Anew: Reflections of a hard pause + a gentle push forward

I cannot tell you how many times I sat down to write in the last year.

My drafts column is littered with posts that were churning in my mind, but my heart could not seem to fan into flame the words my mind was too clouded to connect. Knowing God is good in all things, I accepted this as a season of simply being quiet amidst so much change that came in many forms I did not welcome.

I have a mostly written post about the temporary home we had when we returned from YWAM and a visit to the dentist that was a literal gift from the Lord, which through my fear of the dentist, ministered to my soul deeply. There is a post about the elders of my church spending a chilly Saturday morning to move us in a swift hour and a half, then to pause, hand in hand, in my new living room, praying over us. There is another post expressing the desire to get Francesca here for the summer and my fear of asking such a preposterous question to her mother, that God was obviously too small or too busy to hear.

There were more posts, but I simply could not find the words I needed that came from that place that is good and right when inspired to write. When the words are right, they feel like a nice, warm sweater on a chilly fall day - this is a gift of the Spirit at work. To me, every word seemed forced and flat; I would lose my point as I wrote, as if it slipped further and further away, like chasing a boat on a foggy sea. The more I moved to catch it, the further it went, and I couldn’t see where.

So I let it lie.

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On December 26th, I began to write, but could not finish. This time, it was because it hurt too much as the fog turned to cold, winter rain.

It is now winter, just one day after Christmas. It is calm, cloudy, and still outside. The streets are wet, and light rain continues to fall. The gifts have been put away, and the house is clean. There is a stillness here, in our little house that I never intended to become a home.

We are putting up the suitcases and putting our things in a dresser - for the moment.

In late August, after a full spring of fundraising, and a whirlwind summer in which our dear Francesca came to live with us in Texas, I was called to the church for what I thought was a simple check in.

I had no idea I was going to be asked to pause our long term plans for Italy.

The meeting itself is a blur; I was so shocked as I left the church, I felt as if in a daze, like a soldier in a film on D-Day. I couldn’t even find my car. I think I cried for a solid three days because I simply didn’t understand. I remember at one point I was completely asleep, yet woke myself up because I was crying, again.

It has been an extremely hard season. I grieved quietly, way into November, then December, and into January. I continued to grow into teaching art at school, learning to create a program, and to lead. I fought through the rain that turned back to fog, but more importantly sometime in late February, I began to answer the hard question my counselor asked me months before: was I asking the church to approve of me, more than I approved of myself?

In short, the answer came in a very timid, whispery and surrendered, “yes.”

And in the long days that followed the fruitful summer we spent planting seeds, not only for ministry in Italy, but also in the hearts of Francesca, Amelie, and myself, here is what I know: God is faithful - on mountaintops, in valleys, and especially, the depths of desperately foggy seas.

In fact, he walks on them, too.

Francesca has made a profession of faith and we continue on toward Italy.

More to come - and soon.

It's time.

Friends, I have sat down a multitude of times to update you on our progress, and each time I'd get some of the words out, and somehow, at the end, it didn't seem relevant.

Since our return in August, a lot has happened.

We moved into a sweet little garage apartment that began as an unfinished man cave from the previous owners and turned it into a cozy little space, made precious by the family that lent it to us, the people who helped make it home and the memories we made. We were sad to leave.

I got a job at a daycare preschool I didn't want, but he provided.  I struggled even to admit that is where I was.  Turning the curve to realize we were not leaving as soon as expected was difficult, but there is so much joy in obedience.  I began in October, and by December, I gave my notice. Just weeks after silently shaking a fist at God, doubting if I had heard correctly about "taking that teacher certification course," and feeling guilty as if the gift of it was a waste, I accepted an art teacher position at a local charter school I only know about because the first teacher I ever worked with told me about it.  I didn't want to work there, either, because at that point in my life, I swore to God I would never ever work with children.  This teacher is the one who pushed me to get certified, and she's the one who told me about the position.  And she's from Kona.

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 Yeah, what about that teacher certification program, indeed.  What a comfort to hear he heard me, even in my frustration and grumbling and discontent, he heard me, and let me know I was right where I needed to be.

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I inherited a neglected fine arts program, teaching 470 children, Kinder through eighth grade, with zero storage and no sink.  Wrestling at what to do, I woke up the day before Christmas and knew I needed to compose an email to three people specifically, and within thirty minutes, the entire project was funded by the generosity of one of our supporters. I've been able to bring a fresh newness to a chaotic and cramped room, filled with at least 30 kids for 45 minute stints, from all backgrounds: Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Atheist alike.  

Just before my first day, my friend came to pray over me and my room, praying all that wasn't from the Lord would just fall off my kids as they entered.  I still pray that, and would ask you to join me in that.

I have jumped on a fast moving train. I am holding on for dear life, trying to remember names, what day it is, and when I have who, but always stepping back to remember all I can do is be faithful where I am.  And its pretty neat:   I am literally building this program from the ground up, and I am learning so, so much.  It encourages me to know I will be doing something similar in Italy as we pursue the heart of the arts with the gospel of grace. 

Baby steps.  

Toddling along, one foot infront of the other, depending on my big brother and looking toward my Father. 

About a week into teaching, we moved back into the apartment we had before we left for YWAM.  Yes, the exact apartment, but this time, it's just Amelie and I.  It's the first time we have had our own space since 2011.  Moving Day was a sight to see.  A truck was rented, men from our church organized, and I was told not to lift a thing.  Never in all of my moves has that ever happened.  It was so strange how guilty I felt, but what a picture it was.  That chilly Saturday morning, the lead pastors from my church, staff, elders and neighbors led by example and moved all of our things from that little garage apartment to our apartment in less than two hours, as I got to sit by the fire.   

