An old sticker + new news

Recently told in a very nice way I tend to be long winded in my storytelling, I shall spare too much of a tale this night and simply communicate a few facts.

But maybe just a little bit of a story, first.

I still remember the evening I went to the Highland Village campus for this informal meeting staff didn’t think would bring very many people. It was December 4, 2011, and I was barely four months old in Christ, but as I’ve shared before, I was called quickly and explicitly. I also remember seeing Matt walk in from the back and stand amazed at the hundred or so people gathered in the church to hear of a new plan for missions at The Village Church. He had expected a handful or two at most, he said.

From the very first Sending Program information meeting, 12/4/2011.

From the very first Sending Program information meeting, 12/4/2011.

As a result of that information meeting, I filled out one lengthly application that was lost by staff and had to redo another months later. On the day I had an appointment to go over that application, there as a terrible thunder storm. I later learned there was tornado just to the south of me as I drove on George Bush Freeway in Carrollton, headed to the church. When I finally arrived about twenty minutes late, I don’t think that pastor quite knew what to do with me. Toward the end of our meeting, he stared at my Bible that sat on the edge of his desk, and asked me whose Bible it was. “It’s mine,” I told him. He stared again and asked how long I’d had it. That Bible was less than a year old, and that is not what he expected for a new Christian, apparently.

He sat in disbelief at my ESV Journaling Bible, already held together with leopard print duct tape, worn edges, and notes even on the outside edge of the pages.

Well, that evening information meeting was very much a rough draft of a much bigger idea, and I have weathered all drafts since. We have had four of five different people come into the role of Missions Pastor, each with a different idea of how it would work. I remember someone once asking me why I didn’t leave The Village Church Flower Mound and go to another campus or even to another church. I never left because I knew the church was here for me as much as I am here for them.

There has been a maturation for both of us, and the Lord has been faithful in it. Walking through it has been hard — some of it downright painful — but I praise God for clearer vision not only for the church, but also for me. I praise God for his perfect timing for us, and that we would trust him in it, and the process, however messy, because he is the one who hold together all things.

In all of the hard over the last eight years of figuring where we fit in the process, there have been places that have been sweet. Even as I recalled a few recent things to Matt on Sunday, he said, “I just love how God has given you these little kisses, all along the way.” I do, too.

With all that said, the facts:

  • On Sunday I had a meeting with Trevor Joy and Brian Walck, and after updating them on where we are, we are back in the Sending Program at the Village Church.

  • I will not have to do the Training Program (a year long commitment) because I completed a course in Missional Leadership through Mars Hill. If needed, I may take some online options for further study.

  • I will have to complete a Goer Missional Community, which is part of how the church is sending people. The vision for that I think is awesome, in that it will create missional community, growth in church planting and discipleship, and also present mock hardships and stressors that families face once on the field, but here at home. Because Amelie and I are single parent household, have done YWAM DTS and have moved so much, I do not believe those stressors will be as applicable (es. we aren’t the typical family that has stayed in one place). Trevor tells me what I will bring to the church plant will be incredible, and that makes it worth the wait to me.

  • We have been given a timeline of 18 months.

So, a few ways to pray I can think of right now:

  • That I would be able. to say with confidence we are funded enough by end of May that I will not have to return to teaching next year so I can raise support full time.

  • For the lord to quicken the hearts of our supporters — past and future — to join us. We cannot go anywhere without monthly support.

  • Grace in administration. It is not my gift. A helper, even.

  • Our little car would last another 18 months (it is going to need the front axle replaced, and that costs more than the car was purchased for/worth).

  • To assemble an Advocacy Team (they will help keep us infront of the church in various ways once we go).

  • For our church in Florence, and our home once there.

  • Amelie’s heart. She is hesitant to trust the process, given the fact it has been so difficult for so long. She is ready to go, and struggles with the back and forth as I have.

Fruit + Faithfulness

For the first time, I am part of women’s Bible study at church. For years when I first came to The Village, we did not have a “women’s Bible study” to join. The vision was to be organic, for Bible study to happen through your homegroup, in order to be known and fight against the tide of programmatic Christianity that plagues the American church, allowing people to be a part of something but not changed by the gospel.

