What Wonderful Blessings

31 10 2014

The Summer & Autumn
From the beginning of May I spent 3 wonderful months with a visiting couple from America who aided me while the ICF Senior Pastors are away. This was the beginning of amazing opportunities for me to stretch beyond myself, to trust God and let Him. The results were one of amazing encouragement, and affirmation of God’s call on my life as a Pastor.
For six weeks I pastored the church on my own. Having never had this opportunity before as I have always worked with Senior Pastors, this was a further opportunity for God to affirm my calling and ministry. These weeks were such a joy, seeing God at work through and within the church. While it is true that the church got smaller and smaller as many of the ICFers went home or on holiday, we had an astonishing abnormal amount of tourists come. Some weeks we had just 13 ICFers with 30 visitors. These visitors came from all over the world. We had such a good time worshipping God together, I so thoroughly enjoyed expounding the word of God, and then ministering to each other, along with great times of fellowship. It was a hectic but such a fun summer.
September saw a new couple come to aid me in the work here. They have been missionaries in Rome for 17 years. Having felt that it was time to move on from Rome, they agreed to come and aid me until the Senior Ministers return (hopefully in January), while praying about what God has for them next.
This has been another opportunity for God to work in and through my life, giving me great opportunities to grow in the finer details of running a church. At the moment this involves the wonderful old Italian plumbing.
In October I have started a teaching course on the Pentateuch which I am greatly enjoying. Plus, I am exploring starting an evangelistic outreach group with six people in the church. At the moment we are meeting to pray and discuss the possibilities. I am very excited about this and hopeful that the group will become a bridge for non-Christians to come into the Church and find Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
While the Senior Ministers are missed, God has exceeded all my expectations, I have grown, the church has grown numerically and I believe spiritually, and it has been such a wonderful joy.
The New Term
Throughout September we have seen an amazing influx of students coming to church. It has truly been wonderful to get to know these young people. Many have needed a lot of support as they have never been away from home before, others are obviously struggling with working their faith out in a very non-christian world of partying, drinking and casual relationships with the opposite sex, while others are shinning for Christ in a broken world and are looking to ICF to build up their faith, to learn, and encourage.
Here are some wonderful testimonies past students have written over the last year that I thought you might enjoy:
“The three months I spent at ICF helped me. I’ve always been one to struggle between faith and uncertainty. The Pastors gave me new hope and strength. They inspire me to be better. When I feel like things are going downhill, I just think of ICF, the love and the move of God. It was a puzzle piece I was missing all along. I hope to return one day to put all of my heart and soul in to the mission of ICF Florence. It is the place where my heart will always be.”
“I’m so thankful to have connected with ICF during those few months. You were so kind and welcoming from the beginning, making ICF feel like an immediate home away from home. It was always refreshing to gather there for prayer, worship, teaching and fellowship with others who love the Lord. These times often reminded me that though there was much to see and do there in Italy, nothing really compares to the Holy Spirit’s presence. He is good and has so much in store for those who seek Him! And thanks to ICF for having your doors wide open to those who are searching for hope or hungry to know the Lord more. Your faith and love has been such an encouragement to me, and I’m sure for many others as well.”
“The International Christian Fellowship has given me something that people back home prayed I would have while studying abroad in Florence, Italy. At first I did not attend church right away for the first few weeks of living here in Florence. God was tugging on my heart though so I Googled English speaking churches and ICF popped right up. Slightly nervous but in desperate need of community I went to the Prayer and Praise night. Pastor Randy was the first to greet me. He figured out quickly that I was the one that left a comment on the ICF Facebook page asking him about the church. Right away he struck up a conversation with me. I was very thankful and not used to a Pastor taking out so much time to just talk with me one on one. That night we all got in a prayer circle and they asked us one by one what we desired prayer for. I was really having a hard time in my Italian language class and was feeling rather defeated to be quite honest. I couldn’t hold back my emotions anymore. The sincerity of these people I had just met wanting to pray for whatever I needed got to me. I ended up crying so much that night. I was finally in a community that could give me the support I needed to get through my obstacles studying abroad here in Florence, Italy. As I confided to them all that my Italian language class was giving me a hard time they smiled at me with eyes full of sincerity and sympathy and placed their hands on me as they all prayed. I was so thankful. My new found family told me about their experiences learning the language and the struggles they had with it as well. They filled me with words and scriptures full of encouragement. To this day every time I see them they ask how everything is going. I am always so happy to tell them that the prayers worked, everything is going well. God always gives me peace now whenever I feel uneasy about a class. I have learned to pray more in those moments and give it to God. Ever since that night I have regularly attended ICF Prayer & Praise and Sunday mornings. My study abroad experience would have lacked so much if I had never gone to ICF. It has been a safe haven for many of my fellow peers studying abroad to fellowship with a Christian community. I have made priceless friendships with peers studying abroad here that attend ICF that I would not have made otherwise. No matter where I am in the world I know that I can always reach out to ICF for prayer, advice, or just to see how everyone is doing. ICF is a key component of my study abroad experience that I honestly do not know how I would have lived in Florence without.”
“I went to a praise and prayer meeting at the international church down the road. As we were praying, a thought came to me – how easy it is for us to forget what we are actually apart of. I found myself in what would seem like quite an odd situation – I was in a smallish room with 10 different people in the middle of Florence, all standing in a circle holding hands. There were two middle-aged Italian women, one to my right and one to my left, and other people also from Europe, America, Asia, Africa. We were praising God, worshipping God through song and music, and praying for needs. Among the prayers was for a premature baby whose lung had collapsed in the UK, prayer for a girl who was going to tell her Muslim dad about her faith in Jesus, prayer for a Pakistani missionary who faces loneliness. And next to me, an Italian woman, whose husband had left her a few years earlier – prayer for her now three year old daughter who is growing up without an earthly father. I didn’t know her circumstances, I didn’t know which city she came from, I didn’t even have a chance to catch her name. But as we stood there, in that circle holding hands and bringing her before Jesus, I couldn’t help but feel a connection, not just with her, but with the others – sharing the same hurt, the same affliction, the same joy, the same prayers and the same Lord and Saviour. I thank God for the glimpse of what He had intended His church to be – a place where His love is manifested. All that makes us different pales in comparison to our faith in Jesus, which unites us together. No affiliation with any club, any football team, any philosophy, or any nation can compare to belonging to the body of Christ, His church. One He loved so much that He died for. ICF is a part of the body of Christ, like a second home, a family, a sanctuary and a place where I was built up and reminded of why I was in Italy. Congrats and praise God for grace and favor for what He has done and what He’s still doing. I’m glad to have been a part of it (even for just 3 months).”
“I didn’t grow up in a Christian practicing household. It wasn’t until I went to college that I developed a personal relationship with Christ. And after I did, there was no stopping it, I was part of leadership teams, led Bible studies and loved it. There was always something for me to do, and I never had free time. It was an awesome community but looking back I realized it seemed more to be about the community than my personal relationship. It was quite the turn around when I got to Italy; I tried to get involved with everything my school had to offer, but with no avail. I was getting frustrated not having a schedule full of activities to go too, and I didn’t know what to do..until I came across ICF!! The first time I walked into ICF I could feel God’s presence and it was so overwhelming and just what I needed. It continued to be the same whenever I went. And I met the most wonderful people. I started spending most of my days at ICF. I’d work on homework, help decorate or clean, anything really just to stick around. People would randomly stop by during the day for a chat, or prayer time and it was always such a blessing and a fun time to see friends and make new ones. I always looked forward to going and seeing who would be around. It was awesome to keep seeing the Ministry grow especially on Sunday mornings when we’d have to get more chairs since we had so many people. I’m so excited to keep hearing how God is working through the Pastors and everyone at ICF. Florence is in desperate need of God’s love and you guys are showing it and it’s so encouraging! The fellowship was more than I was expecting, and it was so encouraging spending time with people from so many different walks of life. The Prayer and Praise services were one of my favourite parts. The prayer times were always so powerful and so awesome to be a part of. When we’d all pray at the same time, there would sometimes be up to 10 different languages that you could hear, and such an amazing representation of the Body of Christ. It was through God and all the wonderful people who became my family during my short trip abroad that I truly discovered who I am.”
“I knew when I planned to study abroad in Italy that it would be a life-changing experience. However, what I didn’t realize was how much spiritual significance my time in Florence would have. I had just completed my freshman year of college at the University of Florida and the Lord had moved in my heart in awesome ways as I got involved in a Christian campus movement that year. My mom wanted me to stay plugged in while I was abroad, so she went searching & found ICF Florence. It didn’t take more than one visit to ICF for everyone to make me feel like family. Being a part of ICF that summer allowed the Lord to solidify how he transformed my heart during the freshman year of college and push me on to new heights in Him. There are lessons I learned with ICF that are still dear to my heart today as I am about to graduate from college. Thanks to ICF Florence, my time in Italy turned out to be truly transforming.”
“The international Christian Fellowship to me, means family….Leaving my country for the first time in my life was with mixed feelings. I was both excited & apprehensive. I didn’t know what to expect. I had silently in my heart thought I won’t find a body of Christ to fit into, especially one that speaks English. By my first weekend in Italy, I had already started feeling lonely & home sick. And so I just decided to look for a church to go to on Sunday morning. I typed into google, and out came ICF Florence. That excited me. More excitement came when I got to the church, and we were welcomed so warmly. ICF became family for me from that day. I knew I could come in and get the warm hug I needed for the week. They even spent time to pray for our individual problems. Wow! That was simply amazing! I came to understand God in a different dimension; I came to know that he’s not a difficult God, just a jealous God that wants to spend time with me! Prayer and Praise was another great fellowship time, praying for each other, and the food too… That was a very great part of my ICF experience. Fellowship Sundays & fun night? I simply could not stomach missing those days! Honestly my time in Italy wouldn’t have been fun without ICF Florence. I had friends from school, but I had Brothers and Sisters in ICF. My burden was theirs, and theirs was mine too. If I am given the chance, I’ll do it all over again, just to enjoy ICF Florence. The good thing is every now and then I still remember my times in ICF and smile. ICF brought out a new me. I came to know that bitterness was wrong, and that I was bitter! The presence of God in ICF took care of that for me. I better stop here, I have too many memories I want to write.. But I’ll stop here. God bless ICF”
Third Birthday
October 5th saw ICF Florence celebrate our 3rd Birthday.  It was a wonderful occasion though sad not to have present our Senior Pastors who started the church 3 years ago. Here is a testimony about how they came to start the church:

