Some of you know that I made a trip to Rome, March 6-15. Having been home about a week now I want to share a great deal about this life-changing journey. I wrote very little about this trip during my time away because I could not respond to email and comments adequately. I also needed to take a break from writing and concentrate on the people and the purpose of my time in Italy. I also waited to tell this story so I could reflect more deeply, write personal notes to myself, and then compose blog posts when I was back in my “thinking and praying” spot at home. (I have a place in my backyard, an enclosed and heated gazebo, where I can be alone. I am surrounded by color and nature as well as wonderful icons of Jesus, Paul, John and St. Benedict, as well as other reminders of my call and vision for Christ. Here I can pray, think and be truly restful. I also write my blogs here, as well as most of my other written work. This lovely place was a gift that was built with money left to me by my late mother, my greatest supporter and the primary influence in my desire to write and teach biblical truth since childhood!)
So why did I go to Rome? A few evangelical critics might be inclined to say that I went to consider becoming a Roman Catholic. Nothing could be further from the truth. I went to meet brothers and sisters in Christ, who happened to be Catholics and non-Catholics alike. All of those I met, to varying degrees, are deeply interested in missional-ecumenism, my life’s passion. I went to be with one friend (John Green) and to meet several dozen new friends. I so believe in “relational ecumenism” that this journey was a natural outcome of my life’s work. I knew some could/would not understand the reason for this venture but that has never stopped me in the past so it didn’t not stop me now. I am too old, and too powerfully focused on mission, to worry about negative response to my mission and Spirit-given purpose. ACT 3 exists to “equip leaders for unity in Christ’s mission.” This was the reason I went to Rome.
Tomorrow, at 4:30 p.m., I will give an address to the Wheaton College Student Ecumenical Society in the Beamer Center, in the Phelps Room (on the lower level). If you live in the area you are welcome to attend. The group fittingly titled my address: “Conversation at the Vatican.” This trip was exactly that, a conversation. So in that spirit I want to offer an ongoing report on this conversation.
How did this “conversation” come about?
Let me stress up front that this was not an “official” visit to the Vatican, though I did visit with leaders in the Vatican. (I will explain what we did, and with whom, over the next few days.) This was a “friendship” visit initiated by Nate Bacon, a reader of my book, Your Church Is Too Small. Nate Bacon is a missionary with InnerCHANGE serving in Guatemala. He read my book in 2010 and began an email correspondence with me. (Until I got to Rome I had never met Nate!) He suggested that a team of us meet in Rome to get to know one another in the context of a conversation with leaders in the Vatican as well as several more in the Vatican universities (there are eleven such universities in Rome). We also met in several other contexts where we were welcomed because of a deep commitment to Christian unity. Nate put together our itinerary for the visits and a team of seven assembled on March 9 for the first meeting.
Our team consisted of John Green, the president of Emmaus Ministries in Chicago, who is mentioned in my book as a model of missional-ecumenism. John was the only member I already knew. We were joined by John B. Hayes, and his wife, Deanna. John is a graduate of Princeton and did a Masters in International Relations at Yale. Divine providence's in his life moved him toward a ministry to the poor and thus he began InnerCHANGE. John first worked on the poorest street in Orange County (CA) as a single man, living among the poor as a man committed to poverty. His neighbors were Cambodian refugees, drug addicts and other broken people. From there his work grew into a ministry that is today in thirteen countries, serving on five continents. John and Deanna live in the poorest part of London, England. (More about John in a later blog!)
The other members of our team were Jose Penata, who serves with InnerCHANGE in a gang area of Oakland, California. Jose is originally from El Salvador and became a dear friend to Nate Bacon when Nate was ministering in the San Francisco area. Darren Prince was the other member of our team, but was only with us on the first day. Darren is also a missionary with InnerCHANGE.
What Nate Bacon conceived of, as the Spirit led him over the course of several months, was a plan to share and talk about “missional-ecumenism on the margins.” You can see why this is important if you understand that all of my friends are serving on the margins of society and all are missional-ecumenists. Of the seven of us in Rome, four were Protestant and three Catholic. This unique combination of backgrounds and traditions will come to play again and again as I tell you about what we did and why we did it.
I want to give a special word of thanks to the three families who provided this trip for me. One gave me the miles to fly and the other two gave the money needed to cover my lodging, meals and expenses. With conversion to Euros and transaction fees, etc. I was never quite sure if I was over and or under my budgeted amount. I came back and went over the records and charges and came under the budget I had established by $9.27. So the entire trip was covered before I left, one of the three things I put before the Lord in advance. The other two were my doctor’s OK and an assurance that I was personally important to this dialog process. I was assured of both in advance so I made the journey, my first trip out of North America in twelve years. My health remained good enough to allow me the energy to attend every meeting and to sight-see far more than I imagined I could.
Tomorrow: My journey itself, the unique lodging context I enjoyed and the first day of meetings and sight seeing, Monday, March 7.