Twelve days at sea

We will return to North America by sea. At this time of year, some of the cruise ships that have been in Europe all summer are relocated to the Caribbean for the winter season. We will hitch hike aboard the “Jewel of the Sea” as she makes her way transatlantic to San Juan, Puerto Rico with three interesting stops along the way. From San Juan we will fly home via Chicago.

Our route homeward

We will be mostly out of contact for this part of our journey. Internet service on board will be way too expensive. 

My goal on the ocean passage is to work on my 2017 sermon series, in which we will follow “the red thread” of the Lord Jesus Christ through the whole Bible, savoring 52 key Scripture passages presenting Jesus as the ultimate Author, central theme, and central character of the Bible from beginning to end. There is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved. There is no higher name.

The Trinity, in my favorite cathedral, Santa Croce, Florence

Please pray for God’s leading in this important work, and for my health at sea. Today we went to four pharmacies before we found the supplies we needed. I am so grateful for your prayers.

Grace and peace in the Lord,

Todd and Mei Li

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To the catacombs

After spending some time for reflection at the prison, I got back on the metro  at he coliseum (been there before and didn’t stop) and changed lines at Termini and went quite a way south to get as close on the metro as I could to the catacombs. That was a mistake. The metro doesn’t get very close!

This was the long road I walked, much of it without a sidewalk

I walked a very long way indeed and in my condition that was far too far. Finally I waited for a bus that seemed to be going in the right direction. It was, but the bus stopped quite a ways beyond where I wanted to get off! Finally I arrived on foot at the catacombs, but had to wait an hour because the place was closed for siesta. 

  Above the catacombs, this statue of the Good Shepherd


Lots of people lined up to go underground

When it was time for our group to go below with an English speaking guide, we walked perhaps a couple hundred yards of the catacombs but there are over 19 kilometers of tunnels and three or 4 stories of catacombs in places. Also, this is one of many catacomb systems. Christians were buried here because it was inexpensive and safe to be buried here. Roman soldiers were superstitious and wouldn’t enter the catacombs. It is probably not true that Christians hid underground except during severe persecution. Generally the catacombs were places to honor the dead and remember together as the people of God the resurrection to come. Today it is a place to consider the fragility of this life against the certainty of the world to come. It is an opportunity to reorient ourselves to the foundations of our faith.

Jesus, Alpha and Omega

The aspect that most moved my heart was the use of Christian symbols throughout the catacombs. The early Christians lived in a pagan and hostile society. During Nero’s persecution (64 A.D.), following Jesus was considered “a strange and illegal superstition”. Christians were mistrusted and excluded, they were suspected and accused of the worst crimes. They were persecuted, imprisoned, sentenced to exile or condemned to death. Unable to profess their faith openly, the Christians made use of symbols, which they placed on the walls of the catacombs and carved on the marble-slabs which sealed the tomb recesses.

Recesses cut in the walls for burials


Fresco of the Good Shepherd. “I know My sheep and they know Me.”

 These symbols were a visible reminder of their faith. A “symbol” used this way is a sign or figure, which presents an idea or a spiritual reality. The main symbols I saw are the Good Shepherd, the “Orante”, the monogram of Christ, and the fish. 

The Good Shepherd with a lamb around his shoulders represents Christ and the soul which He has saved. John 10 says it all.This symbol is often found painted in the frescoes on the catacomb walls, carved in the reliefs of the sarcophagi, presented in the statues, and engraved on the tombs themselves.

Communion celebration, our shared identity with Christ

The “orante”: this is a praying figure with open arms symbolizing the soul which lives on in divine peace. 

The Greek monogram of Christ is formed by interlacing two letters of the Greek alphabet: X (chi) and P (ro), which are the first two letters of the Greek word “Christòs” or Christ. When this monogram was placed on a tombstone, it meant a Christian was buried there. 

The fish. In Greek the letters are IXTHYS (ichtùs). Placed vertically, the letters of this word form an acrostic: Iesùs Christòs Theòu Uiòs Sotèr: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. The fish is a widespread symbol of Christ, a motto and a compendium of the Christian faith. 

Fish symbol and acrostic

Some other symbols I saw are the dove, the Alpha and the Omega, the anchor, etc. The dove holding an olive branch symbolizes the soul that reaches divine peace, “that you may be with Me where I am.” (John 14) The Alpha and the Omega are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet. They signify that Christ is the beginning and the end of all things. The anchor is the symbol of salvation and of the soul which has peacefully reached the port of eternity. Our anchor holds within the veil.