When it was all said and done, we gathered in our new-old living room, held hands and they prayed over us, our home, and our neighbors.

It was so beautiful, so moving, and allowed space to feel loved in a way that was sweetly intrusive.   What a picture of the gospel, the hands and feet of Jesus.  I am so thankful for them, the families they represent, and the ministry of The Village Church. 

Tomorrow afternoon I leave for fundraising training with Reliant.  I have been going so quickly I it hasn't really sunk in this is really happening.  While there I will learn about how to fundraise, will have a platform and a back office, a whole team of people to help me to do this. Reliant is very good at what they do with sending people.

For those of you currently giving through Italian Ministries, I will update you soon on how to switch to Reliant, so all funds can be in the same place. 

Would you pray for me?  The whole process seems daunting as I am not administratively gifted in any way.  Pray that I would remember all I learn, for relationships, whoever my coach will be, and as I begin to make appointments with people to meet with them and invite them onto our team! I am also asking for strength, as I will continue to teach until we are funded.  

I am excited and nervous.  It seems so big, but I remember our God is bigger.  Always. There is joy in obedience, even when it seems too big, or too much. And his ways are far better than our own, we just need to be obedient and faithful as best we know.  

Thank you for praying for me, for Amelie, our team, and all God will do in Italy!  Oh, it is so beautifully exciting!!

Re:entry

As we approached our leave date in July, I wrote a lovely post in the corner seat of our neighborhood street cafe called laBoîte, on via Pallazuollo.  It was sunny and warm; almost too warm, despite the fact the walls were open windows.  You know how it is- when the temperature teeters just one shade too hot to be comfortable, but yet, you don't want to leave because you know you're in a good spot?  

That's where I was. 

This post summed up all the Lord was showing me as we wrapped up this season of training abroad with YWAM, and  in one quick 'I-hit-the-wrong-button-monent,' the entire post was gone. I was unable to retrieve it,  nor could I remember the words I had previously written.

It was crushing. 

And in the same way, today, I am having trouble finding words, along with a heavy heart, because I have to move forward and admit: we aren't going back when we planned, we will go back to Italy in the Lord's perfect timing.

 

Thank you to Scott Erickson for this image.

Thank you to Scott Erickson for this image.

Our goal was February.  On a student visa, I was going to start school February 5th.  I was given a scholarship, and I was registered for classes.  We knew getting there so quickly would be a difficult task, with so many unknowns; absolutely a work of the Lord, who is working all things out for my good and the glory of his name.

I am so thankful we are called, and we are called to stay (the rest of) our lives in Italy.  So in a sense, I am grateful for the pause: it gives us the opportunity and time to have supporters walk with us and be completely in with us, when we do set out with a one way sail.

The honest truth is:  we don't have that kind of support right now.   Yet, we are also called to walk faithfully, and that means I must find a way to meet our needs as we begin to build our support team. Honestly, I have absolutely no idea what that looks like, or what kind of job to get, but I know the Lord will bless this, and I'm certain he will even teach me a few things along the way.

I’m glad God opened my eyes to small steps of faithfulness, even when that might lead to pockets of hiddenness...He does restore what is lost. It usually doesn’t look like we imagined it would be so we to truly seek him in it. He mends what is broken, he buries things for our protection, and he resurrects what he calls back to life in us and puts joy in our hearts like we never imagine when we get to pick it up again...and it is a sweet thing to know, in your heart of hearts, that you trusted him with it. I think there is a really specific and unique joy that comes from that, a fulfillment in something picked up that was laid down. There is a blessing in it, and you’ve gotten to find the Lord faithful through it all, which is really a gift in and of itself.
— Christy Nockels, The Glorious in the Mundane, "Build My Life"

 

These last few weeks have been difficult, navigating places I haven't been before, and opening my eyes to things I may not wish to see.  In all of it, though, he does desire this: he wants me to know he loves me.  I am fully and completely loved.  All of me, in all of my mess, even in the places of my heart that rebel and say, "It isn't, it can't be true!" he wants me to know so deeply who I am in him, so I can be sent out to give love fully.

To those of you who have walked closely with us these last few months, and in particular, September: thank you.  To those of you just coming in: Welcome.  I'm glad you're here.

When We Leave

On Sunday we went to church at Mosaico and it was such a blessing. We sang "Lord I Need You", heard faithful preaching from Galatians, which included the importance of theology to inform what we know to be true. I looked behind me and saw a full house and my heart was filled with joy!  I have never, in our three years of coming, seen the church this full as we are here in the summer, when everyone trickles out and ministry begins to fade until September (there is no church in August in Italy, as everyone is on vacation).

 The Wilbanks family arrived in Florence just six months before I was saved in 2011 and I have followed them ever since I found them shortly thereafter.  I have prayed for them, and for this church to flourish.  I thanked the Lord and cried tears of joy for their first baptism and their first deacon. I prayed with them as they prayed through the piazza's in Florence from my bedroom in Texas, and celebrated with them from a distance when they surpassed the perilous four year mark of ministry in Florence.  The work in Italy is difficult, and particularly slow; this is when missionaries give up under the weight of ministry compounded by supporters who desire to see quick, feel good results with high numbers.  They buckle under condemnation for living what is perceived simply as an extended vacation or la dolce vita. It is one thing to love Italy, to be a tourist, but it is quite another to live here and love Italians with the gospel, meeting them where they are. This is a long, hard, and often unfruitful work and I praise God they (and others) are still here.  

It is one thing to love Italy, to be a tourist, but it is quite another to live here and love Italians with the gospel, meeting them where they are.

I also lament when others leave.

