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Day 1 Cont’d: Full Circle

But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.” -Jeremiah 10:39

Day 1: Full Circle

Through hardship, through strife, through centuries of life, we push on.

The night before: On our two-hour ride from the airport in Milan to our final destination for the day, Hotel Palavas, we searched the horizon for their approach; the Alps. Time was not on our side; the sun was quickly falling from the sky. We passed verdant green fields of rice, corn, and vineyards. Each of us fighting fatigue and heavy eyelids, watched with anticipation. Slowly, the horizon began to grow in height. Faintly, there began to appear something that one might construe as either clouds or mighty peaks, unbelievably high. Yet, before our eyes could obtain focus on those majestic altitudes, the sun fell below a nearby peak, and a shroud fell upon the light in the sky. Like Christmas Eve, the present would have to wait to be opened in the morning. Some of us drifted off to fitful naps as round-a-bouts and traffic tossed our heads to-and-fro. Before we knew it, our bus approached an Alpine-looking hotel on the outskirts of Villar Pellice, Hotel Palavas. The staff greeted the busload of weary travelers with open arms. They had a prepared a hearty supper in advance for us, even in the late hour. As darkness fell, we unloaded our bags and once more, hauled, lifted, and tugged them to our collective rooms. The bed called loudly, yet hunger made us leave the welcome repose to find ourselves in the community dining room which would serve as our breakfast and supper for the next week during our stay. Here, long tables made and “L” shape, and we seated ourselves wherever we felt comfortable. Most of the students from Andrew’s University collected at one end of the “L” while the rest of us, professors, staff, teachers, preachers, and guests made up the rest of the seating arrangement. In my own assignment, I felt the least of these. The fact that I was even here was still unbelievable. Trying to bring myself to accept that it was real, I looked around the room of this hotel that was well over 500 years of age. The walls were made of stone, covered over with a decorative plaster. The room was very much like one might find at any other Alpine Inn, wood panels below a chair rail, above which the white plaster covering the ancient stones.

Each evening, as was the first, we were served family style, where heaping platters of pasta, vegetables, and bread were brought out to us until we were pleasantly filled.

Our bellies full, and our bodies exhausted from the nearly twenty hours of being awake, we soon found our rooms once more and collapsed upon our beds, eager to find that present awaiting us at sunrise.

The first thing that I recall was the sound of birds singing outside our windows. We had been paired with other members of our group for room assignments, and my roommate was my dear friend, Pastor Barry Mahorney. He was still sleeping when, like that little child wanting to be the first one down to the tree on Christmas morning, I quietly as possible, slipped on my clothes, grabbed my sketchbook, pencils, and phone then headed downstairs and out the front door to greet the day.

As the large, dark wooden front door closed behind me, the chill struck me immediately. Prepared, I pulled the long sleeve shirt closer to my neck and headed off. Past the nearby rooftop, there was the shadow of either a mountain or a very dark cloud. It wasn’t until I passed through a nearby narrow alley and came out on a higher rail of a little back road that I finally got my first glimpse. There, standing taller than I could believe were the peaks of the nearby mountain range above Bobbio Pellice.

Praise God,” I breathed into the air, as the fog from my breath steamed ahead.

Excited just being here, it all slowly began to unveil before me; the scenery, the miracle of my just being here, the ultimate experience I had yet to find; it was all so much to grasp.

The night before, the staff had eagerly handed me a letter that had been waiting for my arrival. It was an invitation to come to the Ancient Pathways Church on Saturday night. I was to call the Pastor Estaban Janavel when I arrived. But, since we were tired and it was late, I decided to wait until Friday; Day 1.

