Why don’t they have……here?

There’s Diane Lane’s living in Italy and then there’s living in Italy.

Imagine you’re staying in a Bed and Breakfast somewhere in the hills of Tuscany. Every direction you look you see nothing but perfectly lined vineyards underneath the golden sun. You’re in the middle of a 3 week vacation through Italy. You’ve already seen the Colosseum, you’ve climbed the Duomo, you’ve taken a traghetto through the canals of Venice; the vino, the espresso, that incredible pasta you had overlooking the Duomo with the waiter who spoke great english and laughed with you as you tried to pronounce “grazie.” But, when it’s all over, you head home on your 8 hour flight where the unlimited wine makes you pine to be back in that cozy villa.

Now, hold on to that image.

But instead of hills replace it with a view of really old buildings that are in desperate need of maintenance, literally everywhere you look out your window. The scent of cigarettes and exhaust follow you everywhere you go.

That tuscan sun, it’s actually fog and clouds that blanket the city much of the fall and winter making it feel as though the walls that surround the city have now completely collapsed on you and enveloped everything.

That waiter, well, he actually doesn’t speak any english and grows increasingly irritated with you as you fumble through your food order.

When you visit a place for a short time you almost always find yourself with a romanticized view of those experiences. However, the longer you stay in a place, the more the realities of your new culture begin to set in and push up against your own cultural expectations. The nice shiny parts of that place begin to wear off and disorientation starts to set in. That disorientation is what experts call “culture shock.”

Now imagine you’ve just woken up and began your morning routine. Your kids have already been up for an hour or so but had been playing (read: without fighting) quietly enough to allow you to stay in bed a little longer than usual. You make your coffee, take your shower and sit down for breakfast. Suddenly, much to your early morning surprise, your doorbell buzzes. You open the door to a 65+ year old Italian woman, who, before you can even get a “buon giorno” out of your mouth, immediately unleashes more words and gestures than your B1 Italian class could have ever prepared you for. For the next 5 minutes (which actually feels like 20), an onslaught of Italian words reign down on you with a fury and emotion that could fell a dragon. You understand exactly what she’s saying (thanks in part to her continual repetition of the same two sentences), but you don’t have the words (or hand gestures) to appropriately respond. So, you stand there and press repeat on “capito” and “mi dispiace” until she realizes you don’t speak so well. Finally, she leaves. You take a breath, and go back to the table to finish your breakfast.

Sometimes, living in a place is just plain ridiculous. Sometimes you say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sometimes you laugh when you should have showed empathy because you misunderstood the situation. Sometimes you hate the fact that you can’t get more than a spoonful of coffee. Sometimes you want something other than pasta for dinner. And sometimes you wish you could tell an old Italian woman how two year olds make a lot of noise and that you’re not purposely disrespecting them.

Transition from just visiting to actually living challenges you, pushes you, tries you in ways that you may never have expected. The challenge is to look at the honeymoon for what it is and hold those differences in tension. The vision of what was (or what you thought was) many times is dismantled and rebuilt 1000x over. And that’s ok, and actually pretty healthy.

We are learning more and more every day that getting adjusted and acclimated to a new culture is a process. A long one.

People way smarter than us name 4 stages of culture shock that one often goes through in the culture shock process.

Honeymoon. Negotiation. Adjustment. Adaptation.

It’s easy to think of these as a linear process, but as we’re learning, the reality is that you move in and out of these stages with great fluidity. As our experiences here in Italy continue to collide with our cultural experiences from the US it’s easy to allow self doubt and feelings of alienation to creep in.

“I wish I could speak better.”

“I know what you’re saying, I just don’t know how to respond.”

“Why don’t they have…..here?!”

“Our neighbors must not like us, they clearly don’t want to to talk to us.”

The better we are able to recognize, name, communicate, and actually understand why these different pieces of culture cause us stress or frustration the better we are able to hold the beauty and frustration in a healthy balance. And the easier it is for us to remember: this is normal. This is part of the process. This too is only a season.

