which has allowed for me to be able to be here and serve.  Several of the ladies were talking about volunteering at St Andrews where they pass out lunch to refugees, they mentioned the man that is always on the street selling scarves with the rolled up hat. Of course I had already shared with them about Nasim, so when I told them that was Nasim they were all excited. It’s a small world. Danielle sent me an email and said my phone should be here tomorrow (for those of you that don’t know my iPhone was stolen). Miss you, love you, and thank God everyday for you. ✌️M

    “He’ll be coming and going he had said. One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) C. S. Lewis 

    Today Nasim showed me pictures of his Mother and Father. He was so proud. He was able to have them sent to his tablet from his uncle in Atlanta. M

In a recently conversation with one of the men at Il Soggiorno the subject of why am I in Rome came up again (as it has many times before). He said, “I see you everyday in different places and you are always giving out food and cloths and things, why?” In response I told him that I was here to share with him God’s love, through my service and care for him and others.  He then asked me “well who cares for you while you are here, like when you were sick last week?”  

The answer that came to me, I am sure from the Holy Spirit, was first, God.  But, I add, there are many people in America that also care about you and me. And those people pray for us, love us, and support us with their hard earned money. Without them I could not be here to share Gods love with you.  This concept was difficult for him to comprehend, and in many respects it is hard for me to grasp as well. 

I can not express the gratitude and love I feel for those of you that have prayed for me, stood with me, trusted in me, and through your love and generosity have allowed me to serve our oppressed brothers and sisters in Christ. 

I have grown and learned so much this past year here in Rome and as Val and I go forward in our service to those whom God continues to bring to us throughout His Kingdom, we do so because of you and your partnership.  Your love and support humbles me.  Grazie Mille. 

In His Service,
Mark

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It’s All About Faith March 19, 2014

For we live by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7
 
Faith never knows where it is being led.  But it knows and loves the One who is leading.  Oswald Chambers
 
Four years ago today I was in Rome, it was my first visit and it was at that time in my life that I was hearing God calling me. I wasn’t sure at the time just what He had in mind for me but over the course of 2010 as I prayed for guidance one line from John 21:17 kept resonating in my head, Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.  Why is it that we struggle so much to hear God when His message is so clear?  Faith.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
We have within us the overwhelming need to know. We are constantly looking for answers to questions like; whats next for me, what is going to happen to my children, should I buy this or not, should I quit or stay and on and on it goes. That is why the electronic media is so enticing to us, we can know whats going on round and in the lives of other, right now.                                                                                                                                                                                           
God asks us to live by faith and to trust Him. Some of you, maybe all of you have heard me say, when asked the question what will you do in Rome, “I will Pray, study the Word and be a willing and available servant to God.” Which I would then followup with “I am sure He will keep us busy.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
We have been and continue to be willing servants and to follow where God leads us.                                                                                                                                                                          
Last November we changed Mission organizations, we left GEM and moved to International Teams, http://www.iteams.us. The switch to ITeams has been having many positive effects. ITeams President Scott Olson and his field leaders believe that every moment and every gift giving in service to God’s Kingdom is worthy of praise.  As you may recall from previous conversation and writings one of the pluses with ITeams was the fact that they are worldwide and Atlanta is one of their primary focuses for growth. According to the FBI, Atlanta is a hub for human trafficking.  There is also a growing refugee population. The fact that ITeams is committed to Atlanta will allow Val and I to continue serving for as long as we are able.                                                                                                                                                                          
The experience and training we have gained from GEM, ITeams and through our service has brought us to where we are today. Our faith and willingness to follow God will take us where we will be tomorrow. Life is fluid, we are staying flexible and making field adjustments as we go. At this point in time we, we being ITeams, Val and me, felt that I could carry on our service here in Rome and Val could begin working with ITeams as well as other organizations involved in service to the oppressed in Atlanta.  Atlanta will be our long term focus for the future.                                                                                                                                                                             We did however feel that I could gain some valuable experience in Rome and I just met with our ITeams leader for Italy regarding setting me up with other organizations here that work closely with trafficked women.                                                                                                                                                                               
What about Val? We joked about that when we first decided to say yes to God’s call. Now the question has come up why isn’t Val in Rome? And Is there a problem?  “The answer: there is no problem.”  Actually when I think about it I realize the opposite is more accurate. We understand each other very well and support each other even when it calls for personal sacrifice. Val understands and respects my call and the need for me to respond to that call. I understand and respect that not everyone can walk away from life as they know it and flourish as a servant. So with that said I hope all of you can appreciate and respect what we are doing.                                                                                                                                                                               
This time is also allowing Val an opportunity recoup and refresh. I think 2013 took a toll on Val emotionally and physically. And then there is the coming grandchild, I am sure you all can relate to that, Val wants to be close to Paul and Brittany and enjoy every minute of this blessing.                                                                                                                                                                  
I plan to return to Georgia sometime in June, I am sure I will be plenty lonesome by then. And I too want to enjoy the arrival of our first grandchild.                                                                                                                                                                                                             
As a side note to all this, ITeams was assembling a team to come to Rome before we joined them. That team has completed most of their training and should deployed in late spring or early summer, which would free me up to begin focusing on Atlanta. We may still come back to Rome during this summer and fall and beyond to help the Rome team, but that will be up to ITeams European and North American leaders. We will go wherever we can be best utilized.  As you heard me say many times, I am just a willing servant of God.                                                                                                                                                                                            
I hope this message finds all of you happy and secure with our Lord and enjoying His blessings daily.  Know that you have our heartfelt gratitude for your love, prayers, and support. I’d like to leave you with two verses I turn to often.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
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.” Joshua 1:9                                                                                                                                                                                
We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  – Romans 8:28

