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Cards

Taking down this year’s smattering of Christmas cards, I was reflecting on yet another cultural difference I’ve discovered since leaving the Estuary climes of south-east England.

When I was growing up, Christmas cards were something you bought in bulk from Marks and Spencer (if you were classy) or Tesco (if you weren’t), given some sort of generic message implying that you knew the recipient, and posted off the day after the Royal Mail’s Last Posting Date Before Christmas. With a cheerful festive postage stamp. Cards would trickle in a few days before until a few days after Christmas, with the exception of the one that came in mid-January.

Recurrent themes: snow, robins, Father Christmas, reindeer, snowmen, and the occasional appearance of the Reason for the Season, usually surrounded by snow. Sometimes they were glittery, and the glitter fell out of the envelope onto the carpet. Just occasionally they were tasteful and attractive, but those were the exception and usually depicted poinsettia.

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Me: A Portrait in Winter

So it’s only recently that a new breed of Christmas card has been multiplying among my increasingly large pool of married-friends-with-kids – the Family Photo Christmas Card.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. Some of them are tastefully shot and put together; less is more, entertaining poses, etc. Some of them are even ironic. But then some do start to look like commercial flyers for a feature film Christmas With The…. [insert name here]. Perhaps some people have so many friends that they don’t want to burden someone with the bother of wondering, “… the Smiths, the Smiths… do I know any Smiths….?” when they open a traditionally gaudy but generic card.

Perhaps these are simply a more effective way of displaying how popular you are to any stray guests. In the past, we only had a person’s word for it that their proud collection of Christmas cards were indeed all from different people, and from the same year. Here, however, is indisputable evidence, not only that you have friends, but that they are all recognizably contemporary.

Marco, it must be said, loves this phenomenon, so in Christmases to come, you’ll undoubtedly be sticking large pictures of our faces on your mantel or refrigerator or wherever you proudly display your social life in the festive season.

Categories: Christina's posts

First Week in Italia

Lucca

We arrived in Pisa on Thursday evening, after a week’s vacation with my parents in the UK. As we heaved our luggage out into Arrivals, we were loudly greeted by a long row of the happy faces of Marco’s extended family. My cabin bag was taken away and replaced with a bunch of delicate pink flowers by Marco’s Nonna, who spent the past two years asking when we were coming home. After the perfunctory hugs and kisses we were bustled out of the terminal and into the family minibus.

The country road from Pisa into the mountains is flanked by sunflower fields. The minibus bumped along, making the once-familiar sharp left turn and starting to climb, as the road became narrower and darker. The covered excavation of the Roman villa at Massaciuccoli was now underway, and the remains were well-lit and protected by a sweeping canvas marquee.

We were approaching Quiesa from what I thought of as behind, rather than following the autostrada from Pisa as far as Massarosa and driving into Quiesa from the east. After another quarter-hour of queasy slalom turns, we arrived at the driveway leading up to the Ricci family home. The last time I’d seen this driveway was a tearful late September afternoon, after a last-minute decision to fly back to the UK to see my parents, in case by some miracle the funds to escape to America suddenly arrived.

The house, however, had been transformed. The casa di legno that Marco’s father had built two summers ago had been half pulled down, and was now half the size with an adjoining semi-covered dining area. Marco’s mother Silvia had been painting hedgehogs (the literal meaning of “ricci”) and fleur-de-lys designs on the woodwork. Inside, new lighting had brought the dingy basement-sitting room to life. Our oversized HD TV sat against the staircase, and our warm, geometric rug (slightly grubby with dog hair) had been rolled out across the living room. The furniture was rearranged. From the elegant patchwork canvases on the wall, Silvia had rediscovered her love of art. Even the air seemed lighter.

Marco’s mother herself, whose hair was now even blonder and crazier than I remembered it, ushered us upstairs, where she and a number of female relatives had conspired to prepare us a boudoir of sorts. They’d unpacked, washed and ironed a good number of the clothes that we had hastily stashed before leaving. The room had been repainted, and airy tulle netting was draped from a fixture above the bed, like an illustration from a fairy tale.By this point I was feeling slightly woozy and overwhelmed. The sudden reappearance of my old life, rearranged throughout someone else’s living space, together with travel-tiredness and hunger, crowded my brain. I stood and stared into the wardrobe until someone came to bring me downstairs, to eat the Tuscan steak that Marco had been anticipating for the past three months.

