Merry Christmas from the Chastains!
We wish you a season of peace and rest – something that feels rare these days.
We are ready to rest, too. This has been such a busy time for our family.
In our last update, we told you that Charlie and our oldest, Isabel, were making plans to attend the TMS Global regional gathering in Malaysia, which takes place every 2 years. At the last minute, with the help and encouragement of friends, we were provided the necessary funds so that all 5 of us were able to go to the gathering.
The days we spent in Malaysia were a great time to catch up with old friends living in Africa, Europe and Asia, to participate in continuing education for our work, and to pray and dream about future plans together. During these gatherings, TMS Global also places emphasis on all of the children attending. So, one of the highlights was watching our kids interact with other kids whose families are serving around the globe, who also share their struggles of being “third culture kids”. Isabel, Jasper and Celia all had a great time reconnecting with old friends and making new ones while the adults were in our meetings discussing the boring stuff! While the journey to Malaysia was long, we left Kuala Lumpur encouraged and refreshed for our next season of ministry.
Just two days after we arrived back from Asia, Charlie left for Dusseldorf, Germany to participate in Mosaik Dusseldorf Church’s Tribus conference. Like our time in Malaysia, Charlie’s time in Dusseldorf was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends, make a few new ones, and to talk about life, art, and the gospel.
Charlie was honored to be one of the guest speakers for the event, where he spoke on the intersection between faith, art and the refugee crisis. In addition, he was one of the guest musical performers for the conference, and he accompanied a couple of other artists’ performances as well. Charlie also received a last minute invitation to preach at the Mosaik Sunday service after the gathering, and so was blessed with the opportunity to share more specifically about our refugee work during that time.
Sometimes, given the work we do and the realities we face with at-risk kids and refugees, the idea of “making art” can feel frivolous or even sinful. But events like Tribus remind us that creativity is a vital resource towards helping us continue to move forward in these difficult environments. Personal expression is a natural and necessary aspect of any life. We can see this clearly in the scriptures, from the creation story to the book of Psalms and beyond. Art and music have played an immeasurable role in Charlie’s walk through the refugee crisis, and we hope to share some of his recent compositions in the near future.
Three days after Charlie’s arriving back from Dusseldorf, our family packed in our van and made our way down to Italy. Just a few years ago, making such a journey would have seemed crazy, but for the 5 of us now a 6500 mile (10,500km) road trip has become almost routine!
Our goal was to find out as much as we could about the refugee crisis in Italy, including for example local church involvement, charities involved in aid work, regions of greatest migrant concentration, etc. As we crossed the Austrian border into Italy we were filled with anticipation about what we would find – as only Charlie had ever been to Italy before. First, we made our way south through Bologna, then onto Florence and Rome. The further south we went, the more migrants we began to see.
Charlie found a couple of minutes to speak with two African refugees he met stocking produce in a grocery store in Bologna. Both of these young men had left their families in Eritrea and had headed for Libya in the hope of finding a seat on a boat crossing the Mediterranean. Once in northern Africa, they discovered that Libya had become what they described as essentially a prison camp and trafficking hub for migrants seeking passage into Europe.
Many refugees are getting stuck in Tripoli with no food and no means to buy their way onto one of the small boats. More and more often, these individuals are entering into servitude in Northern Africa, sometimes for years. The two Eritreans Charlie met had left behind family and friends in Tripoli, who are still in bondage. The young men hope that some of their modest earnings in Bologna will help pay off debts owed by their families to traffickers.
As of 2016, there were around 180,000 asylum-seekers living in public reception centers in Italy. This is not counting the thousands living on the streets, including unaccompanied minors. In the first 10 months of 2017, another 110,000 more have arrived on the shores of Italy.
Some congregations in Italy seem to have become deeply and sacrificially involved in ministry with these homeless migrant and refugee families. For example, one morning in Rome our family decided to take a few hours to get some fresh air and see some local sights. During our walk, just by chance, we came upon a group of young refugee children and their families who were playing with frisbees and soccer balls with a group of Catholic priests on the sidewalk in front of a Catholic church. As we got closer, we saw that the doors of the church were open. Once we were directly in front of the church, we could see that inside were set up about 8-10 tents, where it appeared the refugee families were living.
In Rome and Naples, we visited with Evangelical congregations and leaders who assist refugees in central Italy to integrate into Italian society. For example, one organization we met has a recreational center in downtown Rome, which offers language and legal assistance as well as opportunities to learn about Jesus.
However, we also met with leaders who said that their churches do not participate in any mission with the migrant or refugee population there at all. In fact, one indicated that most Christian missions he knew had moved out of the southern region of Italy and Sicily because trying to work there had become too difficult and dangerous. Despite this discouraging report, we decided to continue south to the island of Sicily and to see if we could discern a bit of the situation there for ourselves.
