Preacher

St Lukes
A few weeks ago the priest at Mom’s church asked me if I ever preach. Without thinking or hesitating, I said yes. In truth, I’ve only ever preached in cyberspace (AKA, my blog), but this was an amazing opportunity, and I wasn’t going to turn it down.
So yesterday was the day, and what a perfect Sunday for me to preach: Presentation Sunday. The Gospel passage for Presentation Sunday is Luke 2:22-40:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

So here is my sermon for Presentation Sunday:

Living in Breathless Anticipation

I am a missionary, based in Milan, Italy and called for all of Europe. What I do is encourage missionaries because Europe is a very difficult and discouraging mission field. I work with missionaries and pastors of all Christian denominations. When I started ministry in 2010, the problem was how to find missionaries. The answer was simple: go where missionaries hang out—churches. So it became my habit to attend at least two church services each Sunday.
I love going to church. I know that some people come to church, and once a week is about all that they can stand, but I love church. I attend services from the whole range of Christianity: Catholic high masses to chandelier-swinging Pentecostal services, and everything in between. Of course, I have my own preference, which lies somewhere in the middle, but no matter what kind of expression of worship, I love going to church. I love going to church because no matter where I go or what the worship is like, God always shows up. Sometimes it’s my favorite song or my favorite passage from the Bible. Sometimes it’s a nugget in the sermon and every once in a while, it’s a whole sermon that feels like it was a personal message to me from God. So I love going to church because God always shows up for me.
So I can relate to Simeon and Anna. They were at the temple every day. They each had a promise from God that they would see His Messiah, the Christ. So they did what I do: they came to the Temple every day with the breathless anticipation of seeing God’s Messiah. And because of their expectation of meeting God, I believe that God showed up each day for them, like He does for me. So every day for years, for decades, they came to the temple in breathless anticipation, meeting God in the little things until that day finally came when they saw Him in the face to face.
But my story is not over. We are living in the time when Jesus could return. According to Bible prophecy, His return is likely to be in our lifetime. So we should not only come to church, expecting to meet God, but we should wake up each day with breathless anticipation: is today the day? It could be!

So yesterday, on a sunny Super Bowl Sunday, I gave the sermon at both morning services in the sweet little Episcopal Church around the corner from home. It was wonderful, getting the opportunity to preach. My sermon was well-received. God is good!

The Not-So-Funhouse Image

This morning during contemplative prayer, I had an epiphany—and what interesting timing, since this is the time of Epiphany on the Christian calendar. I’ve been harassed by spirits of rejection and fear for many years now. And I realized this morning that the image they have made me believe about myself is a distorted one. Recently that fear/rejection image caused me particular problems in my relationships—all because I didn’t understand that the people involved love me. How could they love me when I was having such trouble loving myself?

In a recent post, He Loves Me, I wrote about basking in God’s Niagara Falls of love, feeling the physical sensation of His love falling, falling, falling on me. Even though the physical sensation passed, His love never stopped falling. But I need to keep reminding myself of His love until it becomes integrated into my thinking. And although I’ve read it many, many times, 1 John 4:18 became a rhema word for me today:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

I always remember “perfect love casts out fear,” but I had somehow forgotten all the rest of that verse. Fear and rejection had for so long poisoned my thinking that I had come to have a self-image as distorted as a funhouse mirror.

Today I am taking a hammer to that not-so-funhouse mirror. Today I chose to embrace God’s love and a new (true!) image of myself: loved, accepted, forgiven, and precious. God is good!

Speaking at Church, Part Two

In praying before any speaking engagement, I always ask the Holy Spirit to come and speak through me—though the actual words are more like: “God, if You don’t show up, I’m screwed!”  And I pray like that until I feel that release that says that Heaven has heard, and God has responded.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make my physical symptoms (dry mouth, shaking hands, etc.) go away.  But I carry on nevertheless, and that’s what I did at church last night.

