A year and a half ago, I was hooked on an iOS based social app. It was a global prayer tool. The name was cheesy but I needed something to help me become more disciplined. I was willing to take the “there’s an app for that” claim into my spiritual life and see if it worked even there.
My job had me driving alot, so the app kept me company. Before I knew it, I was praying with and for people literally all over the world. Ghana. Scotland. Nigeria. India. Brazil. To name a few. Of course, there’s always the concern that some real freaks hide online even in prayer apps and pretend to be someone for devious purposes.
But, the idea grew on me. Build a global, believing community through an app. And make these people who you perhaps will never see like family. A month into it, I noticed some of the men I’d pray with who were especially sincere. Even on the local level, this is extraordinary. In today’s American churches, the numbers of men are in decline. And, being intentional is a problem area.
I private-messaged a handful of men and asked if they would be interested in doing more than just posting prayers for each other. My idea was this: Switch to another app that hosted group live chat, make 3-minute videos that covered what I was reading in the Bible, and build an intimate, global brotherhood. Everyone I asked loved the idea and we moved to Google Hangouts.
One of these men was a student in a “closed” country. He was finishing up his studies where he lived. He had received a full scholarship to study abroad in Italy. A chance of a lifetime.
I told my pastor what these men and I were doing online and he was intrigued. And, I talked to him about this student getting ready to study in Italy. I didn’t know anyone in Italy. I had never been there. To be honest, I was not well-connected anywhere and had never traveled outside the United States.
My hope was that I could play some part in finding a church for my friend to attend when he arrived. Or at least some pastor there who could disciple him. I know…it was a crazy idea.
My pastor then told me our church had been supporting a missionary couple for the past thirty years who had been working in Italy. And, they had started a church in Milan (where my friend would be studying). And, it was an English-speaking church (which was perfect for my friend since he didn’t yet know Italian). Shut up! This is God’s little joke, right?
My pastor messaged me later that day with the name of the church in Milan and I found the pastor’s contact information. I emailed this pastor and shared my friend’s story. He responded promptly and gave me his number. The next Saturday, I sat on my front step and talked to a missionary living in Milan, Italy. We were both intrigued. He wanted to know about this social media based discipleship thing I’d been doing. I wanted to know about him.
The missionary told me about the world ministry he’d been doing in a small church in downtown Milan for 15 years. And, he explained he and his wife would be coming back to the States within the next year.
“What will happen to the church you’ve been building when you come back?” I asked.
He chuckled, then asked in return, “Would you like to come to Italy and do some pastoring?”
A dynamic seed was planted in me that day. I’d never had any fixed desire to be a missionary in Italy. I never considered Italian ministry. Making disciples in Milan was never in my cross-hairs. But, the ridiculous possibility had now been presented. And, it felt like a little more than a joke. It was suddenly a what-if whereas an hour before as I dialed his number it was nothing to me. Would I like to go to Italy and do some pastoring? Who was I? Had I been preparing for something like that? No. Was I experienced in church planting on a global scale? No. Had I even stepped foot on Italian soil? No. But I had officially been recruited, apparently by a desperate man.
Fast forward. Six months after talking to this missionary for the first time over the phone, Amy and I were in Milan. In that time, Amy had just a few questions. Hundreds, actually. We Skyped. We called. We emailed. A relationship grew. Then, we were invited to come as a vision trip to Italy so we could see what they had been doing for the past 15 years. And, to listen to God. To see if this type of ministry resonated with us. And, we did.
None of what hooked us in the beginning worked out. Finding my young friend a church to attend. Connecting my friend with a pastor who could mentor him. Becoming the next pastor of this international church in Milan. My friend found a church and a pastor on his own. And, this church found its next new pastor. Everything worked beautifully in a divine pattern that God ordained. And, that hour-long conversation with that missionary was a holy smack in the face. A “Look here!” where I had been buried in the daily grind.
We were put in contact with the missions agency our new friends in Italy had been working with. We applied to work with them, too. Then, a long process of thread-following began for us. We kept seeing this thread on the path that included Italy and missions and discipleship.
My friend is now in a good church happily making friends and serving. The missionary we stayed with in Italy is now back home working with the missions agency who will send us as missionaries. And the church where I could have served as pastor is joyously growing under new servant leadership. And we are happy. We are en route to Italy. And, it looks organic from here. We don’t know exactly what we will do yet but we are learning. We are learning to love the Italians and seeing the great need for the Gospel there.
The story is even crazier when I go into detail, which I can’t do here. I want to protect the names of my friends and be respectful of their privacy. But, hopefully if they read they will feel happy to have played a part in something God is doing in my family.
So this must be how God is calling people to the mission field these days. Dreams. Visions. Social apps.
Pray for us.