Night and Day

Suki is an evangelist.  Most of her evangelistic experience has been one-to-one, sharing Jesus.  But she has a really amazing testimony.

Suki had been placed under a voodoo spell, raped, and had a near-death experience in which she saw both Heaven and Hell.  Now that’s the kind of testimony that a Christian comedian once observed: “makes you hate your own testimony.  Why couldn’t I be on drugs?”

I knew that the Lord wouldn’t want to keep Suki hidden away in her small town in Tuscany forever.  And sure enough, she has started getting invitations to tell her testimony all over Italy.

Just a week after my return, Suki had an invitation to speak at a small church here in Milan.  Did I say small?  Tiny!  Nevertheless, they had invited Suki to come to their International Women’s Day party and speak to the women there.  So Suki asked me two things: 1) could she stay at my apartment? and 2) would I like to come to the party with her?

I said yes to both questions.  The church is in a tiny storefront on the other side of town.  They have been without a pastor for two years, and the church would be impossible to accidentally find.  That’s not to say that I have something against small churches.  Not at all!  But after two years, one wonders if perhaps it might be time to give up the expense of the storefront and go back to meeting in homes.

And size really is the least of this church’s problems.  Without a pastor, there doesn’t seem to be any clear leadership at all.  For example, Laura, the woman who had invited Suki to speak had gotten a promise from others of the church that they would pitch-in and pay for Suki’s train ticket, which is only right.  In the end, they did not give Suki a penny for her trouble.

Here’s what happened:

Saturday Night

As Suki was leaving home in Tuscany, Laura called to tell her that the women don’t want to hear anything about witchcraft.  She explained that not all the women at the party would be believers, and the majority of them were South American, so they were very familiar with witchcraft, demonic spirit, and so forth.  Well, Suki can’t give her testimony without touching on those elements.  She asked me what she should do.  I said, “Pray about it, and ask the Holy Spirit to give you the right thing to say,” (that’s what I always do).

Suki also asked me and another friend, Giulianna, to give a brief testimony, too.  So we did.  But the set-up was very odd.  Laura picked us up from the subway station and brought us to the church, which was close enough to walk in under ten minutes.  However, we would never have found the church without Laura’s help.  The tiny storefront was about 12 by 24, so twice as long as it was wide.  They had set up chairs all around, and in the middle there was a long table, heaped with cakes, cookies, and candies.

I gave my testimony (the five minute version), then Giulianna gave hers, and then the woman who appeared to be in charge announced that we would have a closing prayer—completely skipping Suki.  Suki stopped her and the woman rather grudgingly let Suki give her testimony.  I couldn’t help but notice the way eyes of everyone on the other side of the room kept roaming from Suki to the dessert table in front of them.  I admit, I couldn’t keep my eyes from roaming to the dessert table, too.  And as Suki spoke, I noticed the leader getting very agitated.  Suki spoke for every bit of the 20 minutes allotted to her, and didn’t skip the uglier parts.  She did not, however, go into much detail about those uglier parts, since there was a child present.

When it was over and dessert was finally served, a couple of women practically flew to Suki, asking for prayer—one of them asked how she could be saved.  The woman next to me was wearing a pretty glass Star of David, so I asked her about it.  Her name is Sarah—she emphasized that her name is spelled like Sarah from the Bible because the Italians leave off the h.  She is taking Hebrew lessons, too—from a Rabbi here in Milan.  So we talked about the wonderful Jewish roots of our faith and my trip to Israel.

The leader kissed each of the women there and left.  The only woman she did not kiss was Suki.  When Laura drove us back to the subway station, she regretfully told Suki that she would not be able to pay her after all because the church had decided not to.  This is why I don’t believe that they can last as a church.  They don’t honor either their commitments or God’s people who come to serve them.

The last thing Laura said to me was that she wants to come visit my church, which is the biggest evangelical church in Milan.  Even people outside of Italy know my church and our pastor.  This has caused a lot of jealousy and rivalry among the other evangelical churches of Milan.  Please pray that this changes.  Pray for unity among the churches and God’s people.

Sunday Afternoon

Sunday morning Suki, Giulianna, and I boarded a train to Turin.  This was the first time in a long time that I had taken this train all the way to Turin.  Usually I get off and take a subsidiary train to Biella to visit my friends and favorite church there.  We arrived in Turin just about noon and Suki’s friend, Pastor Margarita, picked us up.  She took us to a restaurant where they had set aside a whole room for the celebration of International Women’s Day.  The event was so well-attended that the restaurant had to bring in more chairs, and squeeze us in tighter.

Margarita had invited Suki to come speak at their celebration.  Again, Giulianna and I were asked to give a brief testimony.  Giulianna had another task, that of being the event photographer.  She was a good choice for the job, and took some great pictures.  But first the restaurant began bringing in one delicious pizza after another and another, each one with different toppings.  I have no idea how many pizzas were consumed, but I would say at least 35 to 40, possibly more.  We finally had to ask the staff to stop making pizzas for us.

Then Suki gave her testimony.  I could see that the women were spellbound by Suki’s recounting of these events.  When Suki got to the part about seeing Heaven and Hell, I saw tears in many eyes all around me.  And when she finished, Margarita led us in a closing prayer and many of the women flew out of their seats for one of two destinations: Suki or the bathroom.  One woman made her way over to me, instead.  Kelli is an American missionary who is also from Texas.  She told me that she and her husband have been in Italy just three months.  She’s still learning the language.  Margarita later told me that Kelli is giving her English lessons.  Knowing how busy a pastor’s life is, I am impressed that she is taking the time to learn English.  It will definitely serve her.

After most of the women had left, we went to the parking lot, where we made some final prayers with the women who had stayed around, waiting to talk to Suki.  It was very clear that God had used her to bless and encourage this wonderful group of women.

Then we went to Margarita’s church to meet her parents, Claudio and Michela.  Her dad was pruning a tree, and another couple, Sandro and Daniela, were also helping with routine cleaning and maintenance before the evening service.

We were then taken to Sandro and Daniela’s house for an afternoon coffee break before taking the half hour trip out to Claudio and Michela’s house, where the three of us would be staying the night.  We had been invited to the evening service at church, but we all declined.  We were exhausted from the train ride, the party, and schlepping our bags all over Turin.

On the way to their house, Claudio stopped at the supermarket to pick up some things for supper.  Sandro and Daniela had followed us in their car, and they also bought some things for supper.  Once we got to the house, Claudio took our bags up the stairs to the loft, where we would be staying.  And as we settled in, he began cooking supper.  Michela told us that most of the time, he is the cook.

He cooked for almost an hour while we rested and settled in.  Then hunger drove us downstairs to the kitchen.  We visited while he continued cooking, making wonderful smells.  After a while, Margarita and her family arrived, so Michela and Daniela shuttled dishes and utensils, napkins and glasses downstairs to the basement dining room.

While they did that, Claudio told us his testimony.  He said that he had been a heavy smoker, and had cared nothing about God.  But his grandson (who was three years old) kept praying for him.  Every time he was sick, this child would pray for him, and he would be instantly healed.  Then one day, the boy prayed that he would quit smoking.  After the boy went home with his parents, Claudio went out the back door to smoke.  He lit the cigarette, but found himself unwilling to smoke it.  All desire to smoke was gone.  Soon after that, he gave his life to the Lord.