3rd Birthday
“In 2006 while assisting in Rome the Lord spoke to both Pastor’s Diane and Randy on two separate occasions regarding the city of Florence and the need of a church there to reach the international population. That word was not shared with anyone untill 2008 after the missionary field of Italy met for its annual meeting. The McGehee’s had been asked to pray and share with the missions department in the U.S. where they felt the Lord was leading them to plant a new international church here in Italy. At the field meeting in 2008 the missionaries prayed and discussed where they felt the Lord would want the next ICF church to begin here in Italy. They reported back unanimously that they felt Florence should be considered by the McGehee’s. At that point Pastors Randy and Diane shared that in 2006 the Lord had given them the word that Florence was to be the place they were to go and not Milan where originally they were told by the missions department. This was the conformation that the McGehee’s desired and had prepared for nearly 2 years.
In July of 2010 the McGehee’s arrived in Florence and found themselves located in an apartment 14 kilometers south of the city of Florence. Over the next month with a lot of prayer and not knowing where or how to begin the work in Florence they put up a web site simply saying “coming soon, English, Bible study” with contact information. The first week they began to receive contacts mostly from students wanting to know where and when? Finally after two weeks of contacts the decision was made to meet those individuals at the end of the tramvia line on the south side and take them by car to the apartment and have the Bible study in the McGehee’s living room. The first Wednesday night there was a full van load waiting and the second Wednesday night there were 2 van loads waiting and by the 3rd week there were over 3 van loads waiting and it was taking more time transporting than to the Bible study. Through a divine appointment the McGehee’s started holding the Bible study group at the now “ICF Ministry Center” in the center of Florence. That began in October of 2010 and each week it continued to grow. By July of 2011 the offer was made for ICF to assume the responsibility of the building so to grow the ministry even more. The Bible study group continued to grow and on October 2nd, 2011 the very first Sunday morning service was held at the ICF Ministry Center. Nearly 70 people from 11 nations were in attendance that first Sunday and ICF Florence officially begun.
Since those early days the ministry has continued to grow and God’s blessing has been upon the work. The ministry centre has been remodelled and many activities and ministries have been incorporated into the ICF outreach. Students and internationals from around the world have come through the doors of ICF Florence and found Jesus as Lord and been blessed by an ever growing and loving church family. Our vision and commitment has been to “Raise Up, Teach and Send” and we now hear regular testimonies of those who have been a part of the ICF Florence family sharing the love and message of Jesus Christ around the world. It would take a novel to share all that the Lord has done in the past 4 years but the even more exciting thing is what the Lord Is going to do in the next 4 years and beyond. ICF Florence will be a light in the darkness in the city of Florence but that light through the family of ICF Florence will shine around the world touching lives for the Kingdome of God.” Pastors, Randy and Diane McGehee
The way ahead
With our senior ministers returning in January we are looking to 2015 and beyond. Our little sanctuary holds just 45 people. On average we now have over 55 people attend our Sunday service each week. This means we need to use our overflow room where a television and speaker has been set up. However, this means we have no other space for children’s work or private prayer ministry etc. We have discussed the possibility of finding another place to hold our Services but Florence is very expensive and to find a suitable place in a historic city is also a big problem. Thus, we are currently thinking of having two services a week. While this is an amazing and wonderful problem to have, it does involve certain issues. For example, if we have them both on Sunday one of the other churches that use our premises will have to find some other place to hold their service and we would lose their rent. Or do we have a service midweek? If so which night and what time? Most Italians sit down for dinner at 8pm…Please pray for wisdom for this wonderful but logistical problem.
Prison Ministry
As Italy comes to a halt during the summer so did the prison ministry. However, it was a time of great joy as I had the privilege to attend the wedding of a friend from the Baptist Church in Florence who married a gentleman whom I first met when he was a prisoner. Once he was released he stayed in touch with the team and started coming to the Baptist Church. Where he met my friend.
That was 18 months ago. Since then it has been a joy to see him grow in the Lord. Having been baptised as a baby, my friend chose to be Baptised with her future husband just a week before their wonderful wedding.

