July 8, 2010

Flame for Christ

Posted in Trek through Italy at 5:59 AM by goingbeyondzebra

The large van swerved its way along the edge of the mountain, bumping and twisting in a way that would make even the most seasoned of travelers nervous. Ten people filled nine seats of the rumbling green giant, affectionately called Giorgio by those brave enough to ride. It was making its way to a place that marked the evangelical movement in Italy hundreds of years ago, the home of the Waldensians.

The group,  made up of full time OM Italy workers, interns, and family, was heading to the old Waldensian church, the college, and the cave that had long ago housed hidden worship to keep members from persecution. The first stop was the church and college.

Giorgio bounced along, the driver Tim forcing his will over that of the wheels, making the van stick to the mountain road. Finally we came to a stop on a narrow pass leading to the church building. Everyone fell out of the van, grateful to have arrived in one piece as a few close calls had left them dangerously close to the edge of the mountain. We trudged along the characteristically picturesque path that led to the church, with the clicking of cameras accompanying our journey. A backdrop of mountains singing in the sun hung everywhere we turned, the church itself standing close to the edge of the one where we currently resided.

The building was old, white, and brown. Rolled glass filled the windows and various carvings, pictures, and scriptures adorned the walls and interior, all in Italian of course. Here Waldensians could, and still did, meet openly to pray and worship according to their faith. As we entered the churchyard, a fountain of mountain water flowed, offering it’s refreshment to any weary traveler or thirsty attendant.

When all were satisfied with their visit at the church, we began the climb up to the old college. Stone steps set amongst grass and flowers led the twisting way up to the preserved institution, a creek hidden by growth trickling merrily beside. It was a path that had been walked by many, though in the past it had been hidden so soldiers would remain unaware that there were students above, learning about and memorizing the Word of God. It was a fairly small structure made of dark wood, built along the stony quirks of the mountainside. You could see where those chosen to evangelize for Christ learned the Bible, where they ate, where they slept. They had lived here in obscurity and fear, studying only in the cold of winter, preparing themselves to be a flame for Christ on a journey that would most likely end in death.  After learning about the history, a quiet fell over the group as we explored the small buildings and meditated on their importance. But there was still more to see.

We made our way back down the path and stuffed back into Giorgio, a few giving him affectionately encouraging pats or pep talks as the ride began. A few minutes and steep roads later, we landed on another side of the mountain, Giorgio parked precariously close to the edge at the suggestion of an elderly Italian gentleman. He greeted us enthusiastically as we were preparing to head to the cave, and insisted on taking us into the small school which had been for younger Waldensian children. Encouraged by our interest, and undeterred by the fact that few of us could understand what he was saying, he told us about the history of the school and a little about the history of the Waldensians. He also gave us a lighter for the torch in the cave and gave us a few tips about entering. Then, we were once again on our way.

A less strenuous, though longer trail led us through the forest of the mountain till we reached the path down to the cave. Literally carved from the rock, it was steep and curving, ending at a large dent in the mountain stone. The entrance to the cave itself was small and barely visible, one had to crouch low to get inside. This was intentional. At the time when this cave was used, children would stand guard in the trees, listening and watching for signs of soldiers while the church would meet and worship in the cave. If any approach was noticed, the children would give notice and all would become quiet as people prayed their cave church would be passed by unnoticed.

We crawled through the pitch black, low, slippery entrance, reaching out tentatively around us to try and keep our bearings. Not far in, we arrived at a decent sized cavern where the church met. One of the guys found and lit the torch, bathing the area in the faint glow of flame. One side of the cave stood higher than the rest, we were told this was where the preacher would stand to deliver God’s word. Inspired, the interns climbed up and sang an impromptu chorus of Amazing Grace. The words reverberated off the cave walls and took on new meaning for those inside as we considered the history of where we stood.

Then it was time to go. The torch was extinguished; we exited the cave and made our way back to Giorgio, who was patiently awaiting our return. Everyone climbed in for the final time and Giorgio made his way faithfully back down the mountain road. The tour was ended.



1 Comment »

  1. Sharon Cogburn said,

    I think you’re getting your groove on Robyn. This was well written.

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