Then dinner was served at about 8:30.  Dinner revived me, and the conversation around the table was very interesting.  At one point Sandro asked me to guess what his last name is.  Of course, I couldn’t.  It’s Quattr’occhi—Four-eyes.  I laughed my head off, saying, “Really?”  He assured me that it really is his name.  He said, “I was teased a lot during grade school, as you can imagine.”  Oh yes, I can imagine that’s true.

After supper, which lasted until almost 10:00, the long day finally caught up with me.  I hardly even remember brushing my teeth and going to bed.

The next morning, as I began my prayer time, I told the Lord, “My heart is so full, I just want to know what’s on Your mind.”  And He replied, “I want to bless all the people of this church.  I am about to open the windows of Heaven to pour out a blessing on them.  The testimony you heard about Claudio’s healing, will become commonplace.  Children will pray for people and they will be instantly healed.  Adults will donate money as I direct them from a bottomless wallet.”  Wow!  I could hardly wait to tell Margarita.

Later that morning we met Margarita at her office (she works at a plumbing supply company).  When I told her what the Lord said, she got tears in her eyes.  She said, “I have been fasting and praying specifically for these things.”  So this was big confirmation to her.

So we all prayed together, and then Claudio took us to the train station.  Suki and Giulianna got on their train and I took mine.  The difference between these two churches was night and day, and that difference was, I believe, the willingness to let the Holy Spirit move the way He wanted to move.  It was a privilege to be a part of it.  God is good!

Texas Road Trip Yee-Haw!

I needed to go to Texas to reconnect with my home church and to have a meeting in our corporate headquarters.  Plus, I needed to connect with prayer partners, missionaries, and family.  So I packed up the car for the two day drive to Texas from North Carolina.

Memphis, Tennessee

I had earned a free night’s stay through my hotel club membership.  Memphis is about seven hours from Asheville, so that makes it an ideal place to stop for the first night.

After a good night’s sleep, I was ready for some breakfast.  The hotel doesn’t offer breakfast, and I thought their $9 breakfast buffet was overpriced for what they offered.  So I jumped into the car and headed out, asking my Holy Spirit GPS where to go for breakfast.  A few miles down the road I passed a bagel shop, but I was in the wrong lane.  So I drove on until I saw a sign that caught my eye: Temple of Praise.  I knew that He had done it again: ministry first, then breakfast.  And that’s fine with me.  I didn’t know what He wanted me to do there, but I observed for a little while.

The sign was in front of a squat gray office building.  As I watched, a woman got out of her car and entered the building.  I followed her, but lost her—where had she gone?  It was still very early, about seven in the morning.  There were no offices open at that hour.  So I looked for the Temple of Praise.  I didn’t find it, but I found Harmony Church.  Of course, the church was locked up tight, too.  So I just walked around the building’s two floors, praying and continuing to observe.  One of the offices was called something like Spirit Resonating.  Upon seeing that, I felt that familiar nudge.  This was what He wanted me to pray about.  So I prayed there until I felt the Spirit’s release to go back to the bagel shop for breakfast.

Paris

After breakfast, I got off to a late start (later than usual for me!), and arrived in Paris late.  Yes, the headquarters for our European ministry is in Paris—Paris, Texas, that is.  Our headquarters is the house of my good friend, Patsy, and her husband, Ken.  Since I had arrived after dark, I saw that lots of people in Patsy’s neighborhood had Christmas lights on.  When I commented on this at dinner, Ken said, “Let’s go out and look at Christmas lights.”  So after dinner we piled into Ken’s pickup truck and he drove us around the neighborhood.

Christmas light viewing conversation usually goes like this: “Wow!  Lookit that!” and “Oh how pretty!” etc.  Finally, Patsy had had enough.  She said, “I want to see more Jesus in these Christmas lights!”  We rounded the next corner and there was a cross all lit up in someone’s front yard.  “There you go, Pats!”  Like a stubborn little kid, she crossed her arms and said, “No, I mean Baby Jesus!”  Ken and I exchanged glances and I said, “There’s just no pleasing some people!”

The next morning Patsy and I had a corporate meeting, going over the various intricacies of being a tax-exempt organization.  As the meeting ended, Patsy had to go to an appointment.  I took that opportunity to connect with a missionary friend who was in need of prayer.

Serena has been on mission in several different countries, but most recently she’s been called to Italy.  Then she was sidelined by a parasite that threatened to keep her off the mission field permanently.  We had only previously been friends on Facebook, but since this day we were both in Texas, it seemed like a really good time to call her, pray with her, and encourage her—the very thing I am called to do in Europe, and now I was doing it in the US, too.  When we had finished praying together, she did indeed feel encouraged and hopeful.

Bastrop/Austin

Then it was time to go to my old hometown, Bastrop, near Austin.  So I packed up my things and hit the road.  Again, I arrived after dark.  Silvia was hosting me.  I had never met Silvia before, since she moved to Bastrop after I had left.  Silvia and I became instant friends.  She’s a very sweet person, a schoolteacher.  I would have loved to have Silvia for a teacher.  Although I was staying in her house for 3 nights, I didn’t actually have much time with Silvia.  That’s something neither of us could do anything about.  She had her schedule and I had mine.

My schedule included a 4:00AM online Hebrew class.  But since Silvia didn’t have internet, I had to find a place that’s open all night and quiet/private enough to have my class.  I found it!  On a whim, I went to the Holiday Inn, explaining about my early class, and asking if I could use their Wi-Fi the following morning.  The desk clerk agreed and wrote a note for her colleague, explaining that I would be coming early to use the business center.  When I showed up at 3:30 the next morning, the night clerk was happy to help me get set up.  It turned out to be a perfect place to have my class.

During more civilized hours, I paid visits to various friends in Bastrop and Austin, including missionaries I met in Macedonia who came from the other side of Austin.  After a good visit, we prayer walked their property, which they were hoping to find good renters for.  Again, something I usually do in Europe, I did in the US.

This was amazing!  I love what I do: encouraging missionaries.  But it’s really pretty rare that I get the opportunity to meet them in the US and encourage them here.  Now I was the one feeling encouraged.

I got to sit in on a Discipleship class at my home church, which was wonderful.  The church had grown noticeably.  I loved being there, renewing those precious friendships and making new friends.

The following evening I was able to visit my cousin Carmelita and her husband, Nigel.  We are descendants of a couple that moved to Texas in the 1850’s.  This couple had thirteen children, three daughters and ten sons—every one of which grew to adulthood, which in those days out on the wild prairie was pretty amazing.  The family has a big reunion every year, and ours is the oldest continually-meeting family reunion in the state of Texas.  Carmelita has a passion for genealogy, and has written a book detailing our enormous family tree—a gargantuan and painstaking task that boggles the mind.

Carmelita also writes a blog, so with family and writing, we have a lot in common.  We’ve been friends on Facebook for several years.  But since my life has been one of long-distance moves (every five years on average), we only just met last year for the first time.  Carmelita gave me her book, and I gave her mine (Holy Goosebumps), which tells of our first meeting on Halloween last year.