At church I had the pleasure to finally chat for a few minutes with a woman who has served here with her family faithfully for eight years, and are preparing to move back to the States in two weeks time.  She told me of all the people that she never connected with in her everyday life that have expressed their sadness they are leaving...the old lady across the street she thought would yell at her for something instead came to tell her she will miss the pumpkins she put in her windows for Halloween and her Christmas tree (because Italians don't put up trees and hers was beautiful), a school teacher gave handmade gifts for each of the children, telling her what an impact they had made on her life, people at the grocery store, and more... because they bless them...their very presence blesses them in various ways they didn't even know.  

This is the Holy Spirit.  

What a beautiful thing to hear their neighbors have been watching everything they do for the last eight years. I am so encouraged to hear that today, but laugh at my suprise when I remember that God has "determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us," because of this Holy Spirit inside of us.  Imperfect, messy, us. (Acts 17)

 

EVERYDAY LIVING: WEDNESDAY

After I picked up Amelie from school, we decided to try and say hello to the neighbor we met the summer before.  We tried to get in touch with him several times, and every time we showed up, he did not answer the door.  But today he did.  What I saw was not the man we left the summer before.  He was disheveled and seemed scared; after a short spell at the door, we were invited to the garden for tea.  Before we left, I asked if we could pray for him, and after a few seconds of pause, he agreed to let us do that for him, and y'all, it was sweet.  I prayed he would know the peace that he's been seeking his whole life, how it surpasses all understanding and is found only in Jesus.  Amelie prayed for his physical healing and joy.  He thanked us with bloodshot eyes that worked hard to restrain tears and told us our visit had done him a world of good. 

You see, we lived in his apartment our first summer.  I wanted to live in it again last summer, but it was taken - by him. Honestly I tried to be angry at him before I ever met him, and by a small miracle I ended up renting the apartment above him.  One day I found him hanging his laundry and I introduced myself, telling him with a smile how he stole my apartment.  This is how we met.  He is an artist and blessed me in so many ways with his humor and his dedication to study what he sees, even in inviting one particular model over everyday for four hours.  He would draw her portrait and they would talk.  Eventually she began to ask him about love, which made him uncomfortable, so I offered for her to come for dinner and we could chat about it.  Although she never made it over, it showed me yet another way to meet people where they are in this city.    How beautiful God would teach me through this man who doesn't yet know him, and put us there to pray for him on this day, a year later!

Everyone should read this and give it away to someone else. It is also available in Italian.  

Everyone should read this and give it away to someone else. It is also available in Italian.  

We had to leave our friend's house because we had an early evening appointment with a family from church who has a twelve year old daughter. When we arrived, her mom had a friend over, who also has a daughter just a few months older than Amelie!  What an answer to years of prayer! Not one, but two friends! Our late afternoon gelato date went long into the night because God was at work.   We ended up at a local ristorante unlike what you would find in the city center where tourists go.  The wives called their husbands who met up with us for a pizza, and we got to meet the other gal's daughter, who came with her father.  Because God is in control, and the Holy Spirit is at work in me and all those who believe,  this went from four people for gelato to eight, around a table for dinner.  This was indeed a joy to my heart, as this is one of my hopes for ministry: to gather around the table.

Our new friends were moved by my ability to speak Italian, and were particularly amazed by my "perfect Florentine accent." They seemed refreshed by my very presence as we are believers, but our faith works itself out differently because of our cultural backgrounds. This got us into a conversation about how we play a role in changing culture as we play our parts in God's story. 

This picture is full of God's promise: he is with me.  Everyday living. Prayers answered for friends and language exchange. God taking me out of what I know, a little further outside the city, to see how Florentines live.

This picture is full of God's promise: he is with me.  Everyday living. Prayers answered for friends and language exchange. God taking me out of what I know, a little further outside the city, to see how Florentines live.

 What the Lord showed me in that is that I do have a place in this little church with Italian women.

 I thanked the Holy Spirit for his preservation of my ear and language proficiency, being absent over a decade.  I prayed he would improve my vocabulary and grammar so I can meet with Italian women once we are here for good.  I want to be able to enter into the richness of the Italian language so I might enter into the struggles of their lives with the light of the gospel and biblical counsel because this simply does not exist here.  

My breath was taken away as we walked home with my new friend I didn't expect to make that day.  Our daughters were talking amongst themselves, gleefully working through language barriers and I about lost it when I learned this woman is an art historian. Like - I couldn't talk because I was crying from pure joy. She wants to be a tour guide but can't because her English proficiency isn't up to par.  She excitedly offered to talk about art with me in English and I can respond in Italian. I can see becoming a tour guide as something I can do long term and build a ministry.  I got to share with her my heart to use art as a bridge to the gospel in museums, and it was amazing to see she had never considered that.

You see, Art History is what I wanted to do, but the Lord wouldn't let me.  If I had, my identity would've been found firmly in academia, not him.  But he has redeemed me, and still sent me here, to be here on this night, to meet this woman.

Not only that, but I learned as we walked home, the same day I journaled about how easily I believe the lie I won't fit in this neighborhood, I learn she literally lives across the street from us, in a neighborhood I didn't want to live in.  

Seriously, I can see her windows from my bedroom. I can't make this stuff up.  

This is the God I serve: one who is compassionate and kind, who hears our prayers, big and small, knows the desires of our hearts, knows what we need and who works everything out for the good of those who love him. How can we ever doubt God is for us?

May he use me and help me to 'Trust in the LORD; do good. Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness (Psalm 37:3).'"  

