Yesterday was a very full day of travel. I started from Florence, where I had stayed the night with missionary friends, and went from there to the Abruzzo region on the Adriatic coast. By choosing the less expensive, regional trains, I had to change trains twice. The regional trains are less expensive because they are older and they stop in all the stations along the way. So, travel which could have taken only a few hours, took six instead. But the nice thing about slower travel is that I can catch a nice nap on the train, which I did. I have learned not to fight the sleepy feeling if I don’t absolutely have to, and last night was a perfect example why.
When I arrived in Pescara, I went to the bus stop for the bus that would take me to the house of Bob and his family (Bob is the missionary there who I house-sat for during the last 2 summers—which you can read about in my book “Look, Listen, Love”). I know other missionaries there, but because of the brevity of my visit, I hadn’t planned on visiting for more than a brief coffee or at least a phone call. But God had other things in mind for me.
Not long ago, while I was still in North Carolina, I was inspired to start praying daily for divine appointments—both for myself and for my fellow missionaries. As soon as I arrived I got a phone call from Betty, who had heard from Bob that I was arriving. She and her husband are the other missionaries I had hoped to see, at least briefly. She said, “Do you know Daisy of Rebirth Ministries?” I told her that Daisy is a missionary I pray for daily, who I met at my home church in Milan a few years ago. She told me that Daisy is in town for a women’s conference, and that if I wanted to go, she would come pick me up. Of course I leapt at the opportunity. I hadn’t seen Daisy for over a year, and had heard that she had moved to Rome. This cut short my visit to Bob & his family, but we had a nice meal together and in our brief visit he caught me up on all the things that they are doing and things to be praying about.
Then after dinner, Betty, Daisy, and I went to the women’s conference. Daisy is the founder of Rebirth Ministries, which helps stop domestic violence. The focus of Rebirth is not only on educating and caring for women and children, but also on helping the abusers (which are not always men) to overcome rage issues and to find better ways of interacting than using fists. Although the conference took place in a church, there were also women there, invited by friends, who were not believers.
Daisy shared her vision for Rebirth Ministries, and her personal story. Daisy is from Argentina, and was twice widowed—one husband was one of the famed Desaparecidos “disappeared” persons, who was arrested and then simply vanished, never to be heard from again. Alone, she raised two daughters and was called to Italy in 1994. However, she didn’t immediately come to Italy, but prayed for Italy first, learned the language, and finished university. During this time, the issue of domestic violence came to her attention. When she put the call and the issue together, she understood why God wanted her in Italy, and so she came, forming Rebirth Ministries as a non-profit that meets in churches and schools throughout Italy. The next step will likely be to bring Rebirth to the prisons.
In Italy, the danger of violence from strangers is very low, but domestic violence is unfortunately very high. The police in bigger cities are beginning to respond to domestic calls, but in the small towns, they are still reluctant to interfere in “family” issues. And even when the police arrest the abuser, the victim rarely maintains the courage to press charges, preferring to continue to try and make the marriage work. In Italy, there is still a lot of shame attached to the issue of domestic violence because of the Catholic Church’s stance on divorce. Italian women are encouraged by their priests to stay in abusive marriages, and often feel like failures if they cannot make the marriage work, make their husband stop drinking or using drugs, or stop seeking the company of other women. And even among Protestant churches in Italy there is a lot of shame attached to divorce because the vast majority of Protestants in Italy are former Catholics.
One thing that Daisy shared was that many times when she speaks to groups like the one last night, someone invariably says, “But why Italy? Surely domestic violence is a problem in Argentina, too.” She admitted that it is, but much headway has been made in Argentina by others, whereas in Italy there is still much work to do. As she spoke, I realized (not for the first time) that Daisy does have a true call to Italy. She is being used mightily of God.
After Daisy spoke, Betty suggested that each person from the group give Daisy a brief word of feedback. The overwhelming response was positive, and one young woman shared her story of abuse for the first time in her life. It was very moving to see her tears, but also to hear the relief in her voice at finally being free to speak of it. And the most beautiful thing of all was that this young woman was not a believer, but now that she has seen the love of Jesus in action, I have no doubt that she will make a decision for Christ. Daisy spoke and prayed with her afterward, and arranged for follow-up counseling and care with the local church.
In a private moment I told Daisy about my personal observation that following Jesus always costs you something (He spoke of it in Matthew 19:29). I told her that for me the cost is having left my adorable grandson. But I encouraged her, saying, “But God always compensates me in the sweetest ways. The first time I saw my grandson, when he was two months old, he laughed for the very first time—with his grandma! And this visit, at eighteen months, he said ‘Grandma!’ for the very first time. He sees his other grandma almost every day, but he called me Grandma first!” Daisy was well able to relate because both of her daughters and all four of her grandchildren are far away in South America—the most recent was born two months premature just a week ago. He weighs only one kilo—about two and a quarter pounds. She is going to Brazil to visit Pedro, her newest grandson, next week.