At the Salerno Nuova Vietri church

On Sunday we went to the only evangelical church I could discover online in the whole city of Salerno of 135,000 people. If Hutchinson with 15,000 people has need of a dozen, imagine the need in Salerno! Salerno is an important port city south of Naples, and paart of the Allied invasion of Italy took place here. Today, our impression of Salerno as a city is clean, orderly, ‘European’ in the best sense of the word in architecture and presentation. It is a pleasant surprise, equal perhaps to Vancouver. Like Vancouver, there are a variety of activities to pursue. You can swim, sail, dine, fish, and climb on the same day. The rugged mountain skyline is balanced by the lively azure sea.

This restaurant bench is close to being above the church sanctuary

The New Life church was planted about 5 years old by an American, Justin Valiquette who used to serve with Campus Crusade. He has a family with 4 young children and the vision is to reaching italians with the gospel. “New Life exists to see God transform lives and renew the city of Salerno through the good news of Jesus Christ.” Unlike the Brindisi church which seems to be considering outreach to internationals, Justin seems to stay focused on reaching Italians. May the Lord lead the way.

The church logo

Located just off a main downtown boulevard at the end of an alley, we found the church to be a couple of bathrooms upstairs and a stairwell down to the tastefully presented underground sanctuary. The advertised church time is 10:45 and we got there about 10:20.  The coffee bar in the back of the sanctuary was open and the worship team, Justin and a keyboardist, were warming up.

Coffee bar

The place slowly filled up to capacity, with many arriving well after 10:45. Church didn’t actually start until 11:20! They have a sense that people want to come relaxed and with time for fellowship. Whatever cost to the start time seems to be balanced by encouraging engaging conversations. I spent the time talking with a visiting Southern Baptist pastor from Corpus Cristi who is looking for 2-way partnership opportunities with a church like this one in Southern Europe. We also met a Dutch woman who helps with children’s ministry, a Brazilian evangelist who has moved to Salerno, a young American family, and a restaurant owner and his children who are regulars.

Worship team: Pastor Justin and a woman on keyboard

Church service began with maybe 6 familiar worship songs and then the evangelist read the scripture, Isaiah 65. The entire service was in Italian. I probably only was able to catch 15% of his words but here is my attempt at summarizing the message. The Lord has made himself known (1 & 2) and available among the people He is calling to Himself. There are two responses to His Person: one group (2 – 5) was afraid of Him, was idolatrous, defied Him, sinning in His presence. The crescendo of their choice is their destruction (11-15). The other group, the result of His mercy and will, chose to serve and honor Him. Their crescendo is to be honored and blessed in His presence. The gap between the two responses is infinitely wide. But until the day the Lord brings His judgment, the gap is potentially bridged by the power of the cross: anyone can be saved today by grace alone through faith alone in Christ (he used Ephesians 2:8-9). On the day of the Lord’s judgment, the gap is permanently, infinitely wide.

Closing song

The gospel is being preached and Jesus lifted up in Salerno.


More Vietri adventures

Today was a partial rest day, and we stayed within a short bus ride of the apartment. In the early morning we struck out looking for a cappuccino as the ‘bar’ down at the waterfront was closed. But looking for another, we stumbled into a larger grocery than we thought existed in the area. After a visit to the tabaccaio for local bus tickets and the farmacista for my supplies, we went home and had eggs, cereal, and fruit. Then we took the bus up the very steep hill to the town proper of Vietri. Google maps says it is an eleven minute walk either way, and it had only taken the taxi two to come hurtling down, but we knew better and took the bus. The one-way road up took the bus the full 11 minutes with all the switch-backs and twists and hairpin turns.

Shopper’s paradise in Vietri town. The duomo is glazed into the wall.

Vietri is known for its colorful and creative ceramics, and there are many shops to explore. We stopped for a cappuccino, and it was the strongest one I’d encountered in Italy yet. $1.12

Jon Hartzler would enjoy these snipe and waterfowl hunting scenes

With my heart Beating the drum we walked up to the duomo, Chiesa Parrocchiale di San Giovanni Battista, the parish church of St. John the Baptist.