Sicily is a primary reception spot for refugees in Italy, with three “hot spots” or locations where arriving refugees and migrants are received directly off of the boats. In Palermo, Sicily, we visited a Methodist congregation which is made up primarily of migrants and refugees from Africa. On the day of our visit the service was led by two speakers, one an Italian and the other an African pastor.
One of the most helpful visits was with the group, Mediterranean Hope, in Scicli, Sicily, which is supported in partnership by both the Methodist and Catholic Churches of Italy. Among other services, this group runs a small shelter in Scicli that houses about 40 people, and which is designated for the “most vulnerable” among the refugee community. While we were there, they were housing unaccompanied minors and single mothers and their children. Right before our visit, the shelter had been called to a nearby “hot spot” to pick up two young mothers whose children had drowned in the Mediterranean during their crossing a couple of days prior.
While the refugee crisis no longer the focus on our news broadcasts and social media feeds, it is ongoing and just as tragic as it has ever been.
It was during our few hours with volunteers and workers at this shelter that we felt we were finally able to speak a “similar language” regarding our calling to serve refugees.
This group is not discouraged by the fact that they are “only” able to serve 40 people, but instead affirmed that none of us is able – nor are we called – to help every one of the thousands of refugees coming into Europe. Instead, we are each called to serve faithfully those individuals whom God brings into our lives. Doing any more than that comes with the risk that we will no longer see each person as a beautiful child of God, but that we will instead begin to see them as only a number. It seemed to us that this insight – this call to humble ourselves, and to commit ourselves to simply be obedient in the small part God gives us – might be a major key towards engaging more of the church in this crisis.
We were also encouraged by the testimonies of the volunteers on some of the ways that this shelter, now open for about 2 years, has worked to deepen the community of Scicli itself. They confirmed what we have witnessed over and over in the camps and squats we have visited in other locations, that authentic ministry never flows in just one direction, but that the work of the Holy Spirit in these circumstances is mutual. When God calls individuals to one another in the midst of crisis, His work of healing, reconciliation, and transformation flows in every way, to everyone involved.
After our time in Sicily, we began our journey back North towards Estonia, and we stopped in Rome for one last meeting, this time with Mirella Manocchio, the President of the Methodist Church of Italy. Particularly given Mirella’s extensive schedule, we felt very blessed to have an hour to sit with her and to begin a discussion on possibilities for us to come alongside the Methodist Church of Italy in order to learn from them and to work more extensively with them in the refugee crisis. It is particularly about the development of this potential relationship that we ask for your prayers, specifically that throughout coming weeks we will be able to have open, honest communication together, and that we will all be able to discern the appropriate way forward.
In addition to the extensive traveling we did this past season, Miki also completed a full semester schedule towards her Master’s of Divinity degree at Asbury Theological Seminary. She is now one class short of half-way!
We want to express our sincerest gratitude to those of you who have committed to supporting Miki’s studies through your prayers and your financial contributions on her behalf through the Ministry Partner’s Scholarship Program at Asbury. You may recall that through this program Miki is required to participate in stewardship training and to raise financial donations of $6,980/academic year. When she meets these requirements the rest of her tuition (around $20,000/year) is covered by Asbury. For this current (2017-2018) school year, Miki still needs to raise about $1,400. If anyone feels like they would like to support Miki’s studies, please contact her at email@example.com, or you may send a gift directly to Asbury Seminary:
You may send a check designated “Miki Chastain – MPP” to:
Asbury Theological Seminary
204 N. Lexington Avenue
Wilmore, KY 40390
Or you can go online to asbury.to/mpp to make a contribution electronically on Miki’s behalf (just choose her name in the drop down box).
So now as we all dive headlong into this holiday season, please know how much we love you. Please know how much your support and encouragement means to us. We often look back at these past 9 years and cannot believe the terrain we have covered. While in Italy, Charlie looked at the rest of us and just asked, “How did we get here?” It often overwhelms us. The joys and the heartaches. The blessings and despair. Through it all you have remained steadfast and true – and it has meant the world to us.
More work lies ahead, and we will need you in the future as well. Knowing you’re there makes it much easier to take those risks, those uncharted paths. So may the Lord our God bless and keep you as we celebrate the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Charlie, Miki, Isabel, Jasper and Celia
PS: Miki’s 8-week study on prayer is available on Apple iBooks and Amazon Kindle. Please check it out – and share it with your SS Classes and friends! Charlie’s album with Faleiro-Chastain is available for purchase and streaming on iTunes, Spotify and all major online distributors.
Ways to donate to this ministry:
By Check: Send a check to the following address, noting “Chastain/Russia 322” in the memo:
6234 Crooked Creek Road
Norcross, GA 30092
By Credit/Debit Card: Go to: https://www.tms-global.org/give
In the box noting: “Give to a Missionary”, fill in the amount and 0322 for the “Four-digit Missionary ID#”
To give to our special projects account (refugees, prayer work), use the “Give to a Partner or Project” and fill in “Chastain Special Projects”