Saturday, November 17, 2012

Europe Pt. 7 Switzerland, Belgium and the trip home.


   Wow! Well the last several days of this journey have been a great story. The last time I wrote I told of my opportunity to visit the family in Sicily and I am still floored by that story. I feel as though I’ve retold it countless times, and it is still thrilling!



   After returning to Catania, Sicily I took a night train to Napoli where I was able to get “La Feccia Rossa”, the fast train, to Milan. My plan was to grab the soonest train leaving for Zurich, Switzerland. It was there I planning on meeting up with Laura and Darryl. I had the opportunity to meet Laura while in Zambia and share several things about the Lord with her. She invited me to come and visit so that I would see her church and meet her boyfriend, Oh and of course visit the Alps! I arrived last Friday night to a chilly Swiss night, and I was excited. A new country and new adventure had now begun. Laura eventually was able to find me at the train station and we made our way through the dark streets to her apartment. I was graciously offered a delicious meal and an extremely comfortable couch to crash on, both of which I gratefully accepted. After meeting Darryl and sharing a wonderful conversation I crashed.
My friends Darryl & Laura
The village in the Alps where Laura was born.
    
   The next morning I awoke excited about our plans for the day. We were planning on going to visit the village where Laura was born and raised. We were a bit late as we reached the station, but we were able to run and catch the train. The views were breathtaking as we made our way from the city into the Alps. Trees painted with the colors of fall blanketed the base of each snow-capped peak. The lakes teemed with blue waves while its banks hosted the quaintest of villages. One of these towns, backed by a rigid cliff, requires its habitants to access it only by boat. I couldn’t snap my camera fast enough to catch each sight as the train hummed toward our destination. We walked out of the station and I stared up at the Alps peering over the valley like the noblest of watchman tirelessly gazing over the towns therein. Laura’s mother, Heidi J arrived and after a quick stop in at her apartment we began the journey to Weisstannen, Laura’s childhood home. The road was long and winding; we crossed rivers and passed sheer cliffs that created scenes no artist could capture. By the time we reached the tiny village I was ready to go explore! We first stopped in for some coffee and conversation at the home of dear family friends and even though I understood very little to none of the Swiss-German conversation it was extremely pleasant. It was then off on a hike out of the village and into the Alps. It was brisk and cloudy as we trampled the path through the most scenic of landscapes. I stopped every few minutes to try and capture the beauty. Laura at one point asked me if I was exaggerating my awe, wondering if I had been so expressive in every country I had visited. I explained that though many of the other places were truly beautiful, very few things captured my eye the way these snow covered mountains, dotted by log cabins, and surrounded by autumn kissed trees did. As I walked I wondered how I could describe what I was seeing for the readers of this blog, and I was left a bit speechless for once.
   We arrived back to the vehicle right around dusk, but the day was far from over. Our evening was to continue with a Swiss tradition. I had never tried fondue before, and in my mind there was no better place for a first taste than Switzerland. Laura, Darryl and I together with her mother and her boyfriend sat around the table dipping our bread into the tasty melted cheese. The smell of fondue isn’t the most pleasant, but my stomach was full as the evening drew to a close and we made our way back to Zurich. I still can’t think of a better way to spend a day than with great friends, beautiful views, and great food.
   Sunday was full of surprises that began after our first church service and finished at the last one. It was once again a great day of worshiping with the church of yet another country and language. We ate a late lunch in downtown Zurich and we arrived to the realization that it was November 11th, a Festival day in Switzerland, as very strangely outfitted participants wandered the rainy streets. The sound of big band music was around each corner and I couldn’t help but step in time with “When the Saints Go Marching In”. It took awhile for our food to arrive, but when it did I was in no way regretting the wait. It was a traditional plate from Zurich and it was de-LISH! That evening we headed to ICF (International Christian Fellowship) for another church service. This one, as opposed to the morning service, was geared more for young people, and it ended up being a blast! At the end of the service a guest from Dallas/LA, named Coffè Anderson, surprised us. I had heard about him quite a bit and was thrilled to finally see/meet him. He is an extremely talented and vibrant guy who loves Jesus! We went home that night singing his songs.