A very lovely, very old cathedral at the top of the hill town

To my great surprise it has been here far longer than I would have guessed. Parts of the building were from the 600’s, the dome is from the 700’s, and the rest of the church is a mixture of the eras since. The total effect is striking. I found the sanctuary led one’s heart into worship and are were signs of “life” in the congregation there.

Drone’s eye view of the dome and bell tower

Mei Li found some treasures

After enjoying the skill of a 20-something accordionist we walked downhill, home. The one-way road down is much more direct (think ski chute) and like Google maps says, took about 11 minutes to walk.

Mei Li was very bored later on so we walked through the beach village and use a steep walkway into the hillside villas and hotels. The views were amazing. In the evening we went for a nice dinner back at our new friend’s restaurant. Buon appeti!

Bruschetta, $3.50

Mei Li’s seafood pasta, $12

Calamari, $14.50

Lemon Delight, $4.50 

The kindly owner

Co-owner, his wife


In the Vietri sur Mare neighborhood

We bundled up against the wind but it was 60 degrees

More of that left side hill behind the village. Sand soccer field.

Our Air BnB apartment is a two room 2nd floor apartment in this scenic neighborhood between Salerno and Amalfi. The building is old, I’m guessing early 1900’s: 16 foot high arched ceilings, non-square corners. It may have a military past, perhaps an ammo dump. The town today is really a village, close-nit and friendly. In July and August it explodes with tourists, we are told. A fine beach, boats to rent, villas and hillside hotels, all with amazing views. Lots of restaurants, bars and gelato shops with maybe half still open this time of year. We get to be here with no tourists and the village relaxed.

Adjacent hillside. We live behind the yellow building at left. Creek.

Today I was definitely feeling better so we went out for a walk and lunch. It was bright, sunny and windy. The town had just local folks who have been very kindly toward us. Last night we arrived here from the train station by taxi and the taxi driver couldn’t find the address. Google maps said the apartment was a block away. But within 5 minutes of stepping out of the taxi a kind gentleman who had no English asked for the address and went off in pursuit. He came back puzzled, but when he saw my paperwork that Ciro was the Air BnB host, he smiled, “Oh, Ciro!” (pronounced Cheer-o) and immediately called him up. In two minutes we were at the apartment.

View east to Salerno. Can’t wait until we can see Amalfi to the west!

We couldn’t seem to find a restaurant open, and with customers in it, and with a posted menu or one we thought was reasonably priced for the off season, so disappointed, we headed toward the tiny grocery store and something to eat. My appetite is back! And as we approached the store we saw the kindly man from the night before. He was putting restaurant outdoor dining patio equipment away. We stopped in front of a small restaurant. He asked if we wanted pizza or some lunch, and opened the door of that very restaurant! He was the owner, and made me this margerita pizza (15″ diameter, about $5) and his wife made us bruschetta and Mei Li Spaghetti con Vongole. Awesome! We told the wife (whose English is quite good) how special her husband is. She smiled. She knew. She said we all just need to be generous with each other.

My pizza. I ate 1/3 and we took the rest home.

Spaghetti with clams

The pizza is really really good. Sorry I didn’t photograph the $4 bruschetta. We were too busy eating it. That was pretty much our day. I took it easy the rest of the day. Ciao!

Relocating over to Salerno

Today (Thursday) we headed to Salerno from Brindisi, changing trains in Taranto. See the map below. We are now at the midpoint of the sabbatical time away.

Our travel overview

Imagine an ant walking from the back of your cowboy boot heel, over the ankle and onto the front instep. That’s a little like our journey today. The ankle area was of very rugged low mountains and was beautiful. The first train was a regional train, second class, no assigned seats. The second train was an Intercity, kind of an express train, but with assigned seats in second class.

The Intercity. We were the first to board our car.

We left Brindisi at 10:45, had a two hour wait and lunch in Taranto, and arrived in Salerno after 5:30. Lunch was in a restaurant near the train station. Horse steak was on the menu, but Mei Li had squid calamari spaghetti and I had a few bites of Spaghetti Boulanese.

Lunch menu, English version. Very inexpensive! What would you like?