Over time, the gifting of Jen Wilkin grew, despite not having a platform from which to share her studies officially. She was faithful to pursue the call of her heart, placed there by the Lord: to grow women in biblical literacy.

In those days, I could access her studies online trough her website and print my own book. Then with much excitement, she began having them at another local church, and it grew. Rapidly. And finally, in the last few years, she was finally able host her Bible Studies in her own church , in our 1400 seat sanctuary, twice a day, every Tuesday, each semester, with women from all over the area, from all kinds of churches.

I can only imagine how frustrating it must been for her. Her home church, her family, her employer, not giving room to grow in her gift set, and to grow the Body. Yet, she persisted, determined, by God’s grace and walking in the fear of the Lord, to do what she knew like she knew what she was called to do.

Why do I tell you this?

This is the first time I have ever been a part of a Bible Study at The Village.

The same spirit that gave life to a dead Christ, is at work in me, today, and I felt what might be described as a new wave of the Spirit, that first day when she listed the central themes to our selected book: Acts.

  • Spread of the gospel

  • Jerusalem to Rome

  • Providence of God

  • Function of the Holy Spirit

I saw that first Tuesday evening in the first two points things I know, love and long for, but in the latter, I saw the things I have been learning to trust.

And that is why today, as I asked the Lord for a verse, I believe he delivered, from Acts 9:31:

"So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

As I said in a previous post, studying Acts right now, at such a time as this, is a way I can simply feel the Lord at work in me. They say not to read the end of a book before you get there, but I know Paul finally arrives - and flourishes - in Rome until his martyrdom in 66AD. As I continue to read through Acts, I am constantly reminded of that sleepless night when I read the Bible for the first time that describes Paul’s longing to get to Rome so richly and echoed nearly verbatim the words I’m certain you could’ve found inscribed in my own, roughly hewn heart — “For I have longed to come to you, but thus far have prevented.”

It’s like we are nearly there. I began this Christian walk reading Romans 1 and now we are reading Acts.

Like Jen, I have spent some time knowing my call, but unable to pursue it. I didn’t have a program to fit into. I walked in so much fear of man, that somehow I could not be approved of, since I didn’t have the ‘approval’ of my church, officially. Yet the Lord has been faithful to sanctify me, grow my identity in him, and to let us know now is the time, because he has called us. We are nearly there.

As we have waited to go, the Lord has been so gracious to us. I have seen Acts 29 Italy (Impatto) go from a handful of people to nine churches, and several in the making — mine included. They have peace and are being built up. I have learned about another biblically faithful network in Italy, and see the fruit of their labor. And I look back at that passage in Romans, now a young Christian who has prayed and lived it, and rejoice with hope as we look forward, trusting the providence of God and the work of the Spirit.

 “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.  God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—  that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.  I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.”

Join us, Church. Be a part of sending us to Italy where we can be salt and light, grow the local church, engage the lost, pray and labor for a Gospel Renaissance in the Renaissance city. We are currently at 5% of our monthly goal, and I have a growing conviction from the Lord this will be a “big C” Church send — people from all over, believers in Christ, from multiple churches, all over the place, but unified in Christ and his mission to build his church. Be a part of our sending team. Connect us with your friends, your people, your church. Share my heart for Italy with this blog, but please do not tag me on Facebook or Instagram.

Thank you for bearing with me as I figure out how to do this, while sharing where we are and reconnecting to this gift I seem to have for writing. I find great joy in it and pray the Lord would grow it. I cannot wait for the days I can report the stories the Lord gives us in our daily lives in Italy, but for now, I can tell you how he’s teaching me right where we are.

I am overjoyed to walk in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Spirit. Those words are like a balm on my soul right now — read them over yourself. How would your day look different?

Walking gladly in both — Just like Paul and just like Jen. I pray you are too, wherever you are, and you will not only see the church multiply, but be a part of it.

Wreaths and Bookends

Yesterday Texas (finally) had a cold front. Fall actually made an appearance, and on this crisp morning, I realized I could finally (in good conscience) change the brightly colored, summertime wreath that has been on my door since mid spring to one appropriate for fall.

