Why I Am Not Neutral

Not Neutral image“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Author, Nobel Peace Laureate

Recent events, including the Israel/Gaza conflict, have helped to me to rethink what is the proper biblical response to social issues. Up until recently I have wrongly associated the need to demonstrate authentic love toward everyone, including our enemies (see Matthew 5:43-48), with neutrality.

A correct understanding of godly impartiality is illustrated through the heavenly messenger who appeared to Moses’ successor Joshua in preparation for entering the Promised Land. When Joshua first encountered this person, Joshua confronted him with the question, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13; ESV). The response is instructive, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come” (Joshua 5:14; ESV). God is supremely impartial and objective. His is always the side of right. The question we need to ask ourselves not whose side he is on, but are we on his side. Right has a side.

When we face the messiness of life, it may sound spiritual to be neutral. It may indeed be spiritual, but not a spirituality rooted in the Bible. In Buddhism, for example, to disengage from life’s concerns in pursuit of bliss is a value. Spirituality based on the God of the Bible is anything but that. Biblical spirituality is a call to engage, to get involved, to make a difference. Joshua wasn’t instructed to chill out, to “let go and let God,” as if faith is an alternate state of being, disconnected from life’s harsh realities. Faith is hearing God and obeying him. In Joshua’s case it was to lead the people of Israel in the acquisition of the Promised Land. Joshua’s faithful obedience to God resulted in dramatic consequences. Some benefited, others suffered. Decisive actions lead to definite results.

Neutrality will never produce the justice God requires. As we read in Proverbs.

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
   hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
   does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
   and will he not repay man according to his work?
(Proverbs 24:11-12; ESV)

Effectively helping victims of injustice requires taking sides. If we are not willing or able to differentiate between abusers and victims, we will not be able to alleviate unjust suffering.

Following Yeshua (Jesus) calls us away from neutrality. He said:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39; ESV)

Yeshua’s coming forces people to be decisive with regard to what it means to truly follow God. Because of Yeshua, no one can afford the luxury of sitting on the sidelines.

One passage that is often used to fuel disengagement is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 6:1-8. Paul here confronts the believers regarding how they are handling their grievances with one another. This passage is often wrongly used to prevent believers from effectively resolving conflict. Paul’s words in verse seven, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” are taken to mean that victims should always absorb wrongdoing. But that is not what is going on here. I discuss this more fully in a recent TorahBytes message (Expressing Concern), but for our purposes here, let it suffice to say that Paul’s admonition to learn how to personally get along with each other should not be confused with the need to confront injustice. In fact, these words earlier in the passage should call us to be anything but neutral in the face of social issues:

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! (1 Corinthians 6:2-3; ESV)

“How much more!” Paul says. Not less. While there is a time to tell people in conflict to stop acting like children and stop fighting, that is not the appropriate response in all situations. Not all problems can be solved by simply holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” or “Give Peace a Chance.” But whatever the problem, we will never find lasting solutions unless we stop being neutral and get on the right side of issues.

What does this mean for you and me?

That neutrality is not godly is clear, but how to determine which issues are worthy of our attention and how to deal with those issues is no easy task. Determining what God requires of each of us has to do with our calling and gifting along with the level of responsibility we bear and our sphere of influence. No one can effectively carry every legitimate care and concern in the world. We cannot even be expected to pray for every important issue there is. Each of us therefore, needs to be sensitive to the leading of God’s spirit in our hearts and lives that we would give ourselves to the things God is calling us to. Ultimately we all must answer to God. So as I share my concerns with you, I am content to encourage you to consider what I am saying, hoping that your response will be based, not on my will for your life, but God’s will.

What this has meant for me is that I have realized that I can no longer remain neutral over issues relating to the Land of Israel and the Jewish people. Until recently, my claim to neutrality has been based on my call as a Bible Teacher. Even though I have regarded that an aspect of my God-given task is to help people see the central role of Israel in the plan of God, I have continually emphasized (and rightly so!) that the term “Israel” in the Bible is the people, not the Land. The Land is the land of the people of Israel. Moreover, Israel in the Bible should not be immediately and necessarily associated with the modern State of Israel. Be that as it may, the Bible is clear that God’s commitment to the natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob includes the Land. Therefore if I am called and equipped to teach the Bible, I must also teach what the Bible teaches regarding the Land.

As I do so, I am keenly aware that this, like any other issue, needs to be approached with love, compassion, and mercy for all. But as I have tried to explain, these virtues don’t lead to neutrality, but definitive godly justice.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not the only topic I will address. As I am given opportunities to teach and write, my prayer is that I will provide what is most helpful to God’s people at the time.

I have no plans to become obsessed with this issue. I still believe “all Scripture for all of life” (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). In fact, it has been this pursuit that has kicked me off neutrality’s fence. My heart is to engage life as God intends. I hope I am calling you to do the same. This has to include every important personal and societal issue covering every aspect of life, Israel included.

