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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.