Dictionary.com defines serendipity as having an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident; good fortune or luck. http://dictionary.reference.com/. If you know God, then you know that He is in control, and there are no accidental desirable discoveries nor luck.
I started to write the first part of this post between flights back in August when I returned to Texas to help Mom move to another state. Moving is a very busy, exhausting activity, so I had never finished writing it. The second part happened yesterday afternoon, and the third part happened this morning, which served as the catalyst to finish writing.
My Brazilian Buddies
Greetings from Dallas!
Today is a travel day, so I’m writing this between flights. I came back to the US to help my mom move. When I checked in at Milan Malpensa Airport three hours ahead, like they say to do, of course there was no one to check in with. I don’t know why I keep showing up three hours early for these early morning flights, but having missed a flight because of a very crowded airport check in line, I want to avoid missing another flight. The only other people there were a Brazilian father and daughter. They were also flying across the Atlantic today. We talked, and became friends, trapped together as we were, waiting for a ticketing agent to show up.
A ticket agent did eventually show up and check us into our flight. We were flying to Frankfurt first, and then I would fly to Dallas. When I was checked in, and passed through security, I found my gate at the far end of the terminal. But we had stood there waiting for the ticket agent for such a long time (over an hour) that I felt like I needed to walk the kinks out. And since I wanted to buy a bottle of water and a last cappuccino before leaving Italy, I walked past our gate area in search of an open coffee shop. I heard someone running up behind me, with urgency in his voice saying, “Signora! Signora!” I turned around and it was the Brazilian father. He told me, “The gate is back this way.” I thanked him, explaining about the need for a walk and a cappuccino.
Having satisfied both needs, I returned to the gate and sat in the open seat next to the father and daughter. While waiting for boarding I became very drowsy. Father and daughter got to their feet and headed for the line as soon as boarding started. I waited, in no hurry to be confined to an airline seat any longer than absolutely necessary. So they were among the first to board, while I was one of the very last.
On the plane I found my seat, stowed my backpack, buckled up, and promptly fell into a deep sleep. Those who know me know of my ability to fall asleep quickly and deeply sitting up in a car or on a plane. I believe that this is a gift from God for a missionary who travels as much as I do for ministry.
As we were about to land I woke up and reached for the bottle of water that I had brought. In my peripheral vision I saw a boldly striped blue shirt on the person sitting next to me—it was the Brazilian father with his daughter next to him in the window seat. “It’s you!” I exclaimed, and we laughed about how I had been so sleepy that I hadn’t even looked to see who was sitting next to me. I told them that it had been very pleasant traveling with them, even if I hadn’t known it was them. And as we parted, I wished them a buon viaggio (good travels). And I marveled at how funny life is sometimes.
Going to Church
Yesterday was my favorite day of the week: Sunday. I love Sunday because I love going to church. I love going to church so much that I go to my own church in the morning, and another in the afternoon. I go to two churches in the US, too. The reason I love going to church is not the music (though the music is excellent) or the preaching (which is also excellent) or even the fellowship (which is wonderful). The reason I love going to church is because I always go expecting to meet God—and I’m never disappointed! When you expect to meet God, He always shows up.
I go and sit as close to the front as I’m allowed (some churches reserve the very front row for leaders and/or the worship team). I sit down front so that I won’t be distracted. This is especially important if the service is in Italian, which it is at my home church here in Milan. From that place down front I find freedom to worship God with complete abandon. In the past years when I sat back toward the middle, I found that I became self-conscious because those around me didn’t raise their hands or dance in worship. Down front, where I can’t see what others are or are not doing, I just worship God from my heart and my spirit, completely uninhibited. It is possible that there are people behind me watching me and wondering what kind of an exhibitionist-lunatic I am. But since I can’t see them, and since I don’t know what they’re thinking, it doesn’t concern me in the least. I would rather be David than Michal, and being down front allows me the freedom to dance like David (2 Samuel 6:16-23).
After church I went home with the intention to rest and then go to the afternoon service of the sweet little church in Monza. But I rested a little too well and fell asleep. When I woke up, it was clear that I would be late getting to church, even if each train was right there, waiting to take me. I considered going to the church up the road, instead. But when I prayed about it, I felt like God wanted me to go catch the train to Monza.
So I walked to the train station, and once inside, I was coming off the stairs and onto the platform when a young man said, “Do you speak English?” I said yes, and he asked if the train would stop at the Porta Garibaldi train station—the same train station that I needed to take to get to Monza. I explained that all the trains on the Passante line stop at all the stations in the city. Relieved, he asked me if I was on vacation, and I told him that I’m a missionary here. His smile got wider, and he said, “Well, what do you know! I’m on my way to church.” He explained that he just arrived from Australia as a student, and that his mother had found him an English-speaking church on the internet. It was one I had heard of, but it had closed down some years earlier, as far as I knew.
Now it was my turn to smile more broadly, I said, “Hey! If it’s OK with you, I’ll go with you.” He was very happy to have my company, so we went together, following the directions sent to him via e-mail.
It turns out that the English-speaking church has a mostly young congregation composed of students, like my new Aussie friend. The music was great and the preaching was solid. I love young churches! This was truly a gift from God—and all because I was late for church! God is good!
Coming to Church
But that’s not the whole story of so-called serendipity. The pastor of my home church in Milan made an announcement yesterday as the service was ending, saying that the last Sunday of the month would be evangelism Sunday, and that we should each bring someone to church with us. I prayed about who I should invite, and Barbara immediately came to mind.
I have known Barbara for most of my eleven years in Milan. And I’ve often wondered if she might be one of the reasons why God keeps me in this neighborhood, where I’m currently occupying my third apartment.
This morning I had to go to the gas company to set an appointment for them to turn on the gas. On the way home I stopped by the street market to buy a few things. I love walking through the street markets, but today it was drizzling. Rainy days at the street market can be miserable, but drizzle isn’t so bad. Suddenly, there was Barbara. I’ve had it happen before that I’ll be thinking of her and she suddenly is there. Between her work, my travel, and my move, I hadn’t seen her for over a year. We had a joyous reunion right there in the market, and I invited her to come to church. I had invited her before, but something always interfered and stopped her from coming. She assured me of her interest, but said that she doesn’t know if she will have to work. So I told her that I will call her on Saturday.
Barbara has been interested and asking questions for years now, and this time I believe that she will come to church and meet her Savior. Serendipity? No way! This is the hand of God, and God is good!