Sunday, September 29, 2013

Kalisz 2013, Word 1

So I've established that Sukkot in Kalisz was a wonderfully anointed time. As a result I need many posts to do justice to describing my time there. During the week I received various words and messages from God, and more or less I've decided to give each one a post, describing situations as needed.

This is in all likelihood an incredibly boring post idea for anyone other than me, spiritual mentors (though not even that's certain), and my mom (again, not so sure on that one...). All the same, sometimes it's nice to see the parallel ways God moves in our lives. Sometimes in my story there's a blessing for you in yours, and vice versa. So here we go!

The first word I received from God was from a member of one of the English worship teams (some countries had more than one team). I was sitting near the back of the sanctuary, asking God to hear from Him. I've struggled so much with pride that I fear that sometimes I go too far, focusing more on abasing myself in my sin rather than accepting God's grace and praising Him for covering it. Some would describe that as false humility, since I end up being the focus just the same. At any rate, despite my self preoccupation, God still saw fit to give me a word of encouragement. Here is what He had for me: You are more than a conqueror. It's time to spread your wings and fly.

Now that I am agonizing over next steps this word seems all the more pertinent. All of the doubts and reservations holding me back from going into full time missions sooner rather than later have no bearing before the All Powerful and Able to Provide Anything God. I am more than a conqueror in Christ, and so really, through the power of His spirit I actually can spread my wings and fly. You see, if I really believe that our God is greater then I must also believe that He can take care of student loan debt and any living costs that arise as I move into the ministry work He has prepared for me.

If I believe that whatever next step I take is walking into God's will, then I trust that He will provide for me every step of the way, and that He will also provide for my family and friends. I trust that my mother will be understanding and that my family and friends and I will remain close in heart. And in any case that arises, I trust that God's grace is and will be sufficient unto my needs.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Italian Worship

Without a shadow of a doubt I was meant to have gone to Poland this past week. If I'm going to be honest that trip was the main and possibly only thing I was looking forward to coming back to Milan for, apart from friends of course. My heart quailed at the thought of coming back to a country where I felt more of a foreigner and infringer than I ever thought possible. It was like lazing around in lovely salty sea water and then being told you had to do laps through molasses now. Hence the comment in previous post about my heart for Italy needing to be restored.

Now, what do Poland and Italian worship have to do with each other you ask? Well let me tell you! A lovely church in Kalisz, Poland has a pastor with a heart for Israel, and every year during Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) he invites nations from all over Europe to join together in 24 hour worship and prayer for the entire week. A herculean effort, but all made possible through an abundance of Holy Spirit blessing and presence. So, less herculean and more spritulean (that word is totally in Webster's...).

So now the pieces are coming together. But as an American what could I possibly have to do with the Italian team going to Poland for Sukkot? And an African-American at that, I can't even make fanciful claims of distant or otherwise ties to European ancestry. Well, God doesn't care about that. He saw my heart was willing, and so for the entire week I was the main vocalist and secondary guitar player for Team Italy. God is AMAZING. Like, AMAZING. I think anyone who experienced my worship leading throughout college and high school can attest to the fact that I have a heart for international and intercultural worship. This was like a really early Christmas present and birthday present and another Christmas present all wrapped up into one big weeklong 24 hour a day
 extravaganza. Only God can come up with a team that an American woman prayed over for two years resulting in: her and our English friend as chorus and intercession, me as lead vocalist and some guitar, a 17 year old Italian on drums, a 19 year old Italian on electric guitar, and a 40 something year old (father of drummer) on bass guitar. God is something special. Really special.

Even the painful bits of the week were good, but this particular post is for the gushing "that was fantabulous" portion. My time in Poland was both one of the most intimate and communal worship experiences I have ever had. My own personal worship of God seemed to have grown exponentially. There was such an air and encouragement of freedom that I felt completely comfortable letting go, and before I knew it I was praying and prophesying and declaring words from God whilst hitting notes I never thought I'd reach vocally during our worship sessions (unfortunately that same anointing didn't fall on my guitar playing... ). Each session was two hours long, but when the end of our sessions came up our team was always surprised with how quickly a session had passed. It was like we were all transported to a place where time had no importance and wasn't really all that noticeable. Our hearts were focused on worshiping God, and all was as it should be.

