What I learned: I learned numerous lessons during my time in Italy, but the lesson that most sticks out to me is one that God showed me He wanted to teach me from the beginning of this year: that He has a huge heart for ALL nations. I have already fallen in love with many countries, but I limited myself to those. God wanted to break me, and so He brought me to Italy where I would be working with refugees from all around the world. Yes, the majority came from the Middle East and north Africa, but we also met Chinese, Spanish, Venezuelans, French, etc.
God loves these people so much, that He is willing to do absolutely everything to reach them, even if it means sending a team from the US to Italy. I was blown away by His great love. He sent us to see them, love them, ask their names, make them our friends, play futbol with them, and, hopefully, get to study His Word with them.
I will admit, some of us asked ourselves why the Italians weren't doing this. Why weren't they caring for the refugees who were living in their own hometown? God quickly convicted us -- we have refugees living in the US, too.
So not only did He use us during these two months to love on the refugees in Italy, but He also showed us His heart for these people and grew in us a bigger heart for the nations so that we could come back prepared and equipped to work with the refugees living in our backyard.
What we learned: We also learned a lot as a team, but the lesson that best sticks out to me we learned about halfway through our time there. Our first month was full of difficulties. It seemed we walked the streets for hours upon hours with no fruit. We were praying, we were reaching out, and the people just weren't responding. They didn't want to talk to us, didn't want to hear about Jesus, didn't want to respond to our phone calls or messages, didn't want to actually come to a meeting or see us again. We were discouraged and defeated.
About halfway through, we decided to spend an entire day praying and fasting over our ministry. That very same day, we received letters from last year's intern team. They encouraged us to keep going and told us that we would see a ton of fruit during the second month. They told us that it was the consistency of our presence that would be enough. In their experiences, refugees who had never responded well to them were even crying at the goodbyes because they were so touched by the team's constant presence in Italy. Most people may not have outwardly responded well to us, but we will never know the shifts in their hearts as we continued to reach out and see them and love them and make them our friends.
What they learned: well, we could never truly say what they learned, because we don't know what each refugee "got" from the experience, but we can share a little about what we learned and shared with them. We received a lot of training as a team about how to approach people, how to share the Gospel through storytelling, and how to eventually invite them to study the Scriptures with us.
We learned that a person's interest in studying the Word can be described by the metaphor of a traffic light: red light, yellow light, green light. We were searching for people of peace, "green lights," because they would become the spiritual leaders of their families, schools, businesses, and neighborhoods. But even if we came across a red light, which we did most of the time, we could continue to love on them and pray for them, that God would continue to till the soil in their hearts and that maybe next time they would be more receptive.
One of our subgroups, because we divided into subgroups of 3-4 people each to walk the streets, found a "green light" woman. They were prayer walking and evangelizing one day and chose to go to a park we all liked to frequent in town. They noticed a muslim woman playing with her toddler son and felt led to talk to her. They introduced themselves and eventually asked if she'd be interested in studying the Bible with them. She said that she had already been studying the Bible with another woman who had come the summer previous! While she had not continued reading after that woman left, the muslim woman continued to pray and hope that someone else would come along and study with her again.
That subgroup immediately began to meet with her -- multiple times per week! The entire team got to know her, and we all loved her, prayed for and with her, walked with her, cared for and played with her son...
While she wanted to know and accept Jesus, this woman came from a country where she could be killed for converting. While she was living in Italy, a place where she had the freedom to choose her own religion, she did not feel free.
While she did not accept Christ before we left, she was able to meet other long term women and their families, and they will continue meeting with her and studying the Scriptures.
That woman is only one of the many many people we met and worked with in Italy, many with similar stories. Yet even if she were the only one, the entire trip would have been worth it. Because even God leaves the 99 to find the 1.