There was a really good turnout—about 30-35 people.  I had a PowerPoint all ready to show them, but no way to connect my computer (with its HMDI port) to the TV screen (with its S-video port).  Oh, well!  Rather than worry about that, I just forged ahead, and they all listened intently, even without the visuals.  I only knew one person in the room.  That means that the church has continued to grow in my absence.  God has always put me into growing churches, so I love that.

Since I didn’t know them, I could easily assume that they didn’t know much, if anything, about me.  So I started with how I had come to this church and ended up in Italy and my call to ministry (recounted in most of my books, but in greatest detail in Graceful Flight).  My story reveals that I am not a super saint, but just an average person.  This was important for them to know because people tend to think of missionaries as perfect people who have their lives together.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I know some missionaries with defects far worse than I’ve seen in the churches in the US.

I don’t remember what all I talked to them about, but at one point I was led by the Holy Spirit to speak about Catholics.  Someone always asks about why there are missionaries in Italy, since it is a Catholic country.  Italy is a Catholic country, and the vast majority of Italians identify themselves as Catholic.  But many of them only go to church for weddings or funerals.  And there is a vast difference between faithful (faith-filled) Catholicism and the superstitious practices of pseudo-Catholicism that are very common in Italy: kissing the picture of a saint instead of praying; crossing themselves whenever they pass the door of a church, but never entering in; hanging a rosary on the rear-view mirror as a kind of “insurance” against accidents.  They live like the rest of the world, cheating on their taxes, having affairs, stealing from business partners, etc.  But because they have been baptized (as infants), and they do these superstitious practices, they think that that they are good with God.  In reality, they have no relationship with Him at all.

The Charismatic movement among Catholics has been around in the US for decades, but it is only just beginning in Italy.  I told them about how God has used my Catholic friend, Gessica, to show me true faith among Italian Catholics.  The truth is that we don’t need to “convert” Catholics.  What we need to do is to help them discover true faith.  And when you do that, some will come out of the Catholic Church, wanting to explore faith that has none of the old rituals; while others remain in the Catholic Church, enjoying a fresh understanding of the meaning behind the familiar rituals, and sharing that with other Catholics.  Several of the people there have Catholic family members, and this gave them hope for their families.

The response to my talk was overwhelmingly positive.  Because I had shared about Kalisz, Poland, and taking Italian worship to the Feast of Tabernacles for the first time, someone asked me what Italian worship sounds like.  Here’s where my nerves betrayed me: I went completely blank.  They named some songs that I know in Italian, but I simply could not remember the words.  Oh, well!  If every talk went perfectly, I might be able to claim some of the glory for myself.  But as it was, God got all the glory because in my weakness (and nervousness) He revealed His great power to teach and reveal the important things about missions in Europe.  God is good!

Speaking at Church

My gut clenches, sweat beads on my upper lip, my mind races is twelve different directions, my mouth goes dry, and my hands shake—why?  Because I’m speaking at my church this evening.  And it’s not because anybody has twisted my arm—I want to do this.  When I’m in the US, I want to speak as often as possible to anyone who will listen about Europe as a mission field.  But I’ve always had a fear of public speaking, and even though it usually goes really well, and the audience is very sympathetic and supportive, that fear is lurking just out of sight, ready to make my voice crack or make me forget what I was going to say.

Fear of speaking in public is one of the most common fears around.  Most of us would rather face a roaring lion, armed with nothing but a Twinkie than speak in front of an audience.  But like I said, I want to do this.  Facing-down this fear is the measure of how strong my calling is for Europe.  If I didn’t do this, I would feel like I had abandoned my calling.

Europe is the forgotten mission field.  A professor of foreign missions at Abilene Christian University told me that he asks his students at the beginning of the semester what is the mission field with the most need.  They invariably answer Africa.  Then after he has demonstrated to them that Africa is far more Christian than Europe, he will ask them again, and many times the answer is still Africa.  The economic need tugs at their heartstrings, even though Europe is in far worse need spiritually.  Operation World calls Europe by far the “most secular, least Christian” continent on earth (pg. 79).  Europe also has the most un-reached people groups of any region in the whole world—including the Middle East.  Africa is now sending missionaries to Europe.