Toward A Biblical Understanding of Israel & the Middle East

Map of IsraelWhile deserving of a much fuller discussion, I offer here an overview of what I understand to be the Bible’s perspective on the people and Land of Israel.

Brief biblical overview of Israel and the Land

The nation of Israel (as a people) was specially and purposely formed by God (Isaiah 43:1; 44:2).

The granting of the Land of Israel, as defined in Scripture, is an essential aspect of God’s unconditional eternal promise to the people of Israel.

  • God’s promise of the Land to Abraham is unconditional (Genesis 12:1-2; 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:5; 15:17-21; 17:8; 22:17).
  • Moses prophesied the restoration of Israel to both God and the Land (Deuteronomy 29-30).
  • Restoration of Israel to the Land is affirmed by the Prophets (Isaiah 11:11-12:6; 27:12-13; 43:5-7; Jeremiah 16:14-15; 23:3-4; 23:7-8; 31:7-10; Ezekiel 11:14-18; 28:24-26; 36:24; Amos 9:14-15; Zephaniah 3:18-20; Zechariah 10:8-12).

Israel’s covenant relationship with God as established through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not dependent on their descendants’ obedience to God (Jeremiah 31:35-37; Romans 11:28- 29).

The Abrahamic and Sinai covenants are related but distinct (Galatians 3:15-18). The Jewish people’s lack of faithfulness to the Sinai (Old) Covenant resulted in the promise of a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), which was established the Messiah (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). Both the Old and New Covenants are rooted in the Abrahamic one. Neither abrogates it (Romans 11:28- 29; Galatians 3:17-18).

Under the Sinai Covenant, restoration to God and to the Land was based on the unconditional Abrahamic covenant, not the conditional Sinai one (Leviticus 26:40-42).

“Israel” in the New Testament is never made synonymous with “The Church.” [1]

The “mystery of the Gospel,” which is the incorporation of the Gentiles into the spiritual blessings anticipated by Israel through faith in the Messiah is no reflection on the continued relevance of the covenant promise of Land to the people of Israel (Ephesians 3:6).

Individual salvation for Jewish people (as is true for all people) is only through faith in the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 4:12).

The church has a special responsibility to pray and work towards the spiritual restoration of the people of Israel (Romans 9:1-5; 11:30-32)

Israel’s covenant relationship to the Land is not undermined by the New Testament.

Gentile domination of Jerusalem is regarded as temporary (Luke 21:24).

  • When the apostles expressed their expectation of a literal kingdom, Jesus cautioned them regarding the timing, not the essence of their inquiry (Acts 1:6-8).
  • The New Jerusalem is intimately associated with physical Israel (Revelation 21:12-14).
  • While exile from the Land and/or non-Israelite rule over the Land is a sign of God’s disfavor over the people of Israel, God has never given the Promised Land to any other nation as a “possession” (Luke 21:24).

While God chooses from time to time to judge the people of Israel via foreign domination of and exile from the Land of Israel, unfaithfulness to God on the part of the majority of the people of Israel does not disqualify them from resettling the Land.[2]

Reflections

God’s covenant relationship with physical Israel is primarily about the people of Israel. The Land constitutes only one aspect of God’s promises to the people of Israel.

We can expect that through the Gospel and in the name of the Messiah, the people of Israel will be restored to both God and the Land.

There are no prophetic events that must necessarily precede the restoration of Israel to God and the Land.

The essential nature of faith in the Messiah for individual salvation does not undermine or lessen the reality of God’s purposes among the people of Israel, the Land of Israel, or the nations.

The concept of a modern Jewish national home within the boundaries of the Promised Land is biblical.

God’s covenant relationship with physical Israel doesn’t automatically justify the current return to the Land, Zionism, or necessarily endorse the policies of a particular Israeli government or Israeli political party.

Insofar as it is proper for believers in Messiah to speak into the policies and social issues of any nation (Matthew 28:18-20), so it is proper for godly people of good will and wisdom to speak into the policies and social issues of all the nations, organizations, and individuals involved in the current Middle East conflict.


[1] “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) need not mean “The Church”; “But a Jew is one inwardly” (Romans 2:29) is a reference to authentic spirituality, not a redefinition of “Jewish” that includes Gentile Christians.

[2] The return from Babylon occurred, not because of increased faithfulness on Israel’s part, but because the predetermined 70 years were completed. The whole second temple period was marked by foreign rule and oppression except for the Hasmonean period (140 – 37 BC).

Sorting Out My Online Presence

Updated: September 22, 2022Online presence imageI am sure there are people out there whose online presence is more complicated than mine, but I would like to take this opportunity to list the various ways you can follow what I am doing online. Feel free to engage any or all of these.

Email lists

I have two email lists. The first provides ministry updates and articles on biblical themes. The second is for TorahBytes, my weekly D’var Torah (word from the Torah), that have been producing for many years. This is a short “thought for the week” based on the annual synagogue reading cycle of the Torah (the Books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible).

