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Buon Natale! 

Hi everyone and Merry Christmas to you all! 

We hope that you all are doing well and that you have been, or will be able to, spend good time with family and friends this holiday season. Rebecca, Violet and I are going to spend Christmas day at home, then go for a few days visit to see our friends the Andersons in England, that is if they do not close borders again in the next few days. 

We have had a busy few weeks so let us tell you all about it now...

Back to Milan

We are happy to report that this month we had an opportunity to visit with our brethren in Milan for the first time since last spring. I teach a Bible class for the Milan congregation on Tuesday nights, and we would like to visit them more frequently, but that has been a challenge. Milan is a little over three hours from Florence by car. It is slightly faster by train, but then you have just slightly less freedom regarding when you get there, when you leave, etc. So we decided to drive up. Because Violet has school on Friday and Monday we were only able to drive up Saturday and then come straight back Sunday. 

While we were making our plans for the trip one of the members, Marisa, asked if we would come to her house for lunch after worship. I did what I always do and said yes without consulting Rebecca (give me a break, we've only just gotten married 18 years ago). Rebecca then pointed out that if we did that we probably would not leave Milan until well after 3:00, and might wind up getting home late and Violet would have to rush to eat dinner, take a bath, and everything else before getting to bed. So I contacted Marisa and explained that I am an imbecile and would it be okay for us to come for dinner Saturday night instead of lunch. Marisa said she completely understood as she was married to a man for 60 years and knows how we are. 

We arrived in Milan around 4:30 PM Saturday, got settled into the little apartment we rented, then went to dinner. Marisa is 79 years old, and has been a member of the church since she was young. She said her aunt moved to the United States when she (Marisa) was a baby and met and married a minister from the church. When she (Marisa's aunt) heard about a missionary who had gone to Milan she asked him to please look for her family and teach them the Gospel. He taught them, they obeyed the Gospel and Marisa has been faithful ever since. Her husband, Claudio, was also a faithful member. Unfortunately, in March of 2020 he was sent to a hospital for some tests, and contracted covid 19 and died at the age of 90. 

Marisa prepared a wonderful meal for us and we greatly enjoyed getting to know her better. One of the first things she did was ask Violet to help her set up a treasure hunt for her grandchildren to do the next day. Violet immediately agreed and went off with her to set it up. They hid various clues around the house, but Violet had to guess where each clue was supposed to go, sort of like a reverse treasure hunt. I am always impressed by how well Violet speaks and understands Italian. 

The next morning we worshiped with the church and it was a very nice service. I did not count, but I would say there were probably 30 or 35 people in attendance. The Milan congregation is one of the more ethnically diverse congregations we have been to with several South Americans, Filipinos and Italians. It is always interesting to hear the different people's stories regarding how they came to be in Italy and how they came to be Christians. My sermon was, "What does the Bible say about Christmas." It was just one word long, "Nothing." Just kidding, I said more about it than that. Everyone was happy with the sermon and a few people told me it was helpful for them to be able to better articulate their ideas on it to their friends and family.

We very much enjoyed our time with the Milan congregation and look forward to our next visit with them. I wish we could be in multiple places at once as our heart is with all of the congregations we work with, but we will have to settle for periodic visits to encourage them and be encouraged ourselves. 

Festa con i ragazzi...

As I have mentioned in the last couple of newsletters, since we returned from the States we have been trying to work more with the kids at the Florence congregation. There are just four kids, but we have really grown to love them. For December we decided to throw a little party. We invited the four kids and then some of the 20 somethings we have at church (including the Avanti volunteers). 

We told them we were going to do a Dirty Santa (aka White Elephant, aka Yankee Swap), which none of them had ever heard of before. We explained they just needed to bring a gift with them, but not to spend more than 10 euro on it. They were all very confused and said, "but who is the gift for?" So then we explained it a little better and they all started to get into the idea. Rebecca prepared a bunch of food and some homemade hot chocolate, which was a huge hit. We had 13 people in our little house, including us (14 if you include the baby that came).

Everyone had a great time. We finished the gift exchange pretty early and I thought, "Oh no, we still have over an hour or so left, how am I going to entertain everyone now?" Well, I didn't have to. Everyone just started talking and enjoying each other's company. It was a really big hit. We look forward to our event next month. I think we are going to all go out to lunch together and then go shopping for food to add to the church's pantry. 