Fausta wedding

After the summer the team returned to the prison find there have been some major changes in the women’s section, and thus far the guards are a lot more open and friendlier to our presences which is a major answer to prayer.
Over the last year we have been regularly meeting with a prisoner whose 7 year old son stays with her. Over the summer the decision was taken to place her son in care. She was so hoping this would not happen, however, the courts determined it was for the best. This has rocked her faith dramatically and unfortunately is not wanting to speak with us.
At the beginning of this year we started making contact with a section within the prison for transsexuals (born men now women). Most of these women are from Brazil where my colleague is also from. There are 14 in this section, all were involved in prostitution, many come from evangelical backgrounds. On return these prisoners have requested that we do a weekly service for them.
No matter where your theology lies, this is an amazing opportunity to share the love of God and minister to these women. Many are broken and hurting. Please pray for this ministry.
Plus, we had another wonderful joy of witnessing another Baptism just a few weeks of a gentleman we first met 2 years ago as a Prisoner. These Baptisms have been a wonderful encouragement to the team. We have now seen four ex-prisoners become Baptised. Praise God!

Baptism Prison
Finances
October marked the beginning of a new era for ICF Florence as the contract for the building where we met was put into our name. This is a 6 year contract. Unfortunately this saw a 150 Euro rent increase each month with an extra bill for water which we previously did not have to pay. However, God in His amazing provision is providing in the most amazing ways. Considering we are a church of mainly students it is amazing seeing how God is at work.
Seeing how God is providing for the church is building my faith in believing for my finances. It is not always been easy and certain sacrifices have been made, yet, God has blessed me so much as He has put it on people’s hearts to give and pray in order to share in this ministry.  One of the ways to aid my finances is renting out my bedroom while I use the lounge as my bedroom.  I have had the joy of two lovely students stay with me over the last year.  I am now currently praying for God’s guidance for another lady to move in January, as the lady with me moves out.  I would love to be able to have my little appartment back to myself, however, as i surrender my needs God is providing.  I would value your prayers that the right person will move in with me, or that my finances will rise so that i do not need a flatemate.
Please can I ask you to prayfully consider if God maybe asking you to be a part of this journey with me.
Thank you to EVERYONE who has been journeying with me.
As you read this may He bless you abundantly as I have been blessed.





Changes

3 07 2014

Goodbye & Hello

Since my last update there have been many changes here in Italy.  May saw our Senior Pastors, Randy and Diane, leave for America.  For the next seven months they will be traveling throughout America visiting many churches, explaining the work that God is doing here in Florence, and raising support for their next four years on the Mission Field.  It was very emotional when we all said goodbye, however, with the miracles of technology today we have been able to keep in touch, we have even made a Skype call between them and the church  during our Prayer and Praise service last week.

To aid me in the work here we have had the blessing of an America couple, Ben and Ann.  They will be here until the end of August.  With the gifts of administration and organisation they are re-organising our office and doing a lot of the work that I am certainly not gifted at.  They are a real blessing to me and the church.

ICF Picnic

Students

Also, it is the time of year where we say goodbye to our students.  For the first time, many of our students will be returning or not even leaving us for the summer.  This will greatly aid the continuity and growth of individuals and our church.

We have also been seeing many answers to prayers.  One student, after studying art for three years, thought she would not be returning in September to complete her Master’s program.  However, just a month before the end of term someone approached her and stated that he believes so strongly that God wants her to complete her studies that he will pay for the whole of her university fees for the next year.  As well as an amazing artist she has a beautiful gift of leading people into God’s throne room through playing the piano and singing.  Thus, she is such a valuable gift to our worship team and to the church.

However, many of our students are leaving.  It is always hard to say goodbye when you have got to know people so well.  We have walked with them as they have struggled with being so far from home, away from families and loved ones.  We have walked with them as they have struggled with assignment deadlines and exams.  We have sort to encourage them in their faith and put God first as they have been faced with daily temptations.

During the last six months we have had one couple join us while they are studying art.  They work with Youth With A Mission (YWAM).  Having studied art they are now going to run a course for YWAM missionaries on how to reveal God through art.  It was a humbling privileged to hear the husband’s story.  Having been brought up in a Muslim country he has been in Prison four times for his faith.  What he has endured and yet remained steadfast in his faith is beyond my understanding.  His story really made me wonder if I would be able to stand up under such circumstances.

For many students, coming here is the first time they have been away from home and parental control.  With over 37 American universities represented here in Florence, many find that for the first time they are allowed to drink.  With over 100 universities and language schools, Florence is a place to meet people and party, much to the disgust of the Florentine people who see the foreign students leading their own young people astray.  For young Christians this is a challenge to live out their faith in a way they have not had to before.

Every year we have been so blessed by students from all over the World who have chosen to join us during their stay.  It does not get easier saying goodbye.  However, we look forward to September/October when a new group of students descend on the city.  I would love to see the work we do as a church for the students grow.  As you will be aware last September I hoped to start building up this ministry but without a core group to aid the work we felt the timing was not right.  However, there are now a number of people who are interested in aiding this work, thus I hope in September to be able to start a new initiative to reach out to the thousands of students who will be ascending upon this city.

Tourists/Guests

With our students leaving we are seeing the tourist population triple in size.  This brings more changes to our church as many chose to come and worship with us.  Florence is never without tourists.  Thus, every Sunday we always have at least one tourist within the congregation.  It is always such a joy to meet with them finding out where they come from etc.  During the service we always welcome everyone and ask our visitors to introduce themselves.  Our Senior Pastor always states that they are now a part of our fellowship and thus we would like to know them personally.  I love the fact that we are getting to know our brothers and sister from all over the World.  With the tourist season almost at its height and with our congregation diminishing due to the students leaving we are beginning to see our tourists almost out number our small church.  Last Sunday as I asked our visitors to stand over a third of the church stood up.  It took a while to go round everyone.  It was delightful to welcome one couple who announced that they were here for their 40th wedding anniversary.  Over the last few months we have had a number of couples join us during their honeymoon.

New Initiatives

As a church we have enjoyed several new initiatives over the last few months.  We have had two wonderful picnics after our Sunday service.  These have been great for building up relationships within the church community and some off our visitors have chosen to join us.  It is such a joy to spend time with visiting Christians from all over the world.

Plus, we have had a wonderful and blessed day of fasting and prayer which ended with a praise, worship and sharing service in the evening.  The aim for this was to seek God for our church and for the city.  The church was open all day set up with prayer aids and requests.  We also had various teachings on prayer, two organised prayer walks, time to rest and seek God.  We even made up a prison cell so that people could pray for the Prison Ministry.   The day was finished by breaking our fast with Pizza and great fellowship.

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Building Work

4 05 2014

With the call to reach out to the nations within the community around us we, the leadership, are constantly looking at ways we can build up our church community to become God’s hands, feet and mouthpiece within our daily lives whether at college, in the workplace, shopping, at home, with friends or family.

  • Evangelism

Since I last wrote to you we have had an evangelist come and minister to us from America for a week.  He taught at a Sunday service and at two evening sessions all were very well attended.  The primary focus of his teaching was on the foundation and most important part of Evangelism, namely prayer.

As God is all-knowing He knows us better than we know ourselves.  Thus, the evangelist taught and spoke of many examples of the need to seek God in prayer in order to know when and what to speak into people’s lives.