     I slept a bit too late the next morning, but still made it to the station in time for my train. It was time to leave Switzerland and go on an eight-hour train ride through France and Luxembourg to reach Belgium. I was to stay with Vincent and Priscilla my new friends I had met in Italia, at the conference in Caserta. It was so great to see and spend time with them again. They welcomed me like an old friend and made me feel completely at home. Our conversation was engaging as we talked late into the night. I was to speak at their church the following night and I knew it was going to be something special. I rested really well that night and woke in time for brunch. We spent the afternoon working on translating a song from English to Italian. Vincent did a majority of the work, I helped with a few small things, and we ended up with a beautiful version of the worship song “Waiting Here For You” (Written by Chris Tomlin and Martin Smith). Before heading to the church that evening we visited a small yet very intriguing town. Binge (pronounced Baunge or something close to that in French) is very old and also very spiritually dry. Vincent was born there and wanted to show me a traditional Belgian town. So we walked the cobblestone streets to the old city wall talking a bit about its history and current state. 
   We arrived at the church, which was already beginning to fill. There were many introductions before worship started, and in Belgium everyone kisses once on the cheek for a greeting, men too. This is actually a note that I seemed to have forgotten to mention in my previous posts. So here are the greetings as I found them. In España it’s one kiss only for the women, in Italia its two kisses for the women and some men, in Sicily its two kisses for everyone, in Switzerland its three kisses and from what I noticed its only for women. Ok so back to the church in Belgium. Worship started and it was great. Then it was my turn to share the message, which was simply my testimony and verse from Jeremiah. I spoke for about twenty minutes and was done. Afterward began a ministry time that last for an hour maybe less, maybe more. At the end I was blown away by how God moved and spoke to so many people through such simple word. He is just SOO good! Afterward we went out to dinner and I enjoyed an authentic Belgian plate, once again it was delicious. It was then home to rest; the next day would be a long trip to London. It was late morning by the time Vincent and I headed into Brussels. I was taking a bus due to a strike on the trains in Belgium and most other countries in Europe. It proved to be a really cool experience. I had the opportunity to meet a gentleman from Afghanistan now living in London. I was captivated as he shared his story of how he escaped from Afghanistan seven years earlier and walked for two and a half months all the way to England. Though it had happened so many years ago one could tell the images were still quite vivid in his mind. It was an honor to meet him and hear about his adventure, even though it was much more gruesome than mine. His was one of hope and determination, and I was honored that he shared it with me.
   It was late by the time I made into London. My goal was to get the tube to Watford my friend Jason had invited me to crash at his flat there for the night. I would have to get up at 5:30AM to catch the bus to London-Heathrow so after chatting a bit I slept.
    My trip was coming to a close and it was becoming a bit clearer even in the fog that covered London that morning. I ate breakfast, bought a few souvenirs, and made my way toward my gate. It was time for the nine-hour trip back to Dallas and home. I would say bittersweet is the best way to put it. So much had been experienced, so many memories made, and even more amazing people had affected my life. It was all a bit surreal as we finally touched down at DFW, but I was home and it was good. I don’t have words to sum it all up yet, but I know they will come. I didn’t want to come back the same, and the good news is I don’t feel the same. A work has begun and I know He “will be faithful to complete it”!