You can subscribe to both or either of these lists or update your current subscription, by clicking here. If you ever want to be removed from either or both of my lists, there is an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of every email.

Thinking Biblically Podcast

I produce a regular video podcast that explores how all scripture speaks to all of life. You may access both the video and audio versions here.

Web Sites

My ministry site is www.alangilman.ca. This is where you will find information about my teaching and writing along with access to audio and video resources and more.

www.torahbytes.org is dedicated to TorahBytes. This is where the weekly messages are displayed and stored (text and audio).

Facebook

I have both a TorahBytes and personal Facebook pages. I post my weekly TorahBytes message in both locations. I post other TorahBytes-related items on the TorahBytes page, while reserving my personal page for a wide assortment of personal and ministry-related items.

To access my TorahBytes page, click here.

To access my personal page, click here.

Twitter

I have two Twitter accounts. @torahbytes is for TorahBytes-specific tweets (usually the weekly message). @alangilman for ministry tweets that are broader in scope. I do not tend to tweet personal news.

To access my TorahBytes account, click here.

To access my ministry account, click here.

Looking back on 2013 – Revised

This is a revised version of my previous post. Sorry for the inconvenience.

     *     *     *

I haven’t posted anything to this blog since our European trip. As I was preparing my December newsletter and was considering doing a review of the past year, I thought it would be better placed here, so that my newsletter subscribers could have the choice of reading something with this kind of detail or not. So here goes…!

Looking back on 2013, I am so grateful to God for so many amazing opportunities! From January through the beginning of April I taught the second part of my Old Testament Survey course for our own church, Calvary Fellowship Ottawa.

I wrapped up the course by playing a clip from the Academy-award winning movie Lincoln to illustrate the Bible’s unique ability to guide us in all of life. Here is that clip along with my explanation. If the video is not showing below, click here. Please let me know if you have any issues viewing it.

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Also if you never saw this, you might want to see what happened when Mordecai came to class and told the Esther story. If the video is not showing below, click here.

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Toward the end of January into February I took a break from the course to return to Vancouver Island where I spoke to a group of pastors in the Nanaimo area and gave my testimony at a special gathering. That was immediately followed by a series of meetings in Victoria. From there I took the ferry to Vancouver and spoke in Maple Ridge, Abbotsford and Burnaby. I was also interviewed by Audrey Mabley on her TV show, “Eternally Yours.” It was aired over two weeks, but here is an edited version featuring just my interview on its own. If the video is not showing below, click here.

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Soon after returning, Robin and I were on Lynn Fraser’s Financial Fitness CHRI radio program. You can listen to that interview here. If the audio player isn’t displayed below, click here:

In March I presented my Bible Overview Seminar, God’s Epic Story, locally at East Gate Alliance Church. The end of the month saw my busiest Passover ever as I conducted four Seders in one week!

Alan Leading Passover Seder

Last of four Seders I led in April 2013. Thankfully the folks at “The Oasis” in Kinburn, Ontario were a most enthusiastic bunch!

A couple of weeks later, in mid-April, I headed off to the Matagami First Nations reserve, three hours north of Sudbury, Ontario, where I presented God’s Epic Story and spoke at the church there. On route I shared with the College and Careers group at Lakeshore Missionary Church in North Bay, Ontario. I will never forget the drive to Mattagami in the unusually late spring snow. After Matagami I headed south for a few days, where I spoke in Milton, Oakville, and Toronto.

Tim's in North Bay

My attempt at an award winning Tim Horton’s shot in North Bay. So Canadian, eh?

Mattagami Full Gospel Centre

My time on the Mettagami reserve was worth the harrowing drive in the snow.

First weekend in May Robin and I each presented seminars at the annual Ontario Christian Home Educators’ Connection Convention in Hamilton.

Then in July I taught at the the Camp IAWAH family camp. Robin gave a couple of workshops and Tikvah taught dance.

Alan at Camp IAWAH July 2013

Getting ready to teach a session at Camp IAWAH.

End of July into August I presented God’s Epic Story over three Sundays locally at Grace Presbyterian Church in Orleans and their daughter church in Rockland. Also in early August I was one of the speakers at our church’s Koinania Conference. You can hear my talk by clicking here (mine is Session 4 in the list):

http://www.calvaryottawa.ca/?page_id=541

Calvary Koinania2013

Teaching on Isaiah 6 at the Calvary Koinania conference.

September 1 was the marriage of Josh and Megan. What a day (and the days around it) that was!

Family Photo at Josh & Megan's wedding

Serious and happy!

Josh and Megan's Wedding with Extended Family

With extended family – not so serious, but still very happy!

And then from September 24 – October 8, Robin and I embarked on our first ever European teaching tour in Italy and Slovenia.

wpid-IMG_20131004_174552.jpg

Sort of like a dream come true that we never really dreamed of, if you know what I mean!

