Friday, June 22, 2012

Grand'e il Nostro Dio!

Incontra Con Gesu or Jesus Encounter is the name for the Italian house churches that Team Italy One is starting throughout the city of Genova. I wrote about the my experience with the Romanian house church in my blog last week, if you missed it you can read it here. This week I want to share a little more about how I am seeing my new friends Sarah and Andrea encounter Jesus...


This past weekend, me, Emily (one of the missionaries), and Sarah went to Monaco for the day. Monaco is the second smallest country in the world and one of the wealthiest as well. It's nestled on the shores of the French Riveria and the landscape is absolutely beautiful. God used our day trip for a fun time of fellowship with Sarah that opened up conversations about the gospel and who Jesus is. On the train ride to Monaco, Emily and I were reading our Bibles and Sarah wanted to read some as well, so I showed her what I had been reading in Romans 1. She asked me about Paul and why he wrote so many letters to the churches so I had the opportunity to share Paul's testimony with her. We turned to Acts 24 and I explained to her how Paul used to be called Saul and how Jesus changed his heart and he became a new person. 

Sarah, Emily, and I in Monaco


Then on the way home from Monaco, Sarah was sharing with us about her family. She said she's not very close to her father and mother because they disaprove of the way she lives her life. They want her to marry a good Muslim man and get a respectable job, but instead she is still unmarried and works as a tour guide. That conversation led into a discussion about what Muslims believe about sin, and how a Muslim can do good works to counter their sinfulness. We asked Sarah how she knows she will go to Heaven when she dies and she said she doesn't know. She can only try to do her best at being a "good person" and hope that Allah will have mercy on her. The conversation gave me a lot of insight into what Sarah really believes. I can tell that she doesn't truly believe in Islam, but it's all she knows, and right now she's indifferent to it. She jokes about going to hell as if its not a big deal, but then she says she will try to be good so she can go to heaven. The problem with Islam is that it doesn't deal with the reality of sin. People can never be "good enough" in the eyes of a Holy, perfect God. Please pray that Sarah will see her sinfulness and her need for salvation. Please pray that she will see how she can never be good enough. 

 I am so grateful that the Lord has given me so many opportunities to have conversations with Sarah about the gospel. I know that He is doing work in her heart. On Wednesday she came to the Jesus Encounter again and stayed for dinner. It was really exciting because Andrea came with her as well! Andrea is the other woman in my class, she's 28 and from Brazil. She was raised Catholic but dislikes the Catholic church. At one point she was thinking about converting to Islam in order to marry a Lebanese man that she was in love with. I haven't been able to talk to her much about deeper topics, because her English isn't very good and I obviously don't speak Portuguese, but please pray for more opportunities for me to talk to her about Jesus. 

Andrea and I at Camogli 

One of my favorite moments this week was praising the Lord in Italiano at the Jesus Encounter. We sang the song "How Great is Our God" or "Grand'e il Nostro Dio" in Italian. It's really cool to be able to worship Jesus in another language (even when I'm completely butchering the pronunciation haha). I'm going to be attending two other house churches this weekend and I'm looking forward to meeting those people! I appreciate your prayers for Sarah and Andrea so much! Grazie! 

Check out "How Great is Our God" in Italiano! 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

La Vita a Genova es Bellisimo

Life in Genova is beautiful. As you can tell from the incredible pictures, this port city is surrounded by breathtaking views. 



Italy is by far the most beautiful place I've ever been, but don't let the blue waters and lush mountains fool you. The people have no hope. Real Italy isn't as pretty as it appears. The elaborate Catholic churches with amazing architecture are mostly empty on Sunday mornings. Religion is everywhere, but Jesus is nowhere. Except for in Avant's six house churches across the city. Jesus is using the Genova Avant Team to shine His light into the darkness. So far I've only been able to attend two of the six churches or Incontro Con Gesu (Jesus Encounters) but I'm looking forward to experiencing all six. When I say church, I don't mean your typical American idea of church. These churches are small groups of 4-12 people who come together to study the Bible and worship Jesus in someone's living room. Some people are believers, but most are just interested in finding out what Christianity is all about. 

