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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Doors

I have a fascination with doors in Italy.  Maybe it's because I knocked on so many of them when I was I young missionary here 45 years ago.   I never knew what to expect.   Most of the time no one would answer even though we could hear someone moving about inside.  Sometimes an older woman would yell through the door "chi é?" ("who's there?").  We would respond by saying something like, "... rappresentanti di Gesu' Cristo ", emphasizing more loudly the last two words for special effect.  Having a door opened and viewing the incredulous look on their faces was always worth having to climb the six flights of stairs in the old apartment buildings.

Many of the doors in Italy are hundreds of years old and have survived weather, wars, natural disasters, and slamming in the faces of missionaries.   They have been repaired, rehung, reinforced, and refinished.  Some are works of art, but most are very simple and functional.  The hinges, handles, door knockers, and locks are often original and are a history lesson of themselves.   Locks, and the keys that go with them, haven't changed so much over hundreds of years.   The large and pocket un-friendly skeleton keys are still is use and can still be duplicated in the locksmith shops.   As lock technology evolves, people will often just add a newer lock to the door hoping to make it more secure.  Some of our missionary apartments  have several different styles of locks, each with its unique type of key.

The newer doors are like bank vaults with multiple deadbolts and crash proof jambs.   Our own apartment door has only one keyed lock on the outside, but on the inside there are two separate locking mechanisms that activate a total of six interconnected deadbolts that secure all sides of the extra thick, reinforced door.   I guess if you live in a country that has a history of being invaded and sacked every few decades,  people are more motivated to invest in extra strong doors and barricaded window systems.    In Italy, every home and apartment is a fortified castle.  

I really like the old doors and wish they could talk.  There is surely an interesting story each could tell about the history of people and events that occurred on either side of the door.   The condition of the building outside would sometimes contrast sharply with the appearance of the door.   Some appear to be very tired and worn.  Others, very proud and When a door would open and we were invited inside we would quickly form an opinion of the home and it's inhabitants using all of the senses available.   Beyond the obvious visual clues, we could often sense the emotional temperatures, the love, the tension, the hopes, and some of the challenges facing the inhabitants.

During this mission we've had the opportunity to enter the homes of many of the members and some of those investigating the Church.  It's customary when invited to someones home to bring a gift.  It's why you can find flower stands in Rome that are open twenty-four hours a day.  Italians will never knock on a door empty handed for a visit or dinner appointment.  Likewise the host will always offer a guest something to eat or drink, even if just a brief visit.   I had a sweet experience one morning this week of joining one of the members in giving a Priesthood blessing to his next door neighbors who so desperately want another child before their clock runs out that they agreed to try anything... even calling upon the Mormons.   Like many bright and educated Italians (he speaks five languages, she is an attorney)  they waited to discover the joys of parenting until almost too late.   Their wish is for their four year old daughter to have at least one other sibling.  After a prayer and explaining a little bit about faith and the priesthood, we gave each a blessing.  Afterwards, we were served "café Mormone" (hot Orzo barley beverage) out of respect for our beliefs and got to know each other a little more.   No matter how hurried the schedule, the Italians always find time to pause for a café and some wonderful conversation with friends.

We've been invited to give several baptismal interviews in various parts of Italy to those wishing to join the church.   More than half of those joining the church throughout Europe, and especially Italy, are immigrants from many of the nearby troubled nations.   They often leave their country and families behind seeking relief from persecution and hoping for a better future.   Because of the close proximity to the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe, Italy is often the first country to open its doors to these desperate immigrants.   With opened doors, the crush of immigrants is becoming a social challenge for Europe, and in particular Italy.   Countries within the EU have agreed to accept and help relocate some, but there are thousands arriving weekly by boat or on foot and the system is overwhelmed.   Just this week more than 2,800 immigrants arrived on the shores of Sicily from both Africa and Syria.   They claim that there are more than 800,000 waiting on the shores of Libya hoping for safe passage away from the dangers of living in their home countries.   Many come by foot across the Sahara from Nigeria and Sierra Leon only to face the deplorable conditions in camps on both sides of the Mediterranean.

Photo: Glowing with the light of the Gospel
Phtot: Yummy Foo-Foo 
One of the couples I interviewed in Sicily were raised Muslim in Sierra Leon but decided to risk their lives and convert to Christianity.  After escaping persecution and arriving in Italy, they eventually found the missionaries and many of the answers they have been seeking.  He has been it Italy nearly 10 years and is now in the tourist industry having learned Italian and English.   He was able to marry and bring his wife of a year to Italy and they are now expecting their first child.  As they opened their door to us we were greeted as old friends (at least the "old" part is true).   Their small, humble apartment was spotless and simple.  As she was busy preparing "foo-foo" in the kitchen, the gas "bombola" emptied so she sent him out to find a refill.  After a few minutes, dinner was cooking again and we sat down to a traditional African meal.   We were instructed how to pinch off a piece of the firm dough ball and then scoop some of the boiled soupy okra mixed with pieces chicken and fish.   A bowl of water in the middle of the table was useful in cleaning our hands when things got too slimy.  It was actually pretty good.   We will never forget is their smiles of gratitude and the strong faith that they expressed in knowing how much the Lord loves them.   Their optimism and love of life was contagious and we left blessed for the experience.

Another occurrence this week was with Gloria, a Nigerian immigrant relocated to the little town of Rieti, about an hour north of Rome.  Her husband lives in Germany where he has found work in a food processing plant.  He returns home every eight weeks.  They have a two year old boy, Victor, and are excited to become members of the Church.   She feels the Lord's hand in her life and has never been happier.   I was so impressed with her faith and willingness to sacrifice in making the hour long train ride to church in Terni each week.  She is anxious to serve and learn how to teach the gospel to others as well.

Another door that was opened this week was that of our office volunteer, Michele Calabrese.  Retiring from a military career sixteen years ago, he has served under six mission presidents in the mission office for 20 to 30 hours a week without monetary compensation.  As Stake Patriarch is loved by many for his faith and purity.  He told me once that his only fear is sin... everything else is in the hands of the Lord.   He and Rosa invited us to dinner at their home and we took as a gift his favorite treat ... chocolate chip cookies.  After an amazing dinner, we enjoyed hearing about their conversion stories and about her father's vision and change of heart before he died.   The people of Italy are particularly receptive to spiritual dreams, impressions and visions.   The Lord seems to really bless them with gifts of the spirit to let them know how much he loves them and is aware of their faith.   I know that the doors of heaven will swing open wide for many of the Lords children in Italy.












2 comments:

  1. What a lovely post I too love old doors and you have captured some beautiful images. The textures and colors are spectacular.

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  2. Dan, thanks for the snapshot of Rome. May I have your email address? Mine: joylkyoung@msn.com
    Thanks!

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