We can celebrate the beauty of Diane’s Tuscan sun and at the same time mourn the reality of a winter spent in fog and car exhaust.

We can remember that incredible prosecco and yet long for a cup of coffee that fills a 16oz mug.

We can show ourselves grace because learning language is hard work and takes time.

We can know that the anger of an old Italian woman probably goes deeper than just being woken up too early – chances are good she probably just wants to be heard.

As missionaries we must learn to simultaneously celebrate and mourn. We know that God uses all of our experiences to shape us and form us, but our ability to be open and aware to how they are shaping us is a continual challenge and invitation.

We must step forward in faith, knowing every season is, in fact, a season.

Celebrate that which is good, mourn the losses.

It too shall pass.

 

Scarves when it’s 90?

“Oh the food though…”

When Americans think about Italy they often have a very specific (and more often-than-not, romantic) view of what Italy is like. Many we have met have been to Italy on a vacation or two and had the time of their life. To be honest, Italy is beautiful, it’s charming, romantic, enchanting, and just about every other adjective you could imagine to use. Italy is a country with a rich and complex culture; but as we are learning everyday, there is a vast difference between traveling to Italy for the “vacation of a lifetime” and actually living here.

A while back, the author John Maxwell remarked, “All the best leaders in the new millennium will be missionaries.” Even for us, that seems like a pretty bold statement.

Why do you think he said that?

In a flat, globalized world it seems as though we are always crossing cultures–or at least we should be–and we need to know how to do that well if we hope to be fruitful. As our family prepared to move here and, as we live here now our prayer has been, “Lord, help us learn and understand Italian culture.” We recognized early on that our ability to connect the Gospel of Christ to Italian lives is intricately connected to understanding culture.

The author Annie Dillard once asked, “Why do people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?” It’s easy to take a hurried and shallow look at God and miss the amazing. It’s just as easy to take a hurried and shallow look at culture and miss it’s depths. Each day, we try not to “do culture” like people “do God.” Rather, we try to allow God to open our eyes and our minds to see what “tourists” might miss.

Culture is a funny thing however. It’s a bit complex and can be difficult to get our arms around it.  But it’s worth studying because along the way we grow to better understand places, people, God and ourselves. One way of describing culture can be to identify patterns. Every culture be that a national culture or a sub-culture such as a particular business group or social group have engrained patterns that inform who they are…it’s our jobs as missionaries to learn and grow to understand the culture(s) we find ourselves in. 

As we approach our 4th full month of learning how to live here in Italy, we’ve been reflecting on a few of the differences in culture that we’ve experienced. Each day we gain cultural insights; and more often than not the assumptions that we brought over with us are not the whole picture. Here are just a few cultural differences we’ve experienced.

  1. Efficiency. “When in Italy – doubt” should be Italy’s catchphrase. When you move to Italy you have to unlearn everything you’ve ever known about things happening in a common-sense sequential manner and you have to learn the new system of nobody knows how things work, when, or why. It’s fascinating. Very little seems to be intuitive and you can’t easily figure stuff out without asking people. In order to thrive you really must hold EVERYTHING with open hands. Just because you can pay that bill at the Post Office doesn’t mean the next bill that you receive can be paid there.
  2. Space. The US is enormous so it’s no surprise that Americans are accustomed to space. Big cars, big houses, big yards, and about two feet of space between themselves and other people all the time. Italy is not gigantic and in most cities here the people live packed into a small apartment. They don’t require the same personal space. One of the first things that we noticed when we first arrived is that strangers touched me (and our kids) all the time and nobody says, “sorry” or “excuse me.” At first it seemed rude, but then we realized later that it’s because there is simply nothing to be sorry for. Sometimes you run into other people….and that’s that. We won’t even get into driving here…suffice it say…there’s no space…either go or get out of the way.
  3. Levels of neurosis. Italian culture is pretty calm compared to American culture (in SOME things). Things that would send a typical American into cardiac arrest usually won’t get more than a shrug from an Italian. For example, bad dinner service. If an American has to wait more than ten minutes to order he’s going to burn down the restaurant. In Italy? Calm down! The waiter will get here eventually (after twenty five minutes). Cutting in line…well, it’s just your fault for not protecting your space. It’s the same with chaotic driving (couldn’t resist) or an array of other things that seem like the end of the world to Americans. Italy seems to understands the concept of taking things in stride and choosing what you get up in arms over. Now…if a child hurts themselves…look out, you’ll have every parent in the room tripping over themselves to make sure that the child is ok.