It’s strange how something as simple as buying a wreath or two can make you feel grown up. Grounded. You know, I haven’t ever really bought decorative things for our home, because I knew we would leave and not be able to take it. But as we grew in contentment here and the Lord provided the exact same apartment we lived in before we left for YWAM, I made the investment.

Wreaths

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As I was changing the wreaths out (in what seemed like a fraction of a second) I reflected on life since Amelie went to Homecoming, the tender warmth of the Spirit’s presence near me, the nudges I’ve been given to listen to and to act upon… and the reality we are truly in a new season hit me completely.

Full circle, if you will.

It wasn’t until I was playing with filters that I remembered what my friend said of me last week in our meeting. She said through all of this — our journey toward Italy — that I have “patiently endured.”

“Patiently enduring” is hard, and I hadn’t even realized that is what I had been doing the last few years until she said it. Like this picture, it has been a season -tones of black, white and grey, sometimes seen close up and others further away; yet still beautiful, composed, and purposeful.

Perhaps that is why I cannot let this song go. It’s like my soul just needs to hear it and all I can do is set my heart before the Lord as I sing it. Over and over and over again.

The filter in each picture is slightly different, slightly warmer, slightly cooler. Not only in the color, but it’s composition is different. We have seen pieces of our hope toward and for Italy come through, despite the distraction and weight of doubt and the messiness of the wrestle to trust your call, plan and purpose. Each of these changes your view; the composition of your plan.

But today, as I changed these wreaths out, enjoyed the change of weather, spent some time in Acts, seeing how the Spirit encourages and speaks to me, giving me reminders of my first year walking with Jesus, full of the Spirit, tender to hear, listen, and even write (as I am currently bursting with words), I see color. I see a literal change of season.

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BOOK/ENDS/

Studying Acts confronts me with fear, and where it lies. It confronts me with my resistance to trust the Holy Spirit (God) because of charismania (man). It allows me to see, again, the beauty of the early church, and her formation. It dares me to dream of the church forming and the gospel taking root in Italy, and it reminds me that Romans is right next door…

And that is significant to me now because Romans 1 was the very first thing I ever read in the entire Bible one sleepless night just after meeting Jesus.

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[c] that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians,[d] both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

I was a mess by the time I got from verse one through verse nine, but it was verse 13 that forever marked my heart. I knew that longing then, and I feel it today, with more clarified vision and deeper wisdom.

You see, the day before God met me, I gave up ever seeing Italy again after attempting to return for a decade. God intervened before I even knew him. He gave me a love for Italy when I hated him and prevented me from going back when my motive was my own glory. When God intervened, he wrote a new story, handing back and recreating the desire of my heart.

And as I reread it today, by the Spirit’s help and understanding, I really caught the back half of that verse.. “…, in order that I might reap some harvest among you as well as the rest of the Gentiles.”

It is no accident that Paul spends the first seven verses of Romans 1 identifying himself. I see the Lord’s hand, his purposeful pruning of me to know my identity too, and his careful preparation of the church - both here and in Italy. In the last few weeks, I have come into contact with a whole other network in Rome. And hearing of what they are doing and how we came to know each other just encourages me for the sake of Gospel unity in Italy.

The church is growing in Italy by his grace and the work of faithful saints trusting the Lord, operating within their gifts. Their context may be beautiful, but it is also very hard. Where there is an actual whisper of a gospel witness, there are pastors who have zero theological training, work a full time job, and have to care for their own families. There are publishing houses with people who can translate solid theological books into Italian, but no one to fund the process. All while many are unemployed, hopeless and live as Romans 1 describes or still climb stairs in Rome on their knees, thinking they can be made right by God in the process.

Soil is still being turned, day by day, by the power of God through these saint’s hands and prayers, but like my new friend Mauricio informed me at camp this summer, “the farmer can’t just put seeds in the soil, Hollie. It has to be tilled and rise to a certain temperature to make the soil ready for the seed. That is where we are in Italy. The temperature is rising, but it’s not there yet.”

There is work to do.

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So why “Bookends?” I have remembered where I first began, the joy of my salvation. I can see where we are going, and I can feel the Spirit moving. This passage of Romans 1 that touched me so long ago has become even more fully alive to me today, because God’s word is living and active. Without ceasing I pray for them. God heard my plea for A29 in Florence and he hears me continue to pray for their provision. We long to get there, to work alongside these saints with absolute joy in that tough, dry, soil, trusting the Spirit’s timing, his development and use of our gifts to do it, so that we can reap that harvest together for those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints (v.7).

