Nina sent me a message this morning: “I’ve got to go see about the house. Want to meet me at the train station?” Of course I said yes. I’ve hardly seen Nina (my bestie) since returning from the US about six weeks ago. I’ve missed her. Usually we see each other at least once a week when she comes to clean my house (it gives her an income and helps my ministry—I love how God’s economy is always win-win). But she had a minor surgery just after I returned, and lost so much blood a few days later that she almost died on the way to the emergency. Although she was given a transfusion, I don’t think they gave her enough blood. She’s been extremely pale and weak ever since, not even venturing out of her apartment to go to church.
A few years ago Nina bought a house in a small town north of Turin. It was a miracle from beginning to end. For many years Nina told me of her dream to own a house with a view of the mountains and a vegetable garden. She also wanted livestock: sheep, cattle, and chickens.
A practical person would look at Nina’s situation—a Colombian woman with no marketable job skills, working as a badante (nanny)—and say that home ownership is an impossible dream. But Nina knew that this dream was from God. Every so often she would tell me: “I want to do hospitality ministry like you. You can come stay at my house any time.” Thus she pulled me into her dream. And me? Well I’ve never let practicality interfere with a dream. I say dream big because God is still bigger!
One day a few years ago, Nina’s brother-in-law, Pastor Fabio (who you may remember from all our adventures in Israel in the fall of 2015), called her. He said: “There’s going to be an auction on a house near us. You should come bid on it and see if you can get it. Nina took all of her savings, which only totaled €22,000 and sent it with her son, Michael. The day of the auction, Michael was the only person that showed up. The bank’s auctioneer was about to call off the auction, but Michael said, “I have the money right here now. I want to buy the house.” The banker couldn’t refuse cash in hand for the future hope of more money at a rescheduled auction. So against all the odds, Nina got a three-story house at the end of the road with a flower garden, a vegetable garden, and fruit-bearing fig trees. It has a lovely view of the mountains. The only thing missing is Nina’s livestock.
But there were problems from the start. Many times when God answers an audacious prayer and the defeated enemy won’t release it without a fight. Since the auction was because of a default, the bank was more interested in recouping some of their money than in evicting the delinquent former owners, described to me as Marocchini (Moroccans). They continued to squat, and we all wondered if they would ever leave voluntarily. After about a year of prayer, they left the house because of marital problems. But they left the house a disaster area.
Even if she had wanted to, Nina couldn’t move in right away because of her work and family situation here in Milan. In addition there’s the fact that Nina doesn’t drive. If she lived in the house she would have to learn to drive—a process that takes a year and about €1000, besides the expense of getting a car. Nina, who is just a bit younger than me, has always said that she doesn’t need to drive, and she’s not prepared to start at this stage in her life. Now she’s changed her tune and thinking more seriously about learning to drive. One thing at a time.
The train station had its usual mass of trafficked men, trying desperately to sell selfie sticks and other useless junk to travelers who didn’t know or care about the desperation of their personal situations. These are not independent businessmen. This is modern-day slavery. I stopped and took a quick video of one (see above).
I met Nina in the station and got us fruit smoothies: strawberry for her and mango for me. Then we went to get her ticket. Nina prefers to let me do this because I’m the “expert,” having traveled a whole lot more than her. As I was buying her ticket at the machine, Nina said, “Why don’t you come with me as far as Novara? It would be a good opportunity for a longer visit.” It didn’t take me very long to decide to do exactly that. I bought a newspaper. I always get the weekend edition of the international English language newspaper on Saturday. I use the newspaper both to keep current, and also to know the issues in current events around the world that need prayer. Plus, this would give me something to do on the ride back.
Once we got settled onto the train, Nina told me that she has invited Fabio and Sissy to live in the house and take care of things for her. And it sounds like they are going to do just that. They had lived for years in a comfortable apartment, but about a year ago they had to move to a smaller place—a much smaller place. Nina would give them the ground floor, which would give them ample room and freedom to come and go, while Nina would take the room just above them. The top floor still needs a whole lot of work, and the roof probably also needs some work. But again, one thing at a time.
Then she asked about me. I told her about the ending to the long saga of the broken shutters, and the start of the long saga of jackhammering in the apartment above mine (see In the Cuckoo Zone). I also told her about a few upcoming travel plans. It seems that this year, travel is ramping back up for me again, with a couple of daytrips to Turin later this month, a trip to Basel, Switzerland and another to the Baltic states in May, trips to Leipzig and Prague in June, and a possible trip to the US in August (I’m still praying about that one).
We had hardly gotten started when we arrived in Novara. I helped Nina get to her connection, then went to buy my return ticket. I went to the snack bar and got myself a bottle of water. There I saw something I could never have conceived of: candy sushi. I took a picture, but then fled with my bottle of water to the waiting room.
Having some time in the station gave me time to notice something I had also noticed on the way to meet Nina in Milan: homeless people. It’s not something that you see a lot in small towns like Novara. Usually they migrate to Milan, where there are people with money to give them. In the waiting room of the station there was a homeless man sleeping on the horribly uncomfortable bench. He had threaded his legs through the armrests so that he could stretch out.
On the train I saw three gypsies: two girls and a guy. What made me notice them wasn’t that I saw them, but I saw the reactions of the people sitting near me, and turned to see what it was that they were reacting to. There is a deep suspicion and hatred for the gypsies here. For their part, the gypsies have done nothing to endear themselves to their Italian hosts. Their reputation as beggars and thieves is not unearned. And even if they have lived in Italy for several generations, the gypsies remain as “foreign” as ever. I know missionaries who work among the gypsies, preferring to call them by their proper name: Rom (Roma). For their work and help, they have been robbed, shunned, and even reported to the police as child molesters. A few have also thanked them. Myself, I have only had one bad run-in with gypsies, when my phone was stolen in the street market. But I got it back just minutes later (See Angel in the Market).
When I got back to Milan I took the subway home because of an errand I had to run on the way home. On the subway car I saw a homeless man get on with all his possessions. I couldn’t tell what he was wearing, exactly. It looked like he had strapped several layers of decaying blankets around himself using bungee cords. The effect was a shapeless mass with arms and feet (sort of like the Muppets character Sweetums). His bags were likewise decaying layers of bags wrapped around mysterious lumps of things, held together with bungee cords and all strapped to a travel cart. When he got onto our car, several people immediately got up and moved away. One woman held her position, watching him intently out of the corner of her eye, while pretending not to. He reached out to hold the rail by her arm, accidentally bumping her. She jumped as if hit with a jolt of electricity. That sent her running to the far end of the car. He sat down in her seat, directly across from me with a satisfied plop, which was accompanied by an odor that I will leave to your imagination. Suffice it to say, I was grateful that my stop was the very next one.
Would you give up your seat to this guy? Would you sit next to him?
Despite the smelly ending it had been a nice impromptu trip, and a good visit with Nina. I’m sure she will get things straightened out at the house. I am looking forward to my first visit there as her guest. I know Nina is, too. Maybe she’ll have some livestock by then. God is good!