  • Slavery – Human trafficking is epidemic in Europe because the relaxed borders have made it easier to transport people from Eastern Europe (primarily Ukraine, Czech Republic, Moldova, and Romania) to Western Europe (Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Germany).
  • Poverty – People think of Europe as a rich peoples’ playground.  And it’s true that rich people do vacation in Europe, but the average European makes far less money than the average American, and lives a simpler life.  Furthermore, the third world exists throughout Europe at the edge of every city: in gypsy camps of staggering poverty.  The gypsy children live in shockingly unsanitary conditions.  Many gypsy children are denied an education due to their nomadic family life.  Gypsy children are expected to bring money back to the patriarchs, the grandparents.  They beg, steal, or work as prostitutes to bring money back to the family, and if they fail to bring back money or to bring back enough money, they are beaten.  Sometimes their legs are broken and set in crazy ways that will turn your stomach.  Sometimes their legs are cut off—giving them more sympathetic appeal.   Many gypsy children are sold to sex traffickers or organ traffickers.
  • Homelessness – Homelessness is a huge problem.  Budapest has an estimated 30,000 homeless people.  I saw lots of homeless people when I was there, and the homeless of Budapest are unlike homeless people I’ve ever seen anywhere else.  There are so many of them that they have simply lost all hope.  They don’t even ask for money, they just curl up in doorways and in the subway entrances.  (This is all recounted in my book, Look, Listen, Love.)
  • Suicide – Suicide is rampant throughout Europe, especially in the current economic climate.  Fourteen of the top twenty countries with the highest suicide rates are in Europe.  Switzerland legalized suicide in 1941, and under Swiss law, you do not have to have a lethal diagnosis to ask for physician-assisted suicide; you don’t even have to be Swiss!  That means that if someone is depressed and wants to end their life, they can go to Switzerland, which is conveniently in the middle of the continent, and pay a doctor to help them kill themselves, and they don’t have to get any kind of counseling.  In fact, the doctors would be against counseling because they make money on each suicide.  Now suicide is also legal in the Netherlands. In Milan, where suicide is still illegal, and Switzerland is only an hour away, about once a month or so, somebody jumps in front of a speeding subway train.  In fact, it is such a common occurrence that people have lost all sympathy for the victim and his or her family, instead they just become annoyed at the inconvenience that the suicide has caused them as they rush through their day.
  • Drugs – The city of Amsterdam is uniquely problematic because they have de-criminalized both prostitution and marijuana.  Legalizing pot use has been discussed from time to time here in the US.  The arguments for legalization seem very logical and reasonable, particularly when it comes to saving taxpayer money and law enforcement manpower.  But before getting onto the bandwagon, you should take a trip to Amsterdam to see what legalized pot use looks like.  Marijuana is only legal in the marijuana coffeehouses, but it doesn’t stay in the coffeehouses.  And because pot is legal, tourists think that other drugs are also legal—they are not.  No matter how harmless you may think it is, the fact is that marijuana is a gateway drug.  The dealers of illegal drugs situate themselves along the canal in the Red Light district (more about that in a moment) and peddle their drugs to passers-by.  They don’t stand around looking villainous, but instead they are very friendly.  The dealers speak English and often the major European languages.   Amsterdam is the number one partying destination in Europe, possibly in the world.  So lots of young men travel to Amsterdam for legal sex with prostitutes and legal marijuana use.  Many of them are lured into trying the harder drugs as well.  The result is that the streets of Amsterdam are filthy with trash and vomit and people that are either homeless or too high to remember how to get back to where they are staying.  The streets are also very loud all night long, with the sounds of hell-raising.  There are so many people who are addicted to heroin that the city has started giving out free needles to try and keep the risk of HIV transmission low.  So the parks are full of addicts that are shooting-up.  And the free needle program has done nothing to stop the spread of HIV.  Prostitution – Legalized prostitution in Amsterdam was supposed to help prevent the spread of HIV by having the Dutch Minister of Health responsible for making sure that all the window girls stayed healthy and conducted business in ways that reduced the possibility of transmission (i.e. washing the customers and using condoms).  However, that has turned out to be impossible to enforce.  Plus, the presence of legal prostitutes has not stopped or even slowed down illegal prostitution in the Netherlands.  Let’s face it, supply follows demand.
  • The idea behind legalizing prostitution seemed like a good idea, but prostitution plays a part in all the above behaviors, like a European version of “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” but worse because of the whole drug issue discussed above.  People believe that the window girls are independent businesswomen—they are not—at least not all of them.  Many of the window girls come from other countries, mostly Eastern Europe and Africa.  Those girls got there because they answered ads for jobs, and some even paid intermediaries who turned out to be traffickers to get them illegally into Europe.  Few, if any, of them set out to work in prostitution.  Like I said, the relaxation of borders within the European Union has actually worked to the traffickers’ advantage.  And even if some of the women are voluntarily working in the windows of the Red Light district, they have invariably been sexually abused as children.  As a woman, I can tell you that no little girl dreams of having dozens of sweaty, smelly men use and use and use her all day and all night long.  Prostitutes use the same survival strategy that victims of physical abuse use: they have learned how to zone-out and not be in their bodies while it is happening.  Despite the lies that the johns tell themselves, that doesn’t sound like it’s something they enjoy, does it?  All of this means that Amsterdam, an otherwise lovely city, has become a haven for potheads, traffickers, drug dealers, and drug addicts.
  • Cynicism – The young people of Europe are among the most hopeless and cynical in the world.  They go to university only to find that they are still unemployed and unemployable.  East European youth are leaving their homelands in droves, seeking employment in the west.  The employers take advantage of that desperation and pay them lower wages, and giving them the jobs that West Europeans don’t want.  Most of the janitors in Italy are Romanian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, or Polish.  Because they feel powerless, the youth are drawn into witchcraft and satanism.  They recognize that there is genuine spiritual power therein, but don’t have the discernment to know the good from the evil.  Turin, Italy is the European capital for satanism.  Every so often, there is a ritually sacrificed body (either human or animal) found in the woods near Turin.  It has become such a common occurrence that the news agencies have stopped reporting these findings.  Many of these young people consider traditional religion a waste of time, and they don’t want to hear about anything of a religious nature.  For this reason, missionaries in Europe have had to be very creative in sharing the Gospel.

