The summer before my senior year of college I spent 2 months in Italy working with missionaries. You can’t go wrong with trying a new flavor of gelato every day, right? Or swimming in the crystal clear blue waters of the Mediterranean, dining on fresh pasta, and wandering up and down cobblestone streets.
Aside from discovering that vanilla and chocolate gelato laced with ribbons of Nutella is a piece of heaven on earth, I learned a lot of other things that summer too. While working at an Italian Christian preschool, it was assumed that I knew the language and had teaching experience to keep hot-tempered 3 and 4 year olds under control. Neither of these was true, and I had to learn to rely on the Holy Spirit in a whole new way. While a few years of high school and college Spanish did prove to be helpful, there were times that I understood and was able to communicate when I should not have been able to. Sometimes I was completely overwhelmed with the task of keeping the kids in line, especially when the other teachers all disappeared at lunch time and it was up to me to keep the peace. But God always sent help when I needed it- whether it was a little 6-year old girl who stood up for me and believed in my abilities when I wasn’t so sure, or words in a language not my own that spilled out, later realizing that I had communicated far beyond my ability. I learned too that I loved being a hostess, when almost at the end of my time there a short-term team came from the US and I was the “old hand” by that time. I learned that missionaries are not perfect (a lesson I have needed in my current season of life), rather they are just people that desire to serve God but deal with all of the hard and crazy and beautiful that is this life. My two months in Italy were far more difficult than I could have imagined, but I loved discovering God’s strength in my weakness and His goodness to me in the tough times.
It never fails to fascinate me that the times that are the hardest in our lives are the times that God never looks more beautiful.