Marco, Christina & Nonna Giuliana

**

The past week has been a cacophony of family and friends dropping round to visit, or us taking the motorino (moped) around the surrounding villages to visit them. We have had the opportunity already to talk with, pray with, minister to, a number of people. Our greatest strength, currently, and something we really need grace to sustain, is the fact that we don’t have big answers for them but we do have this supply of hope and encouragement that won’t run dry.

The recurring theme in all of the conversations we have with these brothers and sisters is battaglia… battle. Everything is a battle; everyone is exhausted. So I fished out my copy of The Happy Intercessor and have been soaking my brain in it. Our biggest challenge is staying in a place of rest here. The first impression most people get of Tuscany is its laid-back lifestyle; lazy mornings, long lunch breaks and endless mealtimes. But behind this lifestyle lurks a frustration; nothing gets done, and people are constantly hassled and stressed by what’s not being accomplished.

Practically, for me, it means resisting the temptation to stay long mornings in bed cuddling my husband, and to get most of my work done in the mornings, when nothing else is happening. Spiritually, I’ve felt like something is always trying to get me into a fruitless wrestling match. It’s kind of like what happened to Jacob… except the wrestler isn’t the Angel of the Lord. Many times since arriving back here, I’ve felt like something is trying to drag me into Fight Club. La Battaglia here is something one should do, as a Spirit-filled believer, and it’s actually relatively easy to refuse. You just refuse, and carry on looking at Jesus and enjoying Him. That’s one thing I didn’t understand before leaving for America.

The argument is, of course, that we are in a spiritual battle. Paul says, “though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses…” (2 Cor 10:3-4 NASB). If I’m not battling “according to the flesh” (eg in human strength or resolve), then my battle is by the Spirit… and thus, if I’m getting tired and discouraged, I surely must have accidentally slipped into battling with my strength, my faith, my resolve. I love Beni Johnson’s writing because she’s so insistent that our intercession, our battle is from Heaven to earth. Israel’s most successful battles looked like Yahweh stepping in miraculously and fighting on their behalf. We’re on that side.

So, Marco and I are reminding ourselves daily that whatever it is that wants to sap our energy by insisting that we have to struggle, all the time, must go find someone else to pick a fight with. We will not fight with people, we will not get stirred up with the weird misunderstandings and twisted meanings that create so much strife here. The God of peace lives inside us. 🙂

Categories: Christina's posts

Sprinting towards Summer – M&C Spring Appeal

We have just two months left of BSSM Second Year, flying back to Europe on the 28th May. This is a critical time in the year; we want to finish well, to have the opportunity to travel with some pastors here and practice hands-on ministry with them, and to set up a successful and groundbreaking summer of demonstrating the Father’s love in Italy.

In that time, our goals are:

1) (Christina) to finish recording a CD album full of songsof hope for Iraq, for Canon Andrew White’s ministry in Baghdad

2) to organize a ministry trip to Italy over the summer with a group from Bethel

3) ministry trips to San Francisco and Los Angeles, and Marco to go on a Prophetic Arts ministry trip to Vacaville, CA

4) to understand more clearly what God wants for the two of us next year and going forward.

In order to successfully fulfil all of these goals and finish the year really well, we are still in need of some funding.

Unfortunately, in the last month one of our banks in the UK has changed our situation and left us with around £280 (€335/$444) to pay urgently, which we weren’t expecting. And living expenses will fall short by around £250 (€300/$392).

We are delighted to have so many people who love us, pray for us, and remember us while we’re on this international journey into the purposes of God. So if you feel led, please consider supporting us in this final leg of our BSSM2 journey. The best way to support us is through PayPal. If you’d like to help us fulfill our UK bank obligations, please send PayPal to donations to christina_ruth_winn@yahoo.co.uk. Any other donations in $ or €, please send to christina.r.ricci@gmail.com.

It’s challenging to live dependent in this way, to be working towards that moment of convergence when our vision is self-sustainable. It’s a place where you have to have vision, or you give up – and so this year has catalyzed a lot of vision and growth for us. And God has provided in miraculous ways. But we’re also surrounded by friends and supporters through whom He works to encourage, envision and provide. So thank you very, very much for being our friends and following us on this journey.

Having completed our First Year, we returned to Bethel for Year Two with this vision: an image of a bridge spanning the Atlantic, connecting the strengths and culture of California – of Bethel’s faith in miracles and in people, of the West Coast’s creativity, originality and love of freedom – with the passion and art and legacy of Italy. We want to bring a culture of freedom and honour back to the nation we love.

