"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days." - Psalm 90:12-14
My daily Bible reading ended the year with Psalm 90, a humble hymn of praise flowing from one of Israel's greatest leaders, Moses. It is a humble hymn in the sense that it expresses sober thankfulness as a response to looking back over Israel's history and seeing the grandeur of the Lord and the profound security that comes in belonging to Him. Even when Israel wandered and was disciplined by the Lord, this too was an evidence of God's eternal plan and His covenant love. As Moses reflects on Israel's past, finite and fickle, he sees a reality that goes beyond the nation stretching out to all humanity; humanity which in its limits and longings must look not to itself, but to the Lord, in whom all joy and favor are found.
This psalm looks back with humble praise, and looks forward with eternal longing. What fitting words to close this year, and look expectantly forward to what is to come! Moses does not gloss over past failures, neither should we. Moses knows that human pursuits are meaningless outside of a covenant relationship with the Lord, and we recognize the same. Moses looks forward, with eternal longing, praying, "Return, O Lord!" This is the ultimate prayer of future longing which characterizes Christian faith, as believers call out, together with the Spirit, "Come, Lord Jesus" and hear the sweet words of promise and glory, "surely, I am coming soon" (Rev. 22:20)
Oriented by this psalm we look back over this year of ministry here in Bologna, and see God's faithfulness beyond and above all our limits and failures. It has been a year in which we can certainly testify that the Lord has "been our dwelling place" and has provided in great ways. This is the year that we welcomed Michael Yaphet into our home, and have rejoiced seeing how the Lord oversaw every detail, even (especially!) the ones that we did not foresee. With this confidence we look to the new year longing to welcome home our second adopted boy, Amanuel. The process has been long, sometimes discouraging, and very complicated, especially with having to unexpectedly transition to a new adoption agency. But our hope is in the Lord!
At Nuova Vita (New Life) church we have had more pastoral care issues than we would have expected: believers facing challenges, compromises, sadness and loss. This has put a strain on us as pastors, but also as a family. It brings a sobriety to ministry, even as we continue to celebrate the growth of ministries and Italians who are drawing close to the Lord. We especially rejoice seeing God at work in the lives of Francesco, Gianni, and Daniela, who in the last months have expressed a genuine faith in the Lord Jesus. As a church we also celebrated the grace of God is the life of Ciro, who was recently released from a long prison sentence (20 years!) and is now serving as the facilities manager at Nuova Vita.
I (Mark) have loved investing in the Internship Program, which is focused on preparing Italians for long-term ministry. This program has grown, and we celebrate concluding another semester with 10 full-time students. I also taught two courses for Moody Bible Institute students during their semester abroad. Ruthi has invested in caring for numerous treasures (women) of the Vite Trasformate ministry, but especially for Precious, who as of this last month now lives in her own apartment and is attending sewing school to prepare to for future employment. They made a beautiful video of her moving into her new place, email Ruthi: firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to see it and receive VT updates.
Together with other staff at Nuova Vita we served on a larger scale organizing M16, a national (and international!) mission conference, hosting John Piper as plenary speaker. Take a look at the highlights video: Video. For that occasion we were able to take our book-ministry, Sophos, and begin publishing. Our first book "off the press" was A Holy Ambition, by John Piper. Now we are focusing on publishing Italian authors to equip the Italian church with biblical and theological resources.
This year we also welcomed in new teammates to Bologna, Jon and Erika Tello. We are so thankful that the Lord has brought them here to collaborate with us at Nuova Vita and more broadly in arts ministry and with Aleanza Tesori Raggianti, which is a national coalition against human trafficking that we assisted in launching this year.
Along with this joyful growth, we have also had to say goodbye to family members. My parents, Andy and Linda, retired this year and moved back to the USA. We miss them dearly, not just as a family, but as a church!! We take comfort in knowing that the Lord will use them wherever He places them! Ruthi traveled back to the USA twice this year for the funerals of two of her grandparents. These are hard goodbyes, and especially challenging while living overseas.
So as we look back now, over this year, and as we look forward expectantly and with confidence in the Lord's grace, we too feel a real sense of somber praise and eternal longing. You have stood with us in prayer and with your support. We live and minister in Italy because of God's grace coming through your generosity and sacrifice. God has opened doors for the gospel through your faithful prayers for those with whom we are serving. And together, we look forward to 2017 and pray, "come, Lord Jesus!" We pray from our home here in Italy, you from your homes. Together longing for Christ's return and longing to be found faithful and among a faithful people.
Thank you. Thank you for your love and partnership in the gospel ministry!
Please continue to pray for us, and we for you, as we together look to our Lord, who satisfies us with his steadfast love that we may rejoice all our days!
Mark and Ruth
Elianna, Gabriel, Michael Yaphet