The seconds tick at the cash register. We shake out our Italian, like a moth-eaten shirt, and blink away the fog of jet-lag. Everything is a de-j-vu of having been and done long ago. Phil rifles through his wallet, the cashier waits. A seed of uncomfortable turns into embarrassment.
When the opportunity came to spend several weeks of ministry in Italy where for over twenty years we’d live and worked, my husband said, “What could possibly go wrong?”
Just about everything.
The line behind grows impatient.
“Foreigners,” I can feel their thoughts as they shift purchases and glance at one another. Phil fumbles through his cards.
“Maybe you better pay,” he says under his breath.
I grab my purse and pull out my charge card and Missouri driver’s license ID. Shoving our purchases into the bags I whisper, “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t find my driver’s license.”
I realize he has been driving our friend’s car two days in Italy’s crazy traffic without a license.
“Maybe I left it in the scanner at home,” he worries. And it was.
While his license Fedex’s through the air to Italy we walk a lot, ride the bus and reacquaint ourselves with up-close-and-awkward people experiences.
Our month in Italy has been a refresher course in Missionary life 101. I feel like silly putty stretched almost translucent thin and sagging badly in the middle.
Reality and expectations rarely meet happily. There are always holes. I wonder the same question I’d asked at times during twenty-four years of missionary service. Is it worth it?
And then I read Psalm 62:5.
Ps. 62: 5 “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him.”
After forty-eight hours we hold the Missouri license in hand. We slide into the car and head to a day filled with work and ministry. I scrub dishes, cull through expired food in the non-profit pantry, chuck, fold and organize free clothing. And again I wonder if any of it will make a difference.
On the way home a little round Italian Police’s magic wand with the red bull’s eye pulls us over in a random stop. The police at my window aren’t impressed by Phil’s Missouri license still with jet fuel smell on it, his pilots license or the previously used Italian license now expired. Police with machine guns circle the car, peering into our windows. Three gather on my side.
With a hefty fine and requirements to get our license translated, we are again back on public transportation. The expectations of doing ministry collide with legal procedures and hunting down offices. My husband’s precious Missouri license sits in a legal translator’s office that doubles as a single’s dating service.
Ps. 62: 5 “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him.” (NKJV)
David’s “hope” or “expectation” rested on God alone. Another focus. Another dimension. Another humbling.
The outreach center we help at is full of activity. People want food, espresso, or clothing. Phil sits at the table in deep conversation about the Bible and the Koran with a man from Morocco.
I pull a chair next to a young lady named Naomi. Kids play in the room, rambunctious and loud, a ball slams into my leg. Out of work, needing help, Naomi tells me about the god she imagines, how he should be, what he should do. She describes how far short he falls from her expectations. Long wavy red hair falls over one side of her face, and she pulls it back behind her ear. Pensive and curious, she searches my eyes, willing me to agree with her words.
“Naomi,” I begin, “If you want to know what God is really like,” I grab a Bible off the table, “This book will tell you.” I pause a second, her eyes seem to ask for more, and so I continue, “Let me tell you about Jesus.”
Like scattering seeds, Phil and I sprinkle what we can in snapshot moments full of interruptions. In my mind I’d pictured things differently, easier.
Ps. 62: 5 “Wait silently….”
We retrieve our translated license from the legal/dating service office where we left it to be processed, and are ready to fill the car with fruits and vegetables for donation once again. But, the next day as we approach the Honda, it looks like we feel, one side having given up the ghost, expired, and off kilter. The tires on the driver’s side are flat. Phil carries them to a repair shop where the man declares them slashed. We wonder if we are more trouble than we are worth.
We walk the narrow sidewalks again, wait for buses, run for them, and squeeze into the crush of people on the move.
That evening Phil rolls the repaired tires back and puts them on. In the morning, tire number three, punctured with less vengeance, and previously holding on to life, succumbs.
“…for my expectation (hope) is from Him.”
What could possibly go wrong? I could put my expectations in anything other than God alone.
Is it worth it?
“…Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” John 4:35; (NKJV).
Little trials recall immeasurable purpose.