And it will be difficult, but thankfully, I have already been given the opportunity to “patiently endure.”

“Your love. Your love endures. From the depths, to the highest stars. Your love, your righteousness. Your love, your love, your love endures.”

Listen to that song if you haven’t already, and if you have, listen to it again.

Jesus you are good.

And I am so grateful.

Restoration and Glorious Goodbyes

I am grateful for the Church, the Body of Christ.

I am grateful for my church, The Village Church.

I am grateful for the reminder today, “Never once did I ever walk alone — God, you are faithful.”


That sentence describes my first moment with Michael Bleeker, outside of serving him coffee years ago when he worked at Prestonwood Baptist Church, across the street from my Starbucks. It was August 14, 2011, and I went to The Village Church for the first time. When I discovered it was formerly a grocery store, my immediate response was that if there was one silk plant in this entire building, I was out. I grew up in charismatic churches and somehow I equate silk plants with what I call “creepy church.” Anywho, I walked up the second row of stadium seating on the left, chose the third row from the back in the first seat. I immediately felt welcomed — like I was in someone’s living room. Then came this song, Never Once.

It was the first Christian song to wreck me. I stood there in my seat I chose specifically because despite the spotlights, that seat and row were dark. Tears streamed uncontrollably down my face because I remembered all the nights I sat in my room as a teenager, cutting up my arms in rage and sadness, wanting nothing more than to die. And in the same moment I remembered that, I also saw Jesus. Right there in the corner of my room. He was always there, and he wept with me for the pain that clouded every bit of my being, all the while knowing the fear laced joy that would come on July 14, 2011, when he lifted the veil from my eyes.

I have never found it to be a coincidence that my first day at The Village Church was on a day when Matt shared that a staff member had committed suicide, especially in light of just singing that song and the memories it took me to. Add the fact he was preaching on Psalm 23. This particular psalm was a defining blow in my refusal to have any likeness to the Christianity I saw around me. One day as a kid, as a form of punishment for something I had done, I was made to stay in my room until I memorized Psalm 23. No explanation as to why or what it meant that I can remember. Just told to memorize it and I couldn’t do anything else until I did. Instead I tore up several Bibles that day. It was so ugly to me; it fed my desire to have nothing to do with this Christianity, whatever that was.

Today was Michael Bleeker’s last day on staff at The Village Church after sixteen faithful and fruitful years. It was so beautiful, being together, singing all the songs that were sung as this church went from 168 people to thousands. It was such a breath of fresh air to see and remember all God has done - even before I came to TVC, but to have a moment to remember how he has used Michael Bleeker in my life… as a barista at Starbucks when he would come in for coffee from Prestonwood, to hear the stories of his transition to TVC through today, to remembering my first time at church and knowing so many people — hundreds, if not thousands — share that testimony because Michael’s gift of having a song always on his heart, to bring glory to the name and fame of Jesus.

What an unexpected gift to be reminded of the joy of my salvation, to be so tender to the Spirit, as he makes well what has been hurt and weighed down in my soul over the last few years. He did that by reminding me today with that first song — never once have I ever walked alone. Never once did he leave me on my own, because he is faithful.

He is faithful, and he continued to show me his faithfulness today in so many ways. Even my writing today is evidence of that because I cannot remember the last time I have had the clarity of thought to write three times in one week! When I was first saved, I had to write, all the time. I felt I would go crazy if I didn’t.

He brings restoration, friends (we sang that song today, too, and it reminded me of my first time to Recovery, a ministry of The Village I long to bring to Italy.)

When Matt said, “If Bleeker was going to a random church…he’s not. He’s going to us. He is bringing his gifts, his authority and power…” something happened in my heart that allowed me to see in my local body what the Lord allowed me to catch a glimpse of this week through my bible study and prayer: we are going from us to us, too. Acts 29 to Acts 29.

