I remember when this journey started I had been living in Fort Worth for a little over 4 months when I heard that the young adults class in my church was going to send a small group to connect with some missionary partners our class had in Florence, Italy. I essentially went to the interest meeting to see why we had missionaries in Italy. (If you aren't sure...let me know. I would love to share with you the many reasons why.) As I became interested in going, I began to fill out the application. There is something about those applications that make me wonder if God would call a fallen person to share the message of the savior? I always become burdened with my guilt even though I know the truth that God has already paid my debt and forgiven my sins. Long story short I end up on the team feeling like I was doing something worthwhile in going to help our partners in Florence for a week over my summer but not at all feeling like I was qualified to go. Who knew that God would take my small leap of faith and change the course of my life?
It was in that trip that we also took a day trip by train to Bologna, Italy. There we met with Jesse and Tricia Marcos. While we were there Tricia mentioned that they were looking for an English as a Second Language Teacher to join them in the fall of 2009. Again my response was something along the lines, of ESL teacher yes, missionary no. I felt that there was no way God would call me into the missions field. I was an undeserving sinner. Anyhow like the first time God took the time to show me, he would call me. He did find me worthy of serving him. He showed me through the life of Paul and others in the New Testament that the people he used, other than Jesus himself, were all imperfect people called to share the perfect message. Wow, what a relief, I am not called to be perfect just to share.
However, several times in the past month I have felt God moving me towards another year here in Bologna, if not more, and I wanted to share that journey with you. The first time I felt God beginning to work on my heart, was this summer. I was in my second week of support raising and it was the first week support had not increased. I was praying asking God if he had changed his mind or if I was supposed to go at all. Not long after I finished praying and was staring at the number before me in a daze than my dishwasher stop. Being the excellent procrastinator that I am I stood up to put the dishes away rather than mail my support coach my number that hadn't changed. In the time it took me to put the dished away, I got three phone calls of people joining my team. The last call went something along the lines of,"Crystal, I have been praying and have decided to support you for two years at --$$ per month." Two years, I thought in disbelief I hadn't mentioned two years as even a remote possibility. Hum, I immediately pointed my finger in a heavenly direction and said God I am giving you a year, isn't that good enough. It soon occurred to me if I lived a 100 years, I was only giving him 1% of my life. Wow, that did not feel good. Ok, I will, maybe, just a little bit, think about I moaned.
Two weeks later was July 4th weekend, and I was at a family reunion for my Grandfathers side of the family. Now most of my family is from Texas or Arkansas on that side. I was standing at the sink talking with a distant cousin asking her, "What took you to New York?" She replied," I went to start a church plant, for 2 years." Her mother leaned over the sink to face me and say, "That was 30 years ago." Wow, again I prayed to God, I am in for a year, not more than that. I can't handle more; I am not qualified for that kind of task.
The next time I felt God speaking to me about more than a year, I was in Bologna. My team and I were on campus doing some surveys with the students asking many different types of questions. One was along the lines of, “Who would you discuss spiritual things with?" The answer," My friends, not my family, maybe my friends." Going off script I asked, " How long would you have to be friends with someone to talk with them about spiritual things?" Her answer was simple, "years, and years, and years, and years." Her answer was met with several nods from her friends.
The following week I was at the fall conference with Agape Italia staff. In one of the sessions I was with a girl celebrating her third year in Italy. She was super excited. I asked her why and she mentioned that most missionaries in Italy turn over within two years. It was known as a missionary grave yard. It made me start thinking, most missionaries are not in Italy long enough to develop the type of friendships necessary to discuss spiritual things with Italians. For the first time I felt really convicted about staying here longer.
As the holidays approached, I realized that for the first time in my life I would be spending Thanksgiving, and Christmas without any family. I was really crying a lot at the thought of that. Many nights I would do inventory with God about all the things I had given up to be here and to serve him. I would always concede that he was worth it, but that it was not the least bit easy. It was during one of my nightly prayers that I was asking God that if it really was in his will that I stay another year that he make it very clear. Making demands of God is never a good thing to do yet here I was. The next day, I am wasting time on facebook, when I get a message from an Italian student who lives in Rome that I don't know. He has requested that I add him and told me he did not know me but that he knew some of the Agape staff in Rome. So I conceded even though I usually don't. As soon as I added him, he sent me a message. He wanted to share with me the things he felt Agape was doing wrong. On the top of his list, was the fact that STINTers, like myself, were not in Italy long enough to build the type of relationships necessary to talk about spiritual things, and also so that the Italians wouldn't be suspicious. Not here long enough, I pondered in my brain. "God, could you have done something a bit more ambiguous. I was not asking for something quite so clear."
So, two weeks ago I went with a friend Linda to visit her friend Emanuel's family's vineyard in the country. One of the topics he wanted to speak with me about was that I really ought to think about staying longer in Italy if I wanted to be effective at what God was calling me to do.
It was after this that I really began praying that if God wanted me to stay, he would need to change my heart. In my mind my heart was with family and friends back home and not in staying another year. Last week in Nerja, Spain I was reading in Joshua, (I am reading through the whole bible this year) and I read:
Joshua 22: 5
"But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul."
I realize that if I love the Lord with all my heart, following him, even if it means putting family and friends aside, is an easy decision. I did not need God to change my heart if it was already following and serving him. In a few more verses again I knew what the decision should be when I read the words of Joshua 24: 15
"But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
I realize that I feel like an unlikely candidate to be called into service for God, but so did Moses. (Exodus 4:10) However I know that God's will is where I want to be. So what I ask is that you pray for discernment and wisdom for me in the coming months as I seek with all my heart to follow the Lord and to stay in his will.