Finding My Way in Rome Posted March 10, 2014

I recently read a piece on Short-Term Missions that my friend Andy LeBreche had recommended is was by Ramon Lull written in his blog DesiringGod.
I have included the link http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/there-s-nothing-short-about-short-term-missions. Lull has presented a perspective that had been eluding me and I believe many others.                                                                                                                                                                                            
What Lull puts forth is the idea that short term missionaries are not and can not be properly equipped or trained to have a significant impact on the people in the cities and countries they are visiting. Significant change takes years, even decades. Through my short time in the field I have come to believe this and therefore I have been asking myself this question “how can I serve and make a difference”? In Lull’s blog he recommends that short-term, meaning less than decades, should go into the field with the motivation to support the efforts and uplift the spirits of those that have committed their lives to missions. If you find this concept interesting or if you think it is flawed please read the entire blog and then form your opinion, don’t rely solely on my feeble writings.                                                                                                                                                      
In addition to learning from Mr. Lull’s blog there is another book from which I have learned much, the Bible. And during the past month as I have sought the Holy Spirits guidance as to how I can be the most efficient servant as a missionary, He has guided me to many scriptures regarding the need to be a servant to others.                                                                                                                                                                                
Combining these lessons with prayer and actual hands on, in the field experience, and I believe I have found my calling here in Rome. I can provide support, prayers and care to those here serving God as long term missionaries. This frees them to do more of the work that they have trained years for.                                                                                                                                                                                                          
The other part of this lesson for me was learning the importance of serving God’s more needy children by simply doing the labor required to bring basic support services to those in need. In Mark’s gospel 9:35 he tells us… Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  This message seemed to be coming at me from every direction, no doubt the work of the Holy Spirit.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
I began to embrace the tasks before me, making large pots of tea, washing and drying dishes, sweeping, mopping, setting up and take down tables and chairs and passing out clothing and toiletries.  Since moving more in the direction God was leading me I have seen a marked increase in both verbal and facial expressions of gratitude from those I came to serve.                                                                                                                                                                          
But it doesn’t stop there, not only have the refugees reacted more positive but so have others. I have had more people ask me what am I doing in Rome than ever before. This opens the door for me to share my faith and how Gods love has blessed my life. It is so exciting to see the baffled looks and share with them the news that “God loves you the same as He loves me.” I have always read that when you submit to and truly follow the will of God things will happen around you that will confirm what your are doing is for the good of God’s kingdom. I have that feeling.                                                                                                                                              
 
