International Ministries

The Things We Carry

January 27, 2011 Journal
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The Things We Carry

Pastor Phillip called to tell me that he and his wife, Effie, and their 2 children are moving to Britain.  (He became an Italian citizen-not an easy thing for anyone to do.  He may now work in other European Union countries.)   Phillip has been the pastor of All Christian Fellowship-Padua for 7 years, one of the immigrant churches that have aligned themselves with the Italian Baptist Union.  He works many hours as a delivery truck driver and makes very little money, barely enough to support his family.  In addition to this, he carries the responsibilities of husband, father, and pastor.  Often he comes to my courses for immigrant pastors looking tired.  Behind his smiling and engaging visage, he carries the shadow of discouragement.  He is eager to learn and brings wisdom and experience to the discussion.  But I can tell he carries a heavy load.

Tim O’Brien, in his book The Things They Carried, catalogues all the items that he and his fellow infantrymen carried through the jungles and rice patties of Vietnam.  He gives the weight of each item; this was of crucial importance.  One had to weigh utility versus weight.  In this math of the backpack, many things were left behind.

The immigrants with whom we work carry many things with them.  They carry the weight of separation from wives and children, aging parents and friends.   They carry the weight of unemployment.  When they do have work, it is usually precarious and pays very little.  They carry the weight of discrimination and police harassment.   Their backpacks are laden with many things.

They carry the expectations of their families back in Africa.  The folks back home oftentimes don’t understand that life in Italy for immigrants is difficult.  They think the streets are paved with gold—at least silver.  But African immigrants have difficulty finding work; and when they do find it, they earn barely enough to live.  They are expected to send money back to Africa to pay for the schooling of brothers and sisters, to pay for medical care for family members, and to maintain the houses of aging parents.  I went to visit a man whose older brother had just died back in Nigeria.  Another man visiting in the house told me:  “We always cry when a brother dies but we wail when our older brother dies and we are now the oldest son.  All their responsibilities become our responsibility.”  Our African brothers and sisters brought the weight of heavy expectations with them when they came to Italy.

Yesterday we attended the 4 & ½ hour worship service where the church said farewell to Pastor Phillip and his family and wished God’s blessing on them.  It was day of singing, praying, preaching, and dancing.  (Yes, Debbie and I danced around the church when it was the pastors’ turn.  I think we represented our country pretty well.)   It was a time of celebration and thanksgiving, but it was most of all a time of praise. 

This is how these immigrants lighten the load of their lives—in this case the “load” of saying goodbye to their pastor. They praise God, and then they hand over to God their cares and their burdens.  In praise they find the strength to continue to claim their place in this country.

This is our work in Italy, to strengthen immigrant churches and their leaders so that there will be places of praise where people can find what they need to live faithful, joyful lives even while carry heavy loads.  Through your support of our ministry and your encouragement, you are helping  to lighten their loads and strengthen their feet.

Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

As you pray, please remember the following:

-Jim will be in the States in March and April, seeking to broaden our support base.  Remember him as he travels and Debbie, Ben, and Luke as they remain in Italy

-Pastor Phillip, Effie, and their 2 children as they move to Britain and seek to build a life there.

-Debbie as she participates with a local agency meeting the needs of women working the street.

-Our new Italian Baptist Union President, Raffaele Volpe, as he seeks to guide the union into new areas of ministry to strengthen the existing ministries.

May God bless you and lighten the weight of your backpack of life,

Jim (along with Debbie, Ben, and Luke)  Contact us;