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Preaching and Teaching In Milan

Buongiorno a Tutti! 

We hope this newsletter finds you well. October has been a great month with loads of opportunities to share God's word. Here are just some of the highlights:

This month I was invited to come to Milan and preach for the first time. We visited the congregation back in June to help facilitate a meet up between the members of the church and Estid and Marlene a Peruvian couple who were interested in becoming Christians. They were baptized about a week later and have been faithful in their attendance. 

The Milan congregation is small (maybe 30 members or so)when you compare it to the size of the city (over 1 million people), but they are extremely friendly and encouraging. The congregation is very diverse with members from Italy, Central America, the Phillipines and other places. I preached on the importance of studying the Bible for yourself and it was well received. If you have ever heard me speaking you know that everyone in the building could hear me just fine, even without a microphone. After the services an older gentleman said, "You have a very strong voice! I can't hear much, but I could hear you!" I thought that was funny. I've always thought I spoke at a normal volume and everyone else is quiet. 

Before my lesson I spoke about our work and mentioned that I can do Bible studies through zoom for anyone who is interested. After worship the song leader asked me to elaborate on that. I explained that I would be willing to teach Bible classes to the church, or to their non-Christian friends and family, or some combination of both. Immediately, Estid and Marlene told me they wanted to have a lesson. We are now studying every Tuesday at 9:00 PM (Italians do everything late!). Our first lesson had seven in attendance! 

We are so excited to be able to work with this small, but active community! Please pray for our efforts here and pray for the Milan church of Christ! 

I promise I am not talking about a fish I almost caught. 
Zoom study with the Milan congregation. 

Studies

The Lord has richly blessed us with many students here in Florence and throughout Italy. We are now studying regularly with 18 students. These students are all at different levels of English and Bible knowledge. Which means we have to develop our lessons a little differently for each class we teach. My favorite study that I am involved in right now is the Bible class with Milan that I mentioned above. I am really enjoying that class. First, I like that it is a Bible class and not an English through the Bible class. While I enjoy teaching the English through the Bible lessons, I prefer to just teach the Bible. Second, I am enjoying it because the class is done entirely in the Italian language. Thankfully, one of the students is fluent in English so if I get stuck on a word or if someone asks a difficult question he can help me out. However, being forced to prepare a lesson entirely in Italian and then deliver it has been very helpful to me in learning the language. 

I'm happy to announce that two of the students I had before Covid, Chiara and Giulia, have finally come back. Rebecca has taken over this study for me and she is doing a great job with it. They cannot meet face to face because of work schedules and because Chiara is currently staying in Verona (of Romeo and Juliet fame) so the classes are online right now. This is a challenging study because they are both at the beginner level of English, which makes an online class difficult, but Rebecca is doing a great job with it. 

Rebecca still studies with Marina most every week (in fact they are studying as I write this). They have had some great discussions and are becoming close friends. Marina is originally from Russia, but speaks Italian fluently. She is a good English student, but also asks good questions about the Bible. 

I continue to study with Valentino and those studies are going well. He is one of my few students I get to study with face to face. He always asks interesting, and sometime challenging questions. He told me during our last study that he thinks life is more difficult for him than for a believer because he is not on a firm river bank, but in the middle of the river. I used that as an opportunity to ask him whether he saw himself as more of an agnostic or atheist. He said he was unsure, exactly how to categorize himself. This led us into an interesting conversation regarding science, faith and humanity. He talked about how he believed in science, but noted that science cannot really explain humanity. He illustrated it this way, "If I were to move this chair and the chair hit you, it can be explained through science why the chair moved, why the chair then hit you, and why it hurt. But, science cannot explain your reaction. Science cannot predict if you will be angry with me, or if you will jump up and down and shout because you were hurt." I found that very interesting and I was able to use his illustration to discuss the idea of morals and how they do not make sense from an evolutionary perspective. I said, "If you moved the chair and it hit me, would you apologize?" He said he would and I said, "But, we know from science why the chair moved and why it hit me. You could simply say, 'well, that's just the normal reaction and I don't feel bad about it." That brought us into a good discussion on morality and God. We also spoke about how he is a sculptor. I said, "Your way of thinking about this is interesting to me because as a sculptor you know that you cannot have a sculpture without a sculptor. The universe, and the earth, have design how can they exist without a sculptor?" He affirmed that he was not sure how that can be the case. 

Valentino is certainly not ready to become a Christian today. He may never decide to become one, but he continues to be interested in studying and I will not stop studying with him as long as he has an interest. Please pray that I can say the right things to prick his heart and help him to believe. 

I also continue to have studies with my new students Andrea (I should point out that Andrea is a masculine name in Italy. It is their version of the name Andrew. The pronunciation is, Andr-ay-ah) and Stefano in Vicenza. They both speak English well so we are able to have good discussions. I meet with Andrea on Tuesday evenings and Stefano on Wednesday afternoons. I am hoping we can go to Vicenza one weekend in November to meet them in person. Last week after our study I received a text from Andrea asking for prayers. He never told me what was on his mind, but I thought it was a good sign to receive that text from him. When someone, especially someone who is not particularly spiritual, asks for prayers that is a good indication that they trust you and feel a connection. Please keep him in your prayers as well. 

