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!

Christmas in the Army

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Two years ago, when it was just Mom and me for Christmas in Abilene, she suggested serving dinner at the Salvation Army (see Serving up Love on a Plate). So we did, and it was fun and rewarding, and we met a lot of nice people. So this year, when it looked like it would be just the two of us again, we decided to help out at the Salvation Army here in Asheville. In fact, two of our neighbors here in the retirement residence are members at the Salvation Army. Then we found out that Kevin, my younger son, was coming to spend Christmas with us. When we told him about our plan, he wanted to come help, too. We had served dinner back in Abilene, but this time we were assigned to help out in the kitchen. Our assignment was dessert for a few hundred people. We were led to the dishwashing area of the kitchen (out of the way of people who were doing the actual cooking). There was a pile of pie boxes and we were instructed to cut up pies, put them on disposable plates, wrap and stack them on trays. After a few false starts and bumping into each other in the small space, we developed a system that worked beautifully: I cut the pies, Mom put the slices onto plates, and Kevin wrapped and stacked them: pumpkin, apple, pecan, and icebox pie—a variety on each tray. When Petey, the cook, checked and saw our progress, he brought out some cakes to be sliced: carrot cake, sock-it-to-me cake, red velvet, and brownies. A few times we needed to seek Petey for help because we needed more trays, or ran out of plastic wrap, that sort of thing, but mostly we functioned very well together. A few times I got too far ahead of Mom, which gave me the opportunity to go throw out the pie boxes. At other times Mom got too far ahead of Kevin and helped him wrap the desserts. Kevin, being the last guy in our assembly line, never got ahead, but he never complained. Before we knew it, Petey came back and said, “I think we’ve got enough now. Youse can all go home now.” And he thanked us for our help. Mom and I hadn’t thought that anything could beat serving Christmas dinner for fun, but this had really brought us together in loving cooperation for a good cause. For me, it was one of the best things about Christmas. The others being God’s amazing gift to me (see yesterday’s post), and having Kevin here with us. God is good!

My Christmas Gift from God

I woke up early this morning from a dream in which my ex-husband and I were in a living room somewhere.  I don’t remember details, but in the dream I felt only compassion and agape love for him.

He had been verbally abusive to me, and had betrayed and hurt me very badly (emotionally).  When I left him, I was literally running for my life, being in grave danger from suicidal thoughts.  Since then we have had no contact and I’ve had no contact with his family, either.  There is no hope for reconciliation of the marriage, but I had hoped for reconciliation for the sake of our sons (at some point in the future, there is the possibility that our paths could cross at an important life event, like the wedding of one of our sons.  If that happens, I would like for it to be a pleasant meeting).

This past fall, I was traveling in Texas, and specifically through the town where he lives with another woman.  On passing through that town, I had hoped not to run into him.  That night God gave me a dream in which I was reassured that I would not run into him.

This dream of compassion for my ex revealed to me that I have truly forgiven him, and hold no bitterness or resentment against him.  Not long ago, I had received two prophecies which were fulfilled (at least in part) by this dream of forgiveness.  The first one that came to mind was given to me just about a month ago:

Do you feel My expression of joy over you?  If you do, then you know that I have been with you, that I have spoken to you, and I have encouraged you.  So, let this moment rest upon you as the mantle of anointing for the season that is ahead.  I would have you embrace the season that is ahead.  I would have you embrace this season with joy and faith.  And, I would have you to march forward in triumph because you know that you will win the battles that are necessaryYou will receive your reward in this season.  For, I have chosen this time to demonstrate My love for you by the giving of gifts, says the Lord God Almighty, (emphasis mine).

And before I go on to the second one, I’ll explain that part about the “battles that are necessary.”  We tend to think of battles at Christmastime as being a battle against your negative cousin Daisy or crabby old uncle Clyde.  But I have been fighting a different kind of battle these days.  That battle is against myself—specifically, the old mindset that hears criticism and turns it into self-condemnation, among others.  In the book mentioned in my last blog post (A More Excellent Way to be in Health by Henry Wright), old mindsets like mine actually are far more sinister, sometimes causing disease through the sin (separation from God) that they reveal themselves to be.  So I have been praying and working through these old mindsets, bringing negative thinking and self-condemnation into line with God’s Word.

The other prophecy was the one I wrote about in my post The Table:

God says that He has put a big Table before you, and it is full of everything you could ever want or need.

I had become overwhelmed by the task of speaking to the American churches about missions in Europe.  I began desperately to seek the Lord, weeping and begging for Him to show up.  Then I remembered the table full of everything I could ever want or need.  And I said, “Lord, the gifts are great, but I don’t want any gifts!  I want You!  I need You!”  Then God spoke, and in a very tender voice He said: “My child, I am in every gift!  I am on the table!  Every gift is simply more of Me!  Why do you think I keep inviting you to take everything you need, everything you want from the table?  Because I am everything that is on the table!  Take all you want of Me!”