In that same vein, being continually surrounded by and fellowshipping with people whose hearts were focused on God, well that was wonderful. I met so many people who are now so dear to me and who were instrumental in the work God was doing in my heart and in my life while I was in Kalisz. I know also that God had used me to work in the lives and hearts of other people present as well.

God honored so many prayers, desires, and dreams by bringing us together as a group and it was wonderful to see the ways our dreams came together. It was truly a taste of heaven. Nations together, worshipping in various tongues, all declaring "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty!"

Making a go of things

I swear I speak more and more like an English person with each minute I stay in Milan. I've even been told recently that when I lead worship it comes out in an English accent! But that's for another post.

This post is about making a go of things. You know, trying to accomplish something without really understanding what's going on. You kinda wing it. In my case I felt clearly the call of God upon me to serve in Italy. I immediately went to work planning it all out. Really I should have known better but the control freak in me thought I knew exactly how and when God's calling on my life was supposed to take place.

I have come to a point now where I can acknowledge that though God did give me a heart for Italy, he didn't say it had to be now, right this instant, and he didn't say it was specifically as a teacher with the occasional side gig singing in bars. And given my unforeseen visa difficulties, I am inclined to think God is telling me to wait for something. By faith, waiting and not knowing will no longer be a spiritual problem for me. By faith I can wait on the Lord and not rush ahead making five million plans, or even just one plan, that all come together in a way that makes "perfect sense". Well, to me, at least.

Recent experiences would suggest that one of those somethings I need to wait for is a renewed heart for Italy, and that I also need healing. As I already stated, patience can be added to the list. Really, God's will is the best place to be, but I know I am called to sacrifice something. Of course we want to give God our all in our walks with Him, but some people are not ready for what that actually means in their lived reality. Sometimes I'm not ready for what that means. Maybe that initial feeling of "go home" wasn't completely unfounded after all. In my walk with God my family and friends have been the only things making my decisions difficult. Though I am in Milan right now, when I go home (admittedly much sooner than any of us had anticipated, and much to my mother's joy) I will enjoy my time with family and friends, and I fully entrust them to God's care now and when He calls me away from them. In the words of Jeremy Camp (hopefully the connection here does not go unnoticed...) "I wait for the Lord. My soul waits."

Holy Tram

Sometimes God speaks to you in the funniest ways, and in the most awkward places. One such place was the tram stop outside my apartment one evening as I was on my way to my church's film festival. It was Thursday March 14th, just one day after my 23rd birthday, and I was feeling pretty good.  There I was, happily humming along to a Jeremy Camp song when wham! I suddenly find myself filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Pretty awkward. I try to disguise it by keeping along with the melody of the song, but when the Spirit moves you gotta go with the flow or miss the tram, so to speak. So there I am  pacing and trying to keep away from people and ignore them staring at me at the 15 tram stop. I get this incredible urge to start praying for Italy, and a few of my students in particular. I pray for God to send someone here to witness to all of the lost people, and I get this sudden impression of "I already have".

Uh oh. If you have a relationship with God then you can guess who He meant there.

I look up at the tram announcement screen and I see one word: URBANA. ('Urban' in Italian) In a split second a few very important Urbana 2009 experiences flashed through my head. I remembered seeing the video of the missionaries in Italy and wondering what they were needed for. I recalled my growing interest as I watched and realized there was a need here and that as an Italian major, missions in Italy might actually be a good fit for me. I remembered learning about IV Link and thinking what a great way that would be to combine my passions for travel, students/teaching, and just about anything intercultural. And last but not least, I remembered Shane Claiborne's talk, and I remembered the part where he said something akin to 'Be careful what you pray for, because you might be the answers to your prayers." Was I ready to be that? Standing in Milan, I was asking myself if I was ready to answer the call and be someone God sent to do His will in Italy. It seems so funny now, but at the time I had already told my mother I was coming home. I had been hurt, and I had very little love left in my heart for Italy. Now I would have to tell her that I had changed my mind, and would be doing the optional second teaching year of my program after all. Yay. Still, I had since learned that the best place to be is in God's will, even if that means spending less time with my family friends in the U.S. than I would ideally like.

The next time I gathered up with friends to share this experience and my decision to stay in Italy, one of my friend's immediate response was: "Well that's obvious. It was clear to all of us you were called here!" Thank goodness God is patient and gives us some of those Deus ex machina moments, because I certainly hadn't gotten the memo.