Being one that believes God is the Great Coordinator it has been interesting how people have reacted to Val not being here with me. I have been asked by several people doesn’t your wife mind you coming to Rome to do mission work? Or people have said I could never be alone for that long. My favorite is “you and your wife are willing to be apart just to serve other people.”                                                                                                                                                                
Do you suppose God was intending for our commitment to each other and our love and understanding of what we both need to do at this time to be an example to others? It sure seems that way to me.                                                                                                                                                                                                   
I am looking forward to the next three months in Rome.  We will just have to wait and see where it goes from there.                                                                                                                              
Your friend in Christ, Mark                                                                                                                
We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  – Romans 8:28 

Back In Rome

21 February, 2014

I have made it back to Rome. I had good flights, none were the originally scheduled flights due to the crazy weather plaguing the Southeast at the time. US Airways did a fine job of rebooking all my flights and actually got me there 40 minutes early. 

I have spent the first week reconnecting with folks, adjusting to the time difference (6 hrs) and looking for a place to stay. I am looking for a room to rent, not an apartment, a room is better suited to my needs and much more affordable. However the search is proving to be more of a challenge than I expected. 

Being here without my best friend is also difficult. “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Through the coming weeks as I get back into the swing of things and hopefully find a suitable place to stay, my morale should improve. Right now it is a little off center. 

25 February, 2014

Saturday morning was spent in prayer. Bringing my troubles to God has always proven to be the right decision. I had gone to the USO for some post banquet cleanup chores.  As I was leaving I received an email regarding an appointment to view a room, we agreed on 2:00 PM.  I met the landlord and viewed the room, results, moving in Sunday.  An answered prayer! 

This one, seemingly common place event, has brought me back to where I need to be while serving here in Rome. I was walking down the streets signing the rest of the day. Your daily prayers are crucial to this ministry, I believe it is what brings it all together. 

Those of you following the events of my sister Mary’s life have to believe in the power of prayer to our Lord and Savior.  Her recovery can only be credited to answered prayers. Please continue to pray for Mary, her faith has been an inspiration to all that know and love her. 

We continue to pray and trust what God is doing in our lives.  Our heartfelt thanks and gratitude goes out to all of you that make this ministry possible with your prayers, love and support.  If there is something special in your life that you would like us to pray for please share your needs with us.  Please keep us in your prayers as well.

In His Service, Mark

It certainly is not possible for us to be in a position where Omnipotence cannot assist us. God hath servants everywhere. There are “treasures hid in the sand,” and the Lord’s chosen shall eat thereof. When the clouds hide the mountains they are as real as in the sunshine; so the promise and the Providence of God are unchanged by the obscurity of our faith, or the difficulties of our position. There is hope, and hope at hand, therefore, let us be of good cheer. When we are at our worst let us trust with unshaken faith. Recollect that then is the time when we can most glorify God by faith. Charles Spurgeon 

The Past Twelve Months in Review Posted January 23, 2014

Looking Forward to 2014

It is hard to believe all of the events that have occurred in the past twelve months. Last January I was working in Porterdale, GA for Garbutt Construction and Val was working on gowns in the Dublin loft. We were preparing to attend pre-field training, six weeks at the Center for Intercultural Training, our last phase of training before launching our ministry in Rome, Italy.

We spent two weeks in March, all of April and the first two weeks of May traveling from Georgia to Michigan and back, raising support and visiting family and friends.

On May 12 we had our send off from First United Methodist Church, Dublin, and on Tuesday the 14th we left Miami heading for Rome. Upon arrival we began looking for a place to call home and locations to could serve. We were successful at both. On the following Tuesday, we began our service at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center and on the 31st we moved into an apartment.

We were off and running. Through our work at the JNRC and the USO Rome we met other Christians dedicated to serving the oppressed. We learned of other refugee centers and began making many good connections.

After we arrived in the field, we began to see that there were other mission agencies working in Rome that we felt were more aligned with our vision of service, “… delivering an authentic Gospel that fully integrates mission and compassion.”

