August 15, 2008
WHY AM I HERE?
Even though I didn’t “plan” this trip, I planned ahead. I
had little interest in coming to Italy at this time.
In fact, I had been praying for years that the Lord would send me on my second mission trip. Every time my bank account got to a certain point I was certain that I would soon be off to Central or
South America. I was disappointed each time.
In January, I bought a fancy Blackberry “world phone” because I thought that the Lord told me to. Finally, in late July, I felt Him telling me to go to Italy, so I called customer service to have it set up internationally. So, of course when I got here I couldn’t get it to work.
I have always deeply admired Francis of Assisi (San Francesca), the Catholic saint; and the “Creation of Adam”
from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is the wallpaper on my computer. In addition,
many other famous religious works of art on display in this country, such as “The Pieta,” can be seen on my screensaver. Deep down I’ve always wanted to come here, just not now.
So when I got off the plane last Friday in Rome after having had next to no sleep in the increasingly cramped economy
class seats typical of our financially-troubled airlines; I was thinking about what I was going to do for money when I got
home, and I was still wondering: “Lord, why am I here?”
Well, I immediately got my answer.
Earlier, in the middle of the night in some time warp at 40,000 feet I was walking around to stretch a little. I thought I saw what I believed to be an African American woman. A few hours later at baggage claim, there she was again. I
felt the Holy Spirit telling me to talk to her.
It turns out that she was an opera singer on her way to Osimo,
Italy to take a short opera singing class on a scholarship. It turns out that we were both taking the train to Rome’s Termini station to our various destinations.
None of us speaks more than a word or two of Italian and we were essentially lost.
As we talked, she told me that her mother is Korean and that she had started singing in the choir at church. Many Christians don’t know that out of all of Asia South Korea has the largest percentage of Christians
after the Philippines and, perhaps, East Timor. In fact, I just had befriended a young Korean girl who recently arrived in the US to study, who also happens to believe in Jesus Christ.
As usual, none of this seemed to be a coincidence. As Yoo Ri and I wandered around the Leonardo da Vinci airport
looking for the train we both realized that it was comforting to be with someone from home who was in the same shoes; and
as she said, “Two heads think better than one.” Especially on no
All this week I have been thinking of the biblical commandments to be friendly to strangers. There are few things more frightening than being alone in a strange place with no friends and no ability
to speak the language. You
are basically in God’s hands.
Despite telling myself to pack light I had one checked bag that was basically overweight and a gigantic carry-on
bag that would probably have been illegal a decade or so ago. Yoo Ri had a couple of bags that she couldn’t handle
herself. Having spent the last month in the gym, I was her man.
We found the train and got on with no trouble. But an unruly conductor
threatened to give us a gigantic fine because we hadn’t stamp our tickets in some machine. Isn’t it always the case that when God’s got something good going on that the devil tries to
rear his ugly head? In the end, God made him just go away.
When we got off in Rome the signs at the train station
gave us no clue. We were able to find the arrival and departure board with the
track numbers of our trains. I had bought my tickets online and had built in
a degree of flexibility. Yoo
Ri had less than an hour. We struggled
with our bags up and down escalators and stairwells and through a seeming maze of tunnels.
Eventually we reached our destination together. It didn’t matter
that we didn’t know each other, and it didn’t matter to me that this attractive young lady was married and thus
not a potential spouse for me, she needed help.
Well, it turned out that all of the tracks were directly behind the train we got off of, but they were blocked from
our view by another train. The gigantic mall full of stalls selling expressos,
cappuccinos and panninis was a mere few steps away. It was about this time that
I noticed the unattended carts on the platform for the taking.
But, wasn’t it like God to have us walk through the wilderness for a while in order to reach the promised land? Wasn’t it just like God to have all that we wanted right in front of our nose
basically? It was temporarily hidden from our sight but it was right there in
front of us all along. While we were walking we talked about the Lord; and our
faith and comfort level dramatically increased.
When I finally got my Blackberry to work a few days ago the first thing I saw was an e-mail from Yoo Ri.
As I responded, a youth group was singing praise songs in Italian at the monastery where I was staying in Assisi. As they started
praying, I felt the Holy Spirit coursing through my body even though they were in some far off corner of the building. I knew, in case I needed any confirmation, that Assisi
is a very special place, this is a special trip, and my meeting with Yoo Ri was some kind of divine appointment.
Why am I here?
The same reason I’m on this planet in the first place. Before
I got here, one of the few things that I knew about St. Francis of Assisi
was that he said, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
It doesn’t matter where you are or when; just help and serve others and let the Lord worry about the rest. Or, as Paul recounted the words of Jesus in the book of Acts: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (20:35). And, never forget that Jesus Christ
is right there with us all along, even when we can’t see or feel Him.