Below where I walked two men were working moving their irrigation equipment, so I found a spot on an ancient stone wall and began to sketch the world before me, trying to soak in every aspect as it unfolded. It soon became apparent that the arches of water from just two sprinklers, which each one stood about the height of your waist, could cover one of their pastures. In fact, it also became obvious that their cattle were extremely well-behaved compared to those that I once owned, for they only needed a string stretched like an electric wire about twenty-four inches above the ground to keep them contained. My cattle would have laughed at that, and ran across the road into the neighbor’s garden at first glance at such a meager contraption. Later that day, we would actually see farmers moving a herd from one tiny field to the next. This was certainly a different world.

When I finally got back to the hotel and had breakfast, I asked the proprietor to call Pastor Janavel for me and give him the message that we would meet him at noon in Torre Pellice by the statue of Henri Arnaud. The reason being, I didn’t speak enough Italian, and Esteban didn’t speak enough English; thankfully our host, Elmer, could do both very well. After the meeting was confirmed, I then was told of the wonderful surprise that awaited after our trip to Torre Pellice; a journey to the valley from which my ancestors left 320 years earlier. Conrad Demsky, one of my American hosts, was as excited about the day as was I.  Like an archaeological dig of sorts, we were going to the Chisone Valley to see what we might find if anything. We really didn’t have a plan other than to visit the cemetery, a place where many genealogical researchers begin. Conrad’s wife, the leader, and professor to the student’s, Professor Kathy Demsky, would be headed to town for the weekly street fair with her class. Meanwhile, brother Barry, Conrad, and I would ride in Conrad’s van off on our own little adventures, beginning with the trip to Torre Pellice.

While we drove and talked about the possibilities that awaited, a thought began to run through my mind of the significance of the names that were coming together at noon. Let alone that brother Barry knew of another tour group of people he had known in another conference of churches where he once worked that would be visiting the same town next week. There was excitement for everyone it seemed. Conrad was eager to see our reactions, for this was not his first visit. He and Professor Demsky had been making this trip each year with the Architecture School students for the past twenty years. To him, this was another way to see the valleys, through someone else’s eyes, who was witnessing inspiring events; one after another.

In my own mind, the noon meeting and the names connected in that meeting was beginning to grow in significance; the statue of Henri Arnaud; Esteban Janavel, a direct descendent of Joshua Janavel; and myself, Timothy Tron, a distant relative to Captain Tron-Paulette.

Henri Arnaud, who was a pastor turned military leader, led the Glorious Return in 1689. Before Arnaud, another Waldensian hero, Joshua Janavel, would lead a small group of men against unbelievable odds, battling and winning outpost after outpost until they became known as the “Invincibles.” Janavel was known to only accept pure, Christian fighters, so great was his faith. He believed that the body was a vessel and for God to continue to work through them, they had to be at their utmost. Janavel would go on to write instructions for Arnaud to follow on his battle to retake their homelands, the valleys. Janavel’s journal also included instructions on how to select his officers. For the 1,000 men who would leave the shore of Lake Geneva that August day, one of the ten Captains to lead 100 men would be Captain Tron-Paulette. Unbeknownst to me that morning, Captain Tron would become a folk hero, in that he would be attributed to helping save Arnaud and his men. When the French had obliterated their fortifications with cannon fire and were about to storm their position, Arnaud and his men prayed for divine intervention. They were about to meet their doom at the battle of the Balziglia. That evening, a cloud descended upon the mountain so thick, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. It was Captain Tron, that with the hand of God, led the surviving three hundred men out through the dense fog, in the dark, along perilous cliffs to freedom.

In essence, the descendants of Janavel and Tron would meet at the monument to Arnaud, which would bring together three of the namesakes that made the battles to return to their beloved valleys a reality, thanks be to God.

All of this raced through my mind as our van wound its way around twisty turn-a-bouts and tiny roads only wide enough for one car to pass at a time.

We still hadn’t made it to that fateful meeting with Pastor Janavel. We had yet to taste the sweet water that floweth from yonder fountain. Ahead, stood the Chisone Valley and the secrets she held close. Little did we know; dire warnings and miracles were yet to come.

The day was still young.

Thanks be to God.