We also learned in June that GEM would be assessing a flat rate monthly administrative fee, not the 10.5% as clearly stated in their handbook. The flat rate came to 34.7% of our monthly support which was unacceptable to us. By way of explanation most missionary couples have significantly higher monthly budgets and the flat fee GEM assess is reasonable.  However, since we do not have to pay for health and life insurance or retirement and, we do not draw a salary or have a car, our support budget is much lower. After discussions with GEM, they admitted the flat rate was adversely affecting us, however, they were reluctant to change their policy and we mutually agreed it would be best if we switched to an agency with a percentage-based administrative fee.

We were already involved with ministries serving refugees and oppressed groups (trafficked women) through ITeams and ReachGlobal in Rome so we contacted International Teams in August and began the application process. We were able to have an in-person interview at ITeams Headquarters in September when we came back to the States for Jessie’s wedding. We also had several meetings with ITeams leadership in Europe. On November 22, 2013 we received our acceptance letter and notification that we scheduled to attend a week of orientation in Elgin, IL beginning January 6, 2014. Please take some time and explore the ITeams website.  I think you’ll like what you read.  www.iteams.us

We finished our orientation with ITeams and we have meetings scheduled this week with both the Italian team leader and the US team leader. We are going to be developing our ministry with oppressed people in both Italy and Georgia.  We will also be furthering our training and experience in service to those caught up in human trafficking as Atlanta is one of the primary cities with this problem.

Once we are cleared by ITeams to return to Rome, I will be going back ahead of Val to find a new apartment. That is another area where we have learned some good lessons. We will be renting month to month and with all utilities included. We keep reducing our monthly expenses so that we can provide more resources for those we serve.

As mid-term volunteers we will be able to assess our support each year and then evaluate how far it will take us. We understand how critical support is to missionaries, it goes beyond caring for the missionary. We use our support to provide for some needs of those we are walking alongside. Their needs are so basic, it is impossible to separate the spiritual and the physical.  

Our families have had some life changing events that will impact our lives in a big way. We found out that we will be grandparents in 2014.  Paul provided that blessing.

2013 was a year of learning and growing. We have been through some rough spots but, through it all, we remain committed to serving the oppressed and lost. We are learning how we can best serve God and keep ourselves focused and strong.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, He calls us to be “fishers of men.”  This was one of Jesus’ first public statements and His last was…”Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” Matthew 28:18-29

In previous writings I have told you about Nasim and about the relationship that developed between us. Through that relationship and through others that I was lead to in Rome, I believe God was opening my eyes and exposing me to a frontline battle that is taking place in His kingdom, the battle for souls between Christianity and Islam. Through prayer and study my focus is becoming more and more clear. We will continue to trust in God’s leadership over our lives.

Many people asked us when we first began this journey “why Rome, why not Africa or Asia or South America, aren’t the people in Rome already Christians and well off?”  At that time I could only answer “that’s where God called me.”  Today I know this was part of my journey, the next of many steps to come. I would say to anyone answering the call, it is not the yellow brick road you will be following, it is not that simple, it is a journey of faith. To quote Oswald Chambers “Faith never knows where it is being led. But it knows and loves the One who is leading.”  There will be distractions and detractors along the way. At the end of Mathew 28:18-20 Jesus gives us cause for all the faith we will ever need “…and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I know some of you may be asking yourselves, what are the Edens doing and should I continue to support them?  Or maybe even, is this something I should begin supporting? To answer that in part I would like to remind or suggest to you that you think of it as supporting God’s work. Just as we are doing, trust God and where He is leading.

Regarding the location or people group we serve, I offer the following analogy.  During WWII America had soldiers and civilians serving in the South Pacific, Africa, Europe, the US and in almost every country around the world.  Through the efforts of which group in which part of the world would you give the credit to for our victory in WWII?  You’re right, it was the combined effort of every American and our Allies.  It is the same today in our battle for the lost souls in the world, it will be the combined effort of all of Jesus followers that leads to victory.  When you pray for those on the frontline and sacrificially give of your resources and love, you are part of the global team God is putting together to expand His Kingdom to all nations and to every corner of the world.  

We give heartfelt and grateful prayers of thanks everyday for all of you that pray of us and lovingly give of your precious resources.  Thank you for trusting in the work that God is doing in us and through us.  