He gave a challenge for us to list all the people in our lives, for example, our families, the hairdresser, the person at the corner shop, work colleagues, those who live in our street, and then asked us to commit to pray for them.  If we do not know them then find ways to make contact with them and at least find out their names so we can pray for them more personally.  In prayer we can then seek God to know when and how we can talk to them about our faith.  Thus, we are not relying on our own strength and wisdom, but totally surrendering to God, seeking His will, direction and wisdom.

He also suggested that we ask people if there is anything we can pray for them because even though God seems to be pushed further and further back from our society so often when asked if someone would like prayer the response is often so positive and leads to other open doors of opportunities.

Our church seemed to really engage with this gentleman and his teaching.  He made it sound so easy, taking any fear away about approaching the subject of God and our faith, because the emphasis was not on us but on God.

  • Berean Course

Another way we are building-up our church community is by providing opportunities to grow deeper into God’s word.  Diane is currently running 3 bible study groups using an American resource from the Berean School of the Bible.

The Berean course is split into units looking at theology, doctrines, an opportunity to study in depth a book from the Bible, reflecting on one’s own walk with God etc.  It is designed to prepare people to gain deeper knowledge and understanding, aiding one to fulfil God’s call on their lives, and fulfil leadership roles within the church.   One can choose to study one unit of the course for their own enhancement, or take the whole course which involves assignments and exams leading to fully a recognised diploma.

With our transitional congregation Diane tailors units to those who are interested and where they are spiritually.  Many are with us just long enough to do just one or two units.  However, currently we have two people who live here taking the whole course with the recognition that God is calling them into ministry.  One person is our Worship leader, Dennis, from the Philippines.  It is a joy to see how God is building him up and using him.  A month ago he gave his first preach at our Prayer and Praise service.  Though he was very nervous he did brilliantly.  It is obvious God has a call on His life and I can’t wait to see how this will develop.

Tuesday

Continuing the theme of my week, this newsletter covers an average Italian Tuesday.

The ICF center is opens 12-4 on Tuesday’s, though will be changing this week to 1-5 .  It takes me approximately 15 minutes to walk to the church.  Walking through the historical center of Florence is so interesting.  I believe it is a city that would inspire any writer to write about all they see, hear, smell and experience as he/she walks through the streets.  It is a city to awaken any imagination.

Even though I have been here nearly four years I still make many comparisons between here and England, and some things still bewilder me.  For example, just the other day I walked past 3 men working with some cables underground.  I passed a manhole that was open without any protective barriers or warning signs, while the 3 men were huddled around the next open manhole again with no protective barriers or warning signs.  The men themselves had no hard hats, uniforms or protective clothing.  This is a common sight.  Often if there is a barrier around a building site it is just waist high and to my surprise quite often the men do not wear hardhats or protective clothing.  At present, the city is spending a lot of money on redoing their pavements and roads.  It is fascinating to walk past to see certain machinery at work.  A Bob the Builder fan would have so much fun here.

As I walk past the dustbins I then dodge the tourists who have stopped to take a photo.  I smile because I too took photos when I first saw this daily event.  Why?  The bins look like any other city bin; however, the bin is a shoot that sends rubbish into a massive large container set into the ground.  Once, a day, a massive lorry comes and lifts the container out of the ground and empty’s it onto the lorry.  It is quite a sight the first time you see it.  I am sorry I do not have a photo.  I will try to take one for next time.

My walk takes me past the oldest Botanical gardens in the world.  I love walking past where through the barriers I can see the seasons transforming God’s beautiful trees, plants and flowers.  This time of year is especially beautiful after the long barren winter.

My walk also takes me past one of the most famous museums here.  Every day there is a cue of people waiting to go inside whether it is raining, shining, January or August.  April see tourists double in quantity.  By August the number will have more than doubled again.  As I walked past the museum yesterday I made a conscious note to find another path to walk to church.  The pavement and road was fully blocked with people, interspersed with people trying to sell scarves and beautiful pictures of Tuscany.  Generally the people selling these are immigrants from Africa.  They will display their pictures on the floor while someone keeps an eye out for the police as they are selling illegally.  At one point I had to jump over some pictures in order to move through the crowds.

Once at the center I ensure the sanctuary is ready for our drop-in prayer time between 1-3 for people to come and pray for Florence.  Then usually the afternoon is set aside to meet with those I am pastorally caring and discipleling.  Of course there is always office work to do to.

International Christian Fellowship Italian Team

Two weeks ago I was in Rome for the yearly International Christian Fellowship (ICF) Italian Team meeting.  This was an opportunity for me to meet more of the team though not all as many are in America at the moment.

It was great to hear about what is happening in the two churches in Rome, the church in Podeva, Verona, and the hope of a church plant in Milano.  Each church is different reflecting the society around them.  It was great to hear how the church in Podeva has a large children’s/youth ministry where the children and young people are engaging with God in wonderful personal ways.

In addition, it was great to hear that after many, many years of paperwork and finances the ICF churches are one signature away from being formally recognised by the government.  It is hoped this will be signed any day now; once accomplished this will bring many benefits to the churches for example being able to claim the Italian equivalent of tax aid.

During the next few months 2 couples will be retiring from the field.  Both couples have been in Italy for over 20 years.  Thus, this meeting was a sad farewell for many.  It was wonderful to hear of some of their accomplishments.  How God has used them to bring about change etc.  One noticeable and exciting change is with the Italian AOG.  35 years ago they were not willing to work with anyone, and only allowed AOG America come to work in Italy if they did not  or minister to Italians.  Wonderfully this is now changing.  Over the years as relationships have grown barriers have come tumbling down and respect has grown.

As you will know I am passionate about working together and hope that this is one union that will grow and begin to incorporate other denominations.  As we represent just 1% of the population I believe that it is so important that churches stand together as witnesses of God’s love.  Knowing that many denominations are miles apart this truly will be a work of God.  A need for pray!

Visiting Choir

Another wonderful event since I last wrote was a Choir coming to visit Firenze for a day.  The Choir was from an American University touring Italy as an evangelistic outreach.

We hosted them for a day, showing them around the city and discussing the reasons why Italy needs much prayer and missionaries.  As we walked around the city the Choir stopped and sing a few songs.  Within seconds their was a huge crowd, which gave us the opportunity to give out some tracts that we had prepared beforehand.

Christmas 2013 138

In the evening the Choir gave a concert with wonderful testimonies of God at work in their lives, and a preach.  We worked together with the Italian AOG church in Firenze which was fantastic.  A 500 seated venue was hired which was completely filled.  Everything was translated into Italian.  At the end of the evening many responded asking for prayer and excepting God as their Lord and Saviour.

Afterwards we had a wonderful time of fellowship as the Italian AOG church had organised a 6 course meal for the Choir, us and their church.

It was a real blessing to have the Choir here and to make stronger links with the Italian AOG.

Prison Ministry

Unfortunately due to being in Rome and illness I have not been in the Prison for a while.  However, I was able to go last week and met the lady whose son is with her in prison.  Please read my last blog update for the details.

Unfortunately, the situation still has not been resolved and a new date for a tribunal has been set for the 5th May.  The situation and circumstances around this has left the mother very angry with God.  Thus, we was able to have a fantastic conversation where we spoke about putting our trust in God that even though nothing seems to be happening or if the situation seems to be escalating we need to trust God that He is at work, preparing the best possible situation for her son.

After speaking for a while, the mother then asked, ‘How should I pray then.’  This led to another wonderful discussion on The Lord’s prayer and the necessity to seek the will of God and pray into it.  Trusting that He knows what is best for her son.