Homeward bound.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Europe Pt 6 - Meeting the family!



   The story starts with a risky choice. I got on a train from Catania to Sant’Agata Di Militello that would have me arriving at about 5:30pm. The sun goes down about a half an hour before then making it dark as midnight by the time I hit the damp streets of the coastal town. I had one of those “Oh crap what am I doing” moments as I descended the steps of the station. The email I had said a name and also to “look for a bar/tavern by the water the owner knows them by name”. There were many of these types of places, so I just started to walk and pray. Anything I did was both a literal and figurative “shot in the dark”, but I kept walking. It then started to rain so I kept praying. Within moments it stopped and my faith shot up so I asked the Lord for a miracle, that somehow I would find this family I’m looking for. As I reached the edge of town I saw a small Gelato shop/Bar/Restaurant and thought it was worth a shot. I walked in and asked the kind lady if she knew the name I was looking for, and to my surprise she did! I was thrilled as she picked up the phone and made the call, and even more when she said they would be there in ten minutes. So I waited for what seemed like a half an hour, a bit nervous and a bit excited. Finally the door opened and in walks a man with the name mentioned in my email. There was a problem however; this man knew none of the other names I mentioned, and there was one detail that was apparently left out of the phone call. See I had mentioned to the kind lady that the man’s wife was an architect, and the gentleman standing before me had a wife but she was NOT an architect, thus confirming he was not my relative. All this is happening in Italian by the way, which makes it much more fun… 
The attitude in the room is still altogether joyful as another man joined the search for this American’s “parenti” (relatives). Cell phones are whipped out, loud conversations are taking place, and of course dramatic hand gestures. Still no luck as it gets later and later, and I was planning on catching the last train back to my hostel in Catania that night. These gentlemen however, were not giving up. Then a contact is made; the first name was just a tiny bit different, but the last name was the same, and… wait for it… YES his wife IS an architect! I was thrilled! The gentleman with the same/similar name was as excited as I was and happily offered me a ride into town to the much sought after house. After a quick stop to meet his “non-architect” wife and briefly explain the story, we made our way to the correct home. My heart was pounding as we knocked on the door. It eventually opened and then began the monologue (luckily I wasn’t giving it). The confirmations began, and before I know it I was sitting on the couch of my quite removed distant cousin. We begin to chat, me in "Spantalian" him in Italian with a few English words. I was graciously offered a place to stay that night, as the evening turned into night. Minutes later in walks the “architect” wife so we explained everything to her, she was delighted. My arrival called for dinner and a cracking open of the best wine! I was so blown away by their hospitality. I mean yes I’m family, but they’ve never seen me before and yet they treated me like a son. I laid comfortably in bed that night thinking over the fact that I was in the home of my relatives in Sicily, and I couldn’t help but thank God. It was quite a ride, but I asked for a miracle and I totally believe I received one.
    The next morning I awoke to a pleasant Buon Giorno, and after a shower, coffee and breakfast. We sat, for a moment, and scribbled out the two family trees a bit in order to make sense of it all. I was then taken on a tour around the town before I caught the train back to Catania.
       It is still a bit of a blur, but I am so blessed. It has been the cherry on top of this whole trip, which is not even over yet. A dream has come true. After an adventure to match any other adventure I’ve met the family, been blessed by them, and walked the very streets my great-grandparents did over 100 years ago. I’ve experienced quite a few things over my short life, and this one ranks among the highest. 
    Don't go through your life saying one day you'll do it save, plan, and do it! Our time is short, but our God is loving and He often waits for us to step out so He can surprise us! So step out, take it from me. Is DEFINITELY worth it! 

The View as I walked out the front door this morning.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Europe Pt. 5 Italia!