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Day 6: Costelluzza: A Solemn Reminder

Day 6: Costelluzza

The rocks were damp to the touch, but the coolness and relief from the flies was refreshing. The climb through the forest was intense. All around the sparse trail, plush ferns grew, blanketing the forest floor. Here and there, granite boulders peaked above the greenery, their stillness matching that of the tree trunks that stood towering to the canopy overhead. Only two days before, we had scaled a mountain reaching 9137 feet while watching the world from high above the tall waterfall that cascades down into the Germanasca valley. Today’s climb seemed more intense, more purpose-driven.

Briars ripped at my flesh, exposing streaming trails of blood down my forearms. “Battle wounds,” I mused to myself. As I caught the group that had been dropped off ahead of mine, I was stopped by a very caring, dear, EMT trained student who was traveling with us, Nadine, who insisted she bandage my wounds. Looking back, it was just as if we had fought through enemy lines, and one-by-one, we were taking care of the wounded before we ascended further. Once my dressing was complete, and the remainder of my team arrived, we rushed onward.

Mount Costelluzza, overlooking Torre Pellice, Italy.

As we climbed, it felt as if something were driving us.

There was a sense of urgency to the ascent.

In the back of our minds, the story of the people of the valleys fleeing their persecutors, looking for refuge here on this mountain peak which overlooked their village kept driving us onward. Some may have sought shelter from the cave below, but their attackers followed too closely, so in a sheer panic, they tore at the rock, hands, feet, anything that could grasp. The air emptied from their lungs, as their hearts beat in their ears. Their body’s energy spent, they called upon God to deliver them. Inside, a force from on high lifted them, their pains erased as the chill of the Spirit came over their beings. One by one, they reached the summit only to find that the men below, pushed by the darkness that ruled their world, would not stop their pursuit. There on the edge of the earthly terrain, the chasm opening to the depths below; the drop which plummeted beyond where the eye could follow. Nowhere else to run, they turned to meet their attackers.

Some knelt in prayer, others embraced their loved ones, while some chose to resist, but in vain.

The crime for which they were sought for slaughter was only to worship, possess, and evangelize the Bible. To these Waldensians, as they came to be known, the Word was real. Their scriptures came alive, they became part of who they were. Some might imagine them reading the scriptures as thus, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his Glory,” and for this they believed the words written when He said, “ Go therefore[c] and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

It is written that the blood of the martyrs became the seeds of the Reformation.

Some say over three-thousand were thrown to their deaths that day. John Milton would be so moved, that he would pen the words to the sonnet, “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont.”

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold, Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old, When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones; Forget not: in thy book record their groans Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans The vales redoubled to the hills, and they To Heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow O’er all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway The triple tyrant; that from these may grow A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way Early may fly the Babylonian woe.”

I sat on the cool boulder within the shadows of the cave. Looking out on that solemn stone surface, the edge of the earth disappearing before me, the mist of the sky becoming one with the feeling of sorrow filling my soul. I ate in silence, feeding my body’s need for nourishment. From the protection of the stones, I sat and chewed, trying to absorb the moment. There was no joy in that sustenance, only that it would allow me the strength to descend from this point. Something inside me wanted to hold onto this place. Part of me wanted to keep its memory in me, but fear of feeling that pain of remorse, the depths of which paled in comparison to the heights at which so many fell from when they met their fate on the horrific Easter day so many years ago, it all was so difficult to comprehend.

The sheer tragedy so long ago was still here; its mark forever cast upon the granite, like gravestones of the perished.

They did not all die. For if it were so, I would not be here to tell you of this story today.

Our tale continues.

Yes, the light still continues to shine in the darkness.

The students came, slowly, painfully, but they came. The pestilence of flies flew in clouds about our bodies. Satan himself vying for attention in a place he had claimed his own, its darkness could still not overpower the faith that was shared. As the testimony was called upon, the air seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. His Word was spoken, out loud, freely with no fear.