In reflecting on the dream and that prophecy—especially the part about gifts—I realized that God had indeed given me a gift: more of himself.  Every time I win the battle against my flesh, I take on more of His likeness—thank You, Father!  It’s a bit big, but I hope to grow into it!  God is good!

Dancing in the Piazza!

We have been rehearsing the last few days to do a flash mob in the Parliament Square.  This was my 3rd flash mob.  The first was in Milan’s ritzy department store, La Rinascinte, singing Amazing Grace on Christmas Eve to shoppers there.

My 2nd was a flash mob of values on the steps of the Duomo Cathedral of Milan, in which at a signal we held signs naming various moral values.  Mine said coraggio (courage).  The press had been invited to that one!

This time we were all over the big central piazza and after an introduction we ran to the middle of the piazza and danced to Resurrection (link there—I’m in the back on the right, all in gray).  You can see a guy in green at the front who briefly dances with us.  We had good audience participation.  The wind was something I, personally, had prayed for because without wind, it would have been blistering hot—so thank You, Lord, for the wind to keep us cool!

Afterwards the dance team and others went to the main street, set up there, and danced some more.  It was a moment when I would like to have been able to be in 2 places at once.  But I stayed in the piazza with the evangelization team.  We hadn’t seen them very much at all since Rome, so I wanted to spend some time with them.  But that desire was really just a set up for a divine appointment.  In Rome Guy, the host and head of the evangelization team, had told us about prayer walking in Parliament Square at 3AM.  He had gone up to the door and knocked on it.  The guard who answered had tears in his eyes, and Guy asked if he could pray for him.  The guard had just a month earlier lost his daughter in a car accident and had been in that moment struggling to cope.  Guy prayed for him and shared the Good News of Jesus Christ with the guard.  The guard has remained Guy’s friend.

After the dancers left, Guy went to the same door and knocked.  He asked the guard inside to please tell Paul hello for him.  The guard said, “If you wait 10 minutes, Paul will be here, and you can tell him yourself.”  So we all got to meet Paul, and he invited us into the courtyard of the Parliament Building.  Paul told us that we can’t go inside, though.  Then after a few minutes, he took us into another courtyard that was even prettier.  Again he told us that we couldn’t go inside.  I got a chance there in the second courtyard to talk with Paul.  He is a very nice man, and his affection for Guy was obvious.

Then after telling us twice that we couldn’t go inside, Paul took us inside, where we saw lots of suits of armor and paintings of leaders going back to the 1500’s.  Before exiting, we all prayed for Paul.  He thanked us, wiping tears from his eyes.  It was a sweet and touching visit, and probably prophetic for whenever Operation Capitals of Europe comes to Malta—that we will be gratefully welcomed.

Then Guy treated us all to ice cream, and we said our good-byes (some of them are leaving today, and I’m leaving tomorrow).  God is good!

The Breathless Anticipation of Easter Saturday

Day Fourteen

There is something so beautiful about waiting.  Hey!  I can’t believe I wrote that!  If you read my first book, Look, Listen, Love, I go on for several chapters lamenting the wait for my camper van to be ready.  But really, when you think of it, it’s true.  When you’re waiting for something good—something that is certain to happen—you start to actually enjoy it in the period of anticipation.  Your imagination begins to take hold of the idea, imagining how you will have it in your hands.

Pregnancy is one of those times.  You start to imagine what it will be like to finally hold that baby in your arms, to feel the softness of the baby’s skin on your cheek, to smell the fresh smell of the baby after his or her bath.  I didn’t want to know the sex of my babies before they were born.  That’s like peeking at your Christmas presents a week before Christmas.  Once I did peek at a Christmas present that wasn’t well wrapped.  On Christmas morning all the fun and surprise was gone for that particular gift.  I’ve never understood people who peek or who ask the baby’s sex.

I imagine the disciples on Easter Saturday.  What a sad day for them!  Jesus had repeatedly assured them that He would rise on the 3rd day.  They had seen Him raise people from the dead, but they were so stuck in their old mindset that they couldn’t imagine the resurrection.  Instead of enjoying the anticipation of Easter Sunday, they were fixated on Crucifixion Friday and their sorrow and loss.

For me, this time of waiting, fasting, and praying for my answer is a time of breathless anticipation.  Unlike the disciples, I have the sure and certain hope of getting the answer.  So instead of mourning my loss (in this case, solid food), I am getting ready to receive my answer.  Today begins the last week of my fast, and I am so excited that I can hardly stand it.  I do feel like a child the week before Christmas or a mother in the last month of pregnancy.  My answer will come, and I am thoroughly enjoying the wait.  God is good!