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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.