In praying before any speaking engagement, I always ask the Holy Spirit to come and speak through me—though the actual words are more like: “God, if You don’t show up, I’m screwed!” And I pray like that until I feel that release that says that Heaven has heard, and God has responded.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t make my physical symptoms (dry mouth, shaking hands, etc.) go away. But I carry on nevertheless, and that’s what I did at church last night.
There was a really good turnout—about 30-35 people. I had a PowerPoint all ready to show them, but no way to connect my computer (with its HMDI port) to the TV screen (with its S-video port). Oh, well! Rather than worry about that, I just forged ahead, and they all listened intently, even without the visuals. I only knew one person in the room. That means that the church has continued to grow in my absence. God has always put me into growing churches, so I love that.
Since I didn’t know them, I could easily assume that they didn’t know much, if anything, about me. So I started with how I had come to this church and ended up in Italy and my call to ministry (recounted in most of my books, but in greatest detail in Graceful Flight). My story reveals that I am not a super saint, but just an average person. This was important for them to know because people tend to think of missionaries as perfect people who have their lives together. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I know some missionaries with defects far worse than I’ve seen in the churches in the US.
I don’t remember what all I talked to them about, but at one point I was led by the Holy Spirit to speak about Catholics. Someone always asks about why there are missionaries in Italy, since it is a Catholic country. Italy is a Catholic country, and the vast majority of Italians identify themselves as Catholic. But many of them only go to church for weddings or funerals. And there is a vast difference between faithful (faith-filled) Catholicism and the superstitious practices of pseudo-Catholicism that are very common in Italy: kissing the picture of a saint instead of praying; crossing themselves whenever they pass the door of a church, but never entering in; hanging a rosary on the rear-view mirror as a kind of “insurance” against accidents. They live like the rest of the world, cheating on their taxes, having affairs, stealing from business partners, etc. But because they have been baptized (as infants), and they do these superstitious practices, they think that that they are good with God. In reality, they have no relationship with Him at all.
The Charismatic movement among Catholics has been around in the US for decades, but it is only just beginning in Italy. I told them about how God has used my Catholic friend, Gessica, to show me true faith among Italian Catholics. The truth is that we don’t need to “convert” Catholics. What we need to do is to help them discover true faith. And when you do that, some will come out of the Catholic Church, wanting to explore faith that has none of the old rituals; while others remain in the Catholic Church, enjoying a fresh understanding of the meaning behind the familiar rituals, and sharing that with other Catholics. Several of the people there have Catholic family members, and this gave them hope for their families.
The response to my talk was overwhelmingly positive. Because I had shared about Kalisz, Poland, and taking Italian worship to the Feast of Tabernacles for the first time, someone asked me what Italian worship sounds like. Here’s where my nerves betrayed me: I went completely blank. They named some songs that I know in Italian, but I simply could not remember the words. Oh, well! If every talk went perfectly, I might be able to claim some of the glory for myself. But as it was, God got all the glory because in my weakness (and nervousness) He revealed His great power to teach and reveal the important things about missions in Europe. God is good!