I could continue, but I think this post is long enough.  So, I take a deep breath, pray for at least an hour, and go pour my heart out for an hour or so about Europe.  Suddenly, I understand exactly what Jeremiah meant when he said that if he tries to keep silent, God’s Word is like a fire shut up in his bones.  God is good, and I want more missionaries to share His goodness with this lost and dying continent.

Leaving Kalisz

How in the world did a week go by so quickly?  It seems like we had just arrived, and then it was suddenly the last day of the feast.  The last worship session was marked as Poland, but involved each country’s worship group.  Throughout the week, our musical men (Giuseppe, Roberto, and Daniele) were asked to support other groups: Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, and England.  And they did.  Of all the people at the Feast of Tabernacles, the only ones who worked harder than our three guys were our hosts, who cooked, cleaned, set up the sound, and helped in a thousand different ways throughout the week, and at all hours.

During the last session, they were asked to help Czech Republic and Germany, and then Poland took the platform again.  I went to speak to the musical organizer because Italy hadn’t gotten an opportunity to do a last song.  He said, “Yes, but they got the chance to play.”  I said, “But only supporting, not as Italy.”  He told me it was too late.  I went back to where our group was sitting, I was too sad to even give them the bad news, only Felicity, who gave me a hug.  About a minute later, the musical organizer came up behind me and said, “OK, you have the chance to play one song.”  So we went onto the platform, to the astonishment of the Polish performers, who thought it was theirs for the rest of the hour.  They graciously stepped down and we did one last song.  After that we all took Communion together as the Polish team performed a quiet worship song.  Then we all sang together in joyful worship.