The Calamari Spaghetti.

The entire train fare package today was about $32 for the two of us. I bought all our train tickets as e-tickets back in August or September on a French-run online ‘ticket office’ called Go Euro. The tickets can be changed or transferred up to the day before departure. In years past we’d buy a Eurail pass, but we learned quickly that buying individual train tickets is far cheaper.

An arrival screen

For those who are curious, at the station you find your train departure platform on the screen in the station. You find the train type and number from your ticket, like our Intercity 702, on the departure screen, and it tells you which binnario (platform) to go to. Then if you have assigned seats, board the right train car in the class of the ticket, and find the assigned seats. On the screens, a train that is sopprosso is cancelled. A train that will leave late is marked ritardo. Most often our trains have been on time, or if not, delayed 10 to 30 minutes. 

I am still under doctor’s orders and stayed in bed again yesterday, Wednesday, with only a couple of short walks with my birthday girl Mei Li in the Brindisi neighborhood. My appetite is still low. I’m supposed to take my meds, eat lots of veggies and broth and avoid breads and cheeses, and drink 2000 mL of water every day. But my appetite is so low I probably have had only 400 calories of food a day the last 4 days. Thank you for your continued prayers for full health recovery. 

The reasons we wanted to visit Salerno are that there seems to be very little Evangelical presence today, but Paestum not far away built a prominent Christian church that is still standing since the 5th century. Another reason is Salerno is very close to the spectacular Amalfi coast, which we have always wanted to see! Paestum is an historical coastal town about 25 miles south of Salerno which was settled by Greek immigrants and later by Christians in the 6th century. Because of a marshy area near there, malaria was a major problem (which explains why immigrants found the land open to them to settle?) and the town, after being built up and well settled, was abandoned. The remaining ruins provide a spectacular snapshot in time, almost as well known here as as Pompeii, which is to the North of Salerno. I’m told Italians prefer it because then they can avoid huge crowds of tourists in Pompeii. We hope to find out ourselves. We’ve been to Pompeii before anyway.

North Americans (except our Bridget, Donna, and Lloyd) often have little understanding of the havoc malaria continues to wreck in many tropical and semi-tropical places of the world. I’ve read a lot of Italians have an immunity to malaria but apparently these immigrants did not. Is it semi tropical in Brindisi and Salerno? Well, if the cacti and palm trees all over are an indication, I’d vote yes.



Fighting a bug but enjoying the waterfront

We walked along the Brindisi waterfront which is still today a busy port with yachts, cruise ships, and ferries to Greece. I could imagine military and trading ships pulling into this port in the first century.

Brindisi Marina near our apartment

This Roman column near the quay marks the start of the Appian Way

We visited the Roman column marking the start of the Appian Way. There used to be a second column next to this one but it was moved to a neighboring town for their heritage. Our apartment is near a major coast guard station. The coast guard in this port and others has been very busy in recent months rescuing sinking boats full of migrants from North Africa.

I spent most of a couple of days in bed fighting an infection which led to dehydration and a trip to the emergency room. They did blood tests and x-rays and were very professional, kind, and funny. Our apartment host’s daughter Francesca took us to the ER and her dad had already called ahead to ask for an English speaking doctor. I didn’t even need the translator app on the iPad.

Waiting for my test results.

My heaven-sent caregivers

Francesca, a Catholic, seemed God-sent to us in her generous care for us. No doubt that was an answer to the prayers of my church family! She came back twice later in the day to check on me and she will bring prayers to God for me tonight at church. The other amazing thing is that with socialized medicine like Canada has, the bill for the hospital was $0. I only had to pay for my meds. I am still under doctor’s instructions and prescriptions for another week to heal. Next stop is Salerno by train on Thursday. I will need a clinic visit there.

At the Brindisi Assembly of God church

Today we walked a couple of miles to the Chiesa Cristiana Evangelica, the Christian Evangelical Church. From an internet search I could only find two evangelical churches here. One is a Waldensian congregation (with no website so we had no idea when the service was and they share a pastor with one or two other congregations) and the other is the Assemblies church. Interestingly, our walk was right along the Appian Way as it leaves the port of Brindisi on the way toward Rome. (See previous post)

Prayer time in church

There were about 65 people there, of all ages. The service was entirely in Italian. A few folks who were able, greeted us in English. It was Communion Sunday. The banner up front says “Jesus is Lord.”

