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.
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!
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.
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.