Follow us at markedens.net

To give go to http://www.iteams.us/give/

 

 

Growing and Moving Forward Posted December 14, 2013

His Plan, Our Partner in 2013  
As we move into the new year, I am reminded of the words to a favorite hymn:  “Lead me Lord, lead me in Thy righteousness.  Make Thy way plain before my face.”  This is our prayer.            
                                                                                            
It has been too long since we formally updated our partners and for this we apologize.                                                                                                                                                                          
We have had the good fortune to see many of you in person in recent months and to share what’s been happening in our lives. I will try to provide an update without making you read a novelette.                                                                                                                                           
On October 25, our daughter Jessica was married to Ben McCrary in Atlanta. We were able to be with her and Ben, his family and our three sons to celebrate this joyous occasion.  Family from Michigan and Wisconsin were there to share in the union.  It was a small affair as Jess and Ben had desired.                                                                                                    
 
It is important that you know that NO missionary funds were used for either of our trips to the US.                                                                                                                                               
During our time in the US we were able to accomplish other goals.                                                                                                                                                                                                           We started with a two-day visit to International Teams US headquarters in Elgin, IL. We had decided to change mission agencies some time after arriving in Rome and finding that ITeams was more aligned with the ministry we were called to. This quote from ITeams President Scott Olson sums it up best.  “We’re passionate about delivering an authentic Gospel that fully integrates mission and compassion. Through the years, many traditional mission organizations that have focused primarily on evangelism and discipleship have found themselves at odds with those involved in today’s growing compassion and justice movement. Rooted in Jesus’ own ministry model, we will continue the work that he started in order to meet the spiritual and physical needs of the whole person. We’re passionate about working alongside the oppressed, and not over them. We believe that there is so much we must learn from each other as we work together.” 
 
We have since completed our transition application and acceptance. We are assigned to Rome and will continue the work already begun with Danielle and the growing team in place in Italy and with leaders in England. One of our goals is to learn more about their on-going ministry with victims of human trafficking. This is an area we have both felt drawn to in the past. With ITeams, we are positioning to work both in Europe and stateside in the future as we gain experience in these specific areas.  We will be attending a week-long training session beginning January 6, 2014, near Chicago.  
  
We want you to know that all donations sent to GEM up to December 31, 2013, will be transferred to our new organization. There is a protocol in place as change in agencies is not uncommon. All support sent to GEM after that date will be returned to the donor.
 
As of January 1, 2014, this is the information needed for support partners:
 
To give online and/or to set up a monthly account visit  http://www.iteams.us/give/   Where it asks for person or project type in Mark Edens. I have used it already so I know it works.  If you have any questions, please contact us.  markedens@live.com  or 478-697-6609 
 
To give by check, Please make your checks payable to International Teams and include a note stating your donation is for Mark Edens. 
 
Mail to:
International Teams
Attn: Receipting Dept
411 W River Rd
Elgin, IL  60123                                                                                                                                
 
While we were in Georgia I was able to connect with and visit the family of one of the refugees we have befriended in Rome. They had not seen Nasim for 25 years, they had heard through sources in Afghanistan that he had made it to Rome.  I was able to share with them a letter and gifts Nasim had sent with me. I also had pictures which they appreciated. We visited for several hours and I was able to learn more about Nasim and the family that he lost in Afghanistan — the real stories of the refugees are heartbreaking. Nasim’s family put together a care package for us to deliver to him.                                                            
 
The experience left me moved and motivated to continue working with refugees and to learn more about the process of immigration into the US.  Nasim’s uncle and his family came to the US from Afghanistan via Russia. They were sponsored by five churches in Atlanta that worked with the International Rescue Committee. The most difficult requirement is providing a contract guaranteeing a minimum of two years employment. 
 
I ask for your intercessory prayer for Nasim. His family would like to bring him to the US and he would like to come. He is 32 years old and has already lived a lifetime of pain, yet he smiles and works hard everyday to survive.
 
Just two weeks after we returned to Rome (in fact, the winter clothing that we had shipped while in the US had not yet arrived) we learned that my sister Mary was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was told by two hospitals that there was nothing that could be done for her. So, with heavy hearts, we headed for Upper Michigan to spend some time with her.  On Monday, December 2, she checked into the Mayo Clinic. After several days of testing, they informed her that the type of cancer was misdiagnosed and that they would start chemo therapy as soon as she was strong enough.  (B-cell Lymphoma per Mayo.)  One week later they began chemo and her prognosis at this time is positive. We ask for your prayers for Mary and her family. 