 

THE REALITY of LEAVING

The LORD has been so gracious this summer, to slow us down, to show us (in some ways for the first time) what it is to live here for the long haul. We are beginning to feel the reality of our move and what this means as a family, practically. It just hit me this week most missionaries are married couples that share ministry and administrative work, but I will have to do both as a single mom, in addition to parenting a teenage girl going to school in a language she doesn't know. And it's going to take money.  Money I don't have.  Yet, here we are, in a country we must leave by July 29th, completely broke with no airfare to Texas, continuing to make a faith filled jump into full time missions.  

Why? Because God is faithful and this is what he's called us to, just like Abraham.

 Cody preached on Galatians 3:1-9 and I was instantly made aware that despite how God has shown up this week, I have not believed in his faithfulness through the work of the Spirit.  "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" he writes in verse 3.  I confess this full time missionary thing is new.  My heart for these people is just as real as God's call on our lives to live in Italy, but so is our need to eat and live and see a doctor and save for college and even retirement.  This is what missionaries do and it just doesn't feel like a 'job' because I love people, and I particularly love these people, "who are loved by God and called to be saints (Romans 1:7)." I jumped into thinking I make this 'missionary thing' work by what I can do in the flesh, particularly as I answer his call this summer to slow down and learn the other, administrative side of missions, knowing I don't have an administrative bone in my body. I got scared and forgot God has always provided, in miraculous ways this entire journey.

 Why would he stop now?  His Spirit called me.

And our God is generous.  He hasn't destroyed us when we all sin and fall short of his glory.  Instead, he sends his son to take our place and calls us into relationship with him. Because he is generous, we can be generous with our time, our talent and our treasure.  

Over and over, all week long, God has shown me that when I am willing to show up in faith everyday "he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you" doesn't do it by works of the law.  It is "hearing with faith - just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Galatians 3:5+6)."

May we never forget, never leave the gospel of grace, nor think to add to it, like these foolish Galatians and rest in the perfection and righteousness of Christ when we do.

 

No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced God was able to what he had promised.
— Romans 4:20+21

 

 

The first few days : settling in, letting go, living life.

On Monday Amelie started language school, which is huge, as she is only thirteen and is in a class with adults.  She is excited to begin learning the language so she can communicate with these people she has grown to love! 

There’s a yes / in our hearts / and it carries through eternity. / Simple obedience / it changes history.
— Take Courage, Lindy Conant

Because we are living in a completely different part of town than her school, I have the opportunity to explore the neighborhood. Her school is in our neighborhood we love and desire to live in.  So now there is time to explore it and get to know it even better.

After I dropped her off at school, I went to our friend's shop and journaled. I watched people. I prayed. I cannot get enough of Lindy Conant's 'Take Courage' and listened to it over and over. 

 

 

I walked  to a small, nondescript park in Piazza Dei Ciompi.  A sign immediately informed you this was a place for children to play and was struck with what I saw:

there were no children. 

Three Arabic men sat on a bench chatting. A group of what seemed to be special needs adults sat together, yet seemingly alone. An older woman walked in who was obviously a caregiver to a much older man.  She walked him to the bench he wanted to sit on,  and (not very politely) refused to sit with him because it was too hot in the sun. She stood in the shade and he sat alone.

All I could see were the unwanted.

And then all I could do was pray. And when I did, asking the Lord what he would have me do, I looked up and saw Arabic writing outside the park. It's a place called the Islamic Center of Florence and Tuscany.

Before outreach, I wouldn't have had eyes to see that. 

 

Amelie's first day of language school. 

Amelie's first day of language school. 

Then Amelie called me. She was having a hard time bc the teacher was teaching in Italian. My sweet, sweet girl. She is my first ministry and what a joy it was to be able to encourage her and simply listen.

I am excited to be here and all the LORD is birthing in my heart to love this city. I just can't tell you.  I cannot wait to see what and who the LORD highlights to us. The people at Amelie's school, our landlord, the people in our new neighborhood, the sweet lady working at my friend's shop with a six year old that speaks four languages, the American 20 year old students I hear talking on the street about going to a strip club full of Croatian women, the Muslim woman cleaning the doors to a building shocked bc I acknowledged her and said, "Buongiorno!" So many, from all over the world, and all in need of truth that never changes: the gospel.

Come alongside of us. Share our website. Video chat with us and your homegroup.  Help us invite others to join us in what we are doing. Visit us. Support us financially. Be in this with us. 

If you would like to contribute to Amelie's tuition (834€), you can do so by visiting our PayPal.

 

Reading IKEA manuals in Italian and English to figure out why the washing machine wasn't working with our landlord.  Fun to work together doing language exchange!

Reading IKEA manuals in Italian and English to figure out why the washing machine wasn't working with our landlord.  Fun to work together doing language exchange!

 SETTLING IN

Originally we reserved an apartment in the area we want to live in.  It was on the second floor, without an elevator, and had no air conditioning (its hot in Italy during summer).  But it was in our area.  Less than a week before we were to arrive, it flooded.  The city is packed with tourists and our real estate agent found this place for us.  Same price, and so much better - just not where I wanted it to be.

But God knew what he was doing.

There is so much more to come once our internet is established and life comes back into rhythm. This is our landlord's first property and everything in it is new; we are working our many kinks with grace and patience.  It is beautiful, and so is the experience getting to know our Landlord, and realizing again, for the millionth time, God wastes nothing.  

When we move we will need to order a kitchen, figure out wifi, all of it - and because we are in Italy it is even more frustrating since everything takes ten times longer to accomplish (so cool to joke about that with our Landlord, too)!