Several things stood out to us. The church is well rooted because we could see their sense of family and shared mission and love for one another. The joy in the Spirit of God and the exalting of Christ was very strong. This is a prayerful and worshipful people. The worship team consisted of a keyboard, a drum set, and an acoustic guitar. The team was very capable. The songs were contemporary praise and worship songs, but thoughtfully selected. We recognized three or four that we sing at Oak Heights.

There were times of free prayer when anyone who wanted could speak out a prayer or lead out above the other voices in prayer and praise. One older woman led a lengthy and spontaneous praise to God. The married and older women typically wore veils, but not all of them. The offering time was lively and praise filled.

The text today was Genesis 22:1-3, where Abraham’s faith is tested with the command to take Isaac and go to Mount Moiah and offer him there to the Lord. While the message was in Italian, we could understand that the pastor was preaching that Abraham by faith presented his precious son Isaac, the son of promise, to God. Abraham believed God (that Isaac, the son through whom a great nation had been promised to come, would be spared from death or brought back to life, whatever God would choose) and it was credited to him as righteousness. God, I think to Abrahams great surprise, provided a substitute for Isaac, a male ram who had his horns caught in the bushes. God presented the sacrifice to Abraham so that Isaac wouldn’t have to die, but live. God presents His Son of Promise to us as our substitute for the penalty for our sin, which is death. God presents to anyone who will believe by faith in the death and resurrection of the Son of God, forgiveness of sins and eternal life. When we present our old dead lives to God through Jesus, God returns our life back to us for all eternity and we are made right (righteous) with God through faith in Jesus. 

The communion table was prepared by women. The table was placed on the floor level of the congregation, whereas the pulpit was raised at the front of the church. Communion was led by the pastor and a couple of deacons or assistants. The worship team was served first. The one usher sent rows of congregants forward, maybe 10-12 people at a time. Each group received a piece of broken bread, and then a single cup of wine was shared. The recipient would take the chalice from the server and take a sip and return it to the server. The server would wipe the rim with a clean cloth and hand it to the next person. When everyone had been served, the group would return to their seats and another group went forward. Finally, the pastor served the assistants, and then he came to the congregation side of the table, and was served there, last of all.

There was much shaking of hands and kissing of cheeks and benedictions at the door to the street after the service. Today, the Gospel is alive and well in that church, just a few steps from the Appian Way in Brindisi, Italy. Jesus, the perfect substitute and Savior, is presented here. Life. Thanks be to God.

We fly south to Brindisi, start of the Roman Road

Today we relocated from Florence to Brindisi for the half-way point of our sabbatical.

On the way to Brindisi

If you can picture Italy in the shape of a boot, then Brindisi is on the boot heel. We are exploring this part of Italy because we have never been this far south in Italy before, and because when the Gospel was first being spread, Brindisi may have been its entry point to Italy and possibly Southern Europe West of Greece.  

The Appian Way

Brindisi was a very key port on the Roman network of roads and ship passages connecting the empire. If you were traveling from Rome going East to Corinth or Athens or Macedonia or Further East to Asia Minor or the Holy Lands, you would likely travel overland on the Roman Road to Brindisi, board a ship here and cross over. Mediterranean winds can be fierce (sciroccos) and rounding the southern end of Italy could be hazardous. It would be safer to go overland from Rome and then board ship in Brindisi or Bari. Even today you can easily take a ferry to Corfu in Greece from Brindisi. 

You can see Brundisium (Brindisi) on the map

When Paul was being taken under arrest to Rome for trial, if his ship had not been blown far west of its intended track and been shipwrecked on Malta, he might have arrived in Italy at Brindisi. His group finally connected with the Appian Way near modern day Naples.

Tomorrow we will walk 30 minutes to an Assembly of God church, one of a very few Protestant churches in Brindisi, to participate in worship, though we expect everything will be in Italian!