The martyrs’ tombs, the cubicles and also the arcosoliums may be decorated with pictures painted in a fresco. The frescoes represent biblical scenes of the Old and the New Testament, some of them with a precise symbolic meaning. I especially liked the use of the Jonah story to speak to the strong call of God on our lives, His great mercy, and his power to deliver from death.

Jonah delivered from the sea creature

Today in our funerals we usually celebrate the loved one who died with pictures and stories. There may be a footprints poem or countryside scene on the bulletin. But how few of our funeral images really depict our faith! The funeral homes in our culture sanitize and bleach out grim death. Some caskets and grave stones I’ve seen today are decorated with fishing rods, sports teams, birds or the person’s monogram or flowers. Where are the symbols of our faith like these Christians were proud to display? Have we so watered down our identity with Christ that we can’t think of any significant ways to depict our true faith, hope, and love at death?

 

To Mamertine prison

Today, Mei Li stayed at the apartment as my two destinations didn’t particularly interest her. I walked down the hill to the Tiber and across to the Pyramid metro station and took a subway to the Coliseum. 

This is the scene immediately outside the metro station.

 Maybe a half mile walk along the Roman Forum and I was at the prison.

People were buying tickets to walk in the Forum, which is to the left.


A flyover by the air force as I walked. They were expecting me?!

Today it is one of many churches in the area and you could easily miss it. But I had it marked on my map and I didn’t have to pay to enter the forum to access the prison. It was 10 euros though for admission to the prison.

There are two churches built over the gloomy underground prison cells

I spent some time in this considering the cost of following Jesus. It is uncertain whether Peter was held here, but quite possible. Enemies of Rome were held here including Goths and Gauls and traitors. Some starved to death and some were strangled. Others were taken out and publicly executed. Paul may have been imprisoned here before he was executed at the Three Fountains, and Peter before he was executed at Nero’s circus on Vatican hill.

The upper prison room


The lower cell

The prison was built in the 7th century BC, not as a prison but a place of execution and detention before execution. It was used this way until the 4th century AD.

The prison and church today

The upper cell room was added in the 2nd century. The lower cell room was served by a round hole in the floor, which is still there, though fortunately there’s a staircase for access by pilgrims today.

In the third century, Palmatius was a consul to emperor Severus, and during a major city fire suggested to the emperor that the Christians be slaughtered to appease the Roman gods. However, he soon became converted to Christ, and when he would not recant, he had committed a crime worthy of death. Palmatius was here before he was executed along with his wife, children, and his whole extended family, totaling about 40.

Abundias and Abundantius were detained here in the late 3rd century. They refused to make sacrifices to Hercules as ordered by the emperor Diocletian. They were decapitated.

There is an altar right above the prison ceiling, and above that a very nice small church for prayer.

Altar above the upper cell

Today we talk about persecution but have experienced very little of it. And yet severe persecution is steadily increasing in many third world places. To sit and think about such things down in the lower prison cell is profitable. There may well be a cost to following Jesus. Even today, and even in Hutchinson.

Chapel above the prison and museum

 

Jesus said in Matthew 25 that Christians should expect persecution and even death because of Him. And the pressures of persecution will cause such division in the Body that some will betray and hate other Christians. In fact, MOST others will grow cold in their love for Christ because of the increase of wickedness. But we who are serious about following Jesus are to stand firm to the end regardless, and be saved. How committed to Jesus are you today? 

 

Bullet train to Rome

Today (Wednesday) we see a medical specialist in Salerno. In answer to prayer, Monday evening our landlord drove us to an area hospital (it was very third world in cleanliness and equipment) to address my medical emergency and then I was released to go back home. Eduardo, the Brazilian evangelist from the Nouva Vita church got me an appointment to see the specialist today. Yesterday was pretty much a national holiday. Everything stops for All Saints Day except that restaurants are busy. The doctor examined me, read the history of my two doctor visits, heard and OK’d my travel plans homeward, and wrote me new prescriptions for the journey. Then he charged me 100 euros for his consultation, and we spent another 100 euros today for supplies and meds.

Vietri point looking toward Salerno

Tomorrow we take the FrecciaBianca (White Arrow) to Rome. Our two second class tickets with assigned seats bought well in advance were $22.50 for what would be almost a 3 hour drive by car. Our last Air BnB is located across the River on the Vatican side of the city. Our plan in Rome is to visit the catacombs, the final part of the Appian Way, and the Mamertine prison.

Salerno harbor, looking toward Vietri

 We will miss beautiful Salerno but we are confident the gospel continues to advance here.

 

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!