TEAM’s 125th anniversary tour of Europe began with excitement
and expectation for what God was going to show us during our time overseas. Each day, the group met missionaries and toured historic sites in the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy in order to understand what it is like to serve in a postmodern culture.
On the eighth day of the trip, we arrived at our last stop in Mestre, Italy, to meet missionaries Mark and Kris Crooks and the members of a TEAM church plant there. We may have been tired after so much traveling, but we were excited to meet the members of this church and enjoy fellowship over pizza and espresso.
Over dinner, members of the congregation shared how they came to know Jesus and the role this church played in their conversions and discipleship. We were amazed that most of the church members — brand new followers of Christ — were already leading unique outreach ministries, including everything from sports camps to nature walks.
choking back tears as she asked, “Please pray I can continue to swim upstream.”
At the end of the evening, we asked how we could pray for the Italian believers. A woman named Lucy stood before the group, choking back tears as she asked, “Please pray I can continue to swim upstream.”
She had shared her story, earlier, of coming to know Jesus and how the TEAM church plant connected her with a Christian community. Besides the dozen or so Italian believers in this room, her daily life was absent of any other Christians. At her workplace, her children’s schools and even in her family, she is the only one who knows Jesus. Her story is not unique in Italy; as she spoke, many nodded in agreement that this was their story, too.
Before we left for Europe, many of us had read the statistics: The Czech Republic is acknowledged as the most atheistic country in the world. Only one in 200 people in Austria profess faith in Jesus. Italy is dominated by a Roman Catholic history, but few Italians claim a personal relationship with God. These numbers are staggering and sad, but on paper, it is often hard to grasp the full meaning of such small numbers.
The more ministry initiatives we saw, the more our group came to realize that knowing statistics and knowing the people living them are two very different things. As a U.S. citizen born and raised in the Bible Belt, it is hard for me to comprehend not knowing even one other Christian in my daily life. For Italian believers like Lucy, though, that is the norm. Though we only experienced a glimpse of this, our tour group was able to more fully understand the reality of following Jesus in a culture such as Italy’s.
The 125th anniversary tours were great opportunities to see beautiful countries and hear stories about God’s work. But some of the most memorable moments came when national believers like Lucy made themselves vulnerable, helping us understand, in a deeper way, what it is like to follow Jesus in a culture that doesn’t understand him. Things we had only heard or read about came to life in a new way, leaving an impact that has lasted far beyond the final plane ride.