A Planned Meeting and a Surprise Meeting

I returned to Bratislava to meet with a missionary here.  However I had gotten in touch with her late, and her village is 6 hours away by bus, so that meeting didn’t happen.  But I did manage to meet with one of our new Slovak friends, Zuzana (see Kebap Shop Breakfast (part 2 of the double post, titled Sweet Slovakia) and Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem).  Zuzana came with us to Budapest and also to Vienna to pray in those capitals.  When she returned from Budapest, her boss told her that she was fired, no explanation given.  Of course she was very upset at first, but Pastor Ivan’s daughter had already offered her a housecleaning job, so she decided not to let it get her down.  Ministry carries a price tag.  Jesus told us repeatedly that we will have to leave our homes, our families, and that we must count the cost.  For someone so young (20), Zuzana is surprisingly mature.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASlovakian Presidential Palace

So I met with Zuzana, and she took me for a walk in the park behind the Presidential Palace.  It is a lovely park with flowers and wide paths.  She said that Pastor Ivan’s daughter is from his first marriage, and she is not saved.  She said that Pastor Ivan wants her to share her faith with his daughter.  She admitted that she feels some pressure about this.  I told her about my 3-point method of sharing my faith:

  1. I was . . .
    1. Everybody has their own unique story of their life B.C. (before Christ)
  2. Then Jesus changed my life
    1. Usually the smile on your face is enough to convince people of the change inside
  3. Would you like to know Jesus?

Simple and easy, you don’t have to be an expert in theology or to know the Bible inside and out.  People don’t care about those things.  All they want to know is that Jesus is real.  They want to know what Jesus can do for them.  And nobody can argue with you about your experience because it happened to you.  They might not respond the way you hope, but sometimes the seed planted today will begin to grow next year.

Then I told her about my conversion and re-conversion (see Gotcha! and Gotcha! Part 2), and the suicidal depression I had endured.  Zuzana then told me her story.  She had also been suicidally depressed, with demonic apparitions.  To look at the 2 of us, you would never imagine that either of us were so down.  So I said, just tell her what Jesus has done for you.  God will give you the right time to talk with her about it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUniformed Guards at the Presidential Palace

Then we walked back to town, to her favorite coffee shop.  Zuzana told me about one time when she had been reading her Bible there and God showed her that the woman next to her was crying. The Holy Spirit told Zuzana: “Tell her that I love her, and that she is precious to Me.”  So she did.  The woman was startled and resistant at first, but then listened as Zuzana told her about the wonderful love of Jesus.  As we found our seats in the coffee shop, she said, “And she was sitting right there.”  I turned and looked where she pointed, and said, “Right there?  Where Anushka is sitting?”  And we began laughing like maniacs because we had not expected to meet her there in the coffee shop.  Anushka (see double post Sweet Slovakia and Kebap Shop Breakfast) was sitting there writing on her laptop.  She looked up when she heard the laughter, so we told her about Zuzana’s story and how she had pointed right there without realizing that Anushka was there.

So I got another chance to say goodbye to Anushka, and I had a lovely visit with Zuzana, and was able to encourage her.  Zuzana will probably be joining us on our next trip, to Ukraine and Belarus.  She will be useful in both of those places as a translator.  God is good!

Serendipity—Another Word for Coincidence

Dictionary.com defines serendipity as having an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident; good fortune or luck.  http://dictionary.reference.com/.  If you know God, then you know that He is in control, and there are no accidental desirable discoveries nor luck.

I started to write the first part of this post between flights back in August when I returned to Texas to help Mom move to another state.  Moving is a very busy, exhausting activity, so I had never finished writing it.  The second part happened yesterday afternoon, and the third part happened this morning, which served as the catalyst to finish writing.

My Brazilian Buddies

Greetings from Dallas!