I don't say this next part to brag, but just to let you know how this is going - The next day we met with one of the families from church and the dad of two of the kids said, "After the party our kids couldn't stop talking about it. They had a great time. Our son said, 'Finally we have someone like the Shanahans here." When he told me that I nearly cried...because that means I can never stop doing this. Just kidding. It really made me happy to know that we are having an effect. Please keep praying for our four kids: Luigi, Deborah, Eleonora and John. Also pray that we add more to the group. 

Eleonora's Concerto

One of the kids at church, Eleonora, started playing violin when she was around 6 or 7. Her school's band was having a concert in Florence (she actually lives in Prato). We asked her when and where it was, and if we could come. She looked very happy that we asked. It turns out it was right down the road from our place, maybe a 7 minute walk. We decided we would go and see her play. Not only is Eleonora a member of the youth group, she is also one of Rebecca's English through the Bible students. She became a Christian this past summer and after that asked Rebecca if she would teach her. She is a really sweet kid and Rebecca enjoys their classes. Violet has recently taken up the violin so we thought it might be good for her to go see an older girl from church playing in a concert, and that it might encourage Eleonora and her family.

The day of the concert, which was the day after the party, we decided to meet Violet's friend Tahlia and her mom at this ferris wheel they put in near our house for the holidays. There is the ferris wheel, a little Christmas market (by little I mean maybe 10 stalls) and an ice skating path. We met our friends, went on the ferris wheel, then walked around a bit. We still had a while before the concert so we decided to walk to another Christmas market, about a 25 minute walk from where we were. We got there and it was packed with people. We looked around for a bit, got some hot drinks and then I said, "I have to go, this crowd is driving me crazy!" So we started to head toward the concert. By that point, we were all exhausted and really just wanted to go home, but we had told Eleonora and her family we would come to see her so we stopped at the concert. 

The concert was in an old church that is part of an old convent. It was built between the 13th and 17th centuries and is beautiful. We arrived just before the concert began and you could tell Eleonora's parents were excited that we were there. She was with the violinists warming up for the concert, and when she saw us you could see her face light up. The concert was very good, and concluded with a special guest soprano, who sang an opera song that was just beautiful. After the concert we spoke to Eleonora's parents and then went home where we all basically collapsed. It was a great day, but most of all it was very encouraging to a young Christian girl and her family. It was also an encouragement to us as we rarely get to spend time outside of church with this particular family. 

Teaching in Prato

Every second Sunday of the month we go to the Prato congregation and I teach a class on the book of Acts. This month we decided it would be better for Rebecca and Violet to stay at Florence because they were both worn out from the party Friday, and the stuff we did on Saturday. The reason this was a problem is because we were invited to one of the member's houses after church for lunch. Lunch in Italy is not a meal, but an event, which I will get to in a moment.

My class this week was supposed to be on chapters 5 and 6, but I only got through chapter 5. One of the things that was good about this class was I taught almost completely without notes. This was the first Sunday the brethren really got involved and made a lot of comments. It can be hard to understand them because I don't hear so well and they are all wearing masks, but I managed to understand most of the comments and then respond. 

For the worship service I did not preach. One of the men, Antonio, did. He is actually Eleonora's maternal grandfather. He preached on, "The way, the truth and the life." It was a very good sermon. At one point he said, "They say that all roads lead to Rome. That is clearly not true. All roads do not lead to Rome and all religions do not lead to eternal life." It was a very good lesson that he presented well. One of the blessings of the work in Italy is every congregation that we have been to has men who will preach the sermon each week. 

After worship I went to Giuseppe's house for lunch. There were nine of us all together. We arrived and most of us sat around talking while Giuseppe's mom, who is 87, started making pasta. After about 30 minutes of visiting we sat down to eat. First, they brought out a huge bowl of pasta with meat sauce. It was really good. After we ate that they brought out some roast beef and roast pork and peas. The roast beef was, by far, the best I ever tasted. It was very tender and practically melted in my mouth. I ate much more of it than I should have. Then we ate salad, then some pineapple. Then they brought out dessert, which was a cheesecake one of the ladies made. The food was all very good, but the fellowship was even better. We all told a little bit about ourselves and how we came to Christ. Giuseppe's mother and her husband were baptized by American missionaries back in the 50's. Giuseppe was brought up in the church and has always stayed faithful. His wife, unfortunately, has Alzheimer's, but they still bring her to church every Sunday. His son, Maurizio, is a faithful Christian and is married to Belinda, who is Honduran. She was brought up in the church in Honduras and met Maurizio in church when she moved to Prato. They have been married 7 years. They are a very nice couple. Fortunately, Belinda speaks a little bit of English, and there was another guy there that speaks some too, so when I couldn't understand something, or think of a word, they were able to help me out. The other guy, Gian Marco, is not a Christian, and does not come to church, though his mother is a faithful member. When we were eating Giuseppe said, "Gian Marco used to come to church as a boy, but now he does not. We need to get him to come back." Then he tried to speak English and said, "Hey, maybe if we can find him a boyfriend he will come." We all laughed pretty hard about that mistake. 

