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!

Granny’s Eyes and the Little Lost Bird

I returned from the Budapest, Bratislava, and Vienna trip feeling very tired and ready for a rest from traveling.  We had stayed in hostels the whole 2 weeks, so having a bedroom all to myself with a door feels like unbelievable luxury.  Of course, my hostel roommates were all very considerate—even those who were strangers—and I had no trouble sleeping.  But still, there is something about having space all to yourself.

When my plane landed at Milan Malpensa Airport and I turned on my phone, I received a voicemail message from a cousin that I had never met.  His mother had contacted me some weeks ago, asking if he could come stay with me.  He arrived in Milan the very same day that I did: Sunday.

My cousin is a big, sweet guy from Texas who goes by BC.  That’s very Texan to go by initials instead of a name.  This is his first trip to Italy, and he travels very light.  BC is 28 years old, very adventurous and open-minded.  When we wandered around a bit, looking for the tram stop in an unfamiliar area, it didn’t faze him one bit.  BC just takes things as they come.  He’s also a kindred spirit, with a big wanderlust and love for Europe.

He started out in Portugal, where he has friends.  After a few days there, he made his way down the coast to Spain, saw the Rock of Gibraltar, and back up the Mediterranean coast to France, then Turin, Italy where he spent the night Saturday night before coming to see his missionary cousin in Milan.  He showed me pictures of his trip, and they included some pictures of his mom, my dad’s cousin.  I saw a resemblance to my great-grandmother.  She looked like I would imagine that Granny had looked as a younger woman.  Her eyes were especially like Granny’s.  BC might look like his dad, who I never knew, but the family resemblance in his mom is unmistakable.

I took BC around the center and showed him the castle, the cathedral, the galleria, and La Scala opera house.  It’s amazing to be with someone who isn’t tired of seeing churches and castles.  It’s almost like seeing these things for the first time again.

Milan’s cathedral, the Duomo, is beautiful and a real wonder.  It is the 3rd largest cathedral in the world, after St. Peter’s in Rome and Notre Dame in Paris.  It was under construction for over 500 years, and has over 3000 life-sized statues built into its façade.  Although we didn’t go up there, it is possible to go explore the roof of the cathedral.  From the roof of the cathedral, you can really grasp just how enormous it is.  And from there, a whole lot more of the cathedral is still far over your head—all of it very intricately carved.

Inside the cathedral, BC and I went into the crypt that is behind and under the altar.  There lay the mummified remains of San Carlo (St. Charles), who had been bishop of Milan a few hundred years ago.  I had seen it before, and it still creeps me out.  BC was also creeped-out.  I also pointed out the statue of St. Bartholomew.  I had seen pictures of it, but had never spotted it before.  The saints are always depicted in the way that they were martyred.  According to legend, Bartholomew was skinned alive.  So the statue (which stands inside the cathedral near the side exit) shows him standing skinless with his skin draped over his shoulders—also very creepy.  Creepy religious art seems to be an Italian thing because I can’t remember even once seeing anything like this in any church in any other country.

When BC had spent 2 nights here, he declared himself to be rested and restless.  He said that he wanted to go by train to Como and on into Switzerland from there.  So I took him to the train station, helped him buy his ticket from the machine, and we said our goodbyes.  Yes, he is kin and a kindred spirit!

Today as I was finishing writing about BC’s visit a bird hit my window.  I was surprised to see that it was a parakeet.  It wasn’t afraid of me, and let me pick it up.  I took it downstairs to the custodian.  “Does anyone in our building keep birds?” I asked.  She said no, but advised me to ask the custodian of the building across the street.

I carried my little friend across the street and asked the custodian there.  She keeps birds, but both of her parakeets were still in their cage, which is enormous.  I asked if anyone in her building keeps birds, but she said no.  She opened the cage and told me to put it in.  At first the bird was reluctant to let go of my finger, but finally went into the cage.  It proceeded to investigate its new surroundings, while the other birds came closer for a good look at the newcomer.  There was a moment of tension while one of the birds fluttered at the newcomer, but soon they seemed to settle into a posture of guardedly watching each other.

“Thank you for taking the bird,” I said.  “Of course,” she chuckled.  “The cage is big enough for all 3, and I think they will get along.  I’m glad you brought it.  Left outside, he would surely starve to death.”

As I crossed back to my apartment building I felt grateful that I had been home when the bird hit the window.  Otherwise the poor thing would have died sooner or later.  I realized that it feels really good to have helped the little bird, and also to help the people who pass through my apartment.  Not that the people are in danger, but it’s good to help them on their way.  This is what I do.  God is good!