Before, our plan was to go from the the Village to another local church in Florence, who is now flourishing. Their planting pastor left Florence the day before we did to pastor an A29 church in Rochester, NY, leaving Mosaico in the capable hands of his team. A few weeks after our return, Pietro Ciavarella was approved to plant an A29 church in Florence - a direct answer to the longing of my heart the last eight years.

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The first day I came to The Village, it was the first sermon in the series Village Identity, and it was called “The Mission of God.” Today as I remember all God has done and is doing as he builds his church, I marvel at our waiting. I see how identity is woven all the way through, and how it brought to my attention where my fear has been placed: in man, not of the LORD. For me, I can see my gifts, and sort of limp in them. Walking in my gifts hasn’t been the hardest part, it has been walking with the authority and power granted to me in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, which fuels those gifts and allows them flourish.

That first day so many years ago at TVC was no coincidence — I have been (and will continue to be) on a journey to walk in the identity Christ purchased for me, so I may play my part in the mission of God. That sermon series laid out what The Village was becoming, and walked the church through eleven sermons outlining what that was to be.

Just this morning, I met with Lauren Chandler, my longtime friend and advocate. During our meeting she said, “I was just talking about you the other day, and we were saying it was like you are this puzzle piece. You are this puzzle piece that keeps trying to fit, but you can’t — it’s the wrong puzzle. Your puzzle isn’t here. It’s over there (Italy).”

My identity cannot be in The Village Church or how it sends it’s missionaries. I had no idea thats where I was before, but God, being so rich in mercy, allowed me to see this. My identity is in Christ and the call God has placed on my life.

Lauren and I have been trying to meet since we came back from Florence in August. And it didn’t happen until today. As a matter of fact, we just planned this two days ago. I am so grateful for it. I am grateful for my church — for the wrestle, for their investment in me, their love of Christ; and to see today the stunning beauty of seeing Michael leave this body to go to another, was such a gift to my spirit.

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Today we said goodbye to Michael Bleeker in our huge building with a great sound system, screen, and stadium seating. We remembered as a church from where we came to this day. He is going to one of our campuses that has become it’s own, autonomous church — from us and to us.

And today, 5,473 miles away in a living room, Pietro’s church- the church I am going to — just celebrated having worship for the first time with a team of two and one guitar.

Man. I melted.

We are ready and God is so, so good.

Unforgotten + Seen

Today, just after my Kindergarten class left and fourth grade was arriving, I heard beeping. I thought it was strange, since I had never heard it before, but had forgotten my phone was connected to my speaker in my classroom.

The beeping was an alert from Facebook Messenger and to my surprise it was Nadia calling. Finding this quite strange, I answered.

“Hollie!” she said with her warm, more enthusiastic than normal, Russian accent . “I have a donor. He wants to give scholarship to Christian artist! You are in Florence, yes?”

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We met Nadia our first trip in 2015, when, just across the street from this picture, she sat with me for about three hours. She did not know me from Eve, but in that timeframe asked me to come teach Art History at her school through a gospel lens…she had no idea that is the first thing I asked God to let me do after I met him in 2011.

Amelie and I took intensive painting courses there over a few summers, and one year before Francesca entered art high school, she got to join us. One of the most spectacular pieces of their program is that they teach you to see. It is hard and remarkably beautiful. It changes everything - just like the Gospel.

Friends, the vision she has for this school is amazing and the role she desires for me to fill is still open and waiting for me. It requires me to have a masters degree that I can do there, which will also help me earn my residency status.


Turning this corner back into preparing to go, I realized: I am off to an even better start than I was when we first began.. I am growing in fear of the Lord and not fear of man, because he is the one who saved me and called me, and that calling is affirmed by those in leadership around me and anyone who knows me. Second, although I am not going via The Village Church— I am going from Acts 29 to Acts 29, and that is so much more beautiful to me because I have prayed the last eight years for Acts 29 to grow in Italy, but in particular for Acts 29 to be in Florence.

And here we are.

I have been invited to join Chiesa Evangelica Riformata L’Isolotto’s core group and just today Nadia calls and says she has a fifty percent scholarship.

