My first encounter with Italy was on a semester abroad program in the Spring of 2003. While many of the students signed up with friends, the only people I knew were a few of my fellow classmates from my Italian class the semester before. In the frenzy of getting ready to live overseas for four months, one concern did not really dawn on me until the day or so before I was to leave: of the 150 students in the program, would any of them be Christian? Would I find even one person who would join me in finding a church to attend or pray with me or be a source of spiritual encouragement?
This thought became more and more prevalent as I finished packing and headed to the airport with my mom. I did pray a little about this growing concern but as I recall, I did a lot more worrying than praying. Then the time came to board the plane. A moment or so after I sat down between two adult travelers, I realized I was in the wrong row and my seat was actually the one directly behind me. Once I slid out from the row I was in and turned to see who I would be sitting next to for the next 10 hours, a feeling of disbelief swept over me. There beside my vacant seat sat a female student with a Bible in her lap and a journal on the tray-table in front of her with a verse written clear as day on the cover of the journal. “No way!” I thought to myself. Here my need for a Christian (and preferably female) friend on this trip had just entered my mind within the previous 24-48 hours and all the while God had seen my need and gone before me to provide.
I sat down with a smile on both my face and heart as the realization sunk in that God had known my need all along and like always, was proving Himself both able and faithful to provide for my every need. Once I was settled in my correct seat and Amy and I introduced ourselves, I made a comment to her about her Bible and journal. She, though much sooner than I, had been wrestling with the same concern I had in wondering if we would find even one like-minded believer among the participants in the program. A few minutes into our conversation, she handed me a small purple card with the following written on it:
“Glorify the Lord with me, let us exalt his name together.” ~ Psalm 34:3
She explained how she had been asking God to provide a Christian friend on the trip and felt led to write this verse down and to give it to whomever God provided as an answer to her prayers. Though a bit unusual to receive something personal from a stranger, I received the card with gladness understanding at least to a small degree at that point, we were each other’s answers to our prayers.
If only I had met Amy before signing up for the trip, then we could have requested in our applications to be roommates, or at least in the same building! There were roughly 10 apartment buildings scattered throughout central Florence where the students in our program would be staying but the staff had finalized both the roommate and apartment assignments several weeks before the start of the program.
We arrived in Florence in the evening and stayed the first night at a hotel. The following morning we met the program staff in the hotel conference room for orientation before receiving our housing assignments and moving into our apartments. Meeting Amy before I even arrived in Italy was an amazing gift. When I remember God freely pours His blessing out on us NOT because of who we are or what we have done but simply because He is a loving, merciful and gracious God and has redeemed us through Christ Jesus to be His children, it then comes as no surprise He sovereignly arranged Amy to be my next-door neighbor.
We did connect with a few other Christians on the program but none so well as each other. I know my experience that semester would have been radically different if not for the wonderful friend and sister I found in Amy.
That was nine years ago.
Since then my friendship with Amy has only grown deeper and more dear to me with each passing year. The Lord has used her more times than I can count to bless, encourage and admonish me and I am so truly grateful to know her! God reassured us of His love for us even before we took off from the runway at SFO. He always has and always will watch over us, even while thousands of miles from home.
Just like individual body parts are to the whole, each of us need to be (and are) connected to one another (1 Cor. 12). One of Satan’s favorite tactics to discourage Christ-followers, cause discord among us and render us ineffective and unproductive in our faith is to separate and isolate us from each other and convince us we are alone. Don’t buy into his lies! If you are a believer in Christ, regularly meeting with other members of the body of Christ is imperative.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” ~Hebrews 10:24-25
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ… If the foot should say, ‘because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body… If the whole were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ and the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’… But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” ~ 1 Corinthians 12: 12, 15, 17-20, 24b-27