We look forward to sharing and walking this out with you!  It is giving me a taste of what it will be like when we move.  The Lord is so sweet to show us, step by step, and give us new mercies, everyday.  I am even feeling stress from all the Italian I've been speaking the last few days.  All of this is preparation for what it will be like.  Today Amelie confessed being tired of hearing Italian, and I confessed being tired of speaking it.  Our brains were tired.  After dinner, though, it was awesome to help her study verbs and help with pronunciation.  Man, what a gift to see her get it, and to be able to help her do it.

One day, very soon, I will have to let her go.  She will need to navigate the bus, walk to school, the movies.  Our living in a different neighborhood is preparing us for this day. 

One day, very soon, I will have to let her go.  She will need to navigate the bus, walk to school, the movies.  Our living in a different neighborhood is preparing us for this day. 

Before we left Berlin, I met with our school leaders to talk about next steps after outreach. Tim prayed Jeremiah 29:4-6, verses filled with life, over me, as we look to whats next: 

 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease."

What he didn't know was nearly five years ago, because we were unable to move to Florence though I ached to be there, I began supporting the Church as best I could from afar by making little digital postcards.  Jeremiah 29:7 was the first one I made just after I returned from the first Acts 29 Europe conference in Wales.

 

Believer, wherever you are, whatever your 'mission' is, God is near.  He knows exactly where you are and what you need to do what he has called you to.

We are all in, y'all, with complete trust and joy.  Jump on in with us to do what God has called us to do: love this city and it's people.

 

 

Wrapping it up, looking ahead.

Crossroads DTS Kona January 2017 at the end of lecture phase.

Crossroads DTS Kona January 2017 at the end of lecture phase.

What an adventure.

 The last six months have been about stretching, living life outside of our comfort zones, being in close community with others, completely dependent on and deepening in relationship with a Father who loves us, who will not leave us where he found us, and sends us out, not in fear, but in expectation what he says is true: I am who I am, and I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Being a part of Crossroads DTS in Kona has shown me in so many ways how faithless I can be and how faithful God is, always true to his word, where I don't actually believe his word is true in my heart and that he is IN this WITH me, will never let me go; his love is steadfast, from everlasting to everlasting, and will fight for me and not allow sin to separate me from him, ever.  Why?   Because he loves me and gave me the grace to see my perfect savior and all sufficient sacrifice, Jesus, who intercedes on my behalf.  He is alive and well, working in me, conforming me into his image, by one degree to the next, one day at a time.  

He is so kind and generous to give us this time to grow, to see his heart for all people, globally.  To allow us to see the beauty of his creation in Kona, smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, making any continent easily reachable, to Haifa, Israel, where we got to serve and simply love the people by being salt and light, and simply being present. In Berlin, we got to lift the arms of those working here, bringing life and joy into sterile refugee camps where there is such despair and every person in survival mode, discounting their story of tremendous pain as common,  not allowing themselves to feel.  All of that is tempered by their over-the-top generosity and eagerness that someone would seek them out, find them valuable, tell them they are beautiful and their story matters.

Women from America, Syria. Afghanistan.  All were once strangers, all with sin in common, and heart that long to be known and loved. Pray these ladies might know the name of Jesus, who takes all sin, shame, and heals every heart.

Women from America, Syria. Afghanistan.  All were once strangers, all with sin in common, and heart that long to be known and loved. Pray these ladies might know the name of Jesus, who takes all sin, shame, and heals every heart.

We learned to extend grace and see beauty, loving others as Christ loved us.  We saw the ugly parts of our hearts swell when entitlement to comfort or control bubbled up and the cry of Jesus to say to our hearts that, "Joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness and self control are fruits of the spirit.  Walk with me, in my way."  

For now my daughter and I have taken a day to rest, complete with late checkout in Berlin before we head off to Florence for the summer.  We have not kept you updated as all of outreach was unpredictable and so was the internet.  

We go to Florence tonight and will begin to rest and process, while looking forward to prepare to move to Italy as soon as we are funded.  The LORD has been so faithful.  All the years I look back with the yearning in my heart for Italy, and that he would go to such lengths not to let me go too quickly, so I might be complete, lacking in nothing, growing in steadfastness and character, to be ready and equipped, in deepening relationship with and dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit.  

It is so sweet that we are finally there.  We are on our way and you are part of it.

I look forward to sharing more of our stories this summer, and for your prayers as we enter in to full support.  We ask you to pray how you can partner with us.  Sixty people or less per month is all we need to be fully funded.  God is writing a beautiful story in Italy, and there is so much he is doing in Florence.  I am excited to see what he continues to lay on my heart as I press in this summer, seeing how YWAM fits, encouraged by our outreach, hearing the stories of God's provision for houses and buildings and people and visas, all to accomplish the plans he has for us, as we seek to love the lost, broken and hurting in a city bursting at its seems with seekers from all over the world, to enjoy and consume beauty.  Join us as we find ways to engage the city with the Maker of all things beautiful through art, gospel centered living and discipleship.

If you would like to be a part of helping Amelie learn Italian this summer, you may give to her tuition (834 euros) through our PayPal, here.  She will begin six weeks of learning Italian four hours per day on Monday!  She is incredibly nervous, but as my mother reminded her last night in our first uninterrupted and clear video chat in two months (!), the LORD is with her, for her, and can do far more in and through her than she can do depending on herself.  So sweet to see my girl receive those words of truth from her Grandmother!  

 Just as the refugees are learning German to function in society, Amelie must learn Italian, and she can get a good head start to ready her for school this summer. What an experience, getting to chat with our new friend, not speaking his language or his ours, but being able to relate to each other with art, kindness and joy!

 Just as the refugees are learning German to function in society, Amelie must learn Italian, and she can get a good head start to ready her for school this summer. What an experience, getting to chat with our new friend, not speaking his language or his ours, but being able to relate to each other with art, kindness and joy!