To really understand culture, and to interact with it in a way that can bring profound change, but as we are learning, it’s not enough to simply observe the differences in culture. We must go deeper by asking ourselves, “Why do people behave that way?”  That question looks for meaning it looks for values that are held by a people group. Below the surface, below observing differences, are the things that influence behavior, and if we desire to see change and transformation that will be significant and durable for any of us, the change must take place below the surface – at a heart level. 

We recognize we have a ways to go before we enter into heart level spaces and conversations – but we continue to be students of culture. We are grateful for the cultural guides God has put before us who can translate culture and give us insight into the “why.”

But to be real honest some things may just continue to ever be veiled in deep mystery – like, how is it 90 degrees outside and you’re still wearing a scarf…and jacket?!?!

Trust in the slow work of God

With each new day God continues to bring more pieces together for our family as we prepare to move. Our family heads to North Carolina at the beginning of October for a month-long cross cultural transition training that, we believe, will set us up well for a healthy transition to Italy and longevity on the field. Once our training is complete, we simply need our visas in hand and 100% of our monthly budget pledged and then we can move. Visas are in process and we’re currently at 74% of our monthly budget. We are getting close! 

As many of you know, our journey has been long. Many of you have laughed with us, cried with us, prayed with and for us over these past few years. It’s been a battle just to get to this point. This morning I was reminded of a poem one of our best friends read over us about a year ago. I wanted to share this poem with you now, as our journey has continued to sew its truths deep into our hearts. “Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you…” 

Above all, trust in the slow work of God
we are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet is the law of all progress
that is is made by passing through
some stages of instability-
and that it may take a very long time.
 
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually- let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
will make of you tomorrow.
 
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
 
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ

Prossimi passi

Our trip to Italy was extremely clarifying. We certainly felt God’s presence and direction at every turn. We spent time with pastors, missionaries, and neighbors throughout Pescara, Perugia and Rome. We have come away from this trip with a deeper sense of call, a clearer sense of the way forward, and a renewed sense of urgency. We saw time and time again that God is doing an incredible work in this country. We are thrilled to be a part of what He’s already doing.  As we walked the streets of these cities we began to see that Perugia was the best landing spot for our family. We are committed to doing everything we can to get back as soon as possible! And we look forward with great anticipation for what God has in store for our family there. Until then, here are a couple of highlights from our trip.

Pescara:

Pescara, Abruzzo, Italy

Exploring Pescara with two of our incredible CRM leaders.

Pescara is an ancient fishing village on the Adriatic Sea.

Pescara is an ancient fishing village on the Adriatic Sea.

The Ciccone Family. We had the privilege of staying with this incredible family in Pescara. Giacomo serves as the President of the Italian Evangelical Alliance and is committed to seeing churches expand their reach in this gospel starved country.

The Ciccone Family. We had the privilege of staying with this incredible family in Pescara. Giacomo serves as the President of the Italian Evangelical Alliance and is committed to seeing churches expand their reach in this gospel starved country.

Abruzzi Rooftops

Abruzzi Rooftops

This is the "Christian Bookstore" owned by the Italian Evangelical Alliance in Pescara. It's called Controcorrente - "Against the current."

This is the “Christian Bookstore” owned by the Italian Evangelical Alliance in Pescara. It’s called Controcorrente – “Against the current.”


