Monday, September 4, 2017

Dateline: June 2017, Saint Francis and Assisi

We are in the office Monday - Friday and some Saturdays.  Saturday is our day to shop, clean, take in the sights or just sleep in and relax.  One Saturday some weeks ago we visited the city that Saint Francis made famous, Assisi.  As I understand it, he was born into a wealthy family but after a vision he renounced the riches of his family and took upon him a life of poverty and obedience.  We toured a house where tradition says his father locked him in a room to try to force him to return to his family and wealthy lifestyle.  Every city in Italy has a patron saint.  The country of Italy has two patron saints, Francis of Assisi being one of them.  

Assisi is one of dozens of hilltop cities in this part of Italy; built upon the hill to keep invaders at bay.  We walked by many churches.  The last church dedicated to St Francis is huge with two levels and many frescoes.  We took a Rick Steves walking tour of the town and the main cathedral starting near the top of the town.

A narrow road leading down into the middle of the town.


We just happened to stumble past this out of the way but beautiful doorway.

This was in front of one of the churches.  According to Steve Ricks, a lion eating a Christian.

A lot of the notable churches in Italy have bell towers.  
It was surprising to find two of them in such a small town.  


Last, but not by any stretch least, the cathedral of Saint Francis.
I am afraid it is difficult to grasp just how huge this cathedral is.
When they were doing some restoration work years ago, 
one fresco fell from an upper wall and killed two of the workers.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Dateline: September 2017, Big Bread, Big Smile


Every once in a while, you meet someone exceptional, someone who sticks out from the crowd.  Italo (eat-ah-lo) is one of those individuals.  He stuck out because of remarkable friendliness, and because he always has a warm, sincere smile on his face.  He told me what I already knew, he told me that his last name, Panone means big bread.  But I don’t think big bread when I think of him, I think big smile.  He always has a big smile, enough so that I talked with him about it.  He told me that the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ was the reason behind his smile.  He said he wakes up every day with that smile.

This is his story as he related it:

Italo was born in Berlin during WW II into a very religious family whose values were anchored in the Bible and in their diversity of faith.  His father and grandfather were Italian and Catholic.  His mother was Protestant.  His grandmother was Jewish from a large and wealthy family.  He related that many of her family died in concentration camps during the war. 

When he was just a young boy, five or six years old, Catholic priests introduced him to Jesus Christ.  Christ became the center of Italo’s faith.  Some years later his mother convinced him to become Protestant.  As an adult he still had unanswered questions and continued to research different religions and philosophies.  He was attracted to Buddhism but could not commit to it because Jesus was missing. 

He moved to Italy and developed a successful business in film and television.  But despite financial success he said his spiritual life was at an all-time low and he was not a happy man.  He would enter the beautiful churches in Rome and pray to be guided to the truth and to happiness. 

One day, two young missionaries with black nametags rang his doorbell.  Like so many of other faiths before, he invited them into his home.  Over a period of many months, he listened to their message and asked them question after question – questions he had accumulated over many years.  He said they worked together intensely.  As he met with them, he felt that the Savior accompanied them, that He was there beside them.

Through his prayers and through reading the Book of Mormon he was convinced that he had found God’s church and the church for him.  He had searched for many, many years and finally found what he was looking for.  Upon being baptized he said he felt like he had been given a new life.

That is his story.

I enjoy a good piece of bread, I am fond of big bread; it is hard to beat warm homemade bread straight from the oven with honey on it, but each Sunday I find Italo’s ever present, big smile even more compelling.




Sunday, July 9, 2017

Dateline: July 2017, Rome - A land flowing with . . . garbage

Sad but true, flowing in garbage.  Ok, not all garbage, actually garbage and recycle.  Well, at least depending on the day of the week.  Picture Manhattan when there was a garbage collector’s strike years ago.  Or simply picture it below.  Substantially everyone lives in an apartment building.  Garbage, including recycle is centralized throughout the city.  Everyone pays a garbage tax for the privilege of walking out to the street, across the street or down the street to dispose of their garbage (or you can drop off garbage as you drive by – tough luck for the cars that will inevitably be stopped behind you because there is too much traffic to drive around you).  

I recently paid the garbage tax for a “villa”, our Church’s mission home in Rome that houses the mission president who is responsible for all the young and not so young missionaries.  The villa houses two people except for 3 nights every six weeks when there are missionaries coming or going.  On those occasions, there could be an extra 8-20 people.  The garbage tax, based on square footage, is a mere 2,200 euros per year, so about US $200 per month.  In Colorado you could get better service for under $40 per month. 


I haven’t been attentive enough to know what days garbage is collected.  I was told  it is collected daily but I don’t know how accurate that is.  Some days the garbage bins look like this.

Other times (a day later), the garbage bins look like this.  

Now the curious thing is that the day I took the first picture above, I carefully ventured over and opened two of the non-recycle garbage bins.  They were no more than 20% full.  So, what’s with all the garbage piled up in front of the bins?  I cannot give an accurate answer.  There are several possibilities. 

One possibility is that the bins were all full and people left their garbage/recycle on the ground.  Then, the trucks came and emptied the containers but their job does not entail and in fact they may not be permitted to pick up any garbage off the street – unions have significant pull here.  I have heard support for this theory from one of the other senior missionaries. 

Another theory is that Romans want to create and maintain jobs through every possible means.  So, people leave their garbage on the ground knowing that the city will hire or continue to employ people to clean up the garbage left on the ground.  This theory goes hand in hand with the theory that Italians perpetuate every possible inefficiency to maintain or create jobs. 