From mid-October through mid-November I presented God’s Epic Story on five Monday nights at a home group for a nearby church.

November included “For All the Right Reasons” a benefit concert for my ministry initiated and organized by my son, Josh. It featured him, Amy Dagenais, and Joey McNitt. It was a great show. I was pretty overwhelmed by it all.

Amy, Josh, and Joey - All the Right Reasons

Thanks again to Amy, Josh, and Joey!

Through the year I also spoke at other local churches, we conducted special meetings in our home from time to time, and have had some wonderful one-on-ones with various folks in person or on the phone.

Besides Josh and Megan’s wedding, other key family moments were Daniel’s successful completing of his Master’s thesis, Hannah becoming a student apprentice with the Ballet Magnificat Omega company, and Jonathan’s starting his lawn care company and having a successful first season. Our dance studio (Arise School of Dance) continued to develop and was a blessing in so many ways, including the annual recital and successful company performances.

Alan & Robin with Daniel at his Master's Graduation

At Daniel’s Master’s graduation. Proud parents!

You can read Daniel’s thesis, entitled “The Acoustics of Abolition” here:

http://www.ruor.uottawa.ca/en/handle/10393/24055

Ballet Magnificat Omega - Fall2013

Ballet Magnificat Omega Company (Hannah is second from left, back row).

Arise_MarvelousMystery_2013December

Arise Youth Ballet performing Marvelous Mystery, December 2013

And to think that this time last year, I had no idea that most of this was in store. I wonder what 2014 will bring. Thankfully God knows.

Looking back on 2013 ***post removed***

Note: My first attempt at posting this had issues. A revised version is available here:

http://wp.me/p3VP2c-2o

Europe – Fall 2013 – Full Reflective Report

This is my reflective report of our recent two-week teaching tour of Parma, Italy and Ljubljana, Slovenia. I try not to rehash too much of what I already wrote above. When I refer to specifics from previous posts, I will provide direct links to them, so you can refer to the details, if you are interested.

Robin and I have had some interesting and intense experiences in life, but I don’t know if anything to this point can compare to these two weeks away. What follows is relatively lengthy, but I could have written much more. So here we go!…

I really didn’t know what to expect as Robin and I prepared for our trip. This would be our first time in continental Europe. We would be with all sorts of people we never met before in cultures we had no experience with and languages we didn’t know.

Our prayer was that we would be a blessing, which happens to be the key concept in the Bible overview seminar I was due to teach. We are so grateful for how he answered that prayer. More than that! Not only did he use us to bless others, we were the recipients of blessing upon blessing.

For years, whenever the topic of visiting faraway places would come up, Robin would always say that she wasn’t interested in seeing the sites. What she wanted to do was connect with the people by visiting in their homes and chatting in cafes. So she was disappointed to learn that we would most likely stay in hotels or similar accommodation rather than with the people. But God had other plans! Due to various circumstances, we stayed with our hosts in both places. This gave us lots of opportunity to get to know them, which wouldn’t have otherwise happened.

Parma, Italy

Upon arrival, it wasn’t long before we began to intensely connect with all sorts of people. You may have already seen this picture of Robin from our first full day in Parma, getting to know a new friend from South Africa. She had lived in Italy for a year many years before and was visiting for a few weeks (click on photo to see larger version):

At a cafe in Parma, Italy

But it’s this next picture that captures how Robin was feeling in the moment:Robin enjoying a new friendship at a cafe in Parma, Italy
Robin’s thought bubble: I am sitting in a café in Italy getting to share hearts with a new friend, la, la, la, la la!

One morning while I was getting up, Robin was already up and visiting with our hostess. I could hear them talking without making out the details. When I heard Robin heartily laughing, I began to cry with gratitude over how much of a good time my wife was having being blessed and being a blessing.

While we didn’t go with the goal of site seeing, we were constantly overwhelmed (in a good way) by the uniqueness and beauty of wherever we were.

The first place we were taken was in the town of Fornovo, where we were staying (half our south of Parma, which is an hour south of Milan). It was to see an old church built around 900 A.D.:

Ancient church in Fornovo, Italy

We are not a fan of church buildings, per se, but it was really something to see a building as old as this one. The presence of the cars on the cobblestone streets, driving in narrow passageways added to the special ambience. Here’s one of our Italian host’s quotables: “The cars will drive very close to you, but don’t worry. They won’t hit you.”

We found Italy so…Italian. Here is Robin standing on the balcony of where we were staying:

Robin in Fornovo, Italy

A typical street in Parma:

 Street in Fornovo, Italy

Or how about two naked men wrestling over a fountain by a bike rack?

 Wrestling Men, Parma, Italy

We made so many new friends on our trip!