Val’s Field Notes 15 August, 2013

Georgia in the house.  It all started with popcorn.

The Refugee Art Exhibit Opening was complete.  The show was held in the back (big, carved double-door street entrance on Via Nazionale) of the sanctuary of St. Paul’s Anglican Episcopal church.  The Joel Nafuma Refugee Center is housed in the basement of the church.  It is a day center – no one sleeps there.  

Our two new friends, mentioned in my last Field Notes column, arrived at the show.  Helen and Adele, Michigan State University Ad/PR majors, enjoyed seeing the art, meeting some of the artists and learning more about the stories of the center.  After meeting the rector’s wife, Jill, and summer intern, Kate, they planned to meet and prepare their summer study project on the “Peace Flags” artisan project which raises money for the JNRC.  How wonderful!  Our ‘chance’ meeting at a bus stop a few days earlier turned into sharing knowledge and compassion – as well as a finished video – for God’s Kingdom expansion. Once I get it, I will share it in future column.

I held six long bags of fresh popcorn in my hands as I returned from putting away dishes in the room off to the side of the altar.  As I glanced across the pews, they were filling in with smiling faces.  It appeared to be a group traveling together, mostly women.  Assuming they were on a bus or two, I thought of the long days of travel and offered the popcorn left over from the show.  Yes, there were takers.  Here, over there, until reaching the back of the group.  The bag left in my hand was double-sized and we laughed together when I mentioned she would “have to share” if I gave her this one!  Her name was Lisa.  I asked where she and the group were from.  The US.  Georgia.  Decatur.  Whaaat?  Ray of Hope Christian Church was ready to share their talented choir with a full sanctuary.  It didn’t take long for the others to hear about the lady from Georgia who, at that moment, decided to stay for the concert.  It was their first performance of a multi-city tour. 

The first four pieces on the program (out of 11) each had an asterisk.  They were the selections which would be performed at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City the next day and at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice on July 1.  After completion of these beautiful songs, the music folders were closed and passed down the rows until all hands were free.  I smiled when the director shared that “these were our sacred hymns.”  I knew what was coming next – we were “going gospel” and it was gonna be great!  You really haven’t lived until you’ve been lifted up in song and celebration to the likes of “Caught Up”, “Souled Out”, and “Oh Happy Day”.  Good ol’ Southern Gospel can take you to new heights.  I especially enjoyed “God Wants A Yes”.  I need to look up those lyrics again as I/we have been working mighty hard to give God that “yes” in our lives.

Next came shout-outs to cities near Dublin.  Choir members were running up and hugging me.  It was delightful to talk with one woman who’s daddy was a preacher in Dublin (I have to look for her name in my notes.)  I shared our sending and home church of Dublin First United Methodist and sister church Howard Chapel UMC.  Cynthia Walters and her mom, Miss Eulah, came up in the conversation.  She had just been on the phone with Cynthia’s sister a few days earlier.  What a beautiful, interconnected world we experience when we share the same family in Christ.  One woman chased me out the door onto the sidewalk yelling “Vidalia”!  I said, “Don’t tell me, you were a Sweet Onion Queen!?”  Wonderful unexpected fellowship.

Excerpts from their printed program: 

“There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them.  And so we came to Rome.”  Acts 28:14 

Church Vision:  To be a City of Hope where People will Impact and Transform our Present World into the Kingdom of God!

Empower – Elevate – Exalt – Equip – Evangelize  

“Therefore go …. Matthew 28: 19-20”   www.rayofhope.org 

 

Val’s Field Notes ending July 9, 2013

Part I

The last two weeks have been filled with Michigan and Georgia encounters!  Every one of them is connected to God’s work in the world and to Rome in particular. 