Dallas/Fort Worth

The next morning I hopped in the car and drove to a suburb of Dallas to meet with another missionary.  I had met Ellen in Estonia at a missionary conference.  We had instantly hit it off, but had no opportunity to see each other since then.  Ellen and her family are missionaries in Romania.  They had come back to the US to raise funds and to spend Christmas with family.  We met over a bagel and coffee, and she told me about the difficulties of fundraising.  Then we prayed together.  She said that she felt very encouraged to have met and prayed with me.

Finances are a common difficulty for missionaries.  This is particularly the case for missionaries in Europe for two reasons: 1) people don’t think of Europe as a mission field, and 2) Europe is probably the world’s most expensive mission field (depending on where the missionary is based.  Because of that, it is often difficult for missionaries to raise the needed funds to launch themselves into ministry.  Some missionary organizations require missionaries to raise a certain level of funding before they will release them into ministry.  And some missionaries come to Europe with the idea that they will get a job and take care of their own finances (“tent-making,” like the Apostle Paul).  But the current economic climate of Europe makes jobs for foreigners almost non-existent.

Finances play into another common difficulty for missionaries in Europe: getting a visa and a permit to stay (like a green card).  Without a job or without plenty of money in the bank, many European countries do not welcome missionaries.  In some countries that are dominated by a particular religion, like Italy with the Catholic Church or Turkey with Islam, missionary or religious visas can range from difficult to impossible to get.

So the time spent talking and praying together was very encouraging for Ellen.  But also for me.  Amazing how that works.

I spent the night at my cousin, Estrella’s house.  Estrella is Carmelita’s sister, and a fabulous hostess, glorious cook, etc.  Estrella makes Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray look like pikers.

The next day I had a lunch appointment in Denton to meet Facebook friends who have always been very supportive, though we had never met in person before.  I had met Joshua first on Facebook.  He was so insightful, thoughtful, and spoke with great love and respect of his mother, Deborah.  So I asked for her friendship on Facebook, too.  I learned that Joshua has a twin brother, Justin.

I was very excited to meet this remarkable family, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Deborah handed me a big shopping bag filled with incredibly thoughtful goodies, especially for a traveling missionary (a hat, a big purse, a fleecy shawl that doubles as a small blanket, warm slipper socks, etc.), and the bag also included a couple of books.  Her recently-completed book and a book about Hebrew word pictures.  She knew that I had begun studying Hebrew.

I had brought her my books, including the newest: Holy Goosebumps.  It was fun to learn that we have these things in common: passionate love for Jesus and writing.

The twins are in their mid-twenties, and live with their mom.  Joshua has a physical handicap from birth trauma that resulted in a loss of oxygen to his brain.  Justin had suffered some kind of trauma shortly after graduating high school, and was very withdrawn.  Despite their difficulties, the family was an absolute delight to meet.

I had an appointment in Abilene the following day, and no place to stay that night.  I was prepared to find myself a hotel room, but Deborah invited me to stay the night with them.  She invited me without knowing of my predicament or plans.  Naturally, I said yes.

I followed her to their beautiful home in a town close by.  There, we continued our conversation, then spent some time in worship and prayer.  It was beautiful!

Abilene

The next morning I hit the road early, not wanting to be late arriving at Cindy and Randy’s house.  Cindy and Randy are a precious couple I met at a neighborhood church in Abilene back when Mom had lived there.  Their heart for missions was so encouraging that we have stayed in touch, even after Mom had moved to North Carolina.  Last year, I had not been able to get to Abilene, so I wanted to be sure and make the trip this year.

Cindy and Randy told me that they had left the church in Mom’s old neighborhood.  They told me about their new church and its pastor, whom I would soon meet.  We were all invited to a Christmas party at his house.  Pastor Henry is a Messianic Jew—that is, a Jew who has found his Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus).  I was very excited to learn this.  My roommate on my tour to Israel was a Messianic Jew, and touring Israel had birthed in me a desire to learn Hebrew.

The party was loads of fun, and Pastor Henry told me that he would let me use his pulpit to speak to the church for 30 minutes.  So when we got back home, I prayed and asked the Lord to give me a message for this church.

The next morning, armed with notes on points to cover in that talk, God did help me with a message for the church.  And my message took exactly 30 minutes.  God is precise!  After that, they closed the service.

I was shocked.  It’s very rare that I’ve been given a pastor’s pulpit to speak from—in fact, it’s only happened three times, and only once before that I’ve been invited to preach.  I felt so honored and humbled.  I hadn’t even realized that I would be the preacher for their service.

After the service the church had a Christmas pot luck luncheon.  And with a good meal in my tummy, I got in my car and headed for my final Texas destination: my cousin, Kenny’s house in Tyler.

Tyler

The long drive from Abilene to Tyler was made even longer by thunderstorms along the way.  Sometimes the rain came down so hard that even with wipers on full-speed, they couldn’t handle all the water.  Naturally, all the traffic slowed, so the five hour trip took me seven hours.  I arrived after dark again.

Despite the late hour, I was able to get a good visit in with Kenny and Peg.  Their church was having a special concert for the Sunday evening service.  They asked if I wanted to go, and of course I said yes.

The whole service was magical: the scenery, the lighting, the singing, the music, everything.  It was a wonderful evening honoring our Lord’s birth.

Afterwards, we went to visit Kenny’s mom, Aunt Sadie.  The last time I was in Tyler, Aunt Sadie was suffering—both physically and from depression.  She spoke several times about being ready to die.  This time I was pleased to see that Aunt Sadie was living in a really nice assisted living apartment, and she has regained her sense of humor and love for life.  The caregivers were very sweet to her, and her affection for them was obvious.  What a happy difference from the last time I saw her!

As we returned home, Kenny asked if I would consider staying another day, but I said, “I can’t.  I have a grandbaby due to be born, and I need to get back to North Carolina.”  My sons live in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, about four hours from Asheville—not super-close, but so much closer than Italy.  So the following day I hopped in the car and headed back to North Carolina.

Hurricane Mills, Tennessee

I drove to Memphis, but since it was only about four in the afternoon when I arrived, I decided to drive on.  About two and a half hours later, it was dark, and I was tired.  I checked into a hotel on the interstate and collapsed.  Despite being anxious to get home, I had driven for over eight hours, and I was exhausted.

Asheville

Early the next morning, I hopped into the car, glad that I would be sleeping in my own bed that night.  By late morning I was crossing the state line back into North Carolina.  Just then, on that remote mountain pass between Tennessee and North Carolina, my phone started pinging and pinging and pinging.  This phone has the same signal for notifications as it has for sensing a Wi-Fi zone.  So I didn’t really think so much of it, except that it seemed unusual for there to be so much Wi-Fi in that remote area.

When I got to Asheville, lunch was already being served, so I stopped at the grocery store and got myself some lunch to take home.  I got another ping, so I looked at my phone.  The message was a picture of a baby.  I realized instantly the significance, and my joy bubbled over.  I looked all around me, but there was no one I knew in the grocery store that I could share the joyous news with.  So I paid for my lunch and took it home.  I stopped in the dining room on the way in and, without saying a word, I showed Mom the picture.  She also quickly realized whose baby it was and started showing it around.