Alan at Bardi Castle, Italy

We might disappoint some people that we didn’t see the insides of too many churches or that we only went to one museum. We visited the inside of one church in Parma and quickly walked through another in Venice. Yes, the frescos (paintings on plaster walls) were fascinating. The religious paintings and sculptures were extraordinary (using real gold makes all the difference!). But what really struck me was the exaltation of death. Growing up in Montreal, we are sort-of used to a certain kind of Catholicism, which is not as prevalent in English Canada. But what we saw in Italy and Slovenia was a few notches up the scale. What I teach in my Bible seminar is that God’s plan through Abraham’s descendants and fulfilled in the Messiah is the undoing of death, not a new religion focusing on it. Not only are there massive elaborate and realistic crucifixes everywhere, there were all sorts of dead people buried right in the church itself. In Jewish tradition, not to mention the Bible, death is removed from the community, not brought into places of worship. I wonder what effect this obsession with suffering and death has on a culture.

We did see an amazing mosaic in a church in Parma: the incredible international mix of people of the congregation where I conducted my seminar. Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano was started by people from the Dominican Republic. The majority of the people there are Latinos from the Caribbean and South America, but the services are in Italian. The young man leading worship Sunday morning was from Brazil (Portuguese being his first language).

The seminar in Parma went really well. It was attended by about 20 people, who seemed to appreciate what I had to share. Pizza was provided for lunch on the Saturday. Everyone had their own box.

Lunch at seminar. Progetto Archippo, Parma, Italy

After speaking at the service on Sunday, we went to the pastor’s home for dinner. In Italy one needs to remember that the pasta is not the main course.

 On the left is the pastor of Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano, Aldo Cerasino with his daughter, Rebekah and his wife, Mariela. Next to me is Francesco Abortivi, the director of Progetto Archippo, the organization that sponsored the seminar. He was also my translator. Next to him is his daughter, Francesca and his wife, Alessia.

On the left is the pastor of Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano, Aldo Cerasino with his daughter, Rebekah and his wife, Mariela. Next to me is Francesco Abortivi, the director of Progetto Archippo, the organization that sponsored the seminar. He was also my translator. Next to him is his daughter, Francesca and his wife, Alessia.

Read more of my reflections about this unique community here: http://alangilman.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/blessings-to-the-nations/

Venice, Italy

Squeezed between our times in Parma and Ljubljana, Robin and I had a 44-hour getaway in Venice. It was a short, but much needed, time to ourselves.

Venice is different from anything on earth we have ever experienced. From the canals, to its antiquity, to the number of visitors from all over the world, it was a wonderfully stimulating, but significantly refreshing time.

Here is Robin on the famous Rialto Bridge (which we forgot to take a picture of). On the right you can see a Vaporetto (Water Bus), the main public transit system in Venice. Next to it is a Gondola.

Robin on Rialto Bridge. Venice, Italy

As recounted in the blog, the most significant thing that happened was in the Jewish ghetto and our encountering the group of students from the American School in London. We will never forget the blessing of hearing their teacher speak words of honor about our people in a place of such shame. Read more here: http://alangilman.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/venice/

If you are interested in learning about the Venice Ghetto, a good resource is the Virtual Jewish History Tour of Venice: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Venice.html

Ljubljana, Slovenia

When the suggestion to go to Ljubljana, Slovenia, first came up, I had to look this country up, since I had never heard of it before. Most people haven’t. Robin was a bit embarrassed when in the introductions to one of my talks there I mentioned this, but it turns out to be something Slovenes are very aware of. Our blog provides a pretty thorough overview of our time there (http://alangilman.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/slovenia/), but here I would like to share more about some of the people themselves.

Our host, Chris Scobie, the pastor of the Ljubljana Pentecostal Church, and his wife, Sabina, were very intentional in setting up times for us to spend with specific people. What a blessing that was! The first evening we were there, Pia, a young lady from the church, had made a gluten-free pie for me (everyone everywhere was so gracious regarding my dietary issues). We thought we were just going to her place to pick up the pie, but instead we were invited into to her third floor walkup (good exercise!) for tea. There it was again: Robin’s wish getting granted)! What a privilege to be invited to a stranger’s (now friend’s) home to get to know each other.

The next day we went with a young couple, Rok (don’t forget to roll the “R”) and Polona, to the town of Bled, one of the most popular destinations in the country. We spent most of the time with me walking with Rok and Robin walking with Polona sharing our lives together.

At one point Rok and I came upon some craftspeople who were selling their wares outdoors. I greeted a lady selling wool products with the Slovene “Dopper dan” (good day). When she responded in Slovene and I told her I just spoke English, she exclaimed with a big smile, “You said ‘Dopper dan’ and you only speak English!” It doesn’t take much to make someone’s day sometimes.

With Rok and Polona at Lake Bled
With Rok and Polona at Lake Bled

The next day after the second and final session of my seminar we were taken out by a young lady by the name of Sergeja (remember the “j” is pronounced like the English “y”) for lunch and for a walking tour of downtown Ljubljana. It was the first time I had Chinese food with a side of coleslaw just like Robin makes (the coleslaw, that is). We hardly sat down before Sergeja leaned across the table, looked intensely at Robin and almost demanded, “Explain to me how you do all those children.”

