Suki is an evangelist. Most of her evangelistic experience has been one-to-one, sharing Jesus. But she has a really amazing testimony.
Suki had been placed under a voodoo spell, raped, and had a near-death experience in which she saw both Heaven and Hell. Now that’s the kind of testimony that a Christian comedian once observed: “makes you hate your own testimony. Why couldn’t I be on drugs?”
I knew that the Lord wouldn’t want to keep Suki hidden away in her small town in Tuscany forever. And sure enough, she has started getting invitations to tell her testimony all over Italy.
Just a week after my return, Suki had an invitation to speak at a small church here in Milan. Did I say small? Tiny! Nevertheless, they had invited Suki to come to their International Women’s Day party and speak to the women there. So Suki asked me two things: 1) could she stay at my apartment? and 2) would I like to come to the party with her?
I said yes to both questions. The church is in a tiny storefront on the other side of town. They have been without a pastor for two years, and the church would be impossible to accidentally find. That’s not to say that I have something against small churches. Not at all! But after two years, one wonders if perhaps it might be time to give up the expense of the storefront and go back to meeting in homes.
And size really is the least of this church’s problems. Without a pastor, there doesn’t seem to be any clear leadership at all. For example, Laura, the woman who had invited Suki to speak had gotten a promise from others of the church that they would pitch-in and pay for Suki’s train ticket, which is only right. In the end, they did not give Suki a penny for her trouble.
Here’s what happened:
As Suki was leaving home in Tuscany, Laura called to tell her that the women don’t want to hear anything about witchcraft. She explained that not all the women at the party would be believers, and the majority of them were South American, so they were very familiar with witchcraft, demonic spirit, and so forth. Well, Suki can’t give her testimony without touching on those elements. She asked me what she should do. I said, “Pray about it, and ask the Holy Spirit to give you the right thing to say,” (that’s what I always do).
Suki also asked me and another friend, Giulianna, to give a brief testimony, too. So we did. But the set-up was very odd. Laura picked us up from the subway station and brought us to the church, which was close enough to walk in under ten minutes. However, we would never have found the church without Laura’s help. The tiny storefront was about 12 by 24, so twice as long as it was wide. They had set up chairs all around, and in the middle there was a long table, heaped with cakes, cookies, and candies.
I gave my testimony (the five minute version), then Giulianna gave hers, and then the woman who appeared to be in charge announced that we would have a closing prayer—completely skipping Suki. Suki stopped her and the woman rather grudgingly let Suki give her testimony. I couldn’t help but notice the way eyes of everyone on the other side of the room kept roaming from Suki to the dessert table in front of them. I admit, I couldn’t keep my eyes from roaming to the dessert table, too. And as Suki spoke, I noticed the leader getting very agitated. Suki spoke for every bit of the 20 minutes allotted to her, and didn’t skip the uglier parts. She did not, however, go into much detail about those uglier parts, since there was a child present.
When it was over and dessert was finally served, a couple of women practically flew to Suki, asking for prayer—one of them asked how she could be saved. The woman next to me was wearing a pretty glass Star of David, so I asked her about it. Her name is Sarah—she emphasized that her name is spelled like Sarah from the Bible because the Italians leave off the h. She is taking Hebrew lessons, too—from a Rabbi here in Milan. So we talked about the wonderful Jewish roots of our faith and my trip to Israel.
The leader kissed each of the women there and left. The only woman she did not kiss was Suki. When Laura drove us back to the subway station, she regretfully told Suki that she would not be able to pay her after all because the church had decided not to. This is why I don’t believe that they can last as a church. They don’t honor either their commitments or God’s people who come to serve them.
The last thing Laura said to me was that she wants to come visit my church, which is the biggest evangelical church in Milan. Even people outside of Italy know my church and our pastor. This has caused a lot of jealousy and rivalry among the other evangelical churches of Milan. Please pray that this changes. Pray for unity among the churches and God’s people.
Sunday morning Suki, Giulianna, and I boarded a train to Turin. This was the first time in a long time that I had taken this train all the way to Turin. Usually I get off and take a subsidiary train to Biella to visit my friends and favorite church there. We arrived in Turin just about noon and Suki’s friend, Pastor Margarita, picked us up. She took us to a restaurant where they had set aside a whole room for the celebration of International Women’s Day. The event was so well-attended that the restaurant had to bring in more chairs, and squeeze us in tighter.