Please do continue to pray for this situation.  If the outcome is not what the mother desires for her son I know this will rock her faith badly.

Further Immigrant stories

Please find below a story that was written by a missionary, a friend of mine, for BMS a few ago.  It highlights the plight of thousands of African woman who come to Europe.

“A Story of Outstanding Courage….and paralysing fear (taken from a real life story,  Alexandra Anderson, BMS Missionary, Syracuse 2007-2010)

My name is ‘Thousands’ because I am the voice of countless girls, who like me have been and are being trafficked from my country in Africa to destinies all over Europe.

My father left my mother and my 6 brothers and sisters when I was a teenager. My mother, unable to keep us all, sent me to stay with an uncle in a neighbouring village. My uncle’s family treated me very badly and I resolved to run away. One night I tied my few things into a bundle and ran out of the house determined never to return. With tears in my eyes I fled through the night not really knowing where I was going. As dawn broke I saw a woman standing by the side of the road. She asked me if I needed help and invited me to her house. She fed me and told me she would look after me. She seemed so kind and caring I believed her. The next day she said that she had found me a job working as a hotel receptionist but it was far away in Europe. It would be expensive to get me there so she would help me by paying for the journey if I promised to do as she told me. That evening she took me to the village Witch Doctor and I was made to swear allegiance to her as part of a voodoo ritual which entailed mixing my blood taken from a wound made on my forearm and that of a chicken. Although I am a believer in Christ I found myself obeying and going through the ceremony out of fear. They said terrible things would happen to me and my family if I disobeyed.

The next day I was on a truck which took me out of my country far away. The journey took weeks sometimes on foot, sometimes by car and then by truck. At last we reached Libya. As we drove through the desert I saw many bodies lying dead or dying in the hot sand. I saw many other young Africans trying to make their way to the Promised Land and I thought of Moses and the Israelites. I became very sick and weak through exposure, lack of food and water. We reached the borders and the truck dropped us off, me and my companions, at what they called Contact House. There the guards barked at us in Arabic and we were herded into a compound like animals. The men separated the older women from the younger women like me and it was here that the raping and beating began. For four months we endured the soldiers’ unwanted attentions. I became so weak and sick that one night the guards carried me outside and left me to die. As I looked up at the desert sky and saw the stars shining down on me I prayed as I have never prayed before. Somehow I survived and the next day they loaded me onto a truck which took me to the coast. Here I was put onto a wooden boat with another 60 passengers. The passage was very expensive but my ‘brother’ paid.

I was frightened and hungry. I had never seen the sea before it seemed as if it would swallow us alive. A few miles off the coast of Italy they told us to climb into a rubber dinghy and wait for the Guardia Costiera to pick us up which they did not a moment too soon as the dinghy was taking in water under the weight of so many bodies. We landed on the Island of Lampedusa where we were interned for a month before being released (for payment) to go to Sicily. Finally I was told I had arrived. I asked where the hotel was where I would be working but the woman who greeted us at the door of a grimy apartment just laughed and handed me a bag of clothes. ‘Follow that one!’ she ordered harshly indicating another African girl who was waiting in the passage. As I entered the house and saw the clothes I was to put on I realised what kind of ‘job’ it was. The other girl tried to persuade me but I refused to co-operate. The Madam beat me and locked me in a room without food or water. I resisted three days until, near to death, I begged them to let me out. I agreed to do as I was told. The following day I got dressed and went out into the night streets my eyes bleary with tears and began what was to be my life for the next 5 months. With only three hours sleep a night and one meal a day I was in very bad shape. The Madam told us that we owed her money, 50,000 euros, for the journey to Europe, money we could only hope to pay back over years of working the streets if we had any left over after we paid for our ‘board and lodging’ (a piece of matting on the floor of our madam’s apartment), our metre of pavement which we had to rent each night and the protection money.

I saw some girls give up, go mad, resign…but not me. I knew that my God was mighty to save and one day He gave me the courage to escape. I travelled back to Sicily where I met a missionary couple who took me in and looked after me until I got better. The rest is history. Now I have the life I have always dreamed of. I have my work permit, I have a job as a receptionist and I have gone back to my studies. God is good. “

 

 





Two Stories From Prison

7 03 2014

Sollicciano_Prison_(Florence)_6

Wednesday is my usual day to go into the local prison.  Last week I met with a new inmate.  Who arrived two months ago and is awaiting trial.  She is from Nigeria. She recounted her story to me. Her Father died so she was left to look after the whole family. She worked for the army but it did not pay her enough for her family to survive. Therefore, out of desperation she left her family in the hope of gaining an education and work to send money home.


When she told me about crossing the desert she said ‘we’ so I asked her who she travelled with. She then told me that she travelled alone but she was never without people around her.  She stated that there are many people crossing the desert in desperation to make a better live for themselves.  She then told me that she saw many people give up and die in the desert, “only the determined make it.” She recounted. 

I asked her why so many people chose to leave their country.  She said that there are many reasons.  Many are in a similar position to her, where it is not possible to get a good education and earn enough to provide for the whole family.  Plus, many are fleeing the conflict between Christians and Muslims which she said is escalating in Nigeria. 

She then related to me the time she spent in Libya and the dangerous journey in a small boat to reach Italy.

Her journey is one of disbelief and survival. I cannot possibly imagine the circumstances in her life that would lead her with such determination to leave her family, home, country (all she knows and loves) for such a dangerous journey.


She was of the belief that once she reached Italy she would be able to get an education and work in order to provide for her family.  However, she has found just the opposite, and her journey to provide for her family continues.  As she recounted her experiences here I felt a deep sense of shame as a European.  Here is a young woman desperate and all she has met with are obstacles and racism.  She stated some haunting words, “all those people (in the desert) died for nothing. It was for nothing because here we have nothing, we are not recognised here. If we go to school to get an education no-one will speak to us, the teachers ignore us, and there is no work. There is nothing.” And now due to being treated less than human she finds herself in prison. 


However, she remains hopeful and determined to make a better life for herself and her family. She told me that she wants to go to Germany when she leaves the prison. She believes that is where she will get the help she wants.  Her desire is simple, and should it not be everyone’s right, to obtain an education and a job to provide for her family.


There are real people living in Africa with real needs. I don’t know what the answer is but I know something has to be done to stop the steady flow of people risking their lives in the hope of a better life. The very sad thing is that if they are one of the lucky ones and reach Europe they are not treated with respect as human beings but are met with mistrust and judgements are made before their story is heard, and basically they are told they are not welcome.   Hearing this story made my heart break. 

 

On the same day, I met with another Nigerian lady who I have known for a year now.  Within the last year her faith has flourished.  Her life in prison has not been easy, and she has had to work through some very difficult circumstances and learn not to allow her anger to rule her behaviour.  This has not been easy.  She has been in prison for 5 years and has 18 months to 2 years left.  Her 6 year old son is in the prison with her.  Each week day someone comes to take him to school and bring him ‘home’ again.  These times are the only times he has ever been out of the prison.

We visited this lady a day before a tribunal met to decide if her son should now be taken to live somewhere else.  It was a really hard meeting.  Here is a mother who desperately wants, and in a sense needs, her son with her.  However, knowing the circumstances around her case, she is prisoner reaping the consequences of her actions.  Plus, being a Nursery Nurse in a past life, I know the psychological effects being brought up in the prison can have on her son. 