We talked a lot about our family throughout the trip. We would tell them that we are not a typical Canadian, Jewish, or Christian family, and then explain how God has blessed us and has provided for us.  God doesn’t provide what we need until we need it. It’s not always easy, but always worth it!

With Sergeja at Ljubljana Castle

With Sergeja at Ljubljana Castle

One of the things that Sergeja took us to is a plaque in front of the Ljubljana City Hall in downtown Ljubljana. The father of the Slovene language is Primoz Trubar, a Protestant reformer in the 16th Century. The Counter Reformation in Slovenia was very violent and “effective”. All Protestants were expelled from the country, except from a small north-east corner. And they burned all the Protestant books, except for the Bible. While all Slovenes know Trubar as the father of the Slovene language, they are not aware that his motive in establishing the language was so that they could read the Bible.

Ljubljana City Hall
Ljubljana City Hall

This hard-to-find plaque commemorates the burning of the books in the year 1600.
This hard-to-find plaque commemorates the burning of the books in the year 1600.

Hear Sergeja reading the plaque in Slovene and English: http://youtu.be/EIdeyXAIWRA

The next day, Sunday, was one of the busiest days of our entire trip. After speaking twice in the morning, a lunch was prepared for us and a few others at the church. We then spent the afternoon with another young couple, Andrej and Lydia, and their two-month-old son, Elijah. Andrej and Lydia are associated with ACCI as we are and are in process of starting a congregation in the north part of the country.

Andrej, Lydia, and baby Elijah
Andrej, Lydia, and baby Elijah

They took us back to downtown, Ljubljana so I could get a picture of the Slovene Parliament building, but I have to admit I was a bit disappointed, since it was so new (technically described as “modernist”).

Slovene Parliament
Slovene Parliament

Seeing this building emphasized to me how Slovenia is one of the world’s oldest new countries. While the current republic was officially established in 1991, its history goes far, far back.

I thought the Parliament would look more like this:

University of Ljubljana
University of Ljubljana

Speaking of far back, after seeing the Parliament, we happened upon some ruins going back to Roman times.

artist's conception of what was originally on the siteRobin checking out the ruins

Top: Artist’s conception of what was originally on the site
Bottom: Robin checking out the ruins

Afterwards we headed back to our hosts’ for a brief rest before we went to dinner at the home of some people we met at the church. It was in this in-between time that Robin had a rare experience: She felt “peopled out.” After almost two weeks of almost constant intense, intimate conversation with so many new and delightful people, could it be that Robin was actually peopled out? But we had a commitment, so off we went.

We didn’t want to leave! We spent all evening around the kitchen table of a delightful family of five (Boris and Tanja, 18-year-old Sara, 17-year-old Rebeka, and 13-year-old David), hearing of God’s miraculous work in their lives and getting to know their hearts. How I wish I had a video of Boris telling us how God turned his life away from crime and violence. Among their other interests and involvements, it was really something to learn how they are involved in the only crisis pregnancy center in the whole of Slovenia (http://www.sara-center.com/).

In back: Tanja. In front, left to right: Sara, Rebeka, David, Boris.
In back: Tanja. In front, left to right: Sara, Rebeka, David, Boris.

What a day, but we weren’t done yet! We were up early the next morning to drive near the coast to a Teen Challenge addiction recovery home for men. I shared with about 12 men there my troubled upbringing of an anxiety-filled life, being abandoned by my father, and my complete self-centeredness as a young person oppressed by continual panic attacks, but that Yeshua completely transformed my  life. I told them how my own brother at Robin’s and my wedding told me, “You’ll never make it!”, because he didn’t’ understand the miraculous changes God had made in me. I also explained how at times I too think I will never make it, but whenever I find myself gazing over the pit of despair, God pulls me back again and again. I told them I don’t know why it is more difficult for some than for others, but facing the pain and trusting in God no matter what is worth it.

When I was finished, one of the residents, locked eyes on me. The others were leaving to attend to their duties, but he kept staring at me. So not knowing what to do, I eventually got up and offer my hand to him, but instead we ended up in a warm embrace with him thanking me for what I said. Later I learned that he was only on day four of going off heroin cold turkey. To think that something I said might have encouraged him overwhelms me – just like so much that happened over the previous two weeks.

Matjaž and Magdalena Horjak, leaders of Teen Challenge in the town of Nova Vas (yes, that's a palm tree)
Matjaž and Magdalena Horjak, leaders of Teen Challenge in the town of Nova Vas (yes, that’s a palm tree)

We spent the remainder of our last full day in Slovenia having lunch by the sea and then we needed to pick up Pia, the young lady who made me the gluten-free pie at the beginning of our time there, to take her back to Ljubljana. Again, we thought that we were just going to pick her up, but no. We were invited in to have something to eat and drink and to chat (when God answers a prayer of Robin’s, he really answers prayer!)