Thank you for taking the time to catch up with us.  Please share our site and ask how you can help us share our heart for Italy.  We will soon be scheduling video chats, so please visit our Partner page and fill out the form to let us know you would like to chat with us!  We would love to hear from you and how we can come alongside you in prayer!  May we encourage each other to push back darkness wherever we are!

 Thank you for your prayers and support, enabling us to get this far.    

Onward is the only way, all for the Glory of God, to know him and make him known.

12 Opportunities

Friends, would you like to hear more of what we are doing and our hope long term?  Due to the time difference and that we are on the field with a large group, I have these times available this weekend only.  

Visit our partner page to let us know what time you would like to meet.  We thank you for sharing this post and look forward to connecting with you and your church!

 

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April in the Middle East

Today a word hit me as we walked through a neighborhood with broken windows, graffiti, electronic stores, scents of exotic spices and upbeat Arabic music as a way to describe this life and what we are doing here, in preparation to serve globally.  The word is 'ordinary.'  

And then I recalled the words my pastor and friend said a few Sundays ago. I am so grateful for the gift of a laptop and the (somewhat spotty) internet available to us in our Arab hostel.  He said,  "Almost all of the really beautiful, profound things God is going to do in your life are going to take place over a long period of time through a lot of ordinary."

Singing songs about Jesus in the courtyard for morning worship at our Arab hostel.

Singing songs about Jesus in the courtyard for morning worship at our Arab hostel.

Allow me to tell you what our month has been like: A whole bunch of ordinary, with extraordinary stories woven in each day as we pursue faithfulness where we are.

We are a group of forty Christians staying in a small Arabic hostel in the German colony of a Middle Eastern town.  We are made of a widow, singles, and families with children, all sharing very close quarters.  We have learned to live with very little and to use an outhouse, where we can never flush the toilet paper.  We have seven people sharing one hundred and forty-four square feet of space we desperately try to keep organized, from sixty to thirteen years old.  We get excited over finding a laundry mat and look forward to laying down our toothbrush to know it can say put for a little while without having to move it and remember where we put it in a constantly shifting mountain of things we still own.

Just today I sought out a laundry mat and got to enter into a conversation with an old Jewish man, who emphatically told me with broken English, "Gesú of Christianity is not my Messiah." He went on to tell me of his love for Brittney Spears and Whintey Houston.  What I learned from that is that he values love and I was able to love him, by being kind to him.  This is what I am here to do: to love and bless these people whom God loves. This is huge because to him, Christians represent nothing but evil.  I got to be light, listening this French Jew and I got to tell of Elohim, who loves better than anyone.

A teammate snapped a photo of me praying with and for this sweet girl from Slovakia just before she left.

A teammate snapped a photo of me praying with and for this sweet girl from Slovakia just before she left.

On Good Friday, I spent the morning with a girl traveling from Slovakia who came to audition for a dance company.  Though she did not get accepted, I told her of a God who knows, sees, and delights in her.  I got to share how the  joy to be found in the arts and specifically in the form of dance was his idea and points to joy in him, for he is a God who wastes nothing.  I first began talking with her because her perfume made me remember my middle school years, and so I began to tell her my life story.  God used perfume for me to see her, and as we talked, we found so much in common.  She told me of her experience with death as a child and I shared mine, just two years younger than she was when my father died.  I asked if I could share with her a resource that could travel with her as she continues to explore the depths of her heart as she searches for peace and restoration.  She said yes, and together we watched the first message in Recovering Redemption together. She laughed, she was visibly challenged and she enjoyed the time she spent with me.  As I prayed for her, she held onto me with a grip that didn't want to let go.   She left the hostel the afternoon of Good Friday equipped with the Village Church app so she can continue to explore the message of the Gospel in a language she understands, relates with and can challenge her wherever she goes.  Because my heart is for Europe, I know she understands Bible Belt thinking because of religiosity and I also know she will find next to nothing of any biblical value printed to help her along, much less find any believers to push her.  But her phone?  She always has that.  And now she has the Village Church app and my number on WhatsApp so we can keep in touch.  I have invited her to come and see us this summer in Italy.

Easter morning as we ate breakfast in the common kitchen at a family sized wooden table, I sat next to two travelers I hadn't previously seen who stayed just one night: one from Paris and the other from Holland, but both are native Florentines who met up here.  It seems so ordinary, but for the Lord to bring two people native to the city I love, the city to which he has called me on Easter Sunday, was so uplifting to my spirit.  What an awesome encouragement to my heart that was trying to tell me I wasn't "doing enough" on Easter Sunday somewhere in the Holy Land.

After breakfast, we went to another location in the city run by believers so we could freely worship the risen Jesus.  We were a handful in a garden with a one thousand year old olive tree complete with a built in tree house.  We sang songs, heard a short message and the kids did an Easter skit.  My heart tried to say how ridiculous this was, not going out and shouting from the rooftops that Christ has risen, or even that we didn't sing any song I tried to suggest from my church. But then the Lord convicted me that small churches around the globe function quietly like this, with deeply rooted worship, in a million different ways without any help from me.  All he needs is my heart, fully handed over to him.  Afterward we ate pastries, and I ended up meeting a young man from Nicaragua, who happened to be staying at this Christian hostel on Easter.  I had the pleasure to simply listen to him, to share my story, to pray for him and share a Coke. He has an interesting story and Italian roots.  He is seeking; I know the Lord's arm is not too short to reach Alejandro. It is all so ordinary and miraculous, at the same time.

Theodora, sitting in her bunk, with study questions from Women of the Word and a PDF from TVC, "Tools for Studying the Bible."