So a great trip to Texas ended on the highest note possible: my new grandbaby’s birth.  And this one is particularly momentous because she is the first girl born in our branch of the family since my own birth, nearly 60 years ago.  Imagine that!  Is she going to be loved and spoiled?  You better believe it!  God is good!

Birthday Becomes Ministry

This week I had a house guest—an American missionary serving in Romania.  Sandy didn’t come so much to see Milan as to just take some time off and relax.  And it’s a good thing, since everything worth seeing in Milan can be seen in a day, two at most.  So while she did do some sight-seeing, she didn’t wear herself out going from place to place.  I had only been back a day when she arrived, and as the weekend approached, I realized that it would be Pastor Fabio’s birthday on Sunday.  So I asked Sandy if she would like to go with me, since Pastor Fabio lives up in the mountains a couple of hours from here.  She said yes.  So we made arrangements and caught a train.

On the train, Sandy confided to me that it was also her birthday, and that she was delighted to spend it up in the mountains of northern Italy.  But she asked me to keep her birthday a secret.  “I don’t want to take any attention away from Pastor Fabio, since it’s his birthday.”

One thing I thought that Sandy would be interested in seeing was the church’s ministry house, La Casa.  The ministry house is open as a refuge for marginalized people, particularly homeless people with alcohol and/or drug dependency issues.  Since Sandy works with gypsies, I thought she would find the ministry interesting and encouraging.

My involvement with La Casa began while it was still a dream in Carlo’s mind.  Pastor Fabio had sent Carlo to meet me at the train station a couple of years ago.  I hadn’t known Carlo except to see him at church whenever I went up there.  As soon as I got settled into the car, Carlo began talking to me about his idea for La Casa.

Little did I know, but he and his wife, Concetta, had agreed with Pastor Fabio that La Casa was to be a carefully guarded secret between the three of them until God gave further instructions.  Carlo had wanted me involved because of my prayer ministry.  As Carlo poured out the whole idea to me in the car, Concetta was in the backseat wondering if he had lost his mind, blathering their secret like that.  My spirit’s instant and strong response told me that this was definitely a God thing, so I immediately began praying for Carlo and his family, and for La Casa.

So I called Pastor Fabio to tell him that we were coming. When I told him that Sandy was a missionary in Romania, he contacted Carlo.  Normally I stay with others of the church, often with Pastor Fabio and his wife.  The reason he arranged for us to stay at La Casa was because there are two Romanian families currently staying at La Casa.

Most Italians are deeply prejudiced against Romanians.  They consider all Romanians gypsies, and therefore thieves who come to Italy to live off of hard-working Italians.  Part of the problem is in the name: the Italian word Rom (gypsy) sounds like a diminutive for Rumeno (Romanian).  There is a political party in Italy that advocates the immediate expulsion of all foreigners from Italy (not just Romanians, but also yours truly).  Of course it is as ridiculous to think that all Romanians are gypsies as it is to think that all gypsies are thieves or that foreigners are the source of Italy’s problems, but that’s the trouble with prejudices—they are pre-judgments before knowing the facts.

Romania is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and since Italy is close, and since Italian is most similar to Romanian, Romanians often leave their country to come to Italy and look for work.  The Romanians I know are honest, hard-working people who simply cannot earn a living wage in Romania.  Because of the prejudice against Romanians, they do not receive a warm welcome when they arrive in Italy.

So, Pastor Fabio arranged for us to stay at La Casa.  I was thrilled because I had wanted Sandy to see La Casa and to meet Carlo and Concetta.  When Pastor Fabio told me about the Romanians staying there, I knew that this was the right place to stay.

Concetta picked us up from the train station and took us to La Casa.  It was different than I had remembered—bigger.  It turns out that it’s a different house, though in many aspects similar to the other.  Now, that’s really something amazing because that day when Carlo and Concetta met me at the train station two years ago they had been a family of four living in a pickup truck style camper for a year.  They had practically no possessions, and certainly were not wealthy.  Their dream at the time seemed as unreachable as the moon on a stepladder.  But prayer works, and prayer together with a God-given dream is unstoppable.

Within just a matter of months, donations came pouring in and Carlo and Concetta had gotten the house for practically nothing.  Now they were in a second (and bigger) house, and Concetta told me that they have their eyes on a third house: one exclusively for women and children.

We met the two Romanian families: Steffy, a young woman with her two children and mother, and a young couple with their daughter.  Steffy and her mother were gypsies.  She had left her abusive husband (who was not a gypsy).  He had brought the family to Italy, where his abusive behavior had increased.  Steffy now has a good job and will soon be able to support her family.  For now they live at La Casa.

The young couple, Miriam and Lino, had also come to Italy in search of a better life.  Miriam had succumbed to the thinking of many ex-pat Romanians: that Romania was a place to be hated, never to return again.  No doubt the Italian prejudice against Romanians plus the terrible poverty of Romania has a lot to do with the ex-pat hatred of their homeland.  But after coming to La Casa and also to faith in Jesus, Miriam has done a complete turnaround.  Now she and Lino look forward to returning to Romania as missionaries.

All the Romanians were delighted to meet Sandy, and Sandy was delighted to minister encouragement to them in their native language.  Sandy also played with the children until we were all called to lunch.  Later, while Sandy was resting after lunch, I spilled the beans.  I told them that it was Sandy’s birthday.  They had already been planning on making a cake from the donated apples that were in super-abundant supply.  Instead of making one cake, they made three: an applesauce cake, an apple-chocolate marble cake, and an apple upside-down cake.  In the meanwhile, they called Carlo with the news of Sandy’s birthday, and he picked up a beautiful scarf to give her as a gift.

When dinner was ready, Sandy came and took her place at the table beside me, her Italian translator, never even suspecting that a birthday dinner was in the works.  We enjoyed a lovely fish dinner donated by a local restaurant, and then out came the 3 cakes, one with a candle in the top.  Sandy turned to me in shock.  I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I’m not so good at keeping this kind of secret.”

Over her shoulder I saw Lino, who suddenly had tears welling-up in his eyes.  Steffy explained to me in Italian that Lino was feeling emotional because Sandy reminded him of his mother.  When I translated this to Sandy, she stood up and went to Lino, who stood up, too.  She wrapped him in a hug that made all the eyes around the table well-up.  Miriam told me that in Sandy she had rediscovered both “mother-in-law” and mother.  Sandy gave Miriam a big hug, too, as Lino wiped away tears.

Although her work in Romania is administrative, it became abundantly clear that Sandy has a mother anointing.  Playing with children is one thing, and I play with children because I feel like a child more than an adult most of the time.  But Sandy’s mother anointing is quite another thing.

I was once again struck by how God had arranged all this.  My ministry of encouragements is often like this instance—encouragement happens, but not because I go with the intention of doing something to encourage missionaries.  No, it happens because I follow where Jesus leads me, and encouragement naturally just seems to flow.  This whole thing made me realize that my desire for Sandy to see La Casa had been from God, and it had been confirmed by Pastor Fabio.  It is humbling to realize that it all had very little to do with me or anything I am able to do.  The biggest thing I did—the only thing I really ever had to do—was to let go of the controls and go where God leads me.  He does all the work, and my work doesn’t feel like work so much as just fun, play, and enjoying friendships.  What a life!  God is good, so good!