Today is a travel day, so I’m writing this between flights.  I came back to the US to help my mom move.  When I checked in at Milan Malpensa Airport three hours ahead, like they say to do, of course there was no one to check in with.  I don’t know why I keep showing up three hours early for these early morning flights, but having missed a flight because of a very crowded airport check in line, I want to avoid missing another flight.  The only other people there were a Brazilian father and daughter.  They were also flying across the Atlantic today.  We talked, and became friends, trapped together as we were, waiting for a ticketing agent to show up.

A ticket agent did eventually show up and check us into our flight.  We were flying to Frankfurt first, and then I would fly to Dallas.  When I was checked in, and passed through security, I found my gate at the far end of the terminal.  But we had stood there waiting for the ticket agent for such a long time (over an hour) that I felt like I needed to walk the kinks out.  And since I wanted to buy a bottle of water and a last cappuccino before leaving Italy, I walked past our gate area in search of an open coffee shop.  I heard someone running up behind me, with urgency in his voice saying, “Signora!  Signora!”  I turned around and it was the Brazilian father.  He told me, “The gate is back this way.”  I thanked him, explaining about the need for a walk and a cappuccino.

Having satisfied both needs, I returned to the gate and sat in the open seat next to the father and daughter.  While waiting for boarding I became very drowsy.  Father and daughter got to their feet and headed for the line as soon as boarding started.  I waited, in no hurry to be confined to an airline seat any longer than absolutely necessary.  So they were among the first to board, while I was one of the very last.

On the plane I found my seat, stowed my backpack, buckled up, and promptly fell into a deep sleep.  Those who know me know of my ability to fall asleep quickly and deeply sitting up in a car or on a plane.  I believe that this is a gift from God for a missionary who travels as much as I do for ministry.

As we were about to land I woke up and reached for the bottle of water that I had brought.  In my peripheral vision I saw a boldly striped blue shirt on the person sitting next to me—it was the Brazilian father with his daughter next to him in the window seat.  “It’s you!”  I exclaimed, and we laughed about how I had been so sleepy that I hadn’t even looked to see who was sitting next to me.  I told them that it had been very pleasant traveling with them, even if I hadn’t known it was them.  And as we parted, I wished them a buon viaggio (good travels).  And I marveled at how funny life is sometimes.

Going to Church

Yesterday was my favorite day of the week: Sunday.  I love Sunday because I love going to church.  I love going to church so much that I go to my own church in the morning, and another in the afternoon.  I go to two churches in the US, too.  The reason I love going to church is not the music (though the music is excellent) or the preaching (which is also excellent) or even the fellowship (which is wonderful).  The reason I love going to church is because I always go expecting to meet God—and I’m never disappointed!  When you expect to meet God, He always shows up.

I go and sit as close to the front as I’m allowed (some churches reserve the very front row for leaders and/or the worship team).  I sit down front so that I won’t be distracted.  This is especially important if the service is in Italian, which it is at my home church here in Milan.  From that place down front I find freedom to worship God with complete abandon.  In the past years when I sat back toward the middle, I found that I became self-conscious because those around me didn’t raise their hands or dance in worship.  Down front, where I can’t see what others are or are not doing, I just worship God from my heart and my spirit, completely uninhibited.  It is possible that there are people behind me watching me and wondering what kind of an exhibitionist-lunatic I am.  But since I can’t see them, and since I don’t know what they’re thinking, it doesn’t concern me in the least.  I would rather be David than Michal, and being down front allows me the freedom to dance like David (2 Samuel 6:16-23).

After church I went home with the intention to rest and then go to the afternoon service of the sweet little church in Monza.  But I rested a little too well and fell asleep.  When I woke up, it was clear that I would be late getting to church, even if each train was right there, waiting to take me.  I considered going to the church up the road, instead.  But when I prayed about it, I felt like God wanted me to go catch the train to Monza.