Pesaro, Italy

 Well if the last one was a bit delayed in coming then this one is a bit ridiculous! This might be a two-part entry cause there is so much to cover! Perhaps I’ll insert an intermission so you can eat/sleep/work. Or if you want grab some coffee, or perhaps a plate of food, sit back and enjoy!
    I’ll start where I left off, my flight to Roma. It was pretty easy and although I was about to leave my comfort zone of Spanish speaking España, I was excited. I think I mentioned my new(ish) friend Rebecca (from New Zealand) in a previous post. She plays some very big parts in my time here in Italy right from the get go. As soon I arrived in Rome I grabbed the first train to a small town on the northeastern Adriatic coast. Pesaro is not known necessarily as a tourist destination, in fact when I told most people I was going there they were quite curious why. Rebecca, as I mentioned awhile back, lives in Rome, spent a bit of time studying in Pesaro as an exchanged student from New Zealand. The weekend I arrived she was back visiting friends and (host) family, and she invited me out to spend a couple of days there. The train ride there was full of mountainous views as well as the occasional village seemingly untouched since its’ founding. Then I reached the coast, and the last half hour or so of the trip was at times a couple hundred feet from the water. I had found paradise and was excited to get to know it. Rebecca was waiting at the station when I arrived and we made our way through the cobblestone streets to her host family’s home. Not long after I arrived I was invited to go along with the family to a party, I gladly obliged and we walked down along the beach to a classic Italian family party. I immediately felt welcomed, and also immediately was wishing I knew how to speak Italian! After a pleasant there, time we went to dinner at a local restaurant and so began the amazing Italian food experience. This particular meal was marked by some amazing steak and sealed by delicious “Mascarpone” for desert.
Church! 
     The next day was Sunday and I was excited to visit Rebecca’s church. I had no idea what I was about to experience, and as when I walked in to some of the most loving people I’ve ever met. The service was a whole-nother level! (Note: Excuse the Christianese) The Holy Spirit dropped like a bomb in that place and worship continued for probably an hour and a half maybe more. I’m pretty sure I got lost in it. Then a wild/amazing ministry time took place and any ideas of boring church service went out the door I came in! I was even being used by the Lord to speak in ways I never knew I could! In the end I was encouraged/blown away/blessed/wrecked/any other positive thing you can think of. We then went home to a home-cooked lunch that made me want to marry an Italian woman (Yep!). It was the classic 3-course meal starting with the pasta, moving on to the meat, and finishing with desert and coffee. The Beccatti’s (Rebecca’s host family) were so sweet and made me feel right at home in their house, and I am extremely grateful for them!
Giacomo and I 
Pizza Party
     Sunday evening Rebecca had to head back to Roma because of Monday morning classes, so she put me in contact with Giacomo who became my new fratello (brother). I went with him and a few others to a pizza party, which was my first experience around people who for the most part didn’t speak English or Spanish. I didn’t feel like an outsider, as we stuffed ourselves on homemade pizza, and I have no problem saying the people of Pesaro are some of the nicest you’ll meet! I was stretched that night, and it wasn’t all because of the language barrier. The Lord wasn’t finished speaking through me in Pesaro, because a young lady at the party named Faviana needed to hear from God. (HE is SOOO loving!) Bedtime came late, but it was in a comfy bed at Giacomo’s house and I rested quite well. In the morning I ran a few errands with Giacomo’s mom Nancy (who treated me like her son) before I took the train back to Roma.
      I arrived in the evening and with an appetite. So before getting back in touch with Rebs I stopped in for some pizza. Let me just pause for a second and explain something. I’ve never really cared for thin crust pizza, but that is simply because I’ve never had real Italian pizza before. Real Italian pizza not only changes the lives of your taste bros, but it is affordable and too much for one person. I was beyond content as I began my quest to find wifi and Rebecca’s place. It was still early so once I found her we headed to the Coliseum, and I will say it is a magnificent sight on a brisk autumn night under a full moon. I stayed at a pleasant hostel the three nights I was in Roma, and explored the ancient city during the day. There is so much to see, and I didn’t take any of the tours. I was blown away by the architecture embedded in almost every nook and cranny of that city. It’s the only place that I think would have been worth paying for a guided tour, but still just walking around it is well worth the time, Although, you might get tired of picking up your jaw off the ground. 

Piazza Venezia
One of the more fun experiences in Roma happened a bit by chance. My plan Thursday morning was to get up early and go see the Sistine Chapel, this unfortunately was foiled by the fact that is was an Italian/Catholic holiday. So I stopped off for an early lunch before continuing my exploration. While on my way I strolled past St. Peters Square, which I had seen a bit the night before. Today however, it was filled with thousands of people murmuring to the sound of an elderly male voice coming from a loud speaker. I then connected the dots. It was All Saints Day (the Italian/Catholic holiday) and all these people were gathered to hear Pope Benedict XVI give mass. So I joined them. My overall experience of the city was great. From the ancient ruins to the newer yet quite old architecture it is a city to see. And though I didn’t see the Sistine Chapel I did get to see the Pope.
From the top of Piazza Venezia looking over Roma
    