What do You Want for Christmas?

What do you want for Christmas?  A new car?  A tablet?  A big screen TV?  A better job?  Phenomenal weight loss?  A billion dollars?  A whole new life?  Or perhaps something more universally beneficial like world peace?

People want all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons.  And sometimes they think of God as a big, cosmic Santa, ready to fulfill all their needs and desires.  God is good, and His goodness is being emphasized by many Christians these days.  But God is not a trained poodle, and He’s not your Heavenly winning lotto ticket, either.  Your comfort, entertainment, security, and well-being are not very high on God’s list of priorities—especially if God’s will isn’t at the very top of your own list of priorities.

Don’t get me wrong, God wants what is best for you.  But like any parent-child relationship, sometimes yucky Brussel sprouts is what the child gets instead of the candy she wants and asks for.  God wants to give us Salvation, Revival, Rapture, evil conquered once and for all, and the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ.  And most Christians will say that they want all these things, too.  But first, they want those other things, and focus their prayers on their own desires—if they even pray at all.

TV’s, tablets, phones, etc. are not bad things, but the enemy has used them to distract us from God’s priorities.

The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming, (2 Peter 3:10-12, emphasis mine).

Jesus is coming—and soon!  What are you supposed to be doing to speed the coming of God’s Kingdom?  What are your excuses for not doing it?  Your job?  Your spouse/kids?  Or do you think that things will keep going like they’ve always gone.

Here’s what I want: I want to see the Body of Christ functioning in all the Spiritual Gifts—I want to see healings, miracles, signs and wonders.  We were promised all these things, but we got tired, overworked, lazy, and distracted by our own desires and the cares of life.  We’ve left our First Love for things that don’t even last.

What I’m doing right here, right now, today is what I am supposed to be doing.  When I’m in Europe I do missionary support and encouragement through Prayer, Hospitality, and Collaboration.  While I’m in the US, I speak to as many churches and church groups as I can about Europe as a mission field, and about GoMissions.  Today I am traveling to Texas to speak to churches, individuals, and groups.  There are also some missionaries I will be meeting with while I’m there, encouraging them while they are home on furlough.  And in both places I write about it all.

Now, do I always feel like jumping in the car (or on a plane or train)?  No.  There are times when I just want to hibernate and rest.  It’s two full days of driving to Texas from North Carolina, and frankly, it’s not convenient for me to go.  I’m tired.  But my love for God and for His missionaries is so strong that I simply can’t say no to Him.

God is good, and I want to share His goodness with the world.  God wants to give everyone in the world Salvation, Revival, Rapture, evil conquered once and for all, and the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ.  Those things will come eventually, but I want to do all I can to speed up the process and bring Jesus back.  I repeat, God is good!

20 Ways to Refresh the Hearts of the Missionary Saints on Furlough

The following is re-blogged from The Gospel Coalition‘s blogsite, guest blogger: Jason Carter–enjoy!

In my own experience, church members often appreciate missionaries, admire their sacrifice for the Gospel and think highly of their ministries. Yet it’s hard to understand that returning for furlough to one’s “home” country can be a highly exhausting and stressful experience for many missionary families. Between the tension-filled task of an international move, setting up a new place to live, a frenzied travel schedule and finding one’s missionary budget stretched to the limit, a missionary faces a multitude of challenges during furlough.

Many missionaries that I know get reprimanded by their mission leaders to physically rest, spiritually recharge, invest in their marriages and reflect on ministry practices during furlough. These are formidable challenges amidst busy schedules. To borrow a phrase from Henry Nouwen, many missionaries come home on furlough as “wounded healers” who desperately need the body of Christ during their home assignment.

Recently, Jason Helopoulos challenged us to be like Philemon in encouraging the hearts of the Lord’s people. The apostle Paul commended Philemon as embodying traits which refreshed the body of Christ: “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people” (Philemon 1:7).
What would it look like for the body of Christ to refresh the hearts of missionaries on furlough? Here are a few practical ways that you can serve those who serve:

• If you are part of a bible study or small group, adopt a missionary family from the supported missionaries of your church. Pray for them regularly. Send care packages, birthday cards and encouraging letters.

• Buy a kindle for a missionary. Tell them to make a long list of books they want to read. Regularly buy kindle books for them when they return overseas.

• If you are a dentist, offer free or discounted dental work. If you are a lawyer, offer to update their last will and testament. If you are a counselor, offer free marital counseling (i.e. a marriage tune-up). Use your vocational gifts to bless the missionary body of Christ.

• Offer to host a dinner party where the missionary can share about the ministry. If there are financial needs, share those needs with the group so the missionary doesn’t have to.

• Offer to keep in storage some of their earthly belongings while they are serving overseas.

• Send a missionary to a Christian conference or spiritual retreat where they will be equipped and refreshed for the ministry.

• Purchase return plane tickets for the missionary’s family. Two overseas trips in a short time frame (to the States & back to their field of service) are extremely expensive for most missionary budgets.

• Offer to give the missionary couple a date night every week or two. Instead of inviting the whole family to dinner, offer to take the kids for a night.

• Own a condo or time-share? Gift a week (and spending money) to a missionary family.

• Nominate yourself as Chairperson of their Furlough Committee. You might be a committee of one, but you can scout out housing in advance of their furlough, equip the place with some furniture and leave a Fruit Basket (or Krispy Kreme donuts) on their front step when they arrive from overseas.

• Loan (or give) a car to a missionary family to use during their furlough, and find a couple car seats for their children.

• Tell the missionary all the ways you have diligently prayed specifically for them.

• If the missionary family homeschools, offer to buy some curriculum or books for the missionary kids.

• Have your own kids adopt a missionary family. When the family returns overseas, encourage your kids to pray for the missionary kids’ international or home schooling, friendships with national kids, foreign language learning, good health, and that the kids will come to love and serve Jesus Christ.

• Ask to see the pictures. All of them. Via photos, see their adopted clan, meet their missionary colleagues and get a feel for their ministry context. It´s cathartic for missionaries when people are interested in their life and ministry.

• Ask the missionary family for a list of movies they want to watch during their next term overseas. Purchase 25 DVD movies so that the missionaries can enjoy a “movie night” during their next term of service. Netflix and quality DVD movies (gasp!) still are not available in many countries.

• Set up a home office for their furlough: desk, chair, computer and printer.

• Encourage your kids to invite the missionary kids over for playdates, play on their soccer teams and take them to youth group. Remember, while the parents may enjoy long-lasting friendships with members of their home church, missionary kids often experience all these new people as strangers.

• Let them know you are filled with joy at their service and sacrifice for the Gospel.

• Tell them all the ways you will be praying for them during their next missionary term.

One of least-helpful things people often say to missionaries on furlough is this: “Let me know how I can help.” That places the missionary in a difficult spot – is this person just saying that to be kind? Do they really want to hear about our deepest frustrations and concerns right now? Are they asking to be on our support team?

A better idea would be to choose 1-2 practical ways to refresh the hearts of the missionary saints among you. Pray for them. Invest in their ministry. Become personally invested in their lives and in their ministry. Take the challenge: dare to be a Philemon to a missionary. I bet you’ll be glad you did.

Why Am I Studying Hebrew?