An additional theory is that Romans are slobs who don’t care about beauty and cleanliness.  The symbol of Rome is Remus and Romulus and the she-wolf – if that is not a story you are familiar with, check it out on google.  Underneath the symbol are the letters SPQR.  An old, not so kind joke is that the letters stand for “sono porchi questi romani” which is interpreted, these romans are pigs. 

I prefer to think that one of the first two explanations is accurate. 

How does the garbage then get tossed into the bins?  There are street sweeping personnel, independent of the garbage bin personnel, who come and clean up.  Regardless of how they look on any given day, I hold my breath as I walk by.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Dateline: June 2017, Rome - A land flowing with milk and honey or at least with water


When Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, they were promised that the Lord would lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey.  Happily, you can buy milk and honey in Rome.  But that might not quite qualify it as a land flowing with milk and honey.  However, it is a city flowing with water.  Everywhere you go in Rome there are water fountains (for lack of a better description) constantly flowing with drinkable water, frankly quite tasty water.  Most of the fountains look like the one pictured above.  They are used by tourists and Romans alike. 

You might even say the water has gone to the dogs – I dare say; however, that the fountain was here before the dog park.


Sometimes the fountains are effectively hidden in a remote overgrown part of a park, seldom used.

There are more picturesque versions like Trevi fountain (perfectly drinkable but not accessible directly) or the boat shaped fountain sculpted by famous artists Bernini & Lorenzo at the foot of the Spanish Steps.  It is not uncommon to see people leaning over the fountain below to fill their water bottles from the water flowing from the side spouts.  


When you are here visiting us and touring the city, you will never have trouble refilling your water bottles.  These fountains are not just in the center of the city, they are everywhere. 



Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dateline: April 2017, The Office (since when do these need to be in order)

Each day, Monday - Friday (and some Saturdays) we walk (30-35 minutes) or drive to the office (10-15 minutes).  Since we may need the car on any given day, at least one of us drives.  The office is on a dead-end street next to a park.  It is one of the few spots we frequent in Rome where there is almost always a parking spot available.  I pay bills – almost all electronically either through a church system or directly via the bank website.  I even make journal entries.  It is an accountant’s dream mission.



Shauna is the mission secretary.  She handles certain correspondence with missionary parents and the missionaries’ home church leaders.  Much of her time is spent tracking the legal permission (Permesso di Soggiorno) to stay in the country that each missionary outside the EU must apply for and maintain.  This permesso is in addition to and in many ways more significant than the visa that each missionary obtains prior to coming into Italy.  

There is another missionary couple in the office.  They handle missionary travel - the young missionaries are transferred from one city to another after 3-6 months in one spot.  About 20% - 35% are transferred on specified dates every six weeks.  They also order and distribute missionary literature supplies, missionary mail and the data for people who have requested information about the church or who church members have asked the missionaries to contact.

The view from the office balcony.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Dateline: May 21, 2017, Church Conference

We had a semi-annual conference of our church for the members in Rome.  It was held at a hotel near Borghese Gardens because none of the Church’s three buildings in Rome are large enough to hold the collective members.  Forty five years ago when I was here as a young missionary, there were but few members and just a rented location in which meetings were held each Sunday.

One of the speakers told of taking a walk the evening before, getting lost and soaked in a sudden downpour.  He equated this to our spiritual lives.  We all get lost from time to time and sometimes we get wet.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, He can find us, He can lift us, He can heal us, we can be cleansed from sin. The scriptures tell us: 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:27).

A full standing portrait of Christ in white robes, seen from the side, gesturing to the left in front of a wash of orange and yellow colors.




Thursday, May 25, 2017

Dateline: April 15, 2017, On the ground in Italy, Part II

The balcony can seat 6-12 people.  The picture below does not show a built in grill and small washing machine.  Yes, the washing machine is on the balcony.  The dryer is also on the balcony in the form of a rack where we hang our clothes.  This is standard procedure in Italy almost regardless of how wealthy a person might be.   Unfortunately, the balcony attracts pigeons - less now that we followed the advice of many and tossed three unhatched eggs.  Yes, I am a heartless pigeon killer. Please don't report me to the SPCA.  Surely they have a special exception allowing cruelty to pigeons and geese.


Here is the rather small kitchen from its doorway.  Everything is a bit tinier/narrower than an American kitchen; the fridge (mostly out of view) is quite tall. The cupboard above the sink is a dish drying rack.  It has a grated bottom with a small drip pan underneath.  Rather clever I think.  There is a small table in the corner opposite the fridge.  A microwave is mounted somewhat high on the wall in the corner opposite the stove.  


The bathtub is unusually tall.  Getting in and out is a challenge, enough so that we have considered buying a little step stool.  There is no shower curtain and the shower head is on the long side of the tub in the middle (what were they thinking).  There is a movable plastic wall attached at one end of the tub that is easily knocked out of place.  It covers 80% of the side and none of the back; so, water splashes out the back side/end - nice touch.  


The bedroom is nondescript with floor to ceiling closets/cupboards along the inside wall and a small balcony on the outside wall.  The bed raises from the bottom frame (almost as if it were a murphy bed) to reveal storage for extra blankets, etc. below the mattress.  The bed is comfortable - if you like your mattress hard as a rock. Fortunately, we have a two inch pad that makes it almost comfortable.  We also have a tiny second bedroom for visitors.