I wrestled through a lot of things the last year or so, but recognizing this and feeling so seen and known by the Lord today — in the middle of my day — where I am trusting the Lord, cultivating faithfulness, in the hard and messy grit of teaching children art and music, with learning curve after learning curve, with humility, perseverance and joy. This is where I am. I can trust him. And what a precious way for him to intervene in my day to say, “Hollie, I love you, I see you, and I know the plans I have for you.”

It reminded me of this summer. It was the first summer I ever spent with Italian children, where I had the privilege to teach them English, through art and the gospel. Robert Baird, who is like a father to me, told me something that was hard to hear after I accepted a job as a teaching aide. I told God I would never work with children. Robert told me, “Now Hollie, I know you want to teach adults. But before you teach them, you have to learn how to teach children first.”

I really didn’t like that he told me that, but it didn’t change the fact that he was right.

My heart sank as I had to tell Nadia I didn’t think I could make it by February, unless there was a miracle. I have seen the LORD provide in crazy and amazing ways through his people. But what I could tell her was how encouraged I was that the Lord continues to put me in her mind. She really wanted to give this to me. I quickly shared how I felt so seen by the Lord, that he is the one keeping this call on my life, this post, place and city open for us to live in, and that my heart is already there.

How you can take action?

Reflections + an overdue update.

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This afternoon tears flooded my eyes as I truly realized we are in a new season.

I haven’t picked up a makeup brush for anyone but myself since we left for YWAM, full of hopes and dreams for a future shaped by the LORD, to pursue the call He has placed on our lives. Before we left, because God had been so generous to us to literally pave the way for us to do what I secretly found impossible, I gave my makeup kit to another beautiful young woman who loves the LORD. Her family has been such a blessing in my life, and I knew she would bless others with her gift as I had been given the opportunity to do for years, not only with people who knew the Lord and prepared to serve him with their lives in their marriages, but also to instill, in some small way, hope to broken people who felt they could never be good enough, or worth enough to give their lives to the One who created them.

But today, as I cleaned my daughter’s makeup brushes, and it all came back to me, just like riding a bike. In an instant, before my eyes flashed the little girl who tried to wake me up one morning by playing in my fuchsia pigment, and had it all over her and everywhere else, to her fashion party in our old house at six years old, playing in lipgloss and glitter and all kinds of rented, glitzy frocks, to now: I saw a beautiful young woman.

Amelie, all ready for her first school dance, ever. Homecoming, 2019.

Amelie, all ready for her first school dance, ever. Homecoming, 2019.

A young woman who radiates the light of the LORD and a Father who has her in the palm of His hand. I flash forwarded as I laid a peach blush upon what I have always called “the sweetest cheeks in Texas” (even when we weren’t there) and I began to cry.

I saw her graduation, wherever that will be, because I saw only her. I saw her wedding. I saw the care the LORD has for her, even in providing for her a friend in Rome while at an all Italian teen camp, who also loves the Lord and has begun to love her.

Ever since I met Diane and Robert Baird, I have prayed for a story like theirs for her (even before I was a Christian) where love was instant while young and God’s hand constant, through the highs and the lows. It is way to early for all of that, but my mind was swept away in the beauty of God’s careful, perfect, and gracious plan.

They are giants in the faith and Jesus is their King, and they love her fiercely too.


I have not been great in updating all of you, because I could not find words to share. It is hard to have one foot in two different worlds: to update about Italy and to work as a teacher here. But tonight I do. Tonight I can tell you where we are, and how we are moving forward — also in God’s perfect, careful, and gracious timing.

As I shared in my last post, we were asked to wait by The Village Church. It was hard to bear, but the LORD’s grace in that has been to allow me to find identity in Him, and His call on our lives.

Our summer in Italy was unlike any other we have ever experienced. We spent the first two weeks serving at an English camp outside of Rome. It was my first time to be around Italian children and to experience locally, life outside of Tuscany. I knew Italians didn’t understand evangelicals, but I had no idea they see us like Mormons. This camp is in a town where there has been a faithful and constant evangelical presence for sixty five years and they have only thirty five members.

Let that sink in.

This work is exceedingly hard and slow, but so worthwhile. Because of this camp, people are beginning to trust them and have even asked they begin teaching English to the parents! I have spoken with the man who runs the camp and he wants to hear more about my hope to bring a ministry of The Village, Recovery, to Italy. He has the space to train Italian leaders, and I hope we can make it happen.