Fontana Di Trevi
St Peter's Basilica 
Listening to the Pope


The Tiber River
The Pantheon 
Brother Daniel Lim
  After Rome the plan was to head south to Naples (Heretofore referred to as Napoli) with Rebecca and attend a Christian conference with a guest speaker from Kansas City’s International House of Prayer (IHOP-KC). She however had a few things come up and was not able to make the trip. I decided to still attend knowing it would be a blessing. So Thursday I booked the cheapest hotel room I could get in Caserta, and that evening I headed south. Caserta is a small town just north Napoli. It has a couple of points of interest but they are out of walking distance from where I was staying. The conference however was in my hotel, and that was all I needed. The sessions started Friday and I was given a public welcome because it was so odd for a random American to stop in for this event. Daniel Lim, the guest speaker from IHOP-KC, shared three great messages about “Passion For Jesus”. Each one was heavy, and impacting. I was also able to meet some incredible people who have become great friends. Vincent & Patricia, a couple that was visiting from Brussels, Belgium, actually invited me to their home, which I am planning on doing just before I return to London. It was no accident that I happened upon that conference. Worshiping/praying with the bride of Christ in Italia was such a wonderful experience; I know it wont be the last time. I have to say a quick thanks to Sara and Stefania for all their help, they made my life much easier.
Piazza Del Plebiscito, Napoli
    Sunday evening the conference ended and I was offered a free ride to Napoli (Thanks Adriana, Clara, and Enza!). My plan was to take the train straight to Sicily that night, however it was full so I found another Hostel and crashed for the night. Morning came in Napoli and I explored my travel options to Sicily. Taking a night ferry looked like an adventure, and it would give me the day to see a few things around the city so I decided to go that route. Later that morning at the hostel I met a Kerri an Aussie, her and I decided to explore the town a bit, do some shopping and get some delicious gelato. Napoli is known for its delicious pizza so I couldn’t leave without giving it a whirl. It was everything people said and more; I even had a short conversation with the pizzeria owners in Spantalian! (I’m actually quite fluent)
A look at Napoli from Castel Dell'Ovo
    The evening came and it was time for me to head toward the boat and an eleven and a half hour ride to my motherland, Sicily. Sleep didn’t come easy, but it came, and I awoke to the sun peeking brightly through the curtains and the chitter-chatter of people waking up about the cabin. The deck drew me out for a morning breath of fresh air and a wonderful view of the Sicilian coast. I made it. After all these years of talking about it, I’m here. Though I’ve been sitting here writing this blog most of the day, it doesn’t matter, I’m in Sicily and it is beautiful! So with that I leave you for now, because there is a new city to explore and new experiences waiting around each corner!
Ciao Ciao!

The Sicilian Coast!



The Food!
Pizza in Napoli!







Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Europe Pt. 4


Valencia, España

Well quite a bit has happened since I left Burgos. Sorry it has taken so long to post this. I will do my best to share everything that has happened from Wednesday until I left España. So sit back grab something to drink and prepare for fast trains, more random encounters, fascinating architecture, and amazing God stories!
Pedro is next to me on the right (mouth open)
    I left Burgos on Wednesday morning and began my journey toward Valencia, a Mediterranean costal city. After switching trains in Madrid I was aboard what would become the fastest land-moving vehicle I’ve ever been on in my life. Yes, we went from Madrid to Valencia at blistering 184 mph (300kph). On arrival an old friend from Mexico greeted me. Pedro, his sister Susy, and the rest of the family used to live in the same apartment complex with my family and I. They are a wonderfully unique family and only part of it is because they are Spanish Gypsies. I had the opportunity to build a friendship with Pedro in Mexico because of our mutual love of music and an occasional hankering for a game of pool. We shared the good news of Christ with him then, and though the seed was planted the reaping would happen later. Soon after he returned to España he gave his life to the Lord and is now ministering in a local church. His sister, who was baptized by my father, while in Mexico, proudly calls my mom and dad her spiritual parents. We had the opportunity to attend a church service the evening that I was there, and the Lord spoke some great things to me through a couple of the pastors and I left there with an overwhelming feeling of peace and the love of the Father. It was hard to leave Valencia, but believe the Lord is going to take me back there with purpose sometime in the future.
Sagrada Familia
     From Valencia I caught a bus to Barcelona, where I wasn’t really sure where I would be staying, but after seeing the “Sagrada Familia” and grabbing some dinner and wifi, I found a wonderful hostel on the southern side of the city. The next day was dedicated to exploring Barcelona, and it did not disappoint. I walked to the top of Montjüic, saw the Olympic village from the ’92 games, and the most magnificent view of the city that extends from the mountains to the Mediterranean Sea. It is quite a tourist town; it was often that I walked by American accents and many other languages unknown to me. I can see why though, it teems with beautiful architecture, great food, and people with style. 
Paella!
 I had the great fortune of meeting a gentleman who stopped in for some Paella at the same local restaurant I did. Herbert Cartus is a music/theater instructor from Germany, loves traveling and I just happened to strike up a conversation with him while I was finishing my dinner. We got caught up in conversation that ended with us exchanging information and him graciously offering me a place to crash if I happen to visit Germany. This is possibly my favorite thing about traveling. These random people make it such a great experience if you’re willing to just step out and say hello.

Barcelona's Cathedral
     I wish I could say I got plenty of sleep before catching the 6:00am flight from Barcelona to Roma, but an hour is not a lot for anyone. Once again I had a great encounter because of Barcelona’s tricky bus system to the airport. This time it involved an Argentine gentleman about my age. We shared a taxi to the airport and ended up hanging out a bit before our flights went their separate ways. Thus my time in España concluded, and a new chapter in Italia was about to begin.

A view of Barcelona from Montjüic.