Our time in California has been a tremendous boost for us. Marco recently exhibited his artwork for the first time at an arts festival; and delighted to see people lingering in front of his canvases, absorbing their message. Ultimately his dream is to encourage artists in Italy in the culture of freedom and encouragement that we’ve found here. Part of my passion is to work with people to find their God-given, whole-life vocations, whether inside or outside of the church. And in the atmosphere of Bethel, where hearing God’s voice is such a priority, I am learning not only that I can hear Him, but that everyone can, and how to coach people in such a way that they become aware of what the Holy Spirit is saying.

And we have tremendous opportunities lining up for next year – please pray for us, for wisdom for great decisions for both of us!

Christina & Marco

Categories: Christina's posts

Thoughts on La Vita Italiana

I thought to give a little bit of space to explore what I loved about living in Italy, and what I’d enjoy about going back there. It’s easy when you live in a certain place to become overwhelmed by the challenges and negative aspects about living there, and Italy has recently come in for some really bad press. So here are some of the things I particularly remember about living la vita italiana. 

1. L’aperitivo. Saturday evenings, at around six o’clock, we often made our way to the passiagata (seaside promenade) in Viareggio to partake of this unique and useful Italian meal. Dinner proper isn’t until 8pm (9pm in the summertime) and so, as a Brit, by late afternoon my stomach was beginning to growl. L’aperitivo can be as simple as a few nibbles and a glass of wine in a local bar, but I enjoyed going to a restaurant which laid out an extensive hot buffet, where for €8 one could buy a glass of decent wine and munch happily on hot couscous, pasta salad, bread, various dips and cheese and other miniature culinary creations. Workers in London gather at the pub after work for a pint, and conversation about the football; workers in Italy gather at the bar for an aperitivo and conversation about the football.

2. Il motorino. In England, mopeds are characteristically driven by the elderly. In Italy, mopeds are driven by absurdly cool, ridiculously well-dressed teenagers with heavily made-up girls sitting behind them, and preferably without a helmet. Although Marco and I did once try to drive a motorino up the side of a mountain to his grandparents’ house: Needless to say, I got off and walked, considerably faster than the motorino was going. Marco’s Vespa is still in the mail.

3. Lo stileFashion is not an optional pastime for the average Italian. When I first met Marco, he was wearing a long, forest-green trenchcoat, a silk scarf, sunglasses and very nice shoes. He looked, in a word, Italian. Right now he varies his wardrobe; he has an Alexander McQueen sweater (which he loves), but loafs around in a Nike tracksuit and striped socks. Italians aren’t just fashionable; they are ardent style individualists who will even slob around in style. When I first moved from London to Italy, I found that Marco’s family and friends started to give me clothes, large binbags of them. At first I was offended and embarressed – did they really think I couldn’t dress myself? And then I realised that fashion is one of the pre-eminent Italian love languages, and, besides which, I was getting free clothes.

4. Andare al ristorante. Something we did a lot, the first time I came over to visit Marco in his homeland. Food is also a preoccupation for Italians, to the extent that life really is the interlude between meals, which are large, and taken with as many people as possible. Going out to a restaurant is, therefore, not just a special occasion incidence but a part of weekly life. We often went out to our “family” pizzeria (44′ Parallelo); not that they own it, but family members have been working there for years, and it becomes the default restaurant when no one has any other ideas; the pizzas are sublime, thin and crispy and stretchy and delicious. Marco’s favourite is prosciutto crudo and marscapone, which is sweet and smoky and rich, like a pizza and a dessert all in one. Nom, nom nom.

5. Speaking of which, I have to mention prosciutto crudo and real focaccia bread, two of the best reasons to go to Italy. You may have these products on your supermarket shelves, but I can guarantee they are nothing like the extremely thin, delicate prosciutto ham one finds in a local macellaio, or the delightfully olivey, salty taste of warm focaccia. So unhealthy, it makes me wonder about the virtues of the “mediterranean diet.”

6. La famiglia. My experience of Italian life is that, while a tourist in a hotel might sometimes find Italians surprisingly standoffish, once you’ve been accepted as a family guest, nothing is too much trouble. If you’re staying with a family (as opposed to a family guesthouse), any suggestion of payment is usually quite offensive; they have an extremely high value for hospitality and will open their table to you without so much as blinking. It can be a little stifling at times, but family really, really matters, and if you’re staying in my house you’re part of the family, and that’s that. Oh, and I’ll feed you until you can’t move.