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;

to search out a matter is the glory of kings, (Proverbs 25:2).

I admit, I have wondered why people would go to all the trouble of studying Hebrew—especially given the very few opportunities that most people ever get to actually speak Hebrew.  I have been interested for a long time in the original language of the Bible, but that alone didn’t motivate me to study Hebrew.  So what changed?  Why am I now signed up for online Hebrew classes?  Let me take you step-by-step in taking my initial interest to the next level, which is a quantum leap.

In 2010 I became a full-time missionary, and read The Mysterious Bible Codes by Grant R. Jeffrey.  In the book, Jeffrey explains how he learned about the Bible Codes in which hidden words are found throughout the original Hebrew text of the Bible that relate to people, places, events and other items all through history up to the present time.  These words were encoded in a pattern called equidistant letter sequence (ELS).  Discovering these ELS patterns would have been practically impossible before the age of computers because some of the patterns are found at as much as 100 letter intervals.  Using the ELS code, for example, the Hebrew phrase for equidistant letter sequence, shalav a’ot, is found in the Hebrew text of each book of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

There are other Bible code books: The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin (who has followed up with several other Bible code books), Cracking the Bible Code by Jeffrey Satinover, and Yeshua by Yacov Rambsel.

Then I heard a sermon on YouTube in which the plan of salvation is encoded in the names of the first ten generations of men: Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech and Noah.  Adam means man in Hebrew.  Seth means appointed; Enosh means mortal, frail, or miserable; Kenan means sorrow, dirge, or mournful poem; Mahalalel means Blessed God; Jared means shall come down; Enoch means teaching; Methuselah means his death shall bring; Lamech means lament or despairing; and Noah means relief or comfort.

Adam              =          Man

Seth                 =          Appointed

Enosh              =          Mortal

Kenan              =          Sorrow

Mahalalel         =          The Blessed God

Jared                =          Shall come down

Enoch              =          Teaching

Methuselah      =          His death shall bring

Lamech           =          The Despairing

Noah               =          Rest, or comfort.

Put it all together and you get: Man (is) appointed mortal sorrow; (but) the Blessed God shall come down teaching (that) His death shall bring (the) despairing rest.  Very cool stuff!

I also learned that each Hebrew letter has a numerical value, and that numbers have specific meanings in the Bible.  For example, the number 7 is the number of perfection, and 6 is the number of man (who falls short of perfection), and the number 666 is the number of man repeated 3 times, which emphasizes that the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:18) is indicative of humanism.

I heard another sermon in which the preacher explained about the sign Pilate wrote to hang over Jesus’ head at His crucifixion: Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.  It was written in three languages: Hebrew, Latin, and either Greek or more likely Aramaic.  Some churches show that sign with the letters INRI, which is an abbreviation for the Latin Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews).  I had always wondered why just the letters, but the preacher said that they wrote signs like that: just the initial letters.  And that by taking just the initial letters in Hebrew, you come up with The Tetragrammaton, the four letters representing the unpronounceable Name of God: Yodh, He, Waw, He.  That was why the Jewish leaders were so insistent that Pilate rewrite the sign.  But, of course, he refused.

But the most intriguing thing, and the one that won me over is that each Hebrew letter also represents a word.  For example a friend of mine who is a student of Hebrew told me that the Hebrew letters of the Name of God have this meaning: The first letter, Yodh, means hand.  He means behold.  Waw means nail.  And when you put all that together, it’s exactly what resurrected Jesus told Thomas: The hand, behold!  The nail, behold!  Or as John put it in his Gospel, “See My hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into My side,” (verse 20:27).  And Thomas, knowing the four letters representing the Name of God, dropped to his knees, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”

So I investigated Hebrew classes, and the more I looked into it, the more excited I became.  Next thing I knew, I was signed up.  The online classroom can accommodate my busy travel schedule, which is a really good thing.  So, classes start the first week in December, and go for nine months.  They say that by the end of classes, I’ll be able to read the Bible in Hebrew.  Woo-HOO!  God is good!

True Faith Sees It!

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,

Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,

Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (emphasis mine)

The Lord has been showing me a lot about faith lately.  It all boils down to this: true faith sees the thing.  You ask God for anything: healing, wisdom, a financial miracle, etc., and then you see it.  Visualization of that prayer request granted.

Many Christians shy away from ideas like visualization because of New Age implications.  But as with so many other good things (God things!), visualization has also been copied by the enemy.  The enemy copies all the best things and corrupts them because he is incapable of inventing or creating anything, himself.  When we use something like visualization (or meditation or dance or filmmaking or music or anything that the enemy has corrupted), we simply do it God’s way, and with a holy focus.  If we do it this way, we won’t go wrong.

So ask God for healing, for example healing from a fever, then see (visualize) the healing: the person is out of bed and joyfully functioning normally.

Ask God for wisdom, then see yourself making good choices with good results.

Ask God for a financial miracle (be specific about the amount that you need), then see the money and the thing the money is intended for (a bag of groceries, a car, a house).

When praying for a financial miracle you must be sure that your priorities are right.  If you’re not already honoring God with tithes and offerings (that is a minimum of ten percent of your income), then don’t expect God to bless you financially.  And don’t ask God for money to fulfill a desire of your flesh.  He won’t give you the money to have a TV in every room of your house, and seven cars for a family of three.  Financial blessing will not come until you are fully submitted to God’s will.  One person I met recently said that she and her husband are praying for financial blessings so that they can tithe 90 percent to God, and live off the remaining 10 percent.  Imagine the good that God’s people could do if we all prayed and sowed into the Kingdom that way!  That is the kind of giving heart that God will bless generously.

When you pray and back it up with visualization, another amazing thing will happen: you won’t rob yourself of the thing asked for by the things you say.  I want to scream every time I pray for someone and as soon as we say, “Amen,” they sigh and say, “Well, I hope so!”  This is not about hope.  By saying you hope so, you’ve just shown how little faith you have, and God will not answer prayers that are based on no faith.  So when you say, “Amen,” start immediately to see your prayer answered—and see it in a specific way.

The Bible says: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV, emphasis mine).  See it, and have it.  Faith is substance—something you can see and touch.

God “calls those things which do not exist as though they did,” (Romans 4:17, NKJV, emphasis mine).  In this, God is modeling faith for us: see it and speak about it as if it is already done.

Another method I heard about lately is stepping into Heaven, taking what you’ve asked for, and then releasing it here on earth.  You stand praying, for an opportunity to talk to someone important, for example.  Next you take a step forward after prayer and say, “I step into Heaven and take the keys that open the door for this opportunity,” and you take hold of them with your hand, seeing them in your mind’s eye.  Then you take a step backwards again and say, “and I open the door for this opportunity here on earth,” while unlocking a door with those keys (always seeing both the door and the keys in your imagination).  Then watch and see the Lord give you time and place, and the undivided attention of that important person.

You can also step into Heaven and take healing, step back and release that healing into the life of the person you’re praying for.  Really, this is just a way of boosting your visualization by adding action to it.  Like God, you’re calling those things that don’t exist as though they did, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Remember, the satanic visualization techniques are cheap copies of real and powerful faith.