So I walked to the train station, and once inside, I was coming off the stairs and onto the platform when a young man said, “Do you speak English?”  I said yes, and he asked if the train would stop at the Porta Garibaldi train station—the same train station that I needed to take to get to Monza.  I explained that all the trains on the Passante line stop at all the stations in the city.  Relieved, he asked me if I was on vacation, and I told him that I’m a missionary here.  His smile got wider, and he said, “Well, what do you know!  I’m on my way to church.”  He explained that he just arrived from Australia as a student, and that his mother had found him an English-speaking church on the internet.  It was one I had heard of, but it had closed down some years earlier, as far as I knew.

Now it was my turn to smile more broadly, I said, “Hey!  If it’s OK with you, I’ll go with you.”  He was very happy to have my company, so we went together, following the directions sent to him via e-mail.

It turns out that the English-speaking church has a mostly young congregation composed of students, like my new Aussie friend.  The music was great and the preaching was solid.  I love young churches!  This was truly a gift from God—and all because I was late for church!  God is good!

Coming to Church

But that’s not the whole story of so-called serendipity.  The pastor of my home church in Milan made an announcement yesterday as the service was ending, saying that the last Sunday of the month would be evangelism Sunday, and that we should each bring someone to church with us.  I prayed about who I should invite, and Barbara immediately came to mind.

I have known Barbara for most of my eleven years in Milan.  And I’ve often wondered if she might be one of the reasons why God keeps me in this neighborhood, where I’m currently occupying my third apartment.

This morning I had to go to the gas company to set an appointment for them to turn on the gas.  On the way home I stopped by the street market to buy a few things.  I love walking through the street markets, but today it was drizzling.  Rainy days at the street market can be miserable, but drizzle isn’t so bad.  Suddenly, there was Barbara.  I’ve had it happen before that I’ll be thinking of her and she suddenly is there.  Between her work, my travel, and my move, I hadn’t seen her for over a year.  We had a joyous reunion right there in the market, and I invited her to come to church.  I had invited her before, but something always interfered and stopped her from coming.  She assured me of her interest, but said that she doesn’t know if she will have to work.  So I told her that I will call her on Saturday.

Barbara has been interested and asking questions for years now, and this time I believe that she will come to church and meet her Savior.  Serendipity?  No way!  This is the hand of God, and God is good!

More Coincidences, More God

Yesterday I posted about the coincidence of seeing a friend after more than a year (https://europeanfaithmissions.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/coincidence-is-spelled-g-o-d/).  We’re both English-speakers, we’ve both moved, we wanted to get together for a Bible study in English, and we find out that now we’re neighbors.

Yesterday I also put a bunch of my old posts on the blog because my old blogsite was accidentally closed down.  One of these old posts was “The Train God” (https://europeanfaithmissions.wordpress.com/about/ancient-blog-posts/), about a ride in the cab of the train with the engineer.

This morning I went to morning prayer at church.  When I’m home, I go to prayer meetings, cell groups, church services, and events.  This is how I fuel-up my spirit for ministry when I go visit missionaries and pastors in other places.  Usually I take Milan’s city transportation (trams, buses, subway), and since the church is clear across town from my apartment, it takes a combination of means to get there, and can be accomplished in several different ways.

Today on a whim I took the passante train to return home afterward.  The passante is the best-kept secret in Milan.  Most of the people who take the passante train are entering or leaving the city, but the same bus pass that works with all the other city transportation also works for the passante, provided you are traveling within the city.  During the morning and evening rush hours the trains are packed.  But during the day, they are practically empty.  Since I live not far from a passante station, it’s not so strange that I took the train.

I got onto the train and was talking on the phone when I heard a gasping intake of breath.  I turned and saw Alfredo, the engineer from “The Train God” post.  Clearly he had remembered me.  I finished my phone call just as he was entering the cab to drive the train.  I was only going two stops, so at my stop, I got off the train and knocked on his window.  He opened the little side door and said, “My Texan friend!  You’re back!”  I told him that I had thought of him just yesterday.  And he said, “And here I am!”  Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to talk because he had a schedule to keep, and I had to meet the electrician at the house.