Here is one of our last photos of Slovenia taken from Pia’s parents’ balcony overlooking the coastal town of Izola.

 Izola, Slovenia

This photo doesn’t fully capture the beauty to the view of a country that surprised us and captured our hearts.

Thank yous

Thank you to our hosts, Francesco and Alessia in Parma, and Chris and Sabina in Ljubljana, Gruppo Christano and the Ljubljana Pentecostal Church for welcoming us so warmly. Special thanks to all the other people who blessed us with their hospitality and generosity in so many ways. To Tony Hedrick of ACCI (http://www.adventive.ca/) who connected us with these places and Anne Hinrichs, also of ACCI, who helped prepare us and encouraged us so much in this new endeavor. Thank you to Matt & Ashlie and Carl & Merry for staying with our kids while we were gone. These two couples enabled us to give ourselves to this time with great peace of mind. Thank you to the various ones who contributed financially to help make this trip possible. And much thanks to those who prayed for us through it all. Most of all, praise be to God for his incredible blessings, for protection for us and our family, for new friends, and amazing surprises everywhere we went.

Bonus story

I wasn’t planning of sharing this, but if you are someone who has gotten this far, you deserve one more story.

We had a 7 a.m. flight from Ljubljana to Frankfurt where we had a four-hour layover before our flight home to Ottawa. The flight to Frankfurt was the only time was sat three across. Every other time it was just Robin and me, window and aisle respectively. When I started chatting with the man next to me, I learned that he worked for a major Slovene book publisher. His job was to secure foreign rights to books in order to publish them in Slovenia. “I have written a draft of a book,” I told him a little sheepishly “that uses baseball as an object lesson of life.” I said this assuming that Slovenes don’t know anything about baseball. But my seat mate replied saying that he had played on Slovenia’s first baseball team and even trained to be an umpire. So we had a delightful time talking baseball and some of the concepts in my book. Perhaps I need to finish it. I think I know who I will sell the Slovene rights to!

These and additional photos are available in Robin’s Europe 2013 photo album (you don’t need a Facebook account to access it): https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152027693018474.1073741825.672958473&type=1&l=b0cfa84c6a

Slovenia

As we prepared for our trip, we felt we had some reasonable expectations for Italy. After all, Italian culture is ubiquitous, through the large Italian diaspora and through TV and movies, not to mention how many common things in the western world come from Italy. Sure, there were still lots of surprises, but nothing like the surprise called “Slovenia”. Slovenes (not Slovenians) themselves are very aware that most people outside their country not only don’t know where it is, they have never heard of it, often confusing it with Slovakia.

But what a hidden gem of a country it is! From the spectacular geography of mountains and oceans to the people to the food to the history, it is place deserving of much more attention.

I am currently writing this during our layover at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, on our way back home to Ottawa after two incredible weeks. Upon returning, I hope to write a fuller reflective report, but for now, I will share a few photos of the Slovene portion of our trip.

Our time in Slovenia began when our host, Pastor Chris Scobie, a New Zealander, living in the capital, Ljubljana, picked us up from the train station in the Italian border town of Trieste and drove us to the Slovene seaside town of Koper.

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This is Chris and his Slovene wife, Sabina, who was my interpreter for the seminar.

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The next day (Friday), a couple from the church in Ljubljana took us to the town of Bled, not far from the Austrian border. It is a favorite destination for  Slovenes with a castle on top of a high Hill (behind us) and an old church in the middle of the lake. No motorized boats are allowed and sometimes you might find the national rowing team practising here.

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One of our great discoveries was how much Slovenes love cream cakes, especially the Bled Cream Cake. We had some at the very place where it was invented. We were one day early for the 60th anniversary.

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Here is my piece, along with my one of several espressos I had on this trip:

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That evening began my Bible overview seminar, which continued through Saturday morning. This photo is from the Sunday morning service where I spoke two more times. The young lady was one of my interpreters. It was she and her husband that took us to Bled. For many Slovenes, we were the very first Jewish people they ever met. The people were so receptive at I shared how true biblical faith is deeply rooted in God’s promises to the Jewish people .

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On Saturday afternoon, we were taken to downtown Ljubljana. We  were so struck by its beauty and interesting old architecture .

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Our tour guide was another young lady from the church. We really hit it off together as we did with so many:

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I will leave it at that for now, as we need to find our gate for our departure. Thanks for following us on our adventures. Stay tuned for further reflections and perhaps more adventure.

Venice

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(Note: This post was written on Thursday, October 4) There is no way to fully express the experience called Venice, even though we were only there for about 44 hours. Old, water, elegant, boats, Italian yet filled with people from everywhere, more water, big (much bigger than I expected) and busy, all sorts of boats, historic, did I mention water(?), too much to see in a lifetime, boats that I have never seen before….and water.