How did you receive salvation?  By faith!  Are you in Heaven yet?  No, not if you’re reading this.  So how do you know that you’re saved?  Faith!  It’s the same with anything else that you pray for: receive it by faith.  It might not be substance right now, but it will be.  Just as surely as your welcome in Heaven, the thing you pray for in faith (seeing it) will be given to you.

Are you ready for the coolest part?  Jesus said: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father,” (John 14:12, emphasis mine).

That phrase, “very truly,” means that He wants us to really understand the truth of what He is telling us.

“Whoever believes in Me,” is universally inclusive of all believers.

“They will do even greater things than these,” means that Jesus’ miracles are like a miracles starter kit to what we will do.

The only thing holding us back is the meat between our ears—our own mind.  We don’t see other people doing Jesus’ miracles, so we don’t think that we can do them, never mind greater works.  But that is walking by sight—what our physical eyes see, which is the opposite of walking by faith—what our spiritual eyes see (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Faith is one of the nine fruits of the Spirit—one of the things that every believer is given at conversion, though it must be developed into full maturity, just like a small, green fruit on the tree needs to develop into a large, luscious red apple.

Faith is also one of the nine gifts of the Spirit, which are supernaturally enhanced by the Holy Spirit.  How do you get supernatural faith?  The same way you got ordinary faith.  The Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” (Romans 10:17, NKJV).  If you want more faith, get into God’s Word.  And even better is hearing God’s Word.

I have an audio Bible on my MP3 player, along with Christian music that I’ve collected over the years.  I recently discovered that when I select “play all” and put the player on shuffle, it plays a random chapter of the Bible or a random song.  And God has used this to speak to me in some surprising and encouraging ways.  I also like to play a game with myself.  I guess which book of the Bible is being read.  Some parts are very easy and obvious, like Genesis and the Gospels, and some parts are very challenging, like the Minor Prophets or some of the books of the law.

Pardon me for that little rabbit trail, but the point is that however you do it, you’ll have more faith according to how much of God’s Word you get into your heart—but it gets there through your ears.  Imagine listening to the audio Bible on the way to work instead of some filth-spewing shock jock.  You’re sitting in traffic just the same, but this way your faith grows.  And when you arrive at work, you’re not stressed, but blessed instead.

So visualize, step into Heaven and take hold of whatever it is that you need.  And above all, develop your faith.  God is good!

Best Moments at Tabernacles

Bjorni worship

Greetings from the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) in Poland!

It has been a whirlwind week of late nights and wee-hours worship, early mornings and midday meetings, and all that adds up to little sleep.  Twenty-four hour worship over seven days is both challenging and wonderful.  I always say that I can sleep after Tabernacles, but I hate to miss a moment while I’m here.  I can’t believe that it is almost at the end now!

Last night a group of us got together in the hotel restaurant for some friend time after the church’s coffee shop had closed.  Someone asked the question: what has been your best moment here at Tabernacles?  The answers were as personal and varied as we were.  Some people experienced miraculous healings, while others experienced God’s presence and help in a moment of their own inability.  But for each of us the best moments were intimately personal God encounter moments.

My friend, Guy, had a miraculous healing.  The day before coming to Tabernacles, he hurt his back.  The pain got worse and worse, so that he couldn’t even carry his guitar.  Max went to his house and brought Guy, his luggage, and his guitar back to my apartment for the night.  In this way we were able to wake up together as a group (four of the five members of Team Albania) for our early morning trip to the airport.  Of course, we prayed for healing, believing that God would touch him.  But at first the pain got worse and worse.  It broke my heart to see Guy walking slowly and carefully—an old man’s shuffle on a young man.  Then one night Guy and Max were worshiping together in their room—with Guy laid-out flat on his back.  Then Max said that Guy’s eyes shut and began to flutter.  So Max went to bed, but was using his phone, so there was a little bit of light in the room.  Then from around the corner, Max saw someone jump into his line of sight, and the jump became a victory dance: Guy was healed!

For me the best moment was a surprise invitation and welcome to the home of friends who I had barely known before.  I had gone to the train station with Joseph, the church leader assigned to facilitate transportation and lodging.  I was there to buy tickets for the Italian team’s return trip to the airport.  We arrived at the train station at 3:39 in the afternoon on Saturday.  Joseph hadn’t known the ticket office’s schedule, but only knew that the hours on Saturdays were shortened.  As I stood in line, Joseph pointed out the posted hours for the ticket office: closing on Saturday is at 3:40 in the afternoon.  I could feel God smiling on me.

Once I had their tickets, Joseph said that we were also there to pick up Boris, who was coming in from Ukraine.  In the car, Joseph asked me if I was in a hurry to get back to the church.  I said, “No, and probably Boris is tired from his trip.  Let’s get him settled first.”  So he took Boris to a house in a new development just outside of town.  Boris went into the house, and Kasia came running out.  She said something to Joseph, and Joseph asked me, “Would you like to go inside for a cup of coffee or something?”  Of course, I said yes.

Inside was the entire team from Russia and their children, plus Kasia and Andrey’s children.  I was ushered to a chair among the couches and chairs that encircled the square coffee table.  The coffee table was hardly visible underneath mounds of goodies.  Kasia had baked two different kinds of cake, cookies, candies, pretzels, coffee mugs, tea cups, napkins, a stack of clean plates and utensils, and as if that wasn’t already enough, Kasia had the children bring in cups of ice cream with strawberry syrup for everybody.  I regretted that I was still full from lunch.  I didn’t want it to seem like I was unimpressed with her hospitality, when the truth was that I wished to have such a hospitable gift for my own guests’ sake.  So I accepted an ice cream and a cup of tea.

But more than a heaping tableful of delicious welcome treats, the thing that made me feel most loved and welcomed was the fact that everybody in the room immediately switched to English for my sake—even when they were in conversation with each other.  I was the only native speaker of English present, and some of them spoke it with difficulty, so the effort on their part was very kind, and it’s something that I will never forget.

Then Joseph announced that he had to go pick up his daughter.  He asked to be excused, and was concerned that I might feel abandoned.  Instead, I was very glad not to have to cut my visit short, since he had stayed only about half an hour.  Then Andrey asked me if I wanted to see his garden.  So we went outside, where he has made several tree grafts.  He has a gardening business, and he had grafted exotic trees onto stronger base trees for a hardier result.  He pulled off dead leaves with such a practiced hand that it was obvious to me that he has that green thumb so necessary to gardening.  This is a gift that I admire because I have the opposite effect on plants.  It’s almost as if plants see me as the Grim Reaper and give up without a fight.  I told Andrey that his grafts are scriptural because we (Christians) are the wild olive that has been grafted into the olive tree.  Plus, mankind’s first job was taking care of the garden.  I can imagine Andrey would be very at home in the Garden of Eden.

Then the children came out with a soccer ball and began kicking it around.  They made some obviously invitational passes to one of the adult men, who happily complied.  Soon the boys of all ages were kicking the ball to each other.  One man, a pastor from Russia, had his tablet and was watching a video on it, but that didn’t stop him from kicking the ball every time it came in his direction.  I was enjoying the show.  One by one, both men and boys began to get tired and thirsty, and drifted away from the game.  One boy seemed never to tire, and relentlessly chased the ball down wherever it flew.  He was engaged in play with the last man standing.  I remarked, “I believe he’s not going to stop until it’s too dark or his mommy calls him in.”  The man laughed and agreed.  And right on cue, Mommy called her little soccer player inside, and the game ended.

