we planned the youth retreat to be right before the other one so the kids could do both and not make 2 trips to florence this summer.
when they do retreats here in italy they are always great and uplifting but they are usually geared more towards self and strengthening our personal faith. of course that is wonderful but we wanted to add something this time.
when we started planning earlier this summer we decided that the theme was going to be "sono secondo" (i am second) and that on top of the fellowship and studies and speakers we were going to serve together.
we wanted to involve them in the acts of service that have become so much a lifestyle to us and show them how easy and important it is to serve others all the time and in the places where we live.
it's so funny how much we can talk about doing something, knowing it's the right thing to do and then forget/not to do it ourselves. we don't want that to happen with these teens.
so it started out with serving the meal together at the train station sunday night.
monday morning we went and sang and had a devotional with a lady from our church who can't get out.
that afternoon we went and sang hymns at the nursing home that we've been volunteering at this year.
words will never be able to explain the power and movement of the spirit through these kids in these few days. it was like we just needed to put them into these situations and they took off running. a lot of them had never done any of these things before and you could tell that when their "religion" met this service and acted it out it was like they found an answer to an equation they'd been searching out for a long time.
you could feel the spirit's power and you could see in all of their eyes that something amazing was happening inside of them. the way they were carrying themselves and speaking with each other. there was so much substance that i hadn't seen before. they were all restless. in a good way. in a way that i knew they were going to go back to their cities and be a little bit changed.
this had nothing to do with anything we did but everything to do with the fact that our god is an all consuming fire and when we let him loose in our lives he will accomplish his will and it is indescribably beautiful. the only time that happy tears weren't welling up in my eyes in those 3 days was when i was cooking or asleep.
so...after all that we had the big national retreat at the villa for the rest of that week. these kids weren't done. they couldn't stop talking and seeking and praying. we saw that too. you couldn't miss this power that was swirling around. it was so tangible that all you could do was cry and be thankful that you and these kids were experiencing it. it was the most emotional week of my life.
whenever i did see ryan during this week (we were both busy) all we did was tell each other stories of something amazing that one of the teenagers had told us that they decided to do. tears. joy.
growing up in a huge and awesome youth group, i was always exposed to beautiful opportunities to serve others and see the relevance of it in this life especially as a follower of jesus. it was so normal for me and every other teenager in my youth group.
the thing about these kids is that a. they don't have youth groups/youth ministers/youth activities, maybe there are 4 other teenagers at their church if they are lucky, they are strong but alone young christians b. they just went from thinking they are the future church of italy to realizing that they are the church now and not being intimidated by that but embracing it.
they are unstoppable.
i believe we just got to witness the beginning of a huge transformation in the churches in italy. i believe i saw a miracle.
then another miracle. at the end of this glorious week together, 3 of the boys (all around 20 years old) talked to ryan, eric, and peter bell and told them independently that they wanted to change the direction of their lives, find work in florence and move here to help the church of florence. what!!!! one of them is giving up moving to london for university, one of them is giving up a steady job and all 3 of them are moving away from their families!!! this was their idea people! are you amazed by god's spirit? i can't get over it.
florence needs jesus, especially the young adults (something ryan and i tried and tried to do but were not very successful at) and these boys noticed and decided they just want to evangelize here. whatever it takes.
i'm not amazed at how awesome god is. i knew. but i'm so so so incredibly thankful that i got to watch this humongous continuum come together in front of my eyes and 3 lives shift direction exactly towards the will of god and leave their own behind.
thank god with me.
here are photos and the video from the youth retreat.