We had one last dinner together, and said our goodbyes.  It was so hard to say goodbye to everyone, hard to believe that the week was done.  We had a harrowing two-hour ride to the airport the next morning, at high speed on narrow two-lane roads most of the way, with big trucks, rain, and passing two or three cars at a time.  Each of us had a unique reaction to the drive:  Felicity was in the front seat, enjoying the speed.  I was in the back seat, thankful to know where I’m going if this is my time.  Bethany was next to me, hanging on for dear life, unwilling to glance toward the windshield, and praying in tongues.

The thing that has remained with me has been the very tangible presence of God.  This morning, having returned to Italy, I woke up at about 4 AM, and prayed for about three hours.  Yes, there is something so addictive (in a good way!) about the presence of God.  I love being in His presence so much that I just don’t want to leave.  So with God’s help I want to continue a practice of praying even more each day—three, four, or more hours.  God is good!

Worshiping in Dance

I brought my dance slippers with the intention of dancing in worship here at the Feast of Tabernacles.  And I did.  I also brought a thin scarf that is made exactly like an Italian flag to dance with.  And I did.  I danced and danced.  And it was awkward and terrible and felt so forced.

God was silent, but I think He was probably looking at me, saying, “What on earth are you doing?  This isn’t you!”  And it wasn’t me.  I had been trying to dance like others that I’ve seen. 

So when I got back up on the platform and started singing and especially in those moments between songs when we were truly free to riff, I was back in the zone because the worship was coming from my heart.  There on the platform, with my feet firmly planted behind the microphone, I began to dance as my heart felt led.  And it was awkward and terrible, but at the same time it was wonderful because it was me, and I could feel God smiling.  My dance style is sort of reminiscent of Joe Cocker’s, but with a genuine anointing of the Holy Spirit (for those too young to remember, check the link).

I discovered that there is live video feed from the sanctuary to the church’s large coffee shop this year.  Last year it was live, too, but only audio.  So far Team Italy’s worship sessions have been during the hours when the coffee shop is closed.  But tonight we will have 8-10 PM, while the coffee shop is open.  Last year singing and dancing on a video feed (and possible even being taped) would have really terrified me.  But I have discovered the freedom in the power of the Holy Spirit.  When I’m connected to God and focused only on Him, I don’t know or care how I sound or what I look like.  I am free to be a complete fool for Him, worshiping Him in my own crazy style.

Felicity noted the freedom that I had felt, saying, “I really like your spaz dance style.”  I smiled and said, “Yeah, I’m in touch with my inner spaz and it feels good.”  The reason it feels good is because of the Holy Spirit’s anointing.  So even if lots of people hear me sing and watch me dance, I am really only singing and dancing for an audience of One.  God is good!

A Travel Promise from Father God

Yesterday and today could have been very difficult travel days, indeed.  I had bought my round-trip tickets to Malta separately from my round-trip tickets to Rome.  I had planned a 4 hour layover to claim my bag and check in to my other flight.  If anything went wrong with my Malta flight, it could have cost me the flight back to Milan.  (Remember my post from April titled Six Hours Late?)

Likewise, the potential for problems loomed for today’s travel.  I will be meeting Nina at the airport after she drops off her son’s fiancée at another airport.  If there is a traffic snarl or something goes wrong, and Nina doesn’t get there in time, what do I do?  Go ahead and check in?  Give up my ticket and wait?  And Buck will be meeting us at the airport in Sofia, and driving us to The Promised Land Complex, about 2 ½ hours away.

