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”
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:
“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.
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.
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!
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.