One organization that I have been collaborating with is Expo on 4 Wheels. They have a decommissioned city bus that they gutted. They built a really nice interior so that it is a mobile church, with a cozy sitting area, a small café, and a giveaway library of Christian books. They have been parked on the busiest shopping street in Milan for the duration of the Expo (which ends at the end of October). The purpose of the bus is sharing Jesus with the many, many tourists that the Expo has brought to town—an estimated 22 million visitors. Most of those visitors speak English because it has become the universal language.
This is actually the organization’s second bus. The first one travels all over Italy, stopping in the cities, parking wherever the city in question allows, and sharing Jesus with the passers-by. Now they have gotten a third bus that they will park in Rome for the Year of Jubilee at the Vatican. For the Jubilee, the pope has declared this year will be a year of Plenary Indulgence—the very thing that caused Martin Luther to nail his 500 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg, which started the Reformation.
I have been collaborating with the Expo Bus people in a number of ways: I have donated Christian books and Bibles (in English and Italian), I’ve offered my house as a place to rest and eat lunch out of the city’s summer heat, I’ve brought them some of my houseguests that were interested in sharing Jesus while they’re here, and I’ve prayed with them. Now I’ve also been asked for the second time to come to the park and translate for them.
The first time I really didn’t know what to expect. All I was told was that they needed someone to translate into English. Turns out that the park is host to about two dozen refugees—many of whom do not know Italian, but do speak English, thus the need for a translator. They mostly come from Nigeria, which is an English-speaking country. Madonna had prepared two big pots of a one-dish rice meal. It smelled so good that it made me regret my Saturday fasting. A couple of Spanish-speaking pastors arrived soon after I got there and began setting up a tent and a portable microphone and speaker.
This activity drew people like flies. The vast majority of them were young men from Africa, but there was one Italian woman and a couple of Italian men, too. Some friends I knew from church began to arrive, too, including a young man with a guitar.
He began to play familiar church songs, both old and new, in Italian and in English. That’s when I realized that we were going to have church in the park—and I was going to be translating the sermon. I think that if I had known that ahead of time the first time, I would have been nervous. But I didn’t have time to think about it, much less to get nervous about speaking in public—a fear that I still face, even after a lot of experience speaking in churches. (Courage, I have learned, is not the absence of fear. Courage is facing-down that fear and doing what you know you must do anyway.)
The songs were clearly enjoyed by all, with some of the men clapping hands and even a few dancing. I love the way music bridges all barriers: language, culture, economic, etc.
Then Madonna told them about having cancerous tumors all over her body, how in fear and desperation she had cried out to God for help. And the next time she went for treatment, the doctor could find no cancer. She had been healed once and for all. Translating her personal story was both fun and satisfying—especially when ten people received Jesus.
After that, the food was served. Even the Muslim men who had stayed away until now were given a warm meal. The Muslims were mostly from Egypt and Sudan. Some of them also spoke English, and almost none of them spoke Italian. Some of them looked very young, too, perhaps in their teens.
Despite the cultural and linguistic gaps, there were lots of smiles all around. I couldn’t help but feel very hopeful about their future in Europe. If they receive such a warm welcome from Christians, perhaps they will want to know this Jesus. It hasn’t been this way throughout Europe, but I was so glad to be a part of a generous and loving group. It’s not through tightening borders and armed guards that we will change the world. It’s only through love. And by loving our fellow man, we are the true ambassadors for our loving God because God is love (1 John 4:8 & 16). And as I always say: God is good!