7. La campagna. Not to do with camping, although my family did visit us in Italy a couple of summers ago, and spent the week in a tent in Viareggio, experiencing the variety of summer weather available in Versilia (brilliant sunshine, violent rainstorms, nothing in between). We lived in a small town nestled at the foot of some very green mountains, a few miles inland. It’s a landscape that inspired the resident composer Puccini while he was writing his most famous operas. Within walking distance was the beautiful Lake Massaciuccoli (we had our wedding reception at a restaurant on the shore), undulating Tuscan fields broken by picturesque, russet-coloured houses and Italian cypress trees, yes, like you see in every $5 print of Tuscany. It was like living inside a picture postcard.

8. L’assurdità. Italians know that various parts of their culture and ridiculous bureaucracy are frustratingly difficult, and that bloody-mindedness is pretty much a national trait. But they are open about their own foibles, just as they were about Berlusconi’s, but they still kept voting him in, until Merkel and Sarkozy voted him out. So they seem to gently mock themselves, as one of the oldest, most venerable, most extravagant and stubborn cultures in Europe, and if you’re not prepared to put up with it, well, you can go and live in Germany and drink German wine. It’s endearing, in some ways, and certainly makes an otherwise oppressively difficult civic system almost bearable.

That’s it for now, and although in many ways I’m glad to be somewhere as beautiful and creatively inspiring as California, we do miss Italy. Marco has his menu planned out for the next time he’s in Italy. I saw Disney’s Cars 2 the other day, and found it delightful when one character, on entering an Italian piazza (in a world where everyone is a car), announcing, “It’s amazing, they have all the same ingredients we do at home… but everything tastes so good!” 

Categories: Christina's posts

LA to Thanksgiving

November 26, 2011 2 comments
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We do work, we really do...!

I enjoy Thanksgiving. It seems a pity that we Europeans of various breeds don’t really have anything equivalent, where otherwise sane people endure hundreds of miles of holiday traffic to eat enormous amounts of food with family members and tell eachother how thankful they are, usually for eachother. The commercial overdrive doesn’t begin until the day after, and so Thanksgiving itself is focussed on family celebration without the pressure of buying just the right festive cookie cutters for Aunt Laura. Thanks, too, to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thanksgiving always falls on the fourth Thursday in November, providing a neat bookend to the Christmas season (unlike in the UK, where Christmas creeps further and further forward into October).

So we celebrated Thanksgiving with our house-parents Phil and Nancy, and one of their daughters and her family, which was fun. I spent most of the football game (Thanksgiving = Football for half of the American population) reading Woman’s Home Journal which was sitting on the coffee table, before realising that Nancy’s son in law had on hand copies of John Lennox’s two latest books, and was a personal friend of the brilliant mathematician and physicist whose work I had enjoyed several years ago in London. So ensured a very characteristic struggle – do I continue to socialise, or disappear behind a book for an hour?

I am getting better at resisting the siren call of a Really Interesting Book at rather inappropriate times.

We returned from L.A. on the 8th, and immediately plunged into a hectic game of catch-up with school, with the volunteer admin/gardening work we do for respective friends, and chores. It’s been a very focussed time, although this week we’ve been dog-sitting at a beautiful house in downtown Redding, which is something of a retreat for Marco and me, since we’ve been able to spend almost a week alone together.

I’ve also started to take on “coachees” from the first year, building on my coaching skills. I’ve held back until this point, wanting to make sure that I’m taking full advantage of all the training opportunities Bethel has given me, but I’m now in a position to invest much more. I intend to make something of a business out of it when I get back to Europe/finish at BSSM, as it very effectively activates my dream of helping people find their whole-life vocation outside of the sacred/secular (and increasingly natural/supernatural) divide. More on that in another post.

We are also in the middle of a preaching project, and may be called on any Monday or Tuesday this month to preach our prepared message, which means that a message must be prepared! I’m about halfway through, and I have my content but am waiting for a moment of inspiration to draw it all together. I’m also engaged in a songwriting project for some churches in Iraq (very exciting connections developing there), and trying to work out some skits for the runup to Christmas in the kids’ afterschool club I’m helping to lead. All this, and our next tuition payment of $537.50 is due next Monday, so we’re busy praying that into place, too! When I get back onto regular income, I am going to pay much closer attention to friends who are in the position that we’re in now! It’s not a comfortable lifestyle in the slightest.