Such travel plans fraught with possibilities for problems used to keep me awake at night.  But this time I prayed about it, and decided to leave it all in God’s hands whatever happens.  I slept very well both nights, and yesterday morning before traveling, God told me very clearly that His message to me for the day’s travel is Psalm 81:6, “I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket.”  God is promising to carry my luggage for me because I’ve let go of my baggage.  By that I mean that since I decided to just trust Him, He is promising to take care of me the whole way.

Your might be wondering what is today’s travel promise from God.  Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

And He has!  God is good!  Whatever comes, God is good!

Great Happiness!

A group of us were talking about the meaning of names, and I said, “My friends are always asking me what my name means, but in English names don’t have meanings.  They’re just names.”  One girl said that she knew of a website where the meaning of names can be researched.  So she looked up my name, Alisa, and said, “Great happiness!  Your name means great happiness in Hebrew!”  All the other girls said, “Yeah that fits you!”

Now, that blows my mind because all my life I’ve had the opposite spoken over me.  I was born on a Wednesday, so I was told “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.”  I believed it!  Depression has been a plague and a curse on my family—one which I recently broke.  I have suffered a couple of bouts of depression so severe that I slept only 1 or 2 hours a night for almost 3 months, and had suicidal thoughts and even suicidal hallucinations.  The longest period of depression lasted about 2 ½ years.

Once during a bout of severe depression I saw a funny clip on America’s Funniest Home Videos.  I laughed so hard that I couldn’t stop.  Then I began crying just as hysterically, thinking that surely this is the last time I will ever laugh.  It really alarmed my family, who had no idea how to help me.

Another time I literally felt something inside of me break at an unkind remark that I would normally have shrugged off.  After that, I passed entire days looking out the window and crying.  The sight of a bird flying by was enough to start me crying.

I don’t like having to depend on medication, but Prozac probably saved my life.  It didn’t make my life less painful, but it cushioned the pain enough to help me keep a grip and not act on those bad thoughts.  To be honest, all that feels like it was another life, a different person.

Nevertheless, despite the depression and the bad stuff in my life, I have always been able to remain mostly upbeat and positive.  Perhaps that is because even without knowing it, whenever anyone said my name, they were proclaiming great happiness to me without even knowing it.  Now that’s a great thought!

And now that I have truly surrendered all to God, I do have great happiness.  I never would have thought it possible—at least not in this life.

And here’s a fun thought, inspired by 6 year old Dave Junior: logic and chocolate do not go together.  Chocolate is not a great anti-depressant (the calories are unfortunate), but it does help some.  God is good!

Dancing on the Roof

Here in Dave and Sharon’s beautiful villa the roof is open and flat, so in the morning while it is still cool, the dancers practice on the roof.  Tonight I will do another overnight shift, so this morning I decided to spend some time with the dancer team.

Most people don’t know this about me, but most of my childhood was spent in ballet class.  I also took modern dance, tap, and jazz.  Dance is something I dearly loved, but gave up to become a housewife and mother.  There was a time when I believed that Heaven would be an endless dance of love.  I have recently come around to believe again that Heaven will be an endless dance of love.  But I had felt shy among the dancers because all that was almost 40 years, 2 pregnancies, and 75 pounds ago.  That means that my center of gravity has dramatically changed and my muscle memory cannot be trusted.  What had been easy for me all those years ago has become quite difficult indeed, and I don’t balance as easily as I once did.

My shyness with the dancers also had to do with a bad experience a few years ago.  I had taken a class called Dance as Prayer.  It turned out that it was misnamed.  The teacher had actually wanted Dance as Show dancers.  I had gone, hoping to learn to pray in a new way.  The teacher criticized my dancing so harshly that I simply quit going.  I figured that I don’t need to spend €20 a week to be told what a bad dancer I am.  I do forgive her, and understand that I didn’t fit into her profile of dancers because of being too old, too fat, and too awkward.  Still, it stung very badly.

So I have made my interactions with the dance team very tentative and cautious.  I admit, I don’t want to be rejected again.  But instead of rejection, they have been very welcoming.  They seem genuinely glad to have me here on the roof to watch them practice and to pray for and with them.  I haven’t shared any of my history with them, and I’m sure that they would never guess at it.  But those fears of rejection turned out to be unwarranted.  Perhaps I’ll tell them when the moment is right.