I have known about this situation for some time, and found all I can do is pray that God will intervene to bring about the very best for the boy.  However, here I was confronted by a distraught mother who was fasting, crying, praying and determined that God would allow her son to stay with her.   She declared to me, “I know my God; He want take my son away from me.”  We spent an hour talking, referring to scripture and praying.  She discovered that God is not a God to command but a God who knows the whole story, which we only know in part.

The next day, the tribunal was postponed until the 27th March.   This news brought a big sigh of relief.  I met with her this week and feel that the next two weeks is a time of preparation for her; a preparation where she can learn to acknowledge that the situation may not go her way; a preparation where she can prepare her son to say goodbye if it comes to that.

There are other issues around this which would be wrong of me to disclose.  To be honest I am torn about this situation.  However, this is not about what I or we think should happen, it is about a Mother and child.  Please, can you pray that God’s will will be done, and that it will be the very best for the boy.  Also, if the mother’s worst fears are realised, I would value your prayers to know how to pastorally care for a very broken Mother.

 

 

 





“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” William Carey

21 02 2014

6 weeks over Christmas I was in the UK which was a real blessing to spend time with my family, visit some new churches to gain further support, and do some training with CMS (Church Mission Society).  I am now an Associate Missionary with CMS.  Having been part of BMS which is such a great mission organisation, it is now great to be part of another great mission organisation.

CMS

Plus, ICF (International Christian Fellowship) continues to be such a blessing to me.  It is a real joy to minister there.

Students Work         

December we saw a number of students (all American) leave us after being with us for 4 months.  These young girls have been on a mighty journey with God over the past months they were with us as they have struggled with being away from home for the first time, and being challenged by God to grow ‘up’ in the Lord (one girl giving her life to God).   It was great to be a part of the journey with them, and such a joy to stand with them in prayer as they go back home knowing they return transformed people.

January has seen a steady stream of students coming to our services.  The last 2 Sunday’s we have had 34 new students who come from America, Zambia, Nigeria and India.  It remains to be seen if they will return.  One American girl after coming for two weeks has made a re-commitment to God and seems truly determined to start putting God first in her life.  Unfortunately, she will be busy with school and weekend trips while here but hopefully we will find the time to meet with her every week to give her support, encouragement, and aid her new growth in the Lord.  She is here until May.

As you will be aware, from my last blog, we had hoped to start a coffee shop/drop-in evening for young people.  Unfortunately we have struggled to build support for this within the church.  Recognising we can’t run it without help we have decided to put this to one-side at present.  However, this remains in prayer and with so many students visiting our church in the last few weeks it is obvious that there is a need.

Saturday house-group

We have started a small group which meets on Saturday which is run by our Filipino worship leader.  He is taking a Bible study Diploma course with Diane for nearly 2 years now, thus it is great to see him take on this group and apply all that he has learned.

Also, as I result of this course, he preached for the first time yesterday during our prayer and praise service.  Although nervous he was fantastic, as he expound on the life of Peter.  We can really see the hand of God on this man and wait expectantly to see how God is going to direct him in the future as he discovers new gifts, abilities, and grows in knowledge, understanding and relationship with our God.

Future groups

We are currently praying for direction about several other groups.   Thursday evening is our Prayer and Praise night which is great, but sensing many of the students that come into the church need discipleship, we are looking to God for wisdom and guidance which may result in changing the structure of our time together.

Plus, we are thinking about starting an Italian speaking group with the aim to growing into an Italian church service eventually. Possibly, we might start this with an Alpha which has been translated in Italian though not used by the Italian Protestant churches because the Catholics are using it.  My Senior Minister and wife do not have good Italian, thus I will be leading this group.  This will be a huge challenge to my Italian!

Prison Ministry

It is amazing how within 6 weeks away from the Prison everything can change.  Olivia (whom I have mentioned in past posts) has now been released and with great joy has returned to her family.  Plus, I have found some other women have either been transferred or released.  One Muslim woman, with a 3-year-old in tow, has been transferred.  We do not know why.  We had a great relationship with this woman who was very open to understanding our faith and found us praying with her helpful.  It is a real shame we now do not have this contact.  We must trust God that the seeds sown will not go dormant but God will send other Christians to aid the seeds grow and reaped into His Kingdom.

A Typical Day

Two people have asked me recently what my typical day is.  This is really hard to answer as each day can be so different.  However, on reflection I wondered if I could write about my week adding a bit of Italian life style and experiences along the way.

So the first day of the week: Monday.  Monday is my day off J so it is time to relax!  A nice long lazy morning.  Providing, that is, the gentlemen who are refurbishing the apartment below me do not start banging at 8 am sending echo’s bouncing off the buildings around us or I am not woken up by a buzzing Mosquito.  Unfortunately, today is Monday and yes I was woken by a Mosquito at 6.45 am.  Do they not realise that it is only February!

I tend to do my weekly food shop on Monday’s.  I and my trusted shopping trolley take the 15 minute walk to a small but efficient supermarket.  We are greeted at the entrance by the vegetable and fruit isle.  As everyone enters we scramble to grab plastic bags to put produce in and plastic gloves.  We are not allowed to touch the produce without a glove.  Plus, feeling the produce to see if it is ripe is frowned upon.  It is the same everywhere, in small vegetable shops you have to wait for the grocer to serve you.  He can get very angry if you touch the produce, as I have learnt from experience.

Once your produce is bagged we all trod off to the scales, mentally trying to remember the given number of our produce.  Unfortunately, I do not always succeed.  Put the produce on the scale, type in the number, the machine gives you a ticket with the price to put on the bag…right!  Having negotiated all that with shopping trolleys in tow, we move around the rest of the shop.  This is the easiest part!

I remember when I arrived in Italy how amazed I was to find a rather large pasta isle.  I did not realise there was so many different types of pasta, and Italians will use each one for different dishes.

I often struggle to find the butter or margarine.  Sometimes I have given up it is like looking for a needle in a haystack.  I know that the few varieties they sell are there between the cheeses and yoghurts somewhere but…argh found it!

At the end of the store I come to the bread isle.  I have to admit I am not an Italian bread fan.  It is made without salt and tends to be rock hard within minutes of leaving the shop, well certainly by the next day!  I find a small cut loaf which Italians call American bread and head for the till.  Electronic tills have not made it to this store, though I have seen them in some places.

Off home with a trolley and a bag full of shopping.  Now to negotiate the pavements, roads, the gypsies begging, and parked cars which are in your way.  Home!  Time to make a well-deserved cup a tea with PG tips sent by my parents J

Did You Know!

#1: The protestant church in Italy represents less than 1% of the population.

And lastly…

God continues to bless me in so many ways as I wait expectantly and prayerfully for direction as we seek to expand the ministry at ICF within a community and country that so desperately needs God.  Each one of you is a part of that journey with me.  I thank God regularly for putting you all on this path with me; for your generosity in prayer and support.  I pray God will bless you all.

Please can I ask you to join me in prayer for God to stir more people to join Him in what he is doing here in Firenze.  Without continuing and growing support we will be unable to continue on the path of ministry that we believe God is guiding us on.