Perugia:

The Seal of Perugia - The Griffin

The Seal of Perugia – The Griffin

Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi

Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi

The Streets of Perugia

Università per Stranieri di Perugia - This is the school that we will attend for language.

Università per Stranieri di Perugia – This is the school that we will attend for language.

Sunset in Perugia

Sunset in Perugia


Rome:

This small hill - The Palatine Hill - is said to be the birthplace of Rome.

This small hill – The Palatine Hill – is said to be the birthplace of Rome.

General Audience with Pope Francis

General Audience with Pope Francis


Italian missionaries often say to us, “Italy is an incredible place to visit, but a hard place to live.” What we’re finding is that that statement sums Italy up well. Italy is an extremely complex country. We love its beauty, its charm, its people; but we know the road ahead is going to be challenging and we’re grateful for the many ways you’ve walked with us already on this journey. God’s doing a new work in us, and we pray that He’s also working through us. We’re so excited for what lies ahead. Andiamo.

When God takes you the long way…

The Long Way

I love efficiency. I love when things are streamlined with as little resistance as possible. I love when things fall into place with very little effort. Really, we all do. If there’s an easier way, we’ll take it. If there’s a way we can cut down the time it takes to get something done, we’ll try it. Our culture celebrates efficiency. In fact, we tend to grow irritated when someone asks us to slow down or to take the long way.

So what happens when our values for efficiency rub up against God’s plans?

Well, if you’re like me, it probably leads to frustration and maybe even anger. But as I read through Scripture, I’m reminded that I’m in pretty good company.

A couple of weeks ago we shared our story here in Atlanta with some new friends. We shared how we had moved from Tacoma to San Diego so that we could prepare to help launch a ministry in Spain. It was a pretty straight forward plan as far as we could tell. God however, had other plans. Support raising didn’t go as we thought it would. We ended up doing much more ministry in San Diego than we had originally planned. Our timelines didn’t line up the way we thought they would. And to top it all off, God shifted our family and ministry toward Italy instead of Spain.

As we shared our story, our friends looked at us, sensing our weariness and confusion as to what the past few years had been and simply said, “sounds like what God did to the Israelites when they left Egypt. They had a pretty straightforward road to the ‘promised land’ and God took them the long way – on purpose – for their own good.”

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. (Exodus 13:17-18)

Over the past year, many people have said to us, “God wastes nothing.” In our heads, we know that’s true. And yet, for some reason, on that day with our friends, it hit us differently. God knew if the Israelites had gone the “efficient way,” that the first sign of trouble would have put them on the express train back to Egypt. God purposefully took them on an epic journey of preparation to build His people’s trust and faith in Him.

If you look on a map, the distance between the two paths is pretty dramatic. Clearly God’s not in the business of efficiency. If he were, he’d have taken the Israelites as quickly as possible to the promised land. But, what we see throughout Scripture is that God is actually all about intentionally developing His people’s hearts for the long haul.

When you look at the Israelites journey, you see that God did some pretty incredible things while they were going the “long way.”

God fed them with manna from heaven every day they were in the wilderness.

God provided water for them out of a rock.

God protected them from the heat of day and the cold of night.

God kept their clothing, shoes and tents from wearing out.

God gave them victory over enemy after enemy.

God did these incredible things along the way to grow and develop His people and their trust in Him. It was far from easy. It was anything but efficient. But it was entirely on purpose. In fact, “the long way” would serve as the back drop by which generation after generation would reflect on and point back to God’s faithfulness.

As we ourselves continue to step forward toward Italy, we have seen God’s intentionality in so much of what we’ve encountered. If I’m honest, some days I’m grateful for God’s process in taking us the long way, other days not so much. One thing is for sure, we are grateful to have already been able to see God’s faithfulness throughout our journey. God has been using the long way to intentionally grow our faith and trust in Him and prepare us for what lies ahead in Italy. It’s our prayer that when we look back on the “long way,” we’ll be overwhelmed with gratitude for all God’s done, and our whole family will be able to point back to God’s faithfulness for generations to come.