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Happy Thanksgiving! 

Buongiorno Tutti! We hope this newsletter finds you all well and that, despite the situation with covid, you will have a wonderful Thanksgiving. This year we will celebrate just the three of us, but that is not unusual for our family. Violet is excited because we are allowing her to stay home from school. We plan to eat, watch movies, eat, decorate for Christmas, and eat some more. Unfortunately, we cannot get together with friends nor can we travel to visit family in the US, but we are thankful that we can video chat with everyone. It still amazes me that when I was in High school I was not allowed to call my friends who lived one town away because it was too expensive, and now we can video chat with someone halfway across the world for free! 

Spreading the Gospel In Spite of Restrictions

A few weeks ago Italy came up with a new color system for the regions of Italy. The colors are yellow, which is basically free with just a few restrictions like a 10:00 PM curfew. Orange, more restrictive, but still relatively free. Shops are open and restaurants and bars can be opened until 6:00 PM. But, you cannot leave the region without a reason. Red, basically a slightly lighter version of the lockdown we went through in spring. Restaurants and bars are only allowed to do delivery or take out and all shops besides grocery stores and pharmacies are closed. In the red zone you are not allowed to leave your city or town without a reason and you are supposed to only take walks within 200 meters of your home. 

When the new color zones started Tuscany was in the yellow zone. After about a week and a half we moved to orange, but then just a few days later we were put into the red zone. The good news is that schools have not closed, and we are allowed to go to church on Sundays. This may not seem like much, but it is so much better than last time. Also, weirdly, parks are still open so we can take Violet to the park after school and on weekends. So the restrictions are not too overwhelming and we have relative freedom compared to the spring.

The bad news is we can't leave Florence nor can we have people in our home. This means we have had to discontinue all face to face Bible studies. While I am so thankful for the technology that allows us to have Bible studies on zoom, I very much prefer to study with people face to face. Also, unfortunately, we have had to cancel visits to Vicenza, Milan and Rome where I was scheduled to preach. We had also planned to visit Torino where three people were recently baptized. We planned to worship with them and try find more students in their area for a future church plant, but all of that has been postponed for now. We really have no idea how long this will continue. They are supposed to start easing the restrictions next week, but I find that highly unlikely. 

But, the good news is we are still able to conduct Bible studies and I can preach in Florence. I preached just once this month (I usually preach once in Florence, once in Pistoia and once in another city like Rome or Milan). We are doing a series on Old Testament women and I preached about Shiphrah and Puah. Don't remember who they are? Well, don't worry you are not alone. They are the two midwives who stood up to the most powerful man on earth in their time and said, "No" to the order to kill all the baby boys (Exodus 1:15-22). My lesson was well received and I was greatly encouraged by the brethren. The congregation is doing a hybrid service with about 15 coming to the building and 15 participating over zoom. This past Sunday Rebecca was not feeling well so she stayed home and worshiped on zoom while Violet and I went to the building. I was given the opportunity to lead the closing prayer and make the announcements. When I sat back down afterward Violet was giving me a thumbs up, nodding her head and smiling. She said, "You did a great job, daddy!" That was hilarious and encouraging. 

Also, I was able to preach in Pistoia the last Sunday of October. We decided because of the restrictions (which were less strict at the time) that I would go by myself. I had a very pleasant worship with the congregation. Usually when we go as a family one of the members, Giovanni, takes us out to lunch afterward. This time since the family was not with me I was unsure if we would still eat together, but when Giovanni picked me up at the train station he said, "We'll still eat together, right?" I was happy to do so and after worship we went to a very nice restaurant in the mountains overlooking Florence. This was a great opportunity for me to get to know him a little better. He is a very kind man and a dedicated Christian. He told me a little bit about the history of the church and some of the problems the church faces. I was unaware until that day that Giovanni's wife is not a Christian. He told me, "This is the problem with the church now. When I was young the church had only forty or fifty members, but they were all families. The husband, the wife, and the children were all Christians. Today it seems like all of the members are married to non-Christians and none of the children are becoming Christians." You could see the pain this causes him in his eyes. I told him I would do my best to work with the congregation as much as I can and to try to help them grow. Our conversation was good and it was a great reminder of why we need to be here. The city of Pistoia is considered small, but there are still over 90,000 people that live in the city and only a handful of Christians. In the Florence metropolitan area there are over a million souls, but less than 100 faithful, active Christians. There is so much work to do that it is overwhelming at times, but as a friend once told me, "You eat an elephant one bite at a time." 

Rebecca and I have both been very busy with Bible studies. We have around 20 active students between the two of us. Rebecca has been doing an outstanding job with her lessons. She has become very close with her students and is doing a great job of teaching them difficult Bible truths in plain language. 

