Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The View

As I rode out of Rome last weekend aboard a bus heading to the sea I gazed with anticipation out the window.  In fact I switched seats 3 times before settling on one with what I hoped would be a good view.  We were moments outside of Rome when I realized what I was looking at was not a good view, it was a heartbreaking one.  For a moment I flashed back to scenes I witnessed in Haiti, pieces of tin leaning against sticks surrounded by mounds of garbage.  My eyes filled with tears as I looked just beyond this gypsy camp to see a mall, new apartments and even a few villas just a few hundred feet from the encampment.  I had heard and read of the gypsy camps, but this was the first time I was seeing them and my heart broke and my mind was filled with questions.

We continued on and the gypsy camps faded into the distance, but my view of Italy had once again been altered.  I could no longer simply sit and enjoy the beauty of the snow covered hillside towns because all I could think is why don't you help your neighbors?  I wondered about those who would spend yet another night in the freezing cold and rain.  I thought of all the gypsies I encounter daily and how cold my own heart had become to their plight.  It made me think of the other groups of people who call Rome home; the immigrants, homeless, pilgrims, refugees, and those who were trafficked.  The people no one thinks about when they think of Rome.  It was a beautiful and painful prayer-filled ride to the seaside town of Montesilvano.

I arrived on time but was dropped off on the side of the road.  Having confidence in my Italian and my ability to find the beach if it was anywhere nearby I walked into the coffee shop and asked for directions.  The guy had no idea where my hotel was, but pointed right.  So I went right.  I ended up at the train station there was a map, but it did not have the street I was looking for listed, so I asked a guy working on the side of the road.  He again had no clue, but pointed so I went the direction he indicated.  I walked and walked and walked down a long cold neighborhood street.  I only saw one old woman, I smiled and asked her for directions.  She merely shrugged.  I got to what appeared to be the only street with any life on it, and turned in the direction I knew led to the shore and continued on.  I found another coffee shop at the end of that street, asked for directions again, the guy had no idea, but the gal that walked up thought she knew and said it was 2 Kilometers or more.  I found the beach, I wanted to be excited and enjoy the view of the ocean beating against the rocks but it was so ridiculously cold and windy that I could not stand to look at it.  Finally I arrived suitcase in tow at the Grand Hotel Montesilvano (yes that's right a giant yellow building taller than anything else in town that no locals seem to know exists).

After checking in at the conference and getting my key I made my way to the 4th floor praying that my room would have a great view of the beach.  It did, but it was too cold to leave the windows open, the heating was not fully working due to the fact that normally the hotel is closed for the season and had opened just for us.  I laid down on my two beds pushed together and piled whatever blankets I could find on top of myself to try and get warm.  But refused to feel bad for myself as I thought back to those we had passed along the road who would be spending yet another night of their lives under some tin and cardboard.

When it was time for dinner I made my way downstairs and into the dinning room.  I chose a seat at a table filled with people from Napoli.  Some of them acknowledged my presence, but most did not.  I was soon to realize that this was going to be the case at every meal throughout the weekend.  I was invisible, or at best an annoyance disturbing the groupings no matter where I chose to sit.  I had, had hope the first meal when I realized that the girls from Napoli were from a church planted by Twin Lakes Church in Aptos (min from my home town), I thought, great we will have something to talk about.  However, as soon as we got that bit of information established the conversation  was through.

I don't want you to get the wrong idea about Italians, because up until this weekend I have personally never really had a hard time feeling welcomed, but for whatever the reason and I believe there was a reason I was to be the outsider this past weekend.

Our speaker, Peter Mead was given the task of speaking to the theme, His Passion, My Passion; Sharing the Passion of God with the Nations.  I have to say that Peter did an amazing job.  I have heard hundreds of speakers at similar conferences over the last few years and Mead's approach and style of sharing captured my attention like few others have.  Why?  I think because Peter was determined that we needed to look at the scriptures through different lenses, he wanted to impart a different view of the stories we think we know so well.  As I sat and listened to him present the same old stories from a different view my heart and mind were captured once again by the beauty of God's word.

I spent a good part of the weekend alone with God; in my room, or on a walk along the bitterly cold shore and through the empty streets of Montesilvano.  In these moments God began to show me how I needed a change of perspective.  I had come into the weekend beaten down, overwhelmed by life, by a lack of support, stressed and depressed.  When I arrived to a gray cold ocean side town and was made to feel like an unwelcome outsider all I wanted to do was cry.  But God met me in my sadness, in my loneliness and my heartache and began to reveal how He was viewing my life at the moment.  He reminded me of; all the friends and connections that I have made in such a short time in Rome, of the beautiful apartment that He had provided, of the amount of Italian I had learned in just a few short months, of the new families I was being welcomed into, of the work He was doing through others I have met.  In short God helped me refocus my eyes upon His goodness and faithfulness instead of looking at my weaknesses and struggles.

Just like God had allowed me to be uncomfortable to get my attention in Moldova at the last conference I went to, He was doing it again to help me see and truly connect once again with those He loves here in Rome.  Those who many find it hard to love, the gypsies, homeless, refugees, immigrants, and those whom many assume it is easy to love the Italians.  God reminded me that He desperately loves all of these people who find themselves living in Rome and He has placed me and my fellow missionaries and the Christians of Italy here for the purpose of showing that love in a tangible way.  

Contrary to popular opinion living in Rome is not a walk in the park.  In fact I got a t-shirt at the missions conference to remind me of just that.  The t-shirt says "Missione non una passeggiata" (loosely translated too: missions not a walk in the park).  Don't read this as complaining, as that would be reading what I am saying incorrectly, but I want you to understand that missions here in Italy like most if not all places in the world is not an easy thing.  Rome may very well be one of the most amazing cities on earth, it may be the center of the Catholic church and it may be a top tourist destination but never let those three facts hinder you from seeing the need in Rome.  Rome is a spiritual battle field, not much different than when Paul describes it in the first part of Romans...

Romans 1

 1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life[a] was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power[b] by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from[c] faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:
   Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s Longing to Visit Rome
 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.  11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters,[d] that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.
 14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.
 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[e] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[f]
God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity
 18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
 28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Friends, pray with me for the people of Italy, especially the people who live here in Rome.  Italians and non Italians, if you don't know how to pray pray through this passage of Roman's everyday.  Pray for those of us serving here in Rome, not just those on the ReachGlobal team but the other missionaries and Christians here that God would continue to strengthen, equip and encourage us to continue on fishing for men and feeding them the bread of life. You are an important part of the ministry that God is doing here and around the world, don't  be fooled into thinking for one moment that your prayers and giving are insignificant, God uses them to bring people into His family.  We all need to make sure that we are keeping our eyes focused on the right things and the right things are the things that make God's heartbeat, the things He is passionate about are fishing for the lost, and feeding them the bread of life so that they too can come to glorify Him with their lives.

Let's keep the things of God in view and ask Him to continue to open our eyes to what He is doing and how He is inviting us to be apart of it.

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