God wiped his hand across our vestiges, and the darkness subsided; the cloud of flies dispersed. In the distance, thunder rumbled a warning. Not yet fully recuperated, we began racing for the trail to descend. Weary legs were called upon to carry us safely down the rocky path, winding back and forth in a seemingly never-ending drop down the backside of this monolithic reminder of the martyrs that have gone on before.

Our time at the summit was brief, yet the impact of its solemnness will live with us forever.

There is so much more to tell, but the gravity of this journey weighs heavy upon the soul. It will take time for its meaning and purpose to come to fruition in my life, as well as all those that made the journey that day.

I’m thankful beyond measure and blessed beyond belief to have made the trip, for with God, all things are possible. To know the obstacles that stood in the way, would in itself be enough to write about, but there is so much more to the story.

With time, it will come.

In all that we do, let us give thanks.

Thanks be to God.

{Events described herein were from the recent Mission to R.I.D.E, my first ever, journey to the Waldensian Valleys in the Cottien Region of the Italian Alps. My trip was made possible in part to many wonderful contributors, to whom I cannot thank enough, and to Andrews University, for allowing me to ride along with their inspiring group of young adults, to whom I will forever be thankful. Thanks to Professor Kathy Demsky and her husband Conrad, for being such an inspiration.  My journey would not have been the same without my traveling companion and brother in Christ, Barry Mahorney. Lastly, but not least, I give thanks to God the Father, for all that he has blessed us with, both at home and around the world. Thanks be to God.}


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Strength in Knowing…


“No weapon formed against you shall prosper, And every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, And their righteousness is from Me,’ Says the Lord.”

– Isaiah 54:17


Discovery of ancestral wonders are one thing, but to find that these same wonders where miracles of faith often cause me to take pause and reflect upon what is important in life; thus was the result of my recent journey to Valdese this past weekend. When we decide to led God take control of our lives and allow Him to lead us, the possibilities are often mind blowing and life altering. No matter how many times I hear the stories of sacrifice and torture of those ancient Christians, I cannot help to feel somewhat guilty for not having to struggle to practice my faith, as they did. But as time goes on, I feel led to take up the spiritual arms because whether we realize it or not, our faith is once again under attack.

Last year when attending the festival for the first time, I met and heard stories from people I had never met before; making lots of new friends and acquaintances along the way. This year was much the same, finding more connections and learning new details about our ancient past. My first such encounter was meeting the family of David and torrepellice1Kathleen Pra. They had attended our Festival of Faith after having learned earlier in the day that they too were from the Waldensian valleys of the Cottien Alps. David shared with me how he and his family, had found their way into the ministry, not knowing of their ancestral background. Like my experience last year, they were swimming in the flood of information that hits you when you realize who and where you came from.

The very next day at the “Authentic Waldensian” meal hosted by the Waldensian Presbyterian church, amazingly enough we met again, both us finding a very unique individual in attendance as well, Lucas Pinole. Lucas was here as an exchange student from the College in Torre Pellice, Italy. He was in Valdese to learn more about Valdese Waldensians. Fortunately for the Pras and I, we would soon learn more about ourselves than we had imagined.

As we walked into the vast fellowship hall, with people filling every possible seat at the dining tables, David saw us enter and began motioning for us to join them. He introduced us to Lucas, and explained who he was and where he torrepellice2was from. Mostly all I heard was, “He is from the valleys.” Lucas was still having a conversation with an elderly gentleman as we took our seats, but with the noise of all the voices in the hall combining I could not tell what they were saying. When I finally was able to understand them, they had actually began speaking in English. What I didn’t realize was that they had been talking in the ancient tongue of the valleys, the “Potswa”. Lucas explained to the elderly gentleman the differences between the “Local Potswa” versus the “Germanic Potswa”, with the local flavor being more indigenous to those valleys. The elderly man spoke the local flavor, meaning he had not had the chance to speak to anyone in this native tongue in quite some time and was obviously moved by his brief experience; this was a day of exultations of the moment for many. I wanted to hear more, but the man and the conversation moved on, as did time. I was instantly enthralled by this young man and his obvious linguistic abilities. By the end of the weekend I would realize he was as much a Waldensian as any, like one of the originals, living breathing the Word in his everyday life.