We finished lunch (which started around 12:30) at about 3:30. I was exhausted afterward, but was so encouraged by being among faithful Christians who want to do the right thing. If you've ever had to spend a lot of time conversing in a second language you know how draining it can be. I always think about people who are married to someone from a different culture and how tiring life must be if you are. always communicating in your second language. Probably, you would get used to it after a while, but I imagine it is hard. 

It was a great day and I look forward to returning to Prato next month to continue our study of Acts. At the rate I am going we should finish right around the time Violet graduates from High School. 
 

Bible Studies

All of our Bible studies continue to go well. We will take a break from most of our studies over the holiday as all of our students will be traveling or doing things for the holidays. 

My most encouraging study is still my weekly study with Fabrizio and Carlo. They both are genuinely interested in what the Bible has to say, and thus far have been good students. December 8th is a holiday in Italy. When I asked them if they wanted to study that day anyway they both immediately said, "Sì!" Fabrizio asked if we could study about idolatry. I said yes and prepared a lesson. After the lesson he asked, "Is it possible for a crucifix to be an idol?" We then studied about the serpent that Moses made in the wilderness, and how, after a period of time, the Jews worshipped it as an idol. I then asked him what he thought and he said, "Yes, I think it can be an idol, but it only depends on how you use it." I thought that was a good answer and told him I agreed with him on it. 

This past Wednesday we studied what the Bible says about Christmas. As soon as we started, Fabrizio said, "I have a question. What do you think about parents who tell their children Santa Claus exists?" I told him I thought that was really in the realm of opinion, but that I do not tell Violet that he exists. She believes in him, but not because Rebecca or I have ever told her he is real. When she asks we usually turn the question back on her and say, "What do you think?" When she answers, "I think he exists," I usually say, "Interesting" or "Well, there you go then." Fabrizio asked why I do that and I told him I don't want her to ever accuse me of lying to her, and because Santa is basically a God figure. He sees everything and rewards or punishes you based on whether you do bad or good. He said he totally agreed and when his kids were young he went out of his way to tell them Santa Claus does not exist. We then studied some of the myths about Christmas, and why we do not celebrate it as a congregation (similar to my lesson in Milan). They both enjoyed the study and thanked me for sharing it with them. 

I am enjoying this study very much and I ask you to pray for both of them, that they will become true disciples of Jesus soon. 

Family Stuff

We're all doing well and starting to wind down for the holidays. Violet has school until Thursday and then she will be off until January 10th. We are supposed to go to England to visit our friends the Andersons on the 27th, but that might change if England or Italy lock down (right now Italy does not seem to be getting ready for a lockdown, but England might be). If that happens then we will just stay home and enjoy some time off together. 

Violet continues to do well in school. She has started to improve in both Italian and math, where she has struggled a lot for the past couple of years. She works with a tutor most weeks on Tuesdays and Fridays, but a couple of times in the past month her tutor couldn't come, so I had to work with her on her homework. I was really impressed by the progress she has made. She is reading two books right now, one for school and one for fun. The one for school is the book Matilda by Roald Dahl. The one for pleasure is the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. She is reading both of them in Italian. She told me the other day, "Daddy, I am really getting into chapter books now." She then put chapter books on her Christmas wish list. We'll see what happens with that. 

The big news for Violet is that she had her first visit to a salon today for a haircut. She's had her ends trimmed before, but this was her first real haircut. She looks beautiful, of course. 

Rebecca and I are also doing well. We want to thank each one of you for your continued prayers and support of our work. We could not do this without you and we thank God for you on a daily basis. As we wrap up 2021 we wish each of you God's blessings for a wonderful holiday season and a new year in which His name is glorified in all that we do. 
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