Thank you, with love Amanda





Changing Seasons and other things…

17 11 2013

As I sit here writing I am delighting in the unusually warm Autumn God has brought Italy.  Last year the winter was so cold, I hope it will be a warmer winter this year.  I love the seasons.  Autumn is so beautiful with the changing autumnal colours.  However, my favourite season is Spring where everything begins to spring into life again after the cold Winter months.  As I reflect on this I feel that I have now come into a season of Spring.  Spring represents new life, new beginnings and renewed hope.  God in His grace has been amazing, aiding me through this confusing time of change, bringing healing, and restoration.  I feel all full of the life of Spring.

Over this last year I have battled to understand why my journey has taken this change of direction.  Perhaps I may never fully understand, however, time and time again God is confirming I am in the right place.  I have been astounded how God has put me on people’s hearts and through them bringing confirmation, support and encouragement. I love the way God has been using my brothers and sisters to be there for me.  The fact He has adopted me into such a wonderful family is awesome, and I thank our God so very much.

Our student work

Three years ago Pastor Randy and Diane came to Florence with heavy hearts believing God had laid it upon them to plant an international church.  They arrived just a few weeks before I arrived, though we did not meet until eight months later at an Italian class.  A year after their arrival the church was birthed.

This October we celebrated our second birthday.  We had a great celebration of praise and thanks for all God has done in that time with a fellowship breakfast before the service then a wonderful Chinese meal at a local restaurant.

It is so true that our expectations of the future are often not God’s.  The recent events of my last year have shown this.  International Christian Fellowship is no exception.  With a heart to reach out to the community, Randy and Diane, find themselves with a growing church full of students, though this should not be surprising.  There are over 100 different universities, colleges, and institutes representing different nations like Russia, China (which has just opened), Britain, Nigeria and America (which has 37 universities alone).  Students can come to study for a month to a year.  They may come to continue their schooling with an emphasis to improving their Italian, to learn the culture, to study art; some come for work experience, others to become designers, shoemakers, artists, chefs etc.

This makes church life interesting as the international and diverse ICF congregation is forever changing.  Though I have not worked for ICF for long I have been a part of the community.  I have found it is such a privilege to be a part of someone’s life for a time but so hard when it is time to say goodbye.  Now as Associate Minister this is a cross I will have to bear more and more.  However, this is the work that God has called us to and one which is important.  Amazingly, it also fits my calling to work among the nations and my heart ‘to build people up and send them out’ which has been on my heart since my time at Moorlands College 9 years ago.

Therefore, it should not be a surprise that God has called me to work here or that ICF Florence’s mission and vision statements are:

Mission: To build and send to build and send

ICF Church of Florence is to be a community developing believers with the capabilities of touching the world with the Gospel.  The community will be trained by the Word, making it part of their everyday life so they can proclaim the Good News of Christ and take it with them wherever they go.

Vision: To see the international peoples’ group in Italy being discipled and missionally engaging the society around them.

ICF Florence will be a missional community developing believers with the capabilities of touching the world with the Gospel.  This community will be trained by the Word, making it part of their everyday life so they can proclaim the Good News of Christ and take it with them wherever they go.

Having not had much experience working in such a diverse and transitional church God has guided and used Randy and Diane in amazing ways.  Their hearts and focus are to put into practice the God given mission statement and vision which affects all that they do.  It has been wonderful to see how God over the last two years has brought people to ICF to grow, change and develop in their faith which has made an impact on their lives when they return to their home country.  It is such a privilege to now be a part of the leadership team and this growing ministry.

Being non-Italian ourselves, we are very aware of the daily struggles our students go through.  The first few months are usually the honeymoon period, but then homesickness and culture shock sets in.  It is then students need support, encouragement, and love.  It is not easy!  Sometimes there are the struggles with the other students they are living with which the college arranged for them.  Also there are the struggles of learning how to do the shopping, the language barrier, missing home comforts, without the normal support network from friends and family.

Plus, there is pressure of study and of their peer groups.  Unfortunately, some come to Italy for the ‘party’ experience rather than study.  It is the first time they are away from the parent’s control, and possibly the first time they are legally allowed to drink.  Most weekends will be filled with travel around Europe, parties, drunkenness, etc.  The Italians believe their young people are being influenced by these international students and fear their culture is changing for the worst.  To an extent I believe their fears are justified.  For the Christian Students to stand up under that pressure can be very difficult and tempting.

Therefore, we are starting to seek God’s guidance to see if we can expand on this work.  Over the next month we have set up opportunities to discuss this situation with the students who attend our church to see what is the best way we can help them, and their fellow peers.  To get our students thinking and praying we have handed out this leaflet:-

Reaching out to Students: A Coffee Shop Vision and other things… 

As a leadership team we would like to address some of the needs within our community, and make our facilities accessible and useful to them.  Of course this will aid us to better engage with the community so we have the opportunity to fulfill our biblical mandate (Matthew 28:19-20). 

The student population is a major part of this community; whether here for a month or 3 years.  We have already been so blessed with students from many different academic institutions and nations.  We would really like to see this ministry grow, where we are providing for their needs, giving support, guidance, and pointing to Jesus.

Our discussions up until now have included:

  • A coffee shop style drop-in with our church facilities available like Wii, wifi and other activities.  Food and drink will be available.
  • A homework style drop-in where we provide a safe place for people to come and use our facilities and do their course work etc.  Food and drink will be available.
  • To aid students to be aware of our collection of books and aid them to be more assessable.
  • Advertising
  • How can we encourage our existing students to bring people to use our facilities etc.  When help, support and/or evangelistic training required?
  • What days and times would be best for these activities? Coffee style drop-in Friday evenings?  Homework style drop-in most days 4-7pm?  To start in January?
  • What supplies do we need to consider buying that will be beneficial and helpful to students?

Please prayerfully consider what you can bring to our next meeting which will aid us in this discovery stage?

We value your input to make a difference within the student community of Firenze.

 Please join us in prayer.  Thank you.

Alongside this a number of student girls have approached me for pastoral care and mentoring.  Having just become a Pastor of the church it is lovely that these girls feel comfortable to approach me.  I would value your prayers as I seek God to guide me.  I am excited to see what God is going to do!

American Mission Trip

One of the highlights of the last month is a visiting American team of 20.  They were such a blessing to us in so many ways.  Thank you so much for those who prayed following my last update.

The team cleaned, repainted, and decorated our community centre top to bottom.  It now looks amazing.  This was such a blessing that they chose to do for us.

Richmond Miss Decorate

We did a couple of really fun low-key outreaches with the aim of telling people God loves them, and where they can find our church.  These events had various degrees of success from suspicion because we were giving things for free and because we are not catholic too, some great conversations.  We have not seen anyone come to the church from these events but we trust that seeds have been sown and aim to do more of these events in the coming year.

Water bottles

Eng e Rome 2013 139

Eng e Rome 2013 141

Eng e Rome 2013 146

One of the greatest encouragements for someone with such a burden is seeing God stir people’s hearts to join you in prayer.  Thus, one of the greatest blessings for me was seeing how God over the 2 weeks put this city on individual’s hearts.  It was such a joy taking the team to two places where we could stand over the city and pray for it.  They prayed with such passion, revealing God’s heart for this City.  There is such power in prayer!

Lighthouse team

During their last two days in Italy the team went to Rome for some sightseeing.  They also blessed me by taking me with them.  It was great spending more time with the team, getting to know them all better and having an opportunity to explore the amazing Roman city of 2000 years ago.  Seeing where Paul was imprisoned and wrote such inspirational letters was a very moving experience.

