Dimitri is staying in my house while he is looking for a job. We’ve been friends through a mutual friend over the computer for several years now, and I finally got to meet him in person a couple of weeks ago. Dimitri and his wife are from Bulgaria, but they have lived in Sardinia for the past fifteen years. Alexandra remains in Sardinia with their three children.
Dimitri has been unemployed for almost six months now, but he has remained busy. At the beginning of the year he went home to Bulgaria to take courses for getting his commercial license. He returned to Italy with three new licenses for driving passengers, trailer trucks, and hazardous materials. He was certain that with these licenses he would quickly find work, but that has not been the case—so far.
Dimitri has also remained busy by helping out at a little Bulgarian church here in Milan. I was surprised to learn that there is a Bulgarian church. Milan has lots of little ethnic congregations, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I learned about this church, and about Mikhail, its pastor, and heard how highly Dimitri spoke of him, I decided that I wanted to visit this church.
The church meets in a strip mall storefront at the edge of town. The storefront is owned by an Italian Assembly of God church that meets there on Sunday evenings. When we arrived, the service had already started. Mikhail plays guitar and is accompanied by a young man on the bongos. Half the songs were in Italian and the other half were in Bulgarian. Where I knew a song in either Italian or English, I sang in those languages. During the unfamiliar Bulgarian songs, I sang in tongues (something I have come to really enjoy). Since Bulgarian sounds rather like tongues that I’ve heard, it felt very natural to do that. More than that, it also felt like a good and joyful thing to do.
After the announcements, I was recognized as a visitor. Actually, it would be hard not to notice visitors, since the church is very small. There were 13 adults, including Dimitri, myself, and the pastor. I was invited to come up front to introduce myself to the congregation. I can imagine that this kind of thing could be very intimidating for most people, and I really wonder why some churches do this. To me, this is the opposite of “seeker sensitivity.” Anyway, there was a time when it would have terrified me to stand in front of 12 people and their kids and explain who I am and why I’m there. And many times when I am scheduled to speak to churches, it still scares me, but it no longer terrifies me. The difference is that the fear has been faced and conquered. But I am very aware of how much I need for the Lord to show up. So when I know that I will be speaking to a church, I spend at least an hour in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to come and speak through me.
This time, however, I didn’t know ahead of time that I would be asked to speak, so there had been no time to prepare in prayer, but also no time to become scared, either. Dimitri speaks only Bulgarian (and some Russian) and Italian, so I had to introduce myself in Italian, while he translated into Bulgarian for me. I briefly explained that I’m an American missionary living in Milan for most of the last 15 years, with a calling for Europe. I told them about my ministry of missionary support and encouragement through Prayer, Hospitality, and Collaboration. And pointed out that hosting Dimitri was part of that ministry.
Then Mikhail gave a sermon as Dimitri translated into Italian for me. It was very obvious to me that Mikhail has a gift for preaching the Word of God. Even with translation into my second language, the sermon moved me to tears as Mikhail preached about God’s love and care for each of us and our children (whether they are walking with the Lord or not).
After church, I was invited to join them for lunch in the Sunday school room. One of the women (who turned out to be Mikhail’s daughter) had made a seafood pasta dish that was absolutely delicious. All 13 of us scrunched together around the table. A couple of people spoke to me in Italian, and tried out a few English phrases on me, too. Then the conversation switched to Bulgarian and became much more animated. This left me free to allow my thoughts to wander. Whenever I heard a word or two in Italian, it was easy to guess that I was the one being addressed.
After lunch the church was cleaned and put back into order for the AoG hosts. Then we went our separate ways. It was a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday morning, and it was obvious to me that once again, I had been able to encourage this body of believers just by showing up. Never underestimate the power of presence—God can use you, too, if you will just make yourself available. God is good!