Last Sunday night I sat in a too small kitchen in the poorer area of town and ate pizza, studied the Bible, and had a dance party with Romanian immigrants. About twelve of us (6 missionaries, 6 Romanians) crowded into the small kitchen and shared food together. Most of the family are not believers yet, except for their 9 year old boy who just accepted Jesus into his life recently. We studied John 4 where Jesus is speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. There were two women who were smoking and chatting amongst themselves during most of the lesson, which kind of embodies the Italian's disinterest in spiritual matters. However, there was one 17 year old boy, Ricky, who was listening and taking the passage into consideration. When asked how the passage applied to his life and how his life should change because of it, Ricky said it couldn't apply because he needed a new life. That's when Dustin (one of the missionaries) explained the gospel to him and told him how Jesus can give him a new life. Unfortunately, Ricky said he still isn't ready to give his life to Jesus because he wants to have fun. He also said his friends don't want him to give his life to Jesus because then they won't be able to have fun together anymore. Dustin shared his personal testimony with Ricky and we talked about how God is more interested in our hearts than our "good behavior". When we give Him our heart then our behavior will change, but it's our hearts that He's after. 

After our serious gospel conversation, somehow the conversation shifted to salsa dancing and next thing you know the Romanians had turned up the music and were making all of us dance in the middle of the little kitchen. It was absolutely hilarious and completely spontaneous! We were glad that they could see that Christians can still have fun! It was so encouraging to witness God moving in that room. Ricky may not have been ready to let Jesus have control of his life, but he knows that he has a need for God in his life and God is working on his heart. 

It was also incredible to sit in a trilingual Bible study. The Romanians speak Italian decently, but obviously it's easier to understand things in your own language. One man read John 4 in Romanian, then Dustin read John 4 in Italian, and then they would discuss the passage in Italian. June and I were the only English speakers, so we had a translator and studied the passage in English. The Lord used that to remind me how big He is. His love and power transcend language barriers, cultural differences, and economic statuses. His love is all encompassing and He created every person on this planet in His image. That's pretty mind blowing. I'm excited to see how the Lord continues to work in the Romanian's hearts. Please pray for Ricky and his family to see their need for Jesus and to be willing to surrender the hearts to Him. 

My new friend Andrea and I after we hiked to the place below.

 San Frouttouozo

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Serendipity Divino in Italia

Divine Serendipity is one of the principles of Avant Ministries' Short-Cycle Church Planting and in my first four days here I've experienced it first hand. Avant explains it best, "Divine serendipity may sound like an oxymoron but what seems like coincidence to us is really God’s sovereign purpose at work. Short-Cycle Church Planting is based on the confidence that God will provide us with the opportunity and the means to connect with people." Well, in only four short days the Lord has provided me with a divine opportunity to share the gospel with a young woman who is sincerely seeking Truth. 

June and I started our Italian language class on Monday morning at a language school called, A Door to Italy. By attending language class for 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 3 weeks, we are hoping to learn some Italian as well as to simulate what a real missionary would experience when moving to a new country. The problem is that we joined the class a week late, so our classmates Sarah , Andrea, and Laura (names changed for privacy), are way ahead of us in Italian. It's very frustrating as you can imagine. I literally have the communication skills of an Italian two year old, so its a very humbling experience. 

The girls in my class are very friendly and I was excited to be welcomed into their group. Laura is from England, Andrea is from Brazil, and Sarah is from Turkey, but they all speak English so we can communicate well enough. I knew that God had me in that class for a reason when Sarah asked me about my bracelet that says Luke 1:38. She recognized it being from the Bible and asked what it meant. I told her it means, "I am the Lord's servant" and she wrote it down in her notebook with an exclamation mark! I was intrigued considering she's from the Middle East. Then after class she invited me to go to the beach with her and Andrea today. I was so excited I immediately began praying for an opportunity to talk about Jesus with her. 

Unfortunately, (but fortunately) Andrea didn't feel well so she decided not to come. I was actually pleased to hear this because I felt it would be easier to talk with Sarah one on one. Well, on the way to the beach Sarah initiated the conversation by sharing that she's Muslim but she still drinks alcohol even though it is against their rules. So I told her that I'm a Christian and she began asking me all kinds of questions about my life. She also commented that when she first met me she noticed how much "good energy and happiness" I have (also known as JOY). Comments like that always surprise me considering I used to struggle with depression, so I thanked her and told her I would tell her my whole story once we got to the beach. So we finally found public access to the beach (which is really a rocky shore... no sand in sight) and I begin to tell her about my family and my testimony of how Jesus brought me from depression into joy and how He changed my heart. 

She listened and asked questions and was intrigued by the story and was shocked that there are "good Americans" with morals! haha She also said she was very impressed with me and wanted to know how I'm "so good now". So I explained the gospel, God's grace, and how God changes your heart's desires. Then she asked me what my favorite book of the Bible was and I told her Ephesians, Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus... I'm a stupid American so I didn't even know that Ephesus is in Turkey, her country! Sarah then asked me if I go to church and I explained to her that I'm here with people who are starting a church, and that I had to be home at 5:30 tonight for an Italian Bible study at my host family's house. Miraculously, she wanted to come with me! Sarah is a tour guide so she's learning Italian so she can give tours to Italians who come visit Turkey. As part of her tours she has to talk about Christianity so she knows a lot and is very open minded and interested. She said wanted to come to the Bible study because to learn more Italian and more about Christianity.