Theodora, sitting in her bunk, with study questions from Women of the Word and a PDF from TVC, "Tools for Studying the Bible."

One of our own is a woman in her sixties from Cyprus.  She is a woman who is quiet, often in the shadows; one who listens, pleasant, but usually more observant than ever a participant.  She confessed to me that though she has known the Lord her entire life, she has never actually read her Bible, and also told me she really doesn't know how to pray.  In this I was able to know her, hear her story of growing up in the Greek Orthodox Church, seeing her mom pray for forgiveness and going to church on Sundays, with nothing in between. I so love people, and I want to equip them grow in the Lord. So, first we watched Matt's first sermon from He Hears.  One of the Arabic volunteers sat right next to us for a good portion of that sermon, within earshot of what was being said about praying through scripture.  Next, I downloaded a copy of Jen Wilkin's Women of the Word.  My time working as a pre-k aide in a bilingual school taught me it would be best to have a copy she can see and for me to read aloud, and that is quite simply what we are doing. I am reading out loud how to study the word of God in the courtyard of an Arabic hostel. She is doing the study questions, and we are discussing it while people we have a relationship with, pass by, watching us.  How strange it must be for twenty year olds to see me and an older woman sitting together, or that she would be learning from me? What an ordinary witness to a spectacular God who does extraordinary things.  By God's grace, she is learning she has a Father who loves her, who wont reject her and wants to hear from her.  Yesterday, she stood up infant of our group and gave her testimony - a feat she wouldn't have been able to do a month ago.  May we never overlook our own family, but be more diligent in looking after and equipping the saints.

Across from Anne Louise as we listen to a sermon from Exodus are a group of German tourists who stayed for a few days.

Across from Anne Louise as we listen to a sermon from Exodus are a group of German tourists who stayed for a few days.

I've also gotten to share solid teaching with a Swedish woman on our team, who is isolated in her home country, trying to survive in a dying church of about twenty people. She pursues the Lord passionately and prays like none other I've ever met.   I got to share about Acts 29 and their heart for the Gospel globally.  She downloaded the Village App and immediately sent it to her daughter in Sweden.  Friends, one thing I have learned on this journey is we so often take for granted the resources we have available at our fingertips to encourage and edify us.  It is such a privilege to connect others globally with resources to help them grow, wherever they are.

All the while, we have stayed at this hostel now for about a month, which is in of itself, unusual.  We have been here long enough to establish a presence in a place run by muslims, where people come and go.  There are volunteers from Germany who work here for free room and board in their twenties watching us in our everyday living.  Nothing miraculous to us, but perhaps to the blonde girl behind the counter who has never seen a father gently reprimand his children, or see people pray with their hearts, or husbands being respectful and loving to their wives and family. A young German man who volunteers here watched through the kitchen window in quiet amazement a Kenyan born woman who dared to leave her village and loves the Lord fiercely wash her clothes. There is something about her he sees as different. We are praying for the impact we have had on all of these young people here in seemingly insignificant ways.  Would you pray with us?

We leave in a little over a week to Berlin where we will help with Refugees.  We are also excited to meet up with people who have come and go from this hostel, whom we know the Lord is in pursuit of.  Albert is a PhD student in Mathematics, and will be in Berlin at the same time as us.  He came here to get away for a bit and see the sights, and ended up in a four hour conversation about God, angels, Jesus and Martin Luther with a sixty year old lady from Norway and myself.  God is at work.

After Berlin, we head to Florence for the summer.  We are totally walking in the Lord's lead, with fruit everywhere we go, but we need your help to keep going. We need to raise $5,000/month until we return to America at summer's end to reassess our budget with our Advisory Board for our move to Italy.  That means our monthly support looks like sixty people or less who love the Lord and desire to play a role in sharing his gospel in places and ways they cannot.  

 

Please visit our Partnership page and drop us a note after you have made your monthly commitment through our website so we know how the Lord has led you! Keep in mind you MUST select my name when giving. We are excited to journey along with you!  

Please visit our Partnership page and drop us a note after you have made your monthly commitment through our website so we know how the Lord has led you! Keep in mind you MUST select my name when giving. We are excited to journey along with you!  

 

We need you to be our hands and feet locally- by sharing our vision and need - so we might connect with more people while we are away.  Help us love people where we are as we prepare to head out long term.  We have a plane ticket to Florence from Berlin and no plane ticket back to America.  Walk with us as we step into monthly support and continue to develop the relationships the Lord has been so faithful to sustain and forge in Italy this summer.  We plan for Amelie to participate in an intensive language class this summer as we pray through what is best for her schooling in Italy.   As always, our door is open so they might be welcomed and learn more of Jesus. 

A flat, one time gift of apartment rental, is an immediate need at the moment.  Rates vary greatly and are becoming more and more expensive as we are renting in high season.

We look forward to sharing more frequently once our location changes in the next week or so!  God bless you and thank you for making the time to read our stories, know our heart for people, and how God is using all of that for the glory and fame of his name globally.

 

 

An Update: Waking Up to the Next Great Wave

It doesn't even seem real Amelie and I are in Kona, Hawaii.  We are eight weeks in, with four to go, before we head off to the Middle East in March, Germany in April, and to Italy for the summer.  

I still grapple with the fact we are here; that I am willfully in a tropical climate, homeschooling and in the middle of charismatic Christianity.  Albeit fruit in my belief in the sovereignty of God, these are all things I have historically refused to enjoy, participate in or approve of, and God is using my discomfort to shape me more into the image of his son, from one degree to the next.  

