I have been back from my counselling school outreach in Italy for a week, and people keep asking me how it was. When they do, I never know quite what to say. Italy was the very top of my list of places I wanted to go, but it was still unlike my expectations. We ate pasta for lunch and dinner every day - as the first course. Bread, vegetables, and meat followed. Gelato is one of the most delicious delicacies I have ever had the privilege of tasting. The boys on the team picked olives in Tuscany, and they were given a bottle of fresh olive oil in return. It is exquisite.
But Italy is more than food. In one of the teachings that I gave, God told me to read Ezekiel 37, the passage about the dry bones. As I read it aloud (and waited for the translation), I realised that the passage describes Italy. There are so many dry bones in Italy, so many people who wander around, brushing by religion daily, but remaining lifeless. The Catholic Church reigns supreme, but there is not a god to be seen. The true god of Italy is probably seduction, which permeates magazines, advertisements, and the streets. Italy is known for love, but I would define it as lust. Women are a commodity to be bought and put to work, and to a certain extent, I experienced that within the culture. I am a Southern girl, and I am used to being a little bit taken care of. I am not surprised when doors are opened for me, when men walk me home after dark, or when I am helped to carry heavy things. But in Italy, those behaviours are not normal.
The outreach that I was doing in Italy was my counselling school outreach, and as such, I was frequently invited into people's homes. It was such an interesting experience, to be welcomed into various homes, to eat with families, and to watch the way that they interacted. Italy is a warm country, culturally, and is different from both England and the place that I was raised. Families are in and out of each others' homes constantly, and a problem in a family is often the business of the whole community.
I had the privilege, while we were in Italy, of seeing a man come to Christ in his home. His wife accepted Christ two months previously, and I got to watch her face as he prayed to receive Christ. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen; the lines actually fled off of her face.
Ezra (my classmate from Minnesota) and I also led worship every night, and on some nights, we led some of the songs in Italian. That was one of the areas during which God showed up and ministered the most to my heart. I trained in opera growing up, and I was surprised by how easily I could sing in Italian again (and by how much of it I understood). God spoke to me through my rudimentary understanding of the songs, and I was so blessed to be able to worship with people of different nationalities, in a language that I do not speak, and to see how the Holy Spirit can sweep through a room, regardless of the language or my own comprehension.
I also did quite a bit of teaching on the outreach. Teaching is not my favourite activity, ministry-wise, but it is an area in which God always stretches me. When I taught about worship and heard the story of God humbling me in worship translated from English to Spanish, and then Spanish to Italian, I was reminded of the way that God always has a plan for me, and of how He has taken me away from my own plans and back to His plans for my life.
The counselling school was such an important five months in my life. It was hard; God pruned a lot of unhealthy things out of my life. He even pruned some things that were not bad, but that were keeping me from following His plan. On the other hand, God also showed me some next steps for my life, and He amazed me by how He has been preparing me uniquely since I was a tiny girl. So many of my interests, talents, and even childhood games have been preparing me for where God is leading me.