So Sarah and I arrived back home and I opened Ephesians to show her one of my favorite verses, Ephesians 2:8-9,‎"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works so that no one can boast." Then the Bible study begins and guess what... DIVINE SERENDIPITY... the group is studying EPHESIANS 2:1-1o- which I had no idea about! Sarah said "What did you know this?! Such a coincidence!" and I told her I think it's God! and she agreed. Another missionary, Emily, translated the Italians' discussion of the verses into English for Sarah and I, and Sarah asked Emily very good questions about the gospel. She is truly seeking to understand what it all means and is so open-minded. She comes from a strict Muslim family, but she has stopped practicing Islam and is rebelling. She's desperate for freedom and searching for answers. My heart broke for her today and simultaneously rejoiced in the opportunity to give her new hope! She is so enthusiastic about our new friendship and it's such a blessing! I'm in awe of how the Lord so divinely orchestrated our circumstances. It is no coincidence. She needs the gospel and Jesus is pursuing her heart. Lodate il Signore! Praise the Lord! Please join me in praying for her and the other girls in my class! 

Grazie! I'll post again soon with more details on day to day life in Genova! Ciao!   

Corso d'Italia

Friday, June 1, 2012

Arriving at Avant!

As I stepped out of the terminal into the Kansas City Airport I realized that its surprisingly small and thus very similar to Columbia's airport. Then I stepped outside into the hot sun and thought maybe I had flown from Charlotte back to Columbia rather than Charlotte to Kansas City! I had low expectations for Kansas City and had no idea what to expect from Avant's Headquarters but I was pleased with both! Kansas City is much bigger than I expected. Bryan, an Avant recruiter, took the interns downtown to get fro-yo Tuesday night so we got to see some of the city. It's much bigger than I expected with high end retail stores and plenty to do, I guess the Midwest isn't so bad after all! Avant shares it's office building and guest house/ conference center with another ministry called Crossworld. The main office building is pretty impressive and includes a small chapel room for weekly services. The guest house is the building where I've been staying during training and it hosts the missionaries that come in for training throughout the year. 

Arriving at Avant for my internship orientation, I had no idea what to expect. I got to meet June, the other Italy intern, and he's awesome. Our personalities fit very well together and I'm excited to have him as a friend to go on this adventure with. There are also three other interns; Larae is going to Uruguay, Jedidiah is going to the Middle East, and Amy is interning here at headquarters. At Chapel yesterday morning all the interns introduced themselves and shared their testimonies, so I really enjoyed hearing about what the Lord has done in their lives. Yesterday and today (Thursday) we had prayer in the mornings and several seminars throughout the day with a lunch break in between. The seminars included; Avant's History, Crossing Borders & Culture Shock, Telling Your Story, Staying Spiritually Strong, and Staying Safe. A different staff member taught each seminar and I was blown away by all the fascinating stories they had from the mission field. Almost everyone who has worked at Avant has served as a missionary in a foreign country and they have incredible stories of God's provision and faithfulness in the face of adversity. It's been really cool to hear what life is like in different parts of the world. 

So far I have been incredibly humbled by my time here at Avant. My heart and mind are overwhelmed. I am learning so much and am being exposed to people who are so much wiser and more cultured than I am. They know more about the Bible, more about God's character, and more about the world than I can ever imagine. The Lord is already using this experience to stir my heart for missions and reaffirm my call to ministry. It makes me wonder where He might call me in the future. It might be college ministry in the states or it might be overseas ministry in Italy. He could even just use this experience to stir my heart to pray fervently for the people of Italy even after I've left. Whatever it might be, I'm excited to get to Italy and start learning more! My time at Avant has definitely reaffirmed that God wants me to do go into vocational ministry, whatever it might be, thats where my passion is! 

Tomorrow June and I will fly out of Kansas City at 3:30pm and arrive in Genoa, at about 3pm the next day! I CAN'T WAIT to get there, FINALLY!!! (Can it really be as gorgeous as the pictures??!) 

  • Please be praying for safe travels and no complications. 
  • I also ask that you pray for this trip to help me fall in love with Jesus all over again, I deeply desire to serve Him wholeheartedly, but I could use some rejuvenation. 
  • Please also pray that the Lord would break my selfishness...that I would be focused on serving Him, the missionaries, and the Italian people, not what this experience can do for me, but what I can do for them.
  •  Please pray for divine interactions with people, that the Lord would begin to put people in my path for me to share the gospel with this summer. Thanks!!!