This week I also picked up a new opportunity in Florence. Rebecca is part of a group on Facebook called, "Foreigners in Florence." The page is mostly used by people looking for advice on things, or apartments. The other day I looked at the page and noticed that a man, named Simone, had asked if anyone would like to meet with him and help him practice his English. I sent him a message explaining what I do and saying that I would be happy to meet with him. He is not very interested in studying the Bible, but he did say he would like to meet. I never want to turn an opportunity down to share Jesus with someone, even if it is not an actual Bible study, so I accepted. We met for coffee (tea for me) and had a very nice conversation. I was able to talk to him a little about the church and my background. I helped him with some English questions he had and he helped me with some Italian. We tried to converse with him speaking English and me speaking in Italian, but that got difficult to keep up with, so we just kept switching back and forth. It made for an interesting conversation. We may get together again next week. Like most people in Italy Simone has had very little exposure to Christianity and it is very likely I am the first and only member of the church of Christ he has ever met. I am hopeful that we can spend more time together and that I can influence him to consider his relationship with God. 

If you're a member of the church I would like you to consider this as well. What if you are the only member of the church of Christ that someone meets? What would their impression of the church be? Do you treat them in such a way as to leave them a good impression, or a bad one? Any time you interact with someone try to think about the fact that you are the church to them. Let's all try to leave people wanting to know more about Jesus and His church. 

I am also still studying with two students in Pistoia and those studies continue to go well. They both started with barely any English at all so our first lessons were strictly English. In the last few weeks though we have started reading the Bible and I have had the opportunity to share lessons with them both from it. I would like to find more students in that area so please keep that effort in your prayers. 

As you can see we have a number of great opportunities in Florence and in other cities in Italy. We are so thankful to you for all of your continued prayers for each study we have and for more opportunities! 

 
Above: Bible study with Andrea. Below: Simone

Upcoming Opportunities and Covid News

This coming Sunday I will preach at Pistoia (I am preaching there most every last Sunday of the month.) We love this small congregation and hope that we are an encouragement to them when we are with them. I am sure I have mentioned this before, but there is a couple and a woman from Torino who worship with the congregation via Zoom. Rebecca and I are planning to go to Torino soon, probably in December, to meet them in person and to see about worshiping with them in the home of the couple. If we do that I will talk to the Pistoia church about me delivering the sermon that day via Zoom. Please pray that we can make that trip! 

As I mentioned above we are also trying to visit Vicenza in November. I have met two members of the church from there, but we have never visited the congregation. If we can make it there we will stay over for Sunday and worship with them. I would like the opportunity to preach there as well, but I am just as happy to listen to someone else. When we make our plans to travel in Italy I always think about how Paul would usually stay in a place until Sunday (Acts 20:7) in order to worship with the congregation in that city. There are many cities in Italy where the church does not exist, and in those places where it does it is usually small. We always like to meet with these congregations to try and be an encouragement to them. Of course, they always encourage us too. 

If everything goes as planned we will go to Rome the first Sunday of December and to Milan the first or second Sunday of January. Lord willing, I will preach in both places. 

Covid cases are starting to increase in Italy which is disconcerting. Thus far the restrictions have not gotten too bad, but the threat of another lockdown looms large. We do have to wear masks everywhere we go now, which I don't particularly care for, but that is better than being fully locked down. You probably are aware that Italy has a large number of smokers. I have noticed that people can pull their masks down when they are outside if they are smoking. I thought maybe taking up smoking would be a good idea since I do not like wearing a mask, but then I thought maybe my elders would frown on that. So instead I have taken to carrying a can of Pringles everywhere I go and munching on them as I walk down the street. I have gained 38 pounds in three weeks, but at least I found away around wearing a mask. 

The big concern for us is another potential lockdown, or restricting gatherings again. We have plans to visit four congregations in four cities by the end of the year and we would prefer not to have to cancel those plans. Also, if we are locked down again that will mean back to online schooling for Violet which is far less than ideal. Worse, we would have to go back to online worship which I do not like. I believe God gave us the church for a reason, and our weekly gatherings are meant for mutually edification (Hebrews 10:25) and meeting online is no substitute for this. 

I wrote most of the above regarding Covid yesterday. Things are moving very quickly and as of now they are looking at doing a "soft lockdown" within the next 10 days. This would mean that people could only go to work and school. In that case retail stores and restaurants would have to close again. Grocery stores would remain opened, but it is likely there will be long lines to get in. Yesterday they named two sections of Florence, "Red Zones" which means you can not loiter in the piazzas or on the streets in those areas. As of yesterday the park Violet plays in was still open, but who knows how long that will last. 

We know the situation is bad in the U.S. as well and we are praying for you. We appreciate your continued prayers on our behalf. 
 

Family Update

The Shanahan family continues to do well. We are thankful to God that we are all healthy. Violet continues to shine in school and is enjoying a full social calendar. She has been invited to three different friends' houses over the last two weeks and has had several play dates lately. Two weeks ago she was invited to her classmate Emma's house. Emma lives just outside of Florence on a hill overlooking the city. When I went to pick Violet up in the afternoon her parents invited me in and we ended up talking for nearly two hours. They were very nice and I enjoyed the conversation, but what was most fun was watching Violet play with her little friend and her friend's sister. The girls speak some English so all three of them kept switching from Italian to English and back again, sometimes mid-sentence. What was funniest was when Violet spoke English to the girls she used an Italian accent! 

Last week Rebecca took Violet to a halloween themed, birthday party at another friend's house. Violet, who is mildly obsessed with Egypt, went as Cleopatra, whom she calls, "Queen of Patros." While Violet was at the party Rebecca and Tahlia's (Violet's best friend) mother spent some time together. We have gotten very close to them and enjoy their company. One of the biggest needs for foreign workers is friends from their home country. We are so happy to have Tahlia's family in our lives and we hope that we make their lives a little better. 

In other news, I have recently gotten a haircut. 

Thank you for your continued prayers and support. We love and miss you all! God bless each of you as you labor for Him.  

 
Violet at Emma's house.
Cleopatra AKA Queen of Patros. 
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