This summer I was blessed enough to be able to return to my favorite place in the entire world…even if I would be doing it without my favorite person in the entire world.
We returned to Friuli Venezia Guilia to stay in the Saints Bible Institute. During the June trip led by the directors several people received Christ. Our team became so excited, as salvations during short term trips are very rare due to the atheism in Europe. We were very excited to begin our work.
Our schedule was very similar based on a variety of track distribution, children’s ministry, and dramas in the piazzas. This year a new church was established in Pordenone which is closer to the school campus. I guessed that we’d spend more of our time in that city (instead of last year when we were mostly in Udine and Grado), and I was correct.
Each year is always a different dynamic, with different leaders, and different students. I knew this when praying about returning to this location, as I bonded so deeply with the team the summer of 2011. That year our personalities meshed easier, but I still enjoyed my team very much this year. This year I think just more of my insecurities and worries affecting me stepping out of my comfort zone. However, I did get to build some pretty good relationships with some of the teammates :0)
This year I purposely tried to “finish well.” At this point I knew that it was very likely that our program would not be continuing in the next year, so I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity that I had. Last year during dramas I never adventured into the crowds to have conversations, I was too nervous. So, this year I purposely joined them. I had some really fun conversations. One of them was a gentleman telling me about how much he loved our dramas, as he used to do theatre. He asked where else we were visiting and I told him Venice. He became sooo excited, telling us that he used to live there. He encouraged us to see it at night with all the lights.
Another conversation that I had was mostly in Italian, so I watched as our translators talked with her. Her name is Francesca and I could understand bits and pieces in the conversation. She saw our students doing the dramas and she was very proud of them. Basically, she is part of the Catholic movement working with young people, realizing how important it is to work with them. She still believed most of the tenants of the Catholic faith, but it was neat to see her reaching out in a different way. At the end of the conversation I worked up my nerves and said the fairwell greeting that I’d been practicing “Il Piacere de concocerti.” It means “It was a pleasure to meet you!” I stumbled it out, and they understood me! They were impressed at my attempt :0)
There is always time for pizza, pasta, pastries, and gelato!
One of the funniest moments that I had, after doing dramas during a long ministry day, was during my drama part I literally completely forgot what I was doing. I had a simple part, I had dowel rods and I was to show the time passing to indicate Jesus being in the tomb for three days. In waiting for my musical cue I suddenly became panicked, having no idea which way my arms were supposed to move so that I would correctly show the mirrored clock. I’d done this part several times before, but literally could not remember what I was doing. I looked at our sound guy, seeking the answers telepathically, and finally the information came to me! It was a huge relief!
For one of our free days we went to Venice. This year I was determined to have a fun day enjoying this city. I purchased prescription sunglasses and wore more comfortable (if tourist looking) shoes. I was a little nervous about this trip as I had a large group of 7 students to keep track of all by myself. However, since I was already aware of the city, I knew it was possible to help make the students my other eyes. They’re young adults and they could help make sure that we always had each other as well.
One of our main missions for the day was having one of the student’s boyfriend’s ukulele painted with a small cross. So we explored through various artisan shops, seeing if someone would paint it. We finally found someone from a mask shop who would agree.
We walked around for hours shopping, and trying to find the best gondolas. We wanted to ride in a gondola on the side streets, but there were two together, so we decided to ride on around the edge of San Marco’s Square. I know that our missionaries and most people will advise not riding a gondola as it is a tourist trap. However, I would say that if you do it in a group it isn’t that expensive at all (only 20 Euro per person) and it is neat to experience the historic method of travel. Most of all it was a relaxing trip around the city and out of the sun. Several of my students thought about napping!
Another day, we were able to explore the church at Aquileia and visited the beach in Grado.
One of the most incredible things this year is that God allowed us to see the fruit in Italy. There were four salvations. One of these was a man at a park where we were doing children’s ministry. Another was a little girl from Solvenia…incredibly, I found out once all of the students uploaded their pictures, that this was one of the girls that had hung out with our team every day we were at the park in Udine. My team last year was so encouraged by this. Finally, while we were waiting for pizza one day in Grado, a few of our students began speaking to a few young girls who were visiting from Austria.
This was one of those trips where I didn’t feel God work personally in my life, the way that He showered me with love last year. But I was beyond humbled by the fruit He allowed us to share in the harvest. I felt good knowing that even if I’d never return to Italy, we were leaving a lasting impact.
Our last night the leaders schemed together to perform a spoof of one of our dramas filled with inside jokes based on our trip. It felt nice to hear our students find it as hilarious as we felt it was. It was especially rewarding since we had given up our last Riposo to practice.
Then we hurriedly readied for our fancy pizza dinner.
Our leaders had so much fun taking our group pictures while waiting in line for our final gelato.
I got a picture with our missionaries telling them that I hoped to bring my person to Italy someday to meet them. At this point I thought I had heard hope that maybe there was a way that Xtreme Impact could be continuing, and I needed to believe this to get through those last few days without bawling.
I hope to return someday, with my fantastic person (especially since he is Italian). I’ll just have to see what God’s plans are!