International Ministries

A Sanctuary of Warmth in a Cold World

February 7, 2012 Journal
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I know I should not complain, and many of you will scoff at me as you endure sub-zero temperatures and snow drifts.  People over in Eastern Europe are dying from the frigid conditions; we have endured no truly brutal weather here in Italy.  But it was 30 degrees when I returned to the central train station in Milan on Tuesday after my meeting; everything feels colder in that place.  It is one of the many buildings constructed by Mussolini to glorify the totalitarian power of Italian fascism.  With its soaring 341 meter steel arches over the train tracks, its cavernous stone walls, and its carved emblems of power, the station was designed to remind people who was in charge of their country and their lives.  It is not a comfortable, welcoming place, and the large entrances opening to the piazza make the station a very cold and damp place.

My train did not leave for another 90 minutes, so I sought out a warm place to wait.  I went into the station café and bought a coffee and a cookie.  But to sit down at a table you must be served by a waiter, and that costs more.  I was unwilling to be coerced into spending extra for a little comfort, so I bought my snack at the counter.  I sat down at a table anyway until a waiter came along and told me I had to get up and return to the counter.  When I grew tired of standing, I went in search of another warm place.  I remembered a small chapel that I had seen out by the tracks.  I thought that perhaps in this officially Roman Catholic country, someone, wanting to encourage piety, had thought to heat the chapel.

 

As I entered the small chapel, a blanket of warmth enveloped me.  The soft lights and flickering candles added to a feeling of welcome.  I sat down as quietly as possible, being aware of myself in the silence.  There was a monk lost deep in prayer.  (He wore sandals with no socks.  I respect his commitment to a simplified lifestyle, but I doubt that God would judge him harshly for wearing socks in the winter.)  There were 2 elderly women and an Eastern European family sharing in this cocoon of comfort with me.  The other 20 or so chairs were empty; the chapel was an island of sanctuary in a sea of discomfort, ignored and passed by.

As I sat there giving thanks for this place, I contemplated the contrast between this slip of serenity in which I sat and the chilling, oppressive monument to violence and power that surrounded it.  That chapel became for me an image of what the church should be:  a place of welcoming warmth in a cold world, a place where no one tells you you can’t sit there, a place adorned with emblems of faith and grace instead of emblems of power and arrogance. 

I was in Milan to attend a meeting of a group called Essere Chiesa Insieme (Being Church Together).  This is cooperative effort among Protestants in Italy to foster cooperation and understanding among Italian and immigrant believers.  Our hope is that someday our churches will become truly integrated, embodying the oneness Jesus longs for among his children.  In particular, we had met to discuss a project called Laboratorio Interculturale di Formazione a Accoglienza  (Intercultural Laboratory for Formation and Hospitality).  We are providing 3 weekend conferences bringing together Italians and immigrants to discuss the challenges and rewards of a multicultural church.  We are trying to create sanctuaries of welcoming warmth and affirmation where words of grace and hope are spoken to immigrants living as unwelcomed strangers in a foreign land and to trafficked women living as servants of the greed and lust of others.  We are working to create places and places of sanctuary in an unwelcoming world.

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How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 36:7

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As you pray for us, support us through your gifts, and encourage us, you are partners in this ministry.   As you pray, please remember the following:

-The health and wellbeing of the women forced to stand on the street by their traffickers in subfreezing temperatures.

-African immigrant churches as they struggle to pay the rent on the rooms and warehouses that they rent for worship.

-For the Baptist church in Rovigo as they strive to be a church where everyone feels welcomed and valued.

May God bless you as you work in your church to build a sanctuary where God’s love rules,

Jim Kelsey (along with Debbie, Ben, & Luke)