This picture. This family got this space to have church about a year ago, after nearly eleven years ministering in Italy. I remember sweet Jeanette, crying on my shoulder, just two years ago, feeling wrung out, frustrated and wondering what they were doing because there wasn’t much fruit, and yet, there is this. And all the stories that continue to come about how she lived the love of the Lord every single day. This small space was overloaded with two hundred people who came to pay their respects, who heard the actual gospel. There were so many, they spilled out onto the street. What a gift to this corner of Italy this family is, and her husband Lee. His grief is beautiful and wrought with dependence on Jesus. What a beautiful story the LORD has written in their lives!

This picture. This family got this space to have church about a year ago, after nearly eleven years ministering in Italy. I remember sweet Jeanette, crying on my shoulder, just two years ago, feeling wrung out, frustrated and wondering what they were doing because there wasn’t much fruit, and yet, there is this. And all the stories that continue to come about how she lived the love of the Lord every single day. This small space was overloaded with two hundred people who came to pay their respects, who heard the actual gospel. There were so many, they spilled out onto the street. What a gift to this corner of Italy this family is, and her husband Lee. His grief is beautiful and wrought with dependence on Jesus. What a beautiful story the LORD has written in their lives!

It was hard in numerous ways; we suffered the loss of my grandmother while overseas when we first arrived to Florence, and also a dear friend just hours away, who went to be with the LORD the very morning we went to see her. Our gas was turned off and we had to wait a week to get hot water and be able to cook. We struck new friendships with the butcher in Sant Amobrgio market and the sweet man whom I bought cherries from. Our longtime friend, while eating at his restaurant, invited us to join him and his entire family - five brothers and their wives, and his dad - to celebrate his wife’s birthday.

The word I have for the summer is local.

We had hardship and didn’t crumble. We experienced death across the sea at “home.” We saw God glorified in the death of my sweet friend Jeanette just days before we left, and it was like a whisper that said, “You are ready.” I prayed and asked the Lord that when I die, it would be there, among the people and land I love so much, that through my life, and in living it day by day, even the people with whom I haven’t yet connected would feel that loss and hear of the joy in Christ Jesus at my funeral. Really, anywhere I live, I hope that to be the case, but my heart longs for it to be in Italy. Despite my sadness in the circumstance, I simply cannot think of anything more beautiful.

The morning we left to see Jeanette, I heard a song that has changed my life. In fact, it is playing right now as I write. This is one of those songs that bookmarks your life. I hope it ministers to you, too. I had never heard it before and it just spoke to me on every level, even the fact it was filmed on a train and it was cloudy - just like when I first heard it. I was on a train to see my friend who died that cloudy morning. I listened to it the entire four hour train ride because I could see and hear her touch my shoulder and say with her signature smile, “Hollie! Rejoice in the gift of this day!”

Later, I was met with a nation wide debilitating attack on the train systems when I was to meet with a man from another church in Bologna, who has started a Training Program for Artists. All trains were shut off, and it was a disaster. I knew the enemy was trying to thwart this appointment so we simply used FaceTime! It helps to equip artists to set up and run an arts ministry within their church, as part of the church, handling the challenges creatives face when working with non creatives in your specific context, to the glory of God. Type A people can relate when talking to visionaries! You leave completely equipped with a ministry plan and he continues to mentor you as you implement it.

Antonio’s youngest daughter headed off to England to learn English this summer and Amelie did her portrait in a blank notebook - she was so excited and used it for her notes!

Antonio’s youngest daughter headed off to England to learn English this summer and Amelie did her portrait in a blank notebook - she was so excited and used it for her notes!

We are back in Dallas, and landed with a swift move to prepare my classroom for the new school year. This is where I am right now, and everyday on my way to work I ask the LORD to bring us home, to Italy, but remain grateful for everything we are learning while still here. I am learning to plan, to organize. Amelie and I are part of Jen Wilkin’s Bible Study in Acts at church, and just by being there it has affirmed this story of “I, Hollie, I have called you. I put this this in your heart when you wanted nothing of me, for your joy and my glory.”

One thing the church was concerned about was Amelie, high school and entering into college. Just days before we left Florence, we met a man and his wife in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Cereal was on the right and pre sliced deli meats and cheeses were on the left.