My studies all continue to go well. I am still teaching a Bible class for the Milan congregation, over zoom, on Tuesday nights. This is by far my favorite class that I teach. It is a Bible class rather than an English through the Bible class and the students are simply fantastic. I am teaching a first principles class so we have been going over the very basics of the church and salvation. The students are engaged and asking good questions. Fortunately, when they ask questions they speak slowly and clearly so I can understand. The biggest challenge is that the class is only in Italian. I am blessed to have a class that is very patient with me and willing to help me when I make mistakes. 

 
Worship at the Florence congregation. The building is very bright which makes it hard to see the screen, but we were together, apart! 
Rebecca's study with Giulia (top left) and Chiara (bottom). 
Rebecca studying with Mariana, before the restrictions were put into place. 
Preaching in Pistoia.
Milan class

The Loss of an Elder and Supporter

It is with sadness that I report to you the loss of a dear supporter and elder of the Lake Forest church of Christ, Sandy Swearingen. I was only able to meet Sandy a few times, but his congregation has supported our work since the very beginning. We have probably made a half dozen or so trips to Jacksonville to report on our work together. Sandy was always encouraging to us. He had a great sense of humor and any time I picture his face he is smiling. I can remember reporting on our work in the congregation and he would just be beaming the whole time I spoke. In meetings I had with the elders he was always very attentive and encouraging. I specifically remember him asking detailed questions about our family and how we were doing. He was always concerned that Rebecca, at first, and then Rebecca and Violet were being taken care of. 

Unfortunately, Sandy contracted Covid a few weeks ago. He fought long and hard, but this past Sunday, November 22nd, it was announced that he passed from this life. Sandy was a hard working elder, a faithful Christian and dedicated family man. He will be missed, but he has gone on to his reward and his works will follow him (Rev. 14:13). 

Please keep his sweet wife, Ginger, and his children and grandchildren in your prayers as well as the Lake Forest congregation. 
Sandy with his sweet wife Ginger, please keep her in your prayers. 

Personal Stuff

As I mentioned before Violet is still attending school and she is doing very well with her work. In fact, the other day when I dropped her off her teacher stopped me and said, "I just wanted to tell you how great Violet is doing this year. She is very active in class and raises her hand to answer questions. She's gotten so good at speaking Italian, I forget sometimes that she is not Italian!" Well, you can imagine that I was beaming after that. Last year, while she did well, she did struggle understanding the Italian and her teacher frequently had to interrupt class to explain something to Violet (and her other American friend). The teacher does not speak English very well so this could take some time. But, Violet has done a great job of picking up Italian and now can converse with the best of them. She actually barely needs my help anymore with her homework. 

Not only has Violet done a great job in school she continues to study Karate and two weeks ago tested for and received her Yellow belt. She was very excited to get it, and cannot wait to test for orange. There is a tradition in Kenpo Karate that when you get your new belt your instructor kicks you in the stomach. You are meant to stay still while he or she does it. The instructor explained that he was going to do this and told Violet to stand still. She said, "Yes, sir!" and then as soon as he tried to kick her she blocked his kick perfectly! We all laughed and he said "Great block! But, you're supposed to stay still try again." Well, she blocked his kick two more times before she finally stayed still. Don't worry, he did not kick her hard at all. I was just really proud that she clearly has learned! 

Rebecca and I are also doing well. We continue to get to know our brethren in Florence and learn the language. For Halloween this year there was no trick or treating. Halloween is not really celebrated in Italy, but usually there will be some sections of the city where the cafes and shops will give out candy. Last year we took Violet trick or treating with her friend Tahlia and it was a blast. But, this year all the cafes and shops had to close by 6:00 PM. We were invited by an American woman to a get together at her castle, yes you read that correctly. The woman, Stefanie, and her husband who is from Denmark bought the castle to run as a hotel. They were doing great until Covid hit and now they are struggling. But, they decided to invite a few people over and then let the kids go trick or treating through the rooms in the castle. It turned out to be a lot of fun for Violet, who went as Cleopatra. We made several new friends who we have met up with once or twice since then and have communicated with through text. Please pray that we can be a good influence on them for Christ.

This holiday season promises to be...let's say, different, but that is okay. We have each other and God which is really all we need. We hope and pray that each one of you has a wonderful Thanksgiving and that your Christmas season is merry and filled with the people you love. 

Thank you for your continued support and prayers!
The Shanahans.  

 
Violet getting her yellow belt.
Violet on the left as Cleopatra (but she says Queen of Patros). 
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