Over the last two weeks, my two colleagues—Collin Hansen and JJ Oslund—and I have enjoyed visiting various churches and ministries from the north of Italy down to the island of Sicily. It was, as you might imagine, an experience with enduring value and significance. In the interest of sharing the heartbeat of our experience, following is a letter which I have sent to our evangelical friends expressing heartfelt gratitude for our partnership in the gospel.
My thoughts turn with great affection and profound gratitude to the fellowship of service that we have enjoyed together over the last two weeks in Italy. Your hospitality and ministry partnership kindled a flame deep within our hearts—a flame that continues to burn even now that we have returned to the States. Inspired by our common love for Christ and service of his gospel, we cherish the memories of praying together, sharing fellowship, and exchanging ideas— despite limitations of language— in an atmosphere of great warmth.
On the basis of our unity in the gospel, we express our desire to uphold you in intercessory prayer, asking the Father to continually lead you into paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Let us never yield to pessimism, to the discouragement that the devil seeks to impose. Rather, let us be quite certain that the Holy Spirit is always bestowing upon us faith to believe God’s promises and strength to actively stand upon them. There were moments over the last two weeks, particularly toward the end, when I found it difficult to apply such faith. Here is one example from a text message that I sent my wife, Angela, from Caltanissetta, Sicily on the penultimate day of our visit when the cumulative weight of fatigue, pain from a back injury, and grief from the recent death of my beloved (Sicilian) Nonna, was getting the better part of me:
“All adrenalin and prayer in this home stretch. Physical pain, Blinding fatigue, Emotional wreck in Sicilian pulpit. I am now with nearly 20 people around a table for dinner. Rear is numb, back throbbing, and three year old Francesco, utterly adorable, reminds me of a photograph of my grandfather as a boy. Literally biting my lip to keep back the torrent of tears.”
I share these personal details as a way of honestly recognizing the struggle that all of us face in serving Christ. In our fallen world, we often encounter shadows that darken our lives and seemingly bring us to the brink of ourselves. But even in such darkness, in the most frightening moments, the Lord is present—our Good Shepherd—enabling us to persevere by his grace. It was a privilege for us to experience this among you.
On behalf of Collin, JJ, and I, I want to express heartfelt thanks to Leonardo for making these two weeks possible. Words can’t adequately convey our gratitude for the many ways in which God used Leo to instruct and inspire us through many hours of organizing, driving heroic distances on the highway, and personally translating our presentations. Grazie, Fratello!
Finally, let us keep in touch. You can follow Collin’s work on The Gospel Coalition website and you can reach me at The Ministry of Gospel Renewal. Until we meet again, we will pray for the Spirit of God who has worked mightily among us to continually incite revival through the Italian church.
It was a great pleasure to have you among us. Thank you for your ministry… and come back soon! More opportunity to ministry as well as more ricotta cannoli and the missed best gelato in the World are waiting for you. Please, remember us in prayer especially for the great work of faith half done you saw the past Sunday. Thank you again! Reno.
I love the letter you wrote, Chris.
[Also, reading your tweets, I was relieved that you were not in fact run over by a gondola in Venice right at the start of your gospel journey 🙂 ]
You have touched my heart with being so honest about your personal struggles. Hopefully, your back troubles will get better soon. Although I prayed for it, I know from my own painful experiences (two slipped disks, LDH+CDH) that one needs to exercise herein a lot of patience – sometimes months, often even years in such cases. And I know too how it feels to be a wreck because of physical pain, fatigue, and grief at the same time.
When it comes to me, these things are always like a seemingly never-ending, faith-shaking dark valley of tears until God finally enables me to let my fears and doubts go. Indeed, in the very night an only touch of His hand appears like heaven.
However, I was glad to read that God used you (plus Collin, and others) as an evangelical door opener in Italy. I am convinced that God blessed all your activities, even if we are almost always incapable of seeing what God actually causes in the hearts of others. Were it possible to instantaneously realize His work, we would surely “go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Mal 4:2). But regarding your back problems, such a ‘spiritual workout’ could have some contra-productive effects, couldn’t it? 😉
Every blessing to you, your wife and kids, and your ministry!
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