I love turkey sandwiches and that is how I met my friend Antonio while in college in 1999. His was the only shop I could find freshly sliced turkey. This man and his wife were about to buy some pre sliced, nasty looking turkey and I intervened to tell him if he took a number they could slice some fresh in the deli.

Jesus is real and involved in every aspect of our everyday. We cannot make these stories up, y’all!

Jesus is real and involved in every aspect of our everyday. We cannot make these stories up, y’all!

Now, I never tell people we are missionaries because it can cause some uneccessary friction and this time, I felt the Lord telling me to tell these people this. I got into our story a bit and the wife said she got chills, and I knew they were believers. Because it was Saturday evening, I invited them to church on Sunday, to which the wife said she would see…she had just arrived today and her husband had been here for about four weeks.

I thought that was interesting and asked why. Turns out he was a guest lecturer at “Nemo, which is part of the trifecta of animation schools in Europe.”

I couldn’t believe it. Amelie wants to go to Goeblins in Paris, but doesn’t know French, and we had NO IDEA there was an animation school in Florence. What an opportunity it seems the Lord is literally handing us for the city and people we love so much!!

I showed him some of her work, and as I was doing so, she and her friends walked up. He asked her what kind of animation she wanted to do, to which she replied, “2D animation, but one day I might do 3D.”

He said, “I think this is a divine appointment because I am a 2D animator with Disney.” In fact, he was trained by people in Walt Disney’s - the man himself- core group of animators and was the head character director for Captain John Smith in Pocahontas.

He has her. He knows her, and if I had to place her in this town or Florence, based on her trajectory, the answer is crystal clear.

There are so many more stories, and I cannot wait to share them with you.

Having Pietro, his wife Silvia and one of their members over for dinner was such a blessing! They are a blessing!!

Having Pietro, his wife Silvia and one of their members over for dinner was such a blessing! They are a blessing!!

A few weeks after returning to Dallas, we finally got word our friend, Pietro Ciavarella, has been conditionally approved to plant an Acts 29 church in Florence - a literal answer to prayer for me since I was saved in 2011. In order to be part of A29 (Impatto in Italy), you must have 10 in your core team, and he has asked that I be his sixth. He is a great preacher, wonderful husband, biblical scholar, and servant leader, as well as a board member of the Gospel Coalition Italia.

The LORD is so sweet to completely cover and care for us.

The art school asked if I was coming this year, offering a fifty percent discount on tuition.

And just last week, after I had an epiphany through our study of Acts 4, I set up my first talk with a group of women to share our vision for ministry in Italy - and when it hit me that it is the very same group I was scheduled to speak with the day I was called to the Village and told they would not be sending me, I was in tears at this sweet gift of the LORD to literally pick up, right where we left off.

My church and all around us affirm our call and our vision. We are still with Reliant and have the supervision and covering of Pietro as we go to be a part of Chiesa Evangelica Riformata l’Isolotto in Florence. We know our going will be a work of the Lord and a movement of “Big C” church, the Body of Christ.

So I appeal to you, Brothers and Sisters, pray for us. Pray that we will get to where the Lord has called us. Join us. Bring us to share these stories and the vision the LORD has given us in Italy, to work with this tiny church of (hopefully) six people, to minister and befriend people He created and He loves, that do not know Him. Send us to till the soil in what is known as the “missionary graveyard.”

We are all in - completely - and very much ready to go.

Pray with us. Send us. We cannot go where God is calling us without your partnership. I would love to share these updates with you in person and what the long term plan looks like. We love you and pray for all of you often.

Another fun story: we had dinner at Pietro’s shortly after arriving in Florence…and he had another family from HOUSTON, TEXAS in his home with a heart for Italy… and the wife is an art teacher, and her daughter just began her first year teaching art! I literally cannot make this up, y’all. The LORD is up to GOOD things!

Another fun story: we had dinner at Pietro’s shortly after arriving in Florence…and he had another family from HOUSTON, TEXAS in his home with a heart for Italy… and the wife is an art teacher, and her daughter just began her first year teaching art! I literally cannot make this up, y’all. The LORD is up to GOOD things!

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.