After the introductions, we were seated and continued the informational ride of a lifetime. Lucas told me how he had been reading my book and that he was really enjoying it. He then went on to tell me that I could learn about the “Tron” family even further by contacting the Waldensian Heritage Museum in Torre Pellice. He said that nowadays, there are many Trons, and that finding our ancestral roots would be quite easy once we got to the Museum’s archives. We continued talking about the valleys and how excited we were to meet someone from that region. We then turned back to the linguistics, with Lucas recalling what he had discussed with the elderly gentleman whom I had overheard when first sitting down. He then told David that his last name “Pra” meant “valley of” in Potswa.

Curious, I asked, “Well, if Pra means something does my name mean anything?”

Lucas replied, “Well, in fact, yes it does.”

I grabbed the edge of the table and jokingly said, “Ok, let me brace for this.”

All our lives as children we had grown up wondering what our name might mean in German, since that is where we thought we had immigrated from. One of my cousins teased that Tron sounded like “throne” and that instead of a royal throne; we were more likely from the bathroom throne. We never found our answer in the German-English dictionary. Even after finding Walldorf and the Heimat museum, there was no discussion like this; what our name meant. So here I sat, after a lifetime of not knowing there was even a meaning to our family name, yet with the answer about to roll of the lips of the young man who was just hours away from having left those ancient valleys from which we once had come,  sitting next to me.

I closed my eyes and said, “Ok, go ahead I’m ready. Let’s hear it.”

Lucas respectfully laughed, as did the others at the table, and he continued in a sober tone, “We’ll actually the name “Tron” has a very respectable meaning in Potswa. For you see,” he paused to regain the seriousness of the moment, “It was the name they often gave the soldiers, the warriors who fought to preserve the Word of the Lord, for the name literally means, ‘Man of strength’”

I let out a sigh, thinking, “Was he serious?”

“Really?” I said out loud in disbelief.

“Yes, seriously,” Lucas responded.

David responded, “Do you want to trade?”

The table erupted in laughter once more.

I shook my head no, still laughing and replied to David, “Hey, just think, the Tron are buried in your Pra.”

We all laughed even more.

Looking back now, that was my first sentence using Potswa I had ever spoken; unbeknownst to me. What was even more grounding was that the next day, when I attended the church service at the same church the meal was served in, the preacher gave a sermon on the persecution of the Waldensians. At one point, 12,000 men, women and children had been imprisoned. During that time, 9,000 of them died, as many as in all four previous centuries of struggle. Somehow, through all of that our families had survived for us to be here today to carry on the legacy.

To know that we are here because of the strength of those gone on before leads me to want to do more for the purposes for which they struggle. When I hear people discounting Christianity for sake of other religions, I hear the anguished cries of my ancestors echo off those monolithic peaks they called home. When I see Christians converting to other religions for sake of being perceived as hip or cool, another breath from that wind of antiquity is extinguished. With each footstep we allow to trod on our faith, we allow one more reason for the past to be lost. We must take of the sword of righteousness once again, standing up for who and what we are and stop giving into complacency.

We would not be here today and would not be who we are if it were not for those men and women who fought, sacrificing their very lives for what they believed and for the Word of God.

They held themselves accountable to no one but the Father above; shouldn’t we?

The reflections of this past weekend take me to a point in life where I now realize from whence I came. It is up to me to follow where He might have me go, for in his path I will follow. We must not be afraid to speak because in our silence other voices will fill the void; voices who do not share our beliefs, our faith.

Step back in time with me once more and get back to the origins of who and what we are, stop kidding yourselves with the decorations of the contemporary movement and get right with God.

You’re not fooling anyone but yourself.

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