I believe we will meet again sometime.  Maybe I’ll ride in the cab of the train again—who knows?  Maybe he’ll even let me drive!

Coincidence is Spelled G-O-D

When I had it in my heart two years ago to get an apartment in Milan, the idea was to use it as a guesthouse for visiting missionaries and pastors—the first ever (though I am not the only one to have this idea).  As I started using my first apartment for hosting, there was a lot of opposition—opposition which had a human face, but was clearly inspired by the enemy that is not flesh and blood.  At that time I hadn’t built a team of intercessors for the ministry yet.  That was a classic rookie mistake.  I am still learning how to do this whole missionary/ministry thing.  Anyway, as a result of the opposition, I was led to leave that apartment, go on last summer’s Faith Trip, and spend the past 13 months living out of a suitcase, first here and then in the US.

Upon my return to Italy, I got a green light from God to go look for an apartment.  This time around, the guesthouse apartment project has a team of intercessors praying it through to victory.  This was the second apartment I looked at—and I really only looked at the other one as a courtesy to a friend.

Besides serving as a missionary guesthouse, this apartment will have a second purpose, as a House of Prayer for Europe—the first House of Prayer specifically for Europe.

I am now in the apartment, but nowhere near ready for hosting.  When I moved in two weeks ago, the apartment was empty—even the kitchen was empty, just 4 walls and pipes coming out of one of those walls.  The kitchen is still empty, but little by little the rest of the apartment is being filled.  Here is a list of things still needed for the apartment:

  • Refrigerator
  • Kitchen cabinets, sink
  • Oven, stove
  • Beds – 4 (I am sleeping on a folding bed donated by a friend)
  • Sofas – 1 large, 1 loveseat (one loveseat was donated by a friend)
  • Wardrobes – 5 (a friend has two large wardrobes and one small to give me, but we need to figure out how to get them here)
  • Tables – 1 small (2-4 seats), 1 large (8+ seats)
  • Chairs – 15, plus folding chairs
  • Bedside tables – 3
  • Light fixtures – 6 ceiling, 1 wall, 1 with mirror for bathroom
  • Lamps – 2 desk lamps, 2 bedside, 2 floor lamps
  • Dressers – 2
  • Desks – 2
  • Bookshelves – 3
  • Rolling garment racks – 8

You may be wondering about that last item.  Why on earth would I need rolling garment racks, and why eight of them?  The custodian of the building loaned me a rolling garment rack and it answered a couple of problems for the living room, which will serve as the House of Prayer:  how to display the flags of Europe in such a way that they can easily be taken down, prayed over, waved, danced with, etc.  The racks with flags on S hooks will also help to divide the living room into living and dining space without such division being permanent.

On Sunday I saw two English-speaking friends at church.  One of them expressed a need for fellowship in English.  I said, “Why don’t you come over and we’ll have a Bible study?”  So we set an appointment for the next evening in my apartment.  I contacted the other friend and invited her, too.  She eagerly accepted and asked for my address.  We had both moved since the last time we had seen each other (over a year ago), but I knew that she still lived in the same neighborhood.  When she saw my address she replied, “I live on the same street—girlfriend, we’re neighbors!”

In preparing for the Bible study, I spent time in prayer, inviting the Holy Spirit to be our Teacher.  I love to teach, but I love even more hearing from God.  In introducing these two friends to each other, a lesson flowed effortlessly from the conversation.  The Holy Spirit had indeed showed up and taught us from God’s Word.  And we each enjoyed an evening of beautiful fellowship.

One friend was looking for work, and the other had a wonderful idea for finding plenty of work.

Although the house is bare, and I only had two small lights, a loveseat, and two folding chairs, I was very happy to see the apartment begin its ministry purpose.  This was the first of many such evenings.  And it happened through a series of coincidences, though not really coincidences, if you know what I mean.