Buckaroo

Greetings from Bulgaria!

As my plane was landing, I could see that Sofia is a beautiful city, and seeing it on the ground confirmed what I had seen from the air.  I am staying with Buck and Nadia, pastors who God had led to leave their church and town to move three hours away to Sofia, but not to start another church.  What they had always done is church planting, but here God is calling out of their comfort zone.  While they are wondering what to do, Nadia has been working prostitutes and other trafficked people.

I met Nadia at a conference in Estonia in October, and we had hit it off.  So when Operation Capitals of Europe set Sofia as their next capital, I contacted Nadia.  She invited me to come for a few days before the start of OCE.  I think this was divine timing.

Last night Buck and Nadia had some friends over and invited me to a Christian musical that had been locally written and produced.  The friends are a couple: Anya is Bulgarian and Sasha (which is a male name) is Russian, and they are both dancers.  The conversation was mostly in Bulgarian.  My ears grasped at a few familiar sounding words, but mostly it sounded very much like Russian.  Buck ordered pizza from Domino’s, and I saw pretty much everyone put ketchup or mustard on their pizza—even my fellow Texan!  I tried mustard on mine, and it was really good!  I would never put mustard on an Italian pizza, but it’s good on American pizza.

Seeing that my plate was empty, Buck asked me if I wanted another slice, to which I responded, “No, I’m good.”  He laughed about how funny it is to say “I’m good” when refusing seconds.  I told him about trying to explain the Texanism “fixin to” to non-Texans, and how I had had to train myself to use the more universally understood “I’m getting ready to.”  He laughed.  He could relate.  Now I keep hearing myself saying “I’m good,” when I had always said it unconsciously.  But as I thought about it, it’s kind of a nice affirmation to say about myself several times a day.  I am good!

The musical was called “John, Son of Thunder.”  Of course, it was all in Bulgarian, and set in modern times, but it wasn’t hard to follow along, since I have read the Gospels.  The music and dancing were really great, and the set design was imaginative.  The audience was most of the spectrum of Sofia’s Christian community, and they pretty much all know each other.  I commented on how nice it was to see Christians of all denominations coming together like this—it’s only really happened in Milan with the March for Jesus.

This morning I woke up to snow falling, but it hasn’t stuck.  For me, snowfall is always a miracle from Heaven.  Who know what God has in store for us today?  But I know this:  He’s good, and whatever He has for us will be good, too.  I’ll say it again: God is good!

My Plans Plus Hurricane Sandy Equals God’s Plan

Last year when I prayed about and booked travel to the US, God changed and enlarged the scope and purpose of my plans, using the Bastrop Wildfires (http://www.nbcdfw.com/weather/stories/17-Missing-in-Bastrop-Fires-1554-Homes-Destroyed-129616998.html).  He had told me to return to the US for five months, so I thought I would be using that time to fix up and sell my house.  Instead, my house became available just when my brother and his family needed a place to live.  Their house had burned down in the wildfire.  That left me without my plans for those five months.  In thinking about it before flying home, I said, “Lord, what am I going to do for five months without a house?” not really asking Him, just musing, but He answered immediately, saying: “Promote missions in Europe!”  And I saw that it was a fantastic idea.  So I attended conferences and spoke at churches and to church groups about Europe as a mission field.

It was a very fruitful trip, and my brother and sister-in-law helped me fix up the house to sell, so everything worked out even better than I could have hoped for, certainly better than my original plan.

This year God has changed my plans using Hurricane Sandy.  Waaay back in May I prayed about and booked travel back to the US for three months.  My travel date was October 31.  I had less than a week between returning from the Tallinn, Berlin, Moscow trip to get ready.  That left little time for seeing friends before flying back to the US.

One friend in particular that I had wanted to see before going was Francesca, an Italian missionary to Cambodia.  But I returned to Milan only to find out that she was in the hospital, surely dying.  When I went to the hospital the doctors told me that she had already died.  I visited her in the hospital morgue, which I wrote about in my post “Goodbye Dear Friend” (http://europeanfaithmissions.com/2012/10/30/goodbye-dear-friend/).  The celebration of Francesca’s life (what others call funeral) was scheduled for October 31, my departure date.  I felt bad about missing it because I hadn’t gotten to see any of her family at the hospital.  When I learned that my flights were cancelled because of the hurricane, I was grateful to be able to attend after all.  Her son remembered me, and it was good to be able to tell him how much I had loved his mother.

Another friend I had wanted to see was Giulio, whom I had met in London two years ago.  We had set a dinner appointment for my return from Moscow, but illness had incapacitated him, so we had to cancel.  With the change of plans, I was able to have dinner with Giulio (fully recovered) last night.