We were invited to Peter’s home on Sunday, June 23, to enjoy an afternoon meal with him and family friend, Katrina.  He is working through the aftermath of Cinny’s recent passing and we were pleased to share this time with them over Rotisserie chicken, salad and gelato on the Terrazzo.  Certainly not lost on me was the joy of his art collection gathered over the years, mostly exchanged with artist friends.  The bronze sculptures of his babies when crawling and stone busts of his twins were among the beautiful places to rest the eye.  We joined him again on Tuesday night at a nearby restaurant where we were delighted to get to know him even more personally.  We had the honor of visiting his nearby studio and hearing the history of much of his work.  He asked me to “fill in” for him at the JNRC (Joel Nafuma Refugee Center) two mornings a week leading the clay/sculpture table, which I will do, as he leaves for a three-month period.  I hope Fimo clay play in Sunday School counts as experience.  (Of course, it is not about the clay, but about the relationships built and the love of Christ shared over the tables.) 

Note here for Dubliners:  Deano’s own Jennifer Shaffer let me know that her Grandfather was in one of Norman Rockwell’s illlustrations, The Pharmacist.  A young Peter is featured in “Soda Jerk”. He laughed and said that his father would pay others $5 for a sitting but not his own kids – they only got a buck. Check it out at the link below.

www.columbusmuseum.org/blog/collection/soda-jerk/

Waiting at the bus stop after leaving Peter’s that Sunday, a large group of American students gathered with rolling luggage in tow.  I noticed a Michigan State University tee shirt and gave a shout out.  Sure enough, all were from MSU, returning from a weekend in Paris with several more weeks of study in Rome.  They are Advertising/PR majors.  It doesn’t take long for them to ask what we are doing here.  Once the word missionary comes up, the conversation heads to the work and needs surrounding us.  Helen shows particular interest in the work at the JNRC and I share that an opening of an art exhibit with the stories of individual refugees will be held in a few days.  We exchange emails.  She also asks about where she might attend an English-speaking Protestant church, so we help her with several options.  She and her friend, Adele, are Asian-Americans.  I welcomed them with excitement to the exhibit that Wednesday evening.  Now, you know I love this part.  They ask if there are any specifics of the center that could benefit from advertising, just getting the message out there.  Of course.  I introduce her to Jill, the rector’s wife at St. Paul’s Anglican Episcopal Church, as well as to Kate, the summer intern from North Carolina.  They must produce a finished video for their classwork.  Adele says, “Imagine, this could be an influence of faith on our classmates and larger community, not just complete an assignment.”  Yes, what could come of this connection?  Helen Song is heading on a mission trip to South America soon.  She has promised to keep me updated and we will look into supporting her with our own tithe designation.

Stay tuned for Part II – “Georgia in the House”

 

Inspired by Two Dear Friends June 24, 2013

WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW!

Thank you to all of our faith partners for your promise of love, prayers and support. Without you, we would not be spreading God’s word and sharing His love with the people of Italy and to those forced out of their homeland that are seeking refuge in Rome. We have felt God’s hand upon us and His blessings have been with us every step of this journey.

Our permission from Greater Europe Mission to deploy in May was based on monthly and annual pledges and faith promises made by our supporters. Unfortunately not all of the funding we were counting on has come through for May or June and it has created a deficit in our support account.

If you have given a gift that helped launch our ministry, would you now consider a monthly faith promise to keep us viable. We are also in need of one-time gifts if anyone feels they can share this way. You can give at the link provided below.

We were reminded this past week that our ministry is not only our service to God’s lost, it is also about our “Faith Partners” and their service to Him. I would like to share the inspiring message Val received this week from a loving faith partner Connie.

“We started our summer study on Galatians this week, with Dorrie leading…. so you can imagine how amazing it was. She is special and we all ‘sat at her feet’ and listened intently to His Words and her heart. She mentioned that we all have a choice to either GO, SEND, or… be disobedient. I’m so happy I get to help send through people like you and Mark. Blessings to both of you.”

That is God’s work being carried out by His children. If you feel God has called upon you to support our ministry in response to His “Great Commission” please make the sacrifice and answer His call. We need your prayers, love and financial support for May, June and every month until God’s work through us is complete.

 

We continue to pray for all of you daily. Mark and Val Edens

Philippians 4:17  Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account.