My prince came!

LA was fantastic, and so varied – prophetic evangelism on Venice Beach (I hit on the idea of going around asking stall holders if we could “pray a blessing on their business,” which almost invariably produced a positive response and some really open conversations with people)… homeless outreach on Skid Row… 5 hours of prophetically speaking life and encouragement into members of the public at Pasadena International House of Prayer (where they had a record number of people turn up, queuing along the street until the venue opened), serving an Hispanic congregation at Angelus Temple,

visiting the house of Amy Semple McPherson… and several other activities. And of course Disneyland. It was the first time any of the parks for me and for Marco, and it’s incredible how you regress. Especially with 40 other team members letting off steam after an intensive missions trip…

Although I’ve also chosen a photo for this entry is intended to convince you that we were actually working and serving and getting our hands dirty… or at least soapy.

Categories: Christina's posts

Up to our eyeballs in transformation… and an appeal

M journalling for the past few weeks has been… private, confused, and intense – not least because we’ve been experiencing such a volume of new thinking and new experiences… it’s become clear that this year really is a foundational year for us vocationally. For me personally, that looks like an acceleration in my coaching training and contacts, in leadership development, and teaching ideas. For Marco, that signifies an increasing confidence in his ability to relate with and influence people, new ideas for artistic initiatives, together with a rapidly growing fluency in English.

Nevertheless, there are some really important and practical things to update you on. Firstly, and most urgently, our final tuition payment is due on November 9th, and because several unavoidable factors we still don’t know where that’s coming from. The total (including both of us) is $1645 – that’s £1,031 or €1200. It’s an important deadline as we can’t continue school unless it’s paid – and we would really like to continue with the school, especially in light of all that God’s been doing in us here. You can find details of how to help us at the bottom of this post.

Secondly, we have been given so many opportunities to minister and share out of the incredible goodness God has expressed to us so far. The latest of these is a ministry trip to Los Angeles, a city we both love, which will incorporate ministry to some local churches, outreach on Venice Beach and Skid Row, and connecting up with the revival history of the city by visiting places such as Bonnie Brae (where the Azusa Street outpouring began), the house of Aimee Semple McPherson, and other revivalist landmarks. We are incredibly excited about this trip and would love to be backed by your prayers.

We’ve also been praying intentionally about our calling in Versilia and in Europe in general. Returning to Europe next summer we want to “hit the ground running,” with a very clear purpose and committed in partnership with the right people. We need wisdom and favour and open doors for that, so please pray for us.

Lastly, I’d like to share a kind of vision I had a couple of nights ago… back in England I commuted a lot by train, and so the memory of clattering through a train station and trying to read the name of the station as my train hurtled along (almost always impossible) is etched into my memory. The other night as I dozed off, I saw myself looking through a train window at a station, and the station’s name was FAVOUR. I felt the Holy Spirit impress on me that I really couldn’t afford to speed through that station; no matter how urgent my journey, I had to stop the train and get off at this station, and allow Him to give me favour and grace to meet my needs, and to rest.

Helping us stay in school
Donations can be sent directly to Bethel:
For Marco:
https://www.ibssm.org/a/donate/secure-form?student_id=212449&target=tuition
For Christina:
https://www.ibssm.org/a/donate/secure-form?student_id=212451&target=tuition
Alternatively you can donate through PayPal (christina.r.ricci@gmail.com) or drop me an email if you have any questions, suggestions, prophetic words…!
All your support and prayers are essential to bringing us back to Europe with all the equipping, strength and power that this school is training us to work in!

Thank you

Christina & Marco

Having been picked up again…

September 24, 2011 Leave a comment

…rather feeling set back on my feet. Which is good. Still waiting in many ways for God to provide everything we need, and by the end of October. I asked for a word from God to help me through the aching fear I was living with every day, and he said IT IS NOT IN YOUR NATURE TO FEAR. So that’s that. When God speaks it comes complete with the ability to perform itself. It transformed my brain. I still get anxious, but I’m not living with the intense pain of great fear for my immediate future. I am consequently enjoying myself a lot more. We’re off on retreat tomorrow, serving a whole gaggle of first years. Second Year already feels a lot more serious and purposeful compared to last year, but it’s all so much fun and we are such a brilliant group of people!

Categories: Christina's posts