Finally, there was Enza, a dear friend for many years.  I had felt bad that I hadn’t had time to pay her a visit, even though she only lives a block away.  This morning I visited with her, and we made plans for a visit to her house in the country in February when I return.

I know that a lot of peoples’ travel plans were disrupted by the Hurricane Sandy.  How we react to a change of plans reveals a lot about ourselves, especially our flexibility and our trust in God.  At first I was not pleased about the change of plans, but not because of delayed travel.  I was unhappy at having the United Airlines website telling me that all my flights were on schedule, and then after schlepping my bags all the way out to the airport to find that they were all cancelled.  Of course they knew and could have updated their website accordingly.  United Airlines handled all this very badly in my opinion, and cost me over 3 hours travel time to the airport, and €16 for the bus ride.  But I’ve learned that the quicker that I can remind myself of God’s goodness, and the fact that He is in control, the happier I will be.  So while on hold with United, I did an attitude adjustment.  And that’s when I saw the opportunity in the delay.  If I had allowed myself to remain annoyed with United (and justifiably so!), I might have failed to see the opportunity to see these three dear friends.

Having visited my friends, I feel ready to leave Milan for three months.  And as I prepare for my travels tomorrow, I realize that relationships are important to God.  God is a relational God who delights in loving relationships: our relationships with one another and even more, our relationship with Him.  God is good.

Goodbye Dear Friend!

On Sunday (my first Sunday back from my trip to Tallinn, Berlin, and Moscow) Jerry, the head of the church’s missions organization, made an announcement at church that my friend, Francesca, is dying of cancer.  It had apparently been in her body for many years.  He smiled and said that Francesca told him: “I don’t think I’m going to make it to church this week.”  Her last words to the church were: “Tell them that God is good.”

When I asked about her after church Jerry told me not to try and go see her because she’s not really able to communicate, being truly at the end of her life, and not conscious very much at all.  Well, I thought, that may be true, but I want to go to her anyway.

Francesca is very dear to me.  She is the very first missionary I encouraged in my ministry of missionary encouragement—before I even knew that this was my ministry.  Francesca heard the Good News of Jesus Christ about 8 years ago, and responded immediately by going on short-term mission trips, eventually being called to long-term ministry starting orphanages in Cambodia.  She spent the rest of her life in Cambodia sharing the love of Jesus with His little ones.

Two years ago (when she was 70), Francesca told me that God had told her that when she turns 72 He would bring her back home.  So with the end of her ministry approaching, the focus of her visits home (here in Milan) became a search for someone younger who could take over the ministry.  She wanted the transition to be smooth, and did everything she could to make that happen.  Neither she nor I had any idea that the home He was talking about would be her forever home.  But that’s probably just as well.

When she returned to Milan at the end of the summer she admitted to me that she was beginning to feel her age.  She said that she was sleeping a lot, and that perhaps she just needed to catch up on her sleep.  But she continued to weaken, and began to seek medical help.  The last time I saw her was in church just before my trip.  She looked very thin and pale, but as always, she had a smile on her face.

So when I heard about her on Sunday, I knew that I had to go see her, so I found out where she was.  Yesterday morning was my first opportunity, and I went to the hospital.  The doctors very gently told me that she had died Sunday night.  They said that she was in the hospital morgue, and said that I could go visit her there.

Now, I am not a morbid person by any means, but as I was leaving the hospital, I thought that maybe I should go visit her in the morgue.  There might be family members there who I could sympathize with.  So I followed the signs down to a basement hall with several small rooms.   There was no one there.  A sign on the wall said: “Brief visits only, please.”

I found Francesca’s name on one of the doors and entered.  There was no one there with her.  Her body was laid out on a gurney, covered in a sheet.  They had tied a cloth around her head to keep her mouth shut, but had not closed her eyes.  I came closer, knowing that what I was seeing was not Francesca, but the cocoon from which she has emerged like a glorious butterfly.

I told her:  “I love you, Francesca!  Please give Jesus a big hug for me!”  Then I thanked God for her life, and that she has life in abundance.  And you might think that this is fanciful imagination on my part, but I saw a certain glimmer of light in her eyes for just a brief moment.  I know that she heard me.

As I was leaving the hospital, I imagined Francesca meeting my dad, and telling him all about my life in Italy, and my ministry to her and to other missionaries.  He would love that!  Daddy always loved real-life adventure stories, and I know that he would have loved all my European adventures.  Just think of the friendships in Heaven that were never possible here on Earth!  I can almost hear the two of them laughing together.

You’re right, Francesca, God is good!  I will keep telling people that for you!  God is good!