A new round of treats and drinks was set out for us, and then we gathered around to pray for our hosts.  I was glad that we took the time to pray for them because it had been on my heart not to leave this house without praying for them.  Each person prayed for them in English—much to my surprise.  Although I am fluent in Italian, I still struggle to pray in Italian.  I think it’s just because I am so used to speaking to God in English.  The only time God has ever spoken to me in Italian was when He had a specific word for an Italian-speaker, and I think He wanted to save me the trouble of translation.

This visit and the warm welcome that I had received (not only from our hosts, but from everybody there) had really brought home the message that I am loved.  In a powerful way, I understood that I am loved.

Of course, being here in my capacity as midwife to bring new worship teams to Tabernacles is the best overall aspect of Tabernacles.  I have said again and again that I don’t feel like I really did anything.  All this was birthed from my determination to bring Italian worship to Tabernacles last year—even if that was only me alone.  Then God put Team Italy together for me.

This year the Italian team contacted me, saying that they are coming to Tabernacles, but that they don’t need me on their team.  I was overjoyed: the baby had been successfully born and is now walking.  But I did wonder what I could do for Tabernacles.  And almost as soon as I wondered about it, the phone rang, and it was Max.  He said, “I hear that you bring teams to the Feast of Tabernacles in Poland.  I want to go.”  So, Team Albania came together from a group of worshiping friends and it looks like this: Max, who is Albanian; Guy, Ivorian; Sally, British; and Allegra and me, Americans.  We are from four different countries and three continents, and we all met just a year and a half ago in Milan.

Friends who only see me once a year at Tabernacles have asked if I’ve moved to Albania, and how it is that I’ve brought an Albanian team this year.  I tell them: “The short answer is God.”  God is good!

The Matchless Gift of Presence

Greetings from Latina, Italy!

When I was in my early twenties, I passed up an opportunity to attend a close friend’s wedding because of the cost of getting there, buying a new dress (and probably new shoes, too), and the time to travel there, etc.  Then a few years later, my friend was killed in a highway accident.  I had passed-up my friend’s biggest life event—and the last.  What I didn’t pass-up was my friend’s funeral, and by then I lived even farther away.

The funeral was a sorry substitute for a wedding that I should have been there to celebrate.  But I learned from this experience, and I have tried to make it a priority to celebrate life events with those I love.

That decision turned out to be an important part of my ministry of encouragement.  When I show up for a surprise birthday party (as I did in August) or a wedding (as today), the surprise and joy at seeing me is priceless.  Likewise, my presence at a friend’s funeral or at the funeral of a friend’s close relative (mother, sister, or child) gives comfort that words never could.  In fact, in those sad moments, silence and a loving presence is far better than ten million eloquent words.  Although I missed the funeral by a couple of days, I went to be with friends after the death of their baby (see Come Now Let us Reason Together).  In each case, my presence was not only welcomed, but actually celebrated.

I am reminded of Job’s friends.  They had probably celebrated his wedding and the weddings of each of his seven sons and three daughters, so they also came to be with him in his time of loss.  They sat with him in silence for seven days and nights as he sat in misery and loss, scraping himself with a shard of pottery (Job 2:13).  That kind of friendship has all but disappeared from the world.

Tomorrow I am going to Poland to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).  There we will celebrate with 24 hour worship over the entire 7 days of the Feast.  The thing that keeps me returning to this little town in Poland year after year, and the thing I long for more than anything is God’s presence.  This will be my fourth year at Tabernacles in Poland, and each year God shows up in a marvelous and completely new and unexpected way.  God is good!

Bodies and Clothing—What Will Happen at the Rapture?

Left Behind

I love the Left Behind[1] series of books.  I’ve been fascinated by the Rapture for many years now.  However, there are a couple of details that I think they’ve gotten wrong: the antichrist will come from the ancient Roman Empire, but not from Europe.  Many Bible scholars are now saying that he will be a Muslim from the eastern part of that empire.  And there is very good evidence for that belief.  The other thing is the part about people being raptured out of their clothing.  I think the authors got that from the fact that Elijah left his mantle (2 Kings 2:13).  But Elijah wasn’t raptured out of all his clothing, just his mantle (which is like a coat).  The mantle was a symbol of Elijah’s anointing, which Elisha had asked for—and got.

“For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather,” Matthew 24:27-28 (emphasis mine).

I had always read these two verses as though they appear in separate paragraphs.  The original Greek (Greek is New Testament, Hebrew is Old Testament) has no punctuation.  Punctuation was invented centuries after the New Testament of the Bible was completed, so the punctuation and paragraph separations are ours.  Both the New International and the King James Versions of the Bible have these two verses in the same paragraph.  But it wasn’t until this morning that it finally dawned on me that when we are raptured, we might leave our mortal bodies behind.

I had read The Christ Clone Trilogy[2] by James Beauseigneur.  He has a pre-Tribulation Rapture scenario in which all the believing Christians just die.  When I read that I rejected it immediately because of Enoch and Elijah.  If Enoch’s body had been left, then how would those around him have known that he had been taken by God?  Wouldn’t it just look like he had died?  And the other prophets went to look for Elijah after his rapture, but they couldn’t find him.  If he had left his body behind, they would have found it (2 Kings 2:15-18).

Clearly, both Enoch and Elijah were raptured away in their bodies.  But that might be because they will be the two witnesses in the Tribulation who are going to be killed after preaching and prophesying for 1260 days (Revelation 11:3).  (The reason I say that it will be Enoch and Elijah is because Hebrews 9:27 says that humans die once.  I know many people saying that they will be Elijah and Moses because they appeared together on the Mount of Transfiguration.  And with Moses and Elijah you have the Law and the Prophets, which seems right.  But Moses died, God buried his body, and the people mourned (Deuteronomy 34:5-8).  So it can’t be Moses because he has already died once.  The only two people in the whole Bible who never died are Enoch and Elijah.)

But after reading Matthew above this morning, I double checked it with Luke 17:34-37:

“I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” “Where, Lord?” they asked. He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather,” (emphasis mine).

Then I realized (perhaps divine revelation) that perhaps The Christ Clone scenario is the correct one.  After all, there has never yet been a worldwide mass Rapture before.  Enoch and Elijah were raptured in their mortal bodies for a specific purpose.  But the Word says that flesh and blood will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (1 Corinthians 15:50—which interestingly comes just before Paul describes the Rapture).  Between that and the “carcasses and vultures” statement of Jesus, I now think it’s a good possibility that we will leave our bodies behind.

Our lifeless bodies will be yet another factor in the chaotic aftermath of the Rapture.  I have already described what I believe that aftermath will be like (see The Rapture and the World Left Behind).  In a nutshell, it’s going to be major chaos, violence, bloodshed, looting, and so forth.  And there will be no modern communications of any kind—at least not initially.

So we will leave our clothing behind if we also leave our bodies behind.  And, really, who cares about all that?  I’m looking forward to my extra-dimensional (glorified) body and my wedding day.  God is good!

[1] (The Left Behind Collection, 2014)

[2] (The Christ Clone Trilogy, 2006)