As I walk this out, I have asked the Lord daily to help my unbelief and remembered that no matter who teaches what, God is good, he does good, and he uses all things for the good of those who love him and are called to his purposes.  

These are my three takeaways.

1.  GOD CALLS ME TO HIS PURPOSE

He created and has known me since the very beginning.  These are things we can, as Christians, say easily, but if we slow down and think on it, its a remarkable thing. Daily, I must set my sights on the Lord who made and is through all things, not on my circumstance or especially, my feelings.  

In Genesis 12, God blessed Abraham in what we call the Abrahamic covenant.  When we read the text, its mind blowing, really.  God didn't bless Abraham for his comfort, happiness, wealth or health.  He blessed him so that he could be a blessing to others, as a father of a great multitude, more numerous than the stars in the sky (something to think on since in Moses' day there were no telescopes and Jesus, the greater Moses, had not yet come).

What does this have to do with me or you, Believer?  We are to go and make disciples of all nations, and here I am in Kona Hawaii, with a group of people I wouldn't normally be with, whose core belief is to know God and make him known. And it is truly beautiful.

Our first day of class, there was a framed picture on the welcome table that read, "The beginning of life is the end of your comfort zone."  We came here to be stretched, but I had no idea just how much that would be.  You see, ours is the one organization I said I would never work with because they are more on the charismatic side. Charismania makes me uncomfortable because I value authenticity and have seen fanaticism abuse and deceive the faithful, lost and hurting.  

This picture of Ephesians 3:17-19 is one of the foundational reasons we are here, truth the Lord will not allow me to let go.

 

2. IDENTITY

Unless our identity is in Christ alone, in whom all things hold together (including all the nitty gritty of our personalities, like what we fear and what we trust), we cannot do that honestly.  We cannot walk in the fullness and authority that Christ gave us, or allow the Spirit to ignite our hearts and lives to be lights in the dark, to be a people in cities on hills, to bless others in love with the Good News that invades dark places - unless our hearts are wholly his.

I am learning where I have trouble with Charismatic characteristics, I must go to scripture, and look at the indicative and imperatives.  My wrestle is not what kind of people believe and engage in charismatic leanings like 'living in the Spirit' and spiritual warfare, but rather, if it's biblically true (thank you Sam Storms for helping me see that). I have come to recognize this is symptomatic of the hurt I have endured from charismatic christianity and that Jesus is enough to hold me together through it, and free me up to even be able to rest in my blood bought identity in Christ.  This is a must in order to love others without an agenda wherever I am, but especially as we prepare to lay roots down in Italy.

 

3. REALITY of the HOLY SPIRIT

Over and over since we have arrived, the Holy Spirit keeps showing me in little ways that I need him as we go forward. When I am triggered by words like 'spiritual warfare' and 'anointing' and 'breakthrough,' it doesn't mean I can just shut down and continue to deny the fullness of God in the Trinity.  Jesus himself said, "Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven." It's like  want to pack that away in a nice and tidy airtight box right along with those who believe, keep and protect the "God is a Genie Who Sprinkles Fairy Dust" box.  Both are ridiculous.  God the Father and the Son were present in the beginning in perfect, glad communion with God the Holy Spirit.  Just because I have seen people make the Devil their scapegoat and act horribly unloving and cruel in the name of Jesus, in or outside the throws of what they called the Holy Spirit, I cannot continue to deny the Spirit's presence or purpose, nor can I be unwilling to hear anything outside of my reformed theological box because I am called according to his purpose, not my comfort.  If I shut down, I cannot love people, I can only judge them, and that is not my job.    I do not need to protect myself in withdrawal or denial because in Christ all things hold together, and he is enough. 

 I realized there is no way I can do what God has called me to unless I deal with these things.  This is another reason we are here.  In Italy, out of the less than 1% of 61 million who are Bible believing Christians, the majority are pentecostal/charismatic. Unity in Christ is what matters most.

A GENTLE WAVE

To prepare my heart to understand these things he knew would be difficult for me, the Holy Spirit was incredibly gentle.  Since arriving here, I have discovered a love for snorkeling.  Last weekend, I went to the local beach, and despite the water being rough, my friend invited me to swim in a different spot that was in part, open ocean.  I was unsure and even fearful of this, but with a willing spirit, despite not having flippers or being a strong swimmer,  I decided to try.   

I got about halfway there, and began to get scared.  The water was murky due to the waves, which seemed to be so much larger once in the water.  I continued on for a bit, attempting to be rational, and then I saw (mostly) open ocean.  I knew for me, it would not be wise to go out on my own strength, so I turned back toward the safety of the beach.  Along the way, because you can hear yourself breathe, fear became greater and greater as my breathing and my heart beat harder and harder.  And then I realized:  I was swimming with all of my might, and I was not going anywhere.

That is when I thought my heart would pop out of my chest and fear grew exponentially.

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But then, a wave.

It came, and it was like it scooped me up and pulled me back - carefully, and not in danger to drown, but to simply thrust me forward.  As that wave had its hold on me, it was like I was free. I was moving. I was taken care of and fear was gone.  When I realized that, my arms instinctively began to push water back, just as I had been taught when I was a child.  I worked with the wave, and headed safely toward the shore.  

In the middle of all that, it was like the Lord told me to hold onto this moment, to remember it (knowing I forget everything) because it was important.

Here is what I know:  I couldn't see that wave, nor could I control it, and the same is true of the Holy Spirit.

 Because of this, I have been able to trust where he has me, even when it's hard. He knew the week would be hard for me to hear because of all the places I have been hurt.

All I can do in response is marvel at his generosity not to throw me under the weight of that water and crush me with my unbelief, but rather, prepare my heart to know him more and make him known.

That is remarkable.