Many of the team left Italy with such a heart for this place and the hopes of returning.  Only God knows!  After having 20 people with you for two weeks it certainly was quiet once they had left (smile).

Prison 

With my responsibilities at ICF I am currently only able to visit the Prison once a week.  Recently, we have met two new ladies who chose to come to our service.  One lady, called Maria, was very disruptive during the service.  She served as a real reminder to me that when we go into the prison (which I have began to call satan’s playground) we need to be on our guard, stand under God’s protection and bathe everything we do in prayer; leaning on His wisdom and guidance.

We have also met another lady who is on hunger strike.   She is painfully thin.  Please can you pray for her.  Every night she goes to a Bible study group that one of the Prisoners (Olivia) holds in her cell (6pm English time).  Olivia told me that she is the only one that is consistent.  She is seeking and needs to understand the reality of God’s love and grace.

Also, can you please pray that God will give us direction.  Through meeting with the women one-to-one, pointing them to Jesus through God’s word and prayer we are seeing lives being transformed.  However, we are feeling discouraged with our services; we are not seeing any reason to continue other than the fact the women enjoy having the opportunity to come together.  In addition, we do not have someone who can lead us in worship and to find the time to plan and prepare is causing an issue.  Therefore, we recognise we need to stop and focus on God.  I want to see lives being transformed and would much rather know I am walking in the will of God than do something that is not bearing fruit for God’s glory.  Can I please ask you to lift this ministry to God and join me in prayers for wisdom and guidance.  In addition, please pray for the team that we will be one in agreement with God.  The team is, Susanna, Renzo, Karin, Gulio, Anna M, Anna C, and myself.

Thank you so much for your prayers and support.  I continue to be overwhelmed at how God has blessed me through His family.  We are adopted into such a wonderful family.  Yes it is not perfect, but we have a Father who knows all our needs and provides at just the right time.  I praise God for each of my Brothers and Sisters.  Thank you and God bless x

 





The First Month With International Christian Fellowship (ICF)

11 10 2013

October 2013

First Month Back

This first month has flown by and been packed with so much.  Having spent the first few weeks settling back in and starting to be overloaded with information about how everything goes at ICF my parents arrived for two weeks, plus a German lady moved in with me.  It has been go, go, go!

My flat-mate I have known through ICF for some time now.  She is an art student, in her third year, at the Russian Academy here in Firenze.  She was looking for somewhere to live just as I realised that I needed to share my rented apartment with someone.  She is such a blessing, bringing with her a gift of worship and prayer.  She is a gift from God.

My parents came for a holiday but also to join with me at my commissioning service at ICF.  It was great having them here and particularly wonderful for them to meet everyone and participate in everything that was happening at ICF.

Commissioning Service

29th September was my commissioning service at ICF.  I was presented with a towel to remind me that I am a servant, and a mantle.  A mantle was an outer cloak used for additional covering and warmth.  From the idea of something that “covers,” a mantle came to represent spiritual covering as a sign of spiritual authority and anointing. Pastor Diane spoke from 2 Kings 2:1-18 demonstrating this and how a spiritual mantle was passed from one person to another as between Elijah and Elisha.

I am a visionary, liking to use objects, pictures etc in my relationship with God.  Therefore, these two items were wonderful to receive.  They will give me much to reflect and pray on enhancing my relationship with God and His call on my life.

Com 08

Second Birthday

On the 6th October we celebrated ICF’s second Birthday.  Having spent some time in Rome Ministering there, Randy and Diane felt God leading them to Firenze.  After some time and God’s leading, a mid-week Prayer and Praise group was birthed with some students.  Plus, a wonderful building was made available in a most amazing way that only God could have orchestrated.  A year later the Sunday morning service began.  Two years on and the sanctuary is full most Sunday’s.  Now we are praying for another suitable premises in which to hold our services each Sunday.  A great but challenging problem to have!

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To celebrate our birthday we first met for breakfast which was arranged by some wonderful Pilipino ladies within our church.  This was followed by our service which was such a praise of thankfulness to God for all He has done.  Firenze is a city of students from all nations therefore ICF has always attracted many students.  It was wonderful to read testimonies and messages from some who have returned to their home country.  We heard how God touched their lives in new ways while they were far from home, and how ICF played a part in that.  Afterwards a large number of us went to a Chinese restaurant to continue our celebrations with good food, lots of fun and laughter.  ICF is like one big family.

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Other things

First there is much praise as 3 students who have been brought to ICF by other students have committed their lives to Christ in the last month.  They are here until Christmas so we will care and disciple them as much as possible before they return home.  We are still in touch with many of the students whom have returned home.  Thus, We will seek to keep in touch with these students until they find a church that can continue the discipling and pastoral care.

Also, since I have been back ICF has held a social where we had such fun playing wii games like boxing, tennis and bowling.  It is great to spend time with each other, deepening relationships.

Plus, I have been leading our Prayer and Praise group which is on a Thursday evening.  For these evenings I have felt led to concentrate on 2 Corinthians 3:18

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory,

are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory,

which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

In addition, I am at our centre most days which is open for anyone wanting a friendly face, prayer, pastoral support, use the internet, etc.  The centre is right in the heart of the city.  It is a much needed ministry which at present is not being utilised, however, with new students still arriving we hope this will pick up.  In addition, on a Friday we are thinking of starting up a coffee drop-in.

Prison Ministry & prayer requests

In amongst the business it is a joy to visit the prison though I have not been able as much as I would like.  I returned to find the Guard who has been a fantastic help and support has returned after six months sick leave.  She was so excited to see us that she gave each of us a massive hug and immediately wanted to know when we can have our next service; a wonderful encouragement for us as we return after a break during the summer.

We found some of the Prisoners very low after the hot summer with few visits from us. Please, pray for:

  • Florence – Who has a faith in Jesus Christ but after 4 years in Prison is really struggling to live out her faith.  She has a strong temper which affects her relationship with the other prisoners particularly with her neighbour who is a Muslim, called Fatima, whom we also have contact with.  Please pray God’s love will shine through into this situation.  Both these ladies have a child with them in the prison.
  • Nusia – we have not been able to see her because she has tried to commit suicide.  We would not expect this of her thus it was a shock to us.
  • Olivia – Who is a strong Christian and evangelist.  She is due to be released soon and she is becoming impatient.  She was really struggling last time we met her.

American Team – Prayer Requests

From Wednesday 9th October a team of 20 from America are coming to minister at ICF for a week.  During this time please can you pray for:

  • Each day the team will be traveling by bus to and from their hotel to the centre.  Please pray that this logistically will go well.
  • Please pray for good health and energy for all.
  • Thursday 10th October, 9am English time, we will be giving out water bottles in the Piazza Duomo with the message attached “God loves you.”
  • Thursday 10th October, 6pm English time, the team will be leading our prayer and praise evening.
  • Thursday 10th – Saturday 11th October the team is redecorating the whole ICF centre.  Please pray for safety.  This is such a blessing!
  • Sunday 12th October, 9.15 English time, the team will be leading our worship, and preaching at our Service.
  • Sunday 12th October, 3pm English time, we will be doing outreach in a local Piazza particularly aimed at families.
  • Monday 14th October, AM, that God will guide us as we go to two places above the city to pray over Firenze.  Please join us in prayer.
  • Tuesday 15th – Thursday 17th October the American team, Randy, Diane and I will be going to Rome for some cultural and Biblical historical experiences (sightseeing).