Val’s Field Notes 19 June, 2013

This is a safe place.

This is a place of peace.

This is a place of refuge.

Imagine reading these words when you have nothing and don’t know anyone.  I expect the closest comparison we have would be a sanctuary.  For me, when life pulls me to my knees, a church sanctuary – the Word, prayer and music – brings peace.

I could not have known what to expect the first day I walked into the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center  http://stpaulsrome.it/jnrc in the basement of St. Paul’s Anglican Episcopal Church on Tuesday, the fourth of June.  Descending the stairs, the sense that triggers first is that of smell.  (I don’t notice it anymore.)  Mark traversed the room and waited patiently for Piero, the coordinator at JNRC.  I decided to sit at the end of the trio of tables covered in plastic.  The clay being pressed and molded intrigued me.  A gentleman, my senior, approached and asked if I was a volunteer.  I said that we were discussing those options.  He was reluctant and almost gruff.  Time passed and we shared more conversation as I was interested in one sculpture in particular on the table.  “I did that one,” said Peter.  He sounds American.  I appreciated his work.  Before long, I was in the back room viewing a wide variety of pieces done by the refugees (one a bust of Peter by his ‘star’ student).  I learned that Peter is a professional sculptor.  He is now in his seventies.  He volunteers each Tuesday and Friday morning, leading in clay.  I am now invited to assist him on those mornings and, hopefully, learn from him.

Peter asks where we are from.  I say Atlanta as it is recognized instantly abroad.  He tells me he is an historian, as well, and has spoken at ….. he tries to remember ….  Emory.  He goes on to say that he also lectured at the “High” (High Museum of Art for those not from Georgia), however, that was on his father’s work.  As an art lover, I say that I would enjoy seeing images of his dad’s work at some point.  He pauses and says, Norman Rockwell.  Yup.  I look at him as though this slightly sarcastic gentleman is pulling my leg.  Nope.  His last name is Rockwell.  Norman’s third-born child.  I feel rather dumb though not sure why.  I guess I don’t need anyone to “show me” his body of work.  Peter is in my prayers.  He lost his wife of 55 years just over a month ago.  

Building Relationships 

This is really where all work begins, missional or otherwise.  The list of new friends is simply long and getting longer (and it’s just been a month).  I will share more of those whom God has planted in our path over the next weeks.  

Tamim.  Javid.  Ali.  Mamadou.  Cisse.  The latter two are from Niger and my first students in English Class.  Yvette is returning to the states for two months and had been praying for a teacher.  In I walked, thanks to our partners.

Tamim has excellent English skills.  We have been friends since our first day talking at the clay table.  There is always interest in America.  From Afghanistan, he is quick to help me communicate with others from his country.  He is thirty.  I asked (after several meetings) why he was in Italy.  The answer was quiet and simple.  The drug smugglers want to kill him.  He is here under political asylum, as are all the others (around 200).

Javid did not want to work in clay, but he wanted to talk.  I asked if I could use his face as my “model” to learn.  He liked that.  We liked our end result.  It will go into a show on June 25 open to the public at St. Paul’s Within the Walls. http://www.stpaulsrome.it  If it sells, the money will go to help him.  (Okay, I may have to buy it.)  He did end up making a cow out of clay before the morning was over.  I asked about his reason for being in Rome.  Again, his enemies were trying to kill him.  He has no enemies here.  I share that I am very happy he is safe.  He gets two pieces of fruit for the afternoon and wants me to have his peach.  I am grateful and eat it immediately. I brought him toothpaste this morning.

Ali stood between Tamim and Javid yesterday after English Class.  His English is limited.  He asked about my family.  Of course, my i-phone has a family snapshot as background.  His face grows expressionless.  He shares that he has lost many.  His wife.  His three children.  His sister.  His mother.  Air raids.  Three years ago.  We quietly talk through translation and I let him know I will be praying for him.  I am sad for his great loss.  When will I go back to America, he asks.  In October for my daughter’s wedding, I answer.  He has something he wants to give me.  It belonged to his sister.  He wants me to bring it to my daughter as a gift.  Generosity, compassion, the example of Christ’s love – exchanged daily.  I am blessed to serve.