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Much of what we saw and enjoyed, you can read about in travel books and hear from others. It’s all true. We didn’t have time for the major museums or to explore the classic art in the innumerable churches, and we decided to skip the gondola ride. But every narrow alley, every canal is a treat. Our hotel was on a skinny long island called Lido (Beach), which is a ten minute walk from a beautiful public beach on the Adriatic Sea, and a short vaporetto (water bus) ride to the center of the city.

The highlight of our time happened in the Ghetto. In the middle ages throughout Europe, Jewish people had to live in designated neighborhoods called ghettos, where in some cases they were locked in at night. The word ghetto originated in Venice. Currently, there are a few remaining synagogues and other Jewish establishments still there, though there are only a few Jewish people left in the city. There is also a Jewish museum, which we did see. I will let Robin take it from here:

We were walking through the main square of the getto, and I saw a group of teens, so I listened and a teacher was speaking English. One of the students read a paper on the history of Venice, and another read one on the history of the ghetto. And then another teacher began talking, to “fill in the gaps” about the ghetto and the Jewish people. It was so respectful, honouring, and moving that I was in tears. The group moved on, but I decided that I wanted to find that teacher to thank him (if I could possibly do so without breaking down).

Alan and I found him nearby, and I tried to tell him how much I appreciated what he said. At first when I told him we were Jewish people from Canada, he was worried that somehow he had caused offense. He was very sweet and humble, but we made him understand that far from being offended, we really, really appreciated what he said, which really blessed him to hear.

We can’t say we were surprised to learn that the teacher was a believer. He was leading a group of students from an American school in London, England. I don’t know if I can convey the impact of this unusual encounter, but it has to do with hearing words of honor and respect in the midst of a place that symbolizes great shame. So many yearn to hear such words spoken to them. Our people need to hear such words from men like this teacher.

This ancient scroll was on display in the Jewish museum in the Ghetto square:

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This morning we traveled by train to Trieste which is located at the north, eastern corner of Italy, where it borders Slovenia, and where we were picked up by car for the drive to Ljubljana to start the final leg of this journey. Details to follow.

Blessings to the Nations

According to the Torah, the raison d’être of the Jewish people is that we would be a blessing to the nations (see Genesis 12:3). It is overwhelming to me (in a good way) that Robin and I could be in Italy and have to opportunity to be a blessing in a multi-nation congregation. The congregation in which we served yesterday (Sunday) itself is an interesting example of how one nation can bless another. One could say that it has its roots going all the way back to 1492, when Christopher Columbus (an Italian!) began his search for a new route to the Far East. One of his stops on his first voyage was the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, which today is home to both Haiti, where are daughter Sarah is being a blessing, and the Dominican Republic. The Italian congregation that invited us here is called “Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano” and has its roots in the Dominican Republic! There are several people from that country who are part of this congregation currently, including the pastor’s wife. From time to time leaders and others from the Dominican republic come to visit.

Something I stressed when I spoke there yesterday was how one people group being a blessing to another people group not only goes back to God’s promise to Abraham, but first came to pass when Yeshua the Messiah sent out his early followers to the nations. The Gospel breaks down the barriers  between peoples and draws us together as brothers and sisters all worshipping the God of Israel (note: click on photos for larger versions).

SAMSUNGAbout 200 people attended the morning service. We sang one song in English and Italian, one song in Spanish, and the rest in Italian.

SAMSUNGThe first song was the English song “Our God”, which we knew. They may have done it for our sakes. Here is a panoramic shot of the worship team. Sorry, it’s not the clearest shot, but Robin’s new phone has this feature, and I think it is cool. The worship leader is from Brazil. Most of the songs were quite lively. After the worship time, everyone is encouraged to hug each other (lots of kissing; of the appropriate kind, of course!).

2013-09-29 10.37.17After the service we went to the pastor’s home and had a wonderful multi-course dinner. One has to remember that the pasta dish is not the main course!

2013-09-29 13.59.27Here is the pastor of the church, Aldo Cerasino, his wife Mariela, and their daughter, Rebekah:

SAMSUNGLater in the afternoon, Robin had a special session with just under 30 ladies from the church, which went very well.

Tomorrow Robin and I head off by train on our own for two nights in Venice before we go to Ljubljana, Slovenia, on Thursday.

Thanks to all who have been praying for us. Please don’t stop now! Continue to pray for our family while we are gone and for our time in Venice and Ljubljana.

Parma Bible Seminar completed

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Last night (Friday), this morning, and afternoon I presented my Bible overview seminar in Parma. Translation into Italian was provided by our host Francesco Abortivi. About twenty people attended (see below) and it seemed to go very well. I really enjoyed working with Francesco, and the people were very attentive as I explained how the Gospel is deeply rooted in the Hebrew Bible. I will be speaking again at the normal Sunday service and Robin will be sharing with a group of ladies in the late afternoon.

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Pizza was provided for lunch:

SAMSUNGOn the way home we stopped for our first gelato, freshly made on the premises. That’s a fresco on the wall.

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