Margarita had invited Suki to come speak at their celebration. Again, Giulianna and I were asked to give a brief testimony. Giulianna had another task, that of being the event photographer. She was a good choice for the job, and took some great pictures. But first the restaurant began bringing in one delicious pizza after another and another, each one with different toppings. I have no idea how many pizzas were consumed, but I would say at least 35 to 40, possibly more. We finally had to ask the staff to stop making pizzas for us.
Then Suki gave her testimony. I could see that the women were spellbound by Suki’s recounting of these events. When Suki got to the part about seeing Heaven and Hell, I saw tears in many eyes all around me. And when she finished, Margarita led us in a closing prayer and many of the women flew out of their seats for one of two destinations: Suki or the bathroom. One woman made her way over to me, instead. Kelli is an American missionary who is also from Texas. She told me that she and her husband have been in Italy just three months. She’s still learning the language. Margarita later told me that Kelli is giving her English lessons. Knowing how busy a pastor’s life is, I am impressed that she is taking the time to learn English. It will definitely serve her.
After most of the women had left, we went to the parking lot, where we made some final prayers with the women who had stayed around, waiting to talk to Suki. It was very clear that God had used her to bless and encourage this wonderful group of women.
Then we went to Margarita’s church to meet her parents, Claudio and Michela. Her dad was pruning a tree, and another couple, Sandro and Daniela, were also helping with routine cleaning and maintenance before the evening service.
We were then taken to Sandro and Daniela’s house for an afternoon coffee break before taking the half hour trip out to Claudio and Michela’s house, where the three of us would be staying the night. We had been invited to the evening service at church, but we all declined. We were exhausted from the train ride, the party, and schlepping our bags all over Turin.
On the way to their house, Claudio stopped at the supermarket to pick up some things for supper. Sandro and Daniela had followed us in their car, and they also bought some things for supper. Once we got to the house, Claudio took our bags up the stairs to the loft, where we would be staying. And as we settled in, he began cooking supper. Michela told us that most of the time, he is the cook.
He cooked for almost an hour while we rested and settled in. Then hunger drove us downstairs to the kitchen. We visited while he continued cooking, making wonderful smells. After a while, Margarita and her family arrived, so Michela and Daniela shuttled dishes and utensils, napkins and glasses downstairs to the basement dining room.
While they did that, Claudio told us his testimony. He said that he had been a heavy smoker, and had cared nothing about God. But his grandson (who was three years old) kept praying for him. Every time he was sick, this child would pray for him, and he would be instantly healed. Then one day, the boy prayed that he would quit smoking. After the boy went home with his parents, Claudio went out the back door to smoke. He lit the cigarette, but found himself unwilling to smoke it. All desire to smoke was gone. Soon after that, he gave his life to the Lord.
Then dinner was served at about 8:30. Dinner revived me, and the conversation around the table was very interesting. At one point Sandro asked me to guess what his last name is. Of course, I couldn’t. It’s Quattr’occhi—Four-eyes. I laughed my head off, saying, “Really?” He assured me that it really is his name. He said, “I was teased a lot during grade school, as you can imagine.” Oh yes, I can imagine that’s true.
After supper, which lasted until almost 10:00, the long day finally caught up with me. I hardly even remember brushing my teeth and going to bed.
The next morning, as I began my prayer time, I told the Lord, “My heart is so full, I just want to know what’s on Your mind.” And He replied, “I want to bless all the people of this church. I am about to open the windows of Heaven to pour out a blessing on them. The testimony you heard about Claudio’s healing, will become commonplace. Children will pray for people and they will be instantly healed. Adults will donate money as I direct them from a bottomless wallet.” Wow! I could hardly wait to tell Margarita.
Later that morning we met Margarita at her office (she works at a plumbing supply company). When I told her what the Lord said, she got tears in her eyes. She said, “I have been fasting and praying specifically for these things.” So this was big confirmation to her.
So we all prayed together, and then Claudio took us to the train station. Suki and Giulianna got on their train and I took mine. The difference between these two churches was night and day, and that difference was, I believe, the willingness to let the Holy Spirit move the way He wanted to move. It was a privilege to be a part of it. God is good!