I know that God has set all this up to bring healing to my heart through dance.  God is good!

Break Every Chain

After only 3 hours, both Molly and I wanted to get back to the Prayer Center.  It wasn’t a lot of sleep, but both of us got 3 very good hours of sleep.  I love that we got to be the ones to launch the 24/7 prayer.  It was out of my comfort zone, but so worth it!  In fact, every time that I have stepped out of my comfort zone in response to God’s call, I have enjoyed it and been blessed.

And speaking of being called out of my comfort zone, God has encouraged me to speak to people here in Malta—strangers!  Those who know me might be surprised, but I’m really quite shy, especially when it comes to talking to strangers.  My mom is really good at striking up a conversation with a stranger, and seems to be able to do it anytime and anywhere, with grace and freedom.  I have not enjoyed such ability or success whenever I have tried.  But, since it is God that is calling me out of my comfort zone, I will do it, and will enjoy it and will be blessed.

In obedience, I have started to greet everyone I see on the street (except the ones that are talking on their phones).  Most people have responded in a friendly way.  In Texas I used to greet everyone on the street, even strangers.  But in Milan and in the northeastern US, I have gotten such odd and sometimes hostile reactions that I stopped doing it.  I spoke to the man next to me on the bus this morning, but found that his accent and the background noise made it really hard to understand him.  Although he didn’t seem to be quite awake, he responded in a friendly way.  When we got to the end of the line, he wished me a nice day.

Yesterday we had more prayer requests from the other Transform teams, and had a prayer meeting with local believers.  One couple came with their 10 year old son, but soon after worship started, they suddenly left.  I don’t know if they were offended by the freedom of our worship or if they had some unrelated issue.  It definitely was not our intent to offend anyone.  Malta is even more religiously Catholic than Italy—celebrating saint days with colored lights and garlands and fireworks and parades of statues in the streets.  The Renewal Movement (Charismatic Catholicism) has begun here, but it is not the majority by any means.  Most Catholics here, as in Italy, are nominal, ritualistically religious, or superstitiously religious.  True faith is rare here in Malta.  But it won’t stay that way.

Another issue for the Maltese is refugee boat people from Africa.  Most of the boat people drown before making land, but such is the desperation of these people that they just keep coming.  The same current that caused the Apostle Paul’s boat to shipwreck on Malta brings the African boats to these shores instead of to Italy (though many do land in Italy).  The European Union has told Malta that they must keep the boat people, so the population of the island has changed dramatically.  Many Maltese resent the presence of the Africans, feeling that their island has been invaded, their jobs taken, and their economy drained.  The fact is that the European Union financially helps Malta, though I don’t know how much.  Refugees are put into detention centers for a year while their backgrounds are checked.  As you can imagine, this is not a quick process, working in cooperation with various African governments that do not want to have these people returned to be a drain on their own struggling economies.  Then the refugees are released to find work that nobody else wants to do because of low pay or the danger involved.

Molly, who is a black African, discovered firsthand the anger and resentment of the Maltese for the African refugees.  She was walking with 2 other girls from our team, and they spoke to people in the park.  They asked one older man if they could pray for him.  An ugly look came over his face and he pointed his finger at Molly, shouting: “Pray about them!”

The unexpected venom of his anger startled and hurt Molly.  But later as she told us about the incident, Molly prayed for the man, forgiving him and releasing him to God’s love.  While walking with Molly, I saw another older man who scowled at Molly.  I turned to her and said, “Molly, I’m so sorry for the way that man spoke to you!”  How terrible to be hated so much just because of the color of your skin!  The man had no idea what a sweet person Molly is, or that she had come for the specific purpose of praying for his country.

Jesus is the chain-breaker, and He will break every chain and proclaim freedom to the captives.  Yes, Lord!  Break every chain!  God is good!