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.

Surprised by Love and Kindness

I have the best job in the world, and I can say that because I have the best Boss in the world.  I’m a missionary, and my Boss is God.  I have never felt like my job was thankless or the work difficult.  Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” (Matthew 11:29-30).  And I can attest to the fact that it’s true—it’s truer than I had ever imagined possible.  How can it be that I spend my days pleasantly, doing what I love to do: meet missionaries, pray for them, and help them whenever and however I’m able?  It sure doesn’t seem like work, but I have a benefits program that’s unbelievable.  God provides for all my needs, He’s the Great Physician of my health plan, whenever I need legal help He’s my Advocate and the Judge, and the retirement program can’t be beat.

Me teaching the children to do the “Hokey-Pokey.”

 

I am in southern Hungary, staying in a nice house with a sweet family.  I came here at the invitation of a friend to help in a children’s summer Day Camp/Vacation Bible School.  I’ve been helping this week with various aspects of their program, but honestly, I’m somewhat limited as to how much I can do because I don’t speak Hungarian.  What I’ve done is teach the children some songs and games in English, help with the afternoon snacks, and basically just be available for anyone wanting to practice their English.  To be honest, it has just been fun.  Nothing I’ve done all week felt like work, and the family is very pleasant to stay with, despite the language difference.  The oldest son speaks English fluently, while the rest of the family’s language skills vary from almost fluency to practically no English at all.

Tonight they asked me (through the oldest son): “What does Hungarian sound like to your ears?”  Without hesitation I responded that it sounds like tongues.  When this was translated, the family screamed with laughter.  But I have noticed that after spending all week hearing Hungarian all day every day, I am beginning to be able to distinguish familiar words.  OK, most of the words I recognize are the numbers (one to ten) that I learned last year.  But I’ve also intuited a few words from the way they are spoken or the subject matter (when I know it).  And I know that if I’m able to pick up a few Hungarian words without really trying, then my advice to students wanting to learn English is good: listen to English every day.

Today was the last day of the camp, and they wanted me to speak briefly to the audience of children and their parents, and to lead them in a simple English song (“Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes”).  So I just told them how very grateful I am to have had the privilege of getting to know them and their children.  I had seen firsthand how big-hearted and generous the Hungarian people are, but that didn’t prepare me for what came when my part of the program ended.  The Camp Director came to the front with a basket of goodies for me, and he spoke about how much they all love me, and how they hope that I will someday return to visit their town again.  That’s when I lost it.  I was so touched by their kindness that my emotion flowed out of my eyes.  I doubt that any queen has been treated as royally as I have been treated here.