The four-part harmony flowing down the streets raised curious eyebrows. Not just the singing, but the Charles Dickens’ era clothing we wore. My top hat and bulky overcoat stood out among the sophisticated style of the Italian people.
We had a purpose, but I admit I had doubts. How could a naive group of American Bible school students make a difference in a foreign country? We didn’t speak the language. We didn’t know our way around. We relied heavily upon the missionaries to schedule performances, and then they had to speak to those we serenaded.
Italy was beautiful. I was continually awestruck by its grandeur- the rich history, fascinating architecture, and savory foods. But this wasn’t a tour. We’d been trained to spread the gospel to the far reaches of the Earth. And now, on the mission field, I stood bewildered. How could singing Christmas carols to shoppers in the marketplace do anything for God’s kingdom? As simple entertainment, how could this affect eternity?
Then one evening, at the most unexpected time, God showed me. A young man in the local church was part of a group of dancers. Break dancers. All the guys in our group lit up at the opportunity to watch them practice. I’d never seen anything like it. Unbeknownst to me, God had a plan. A man in his early twenties approached us and asked the missionary who we were. I didn’t understand a word of her explanation but watched as the man sat on the floor at her feet and talked with her for an hour. She explained later that she’d told him we were Christians and here to proclaim the love of Jesus. He had many questions about God, and as the practice continued behind him, she answered each one.
I sat in silence after she told me, fighting back the tears. If all the money I’d raised, time spent memorizing music, and effort to travel that far was all so one man could hear about Jesus, it was worth it. I’d been so arrogant to think that God had to speak through me to be included in his plan. But a young Italian was told the gospel simply because I was there.
And God wasn’t done.
I watched through new eyes now as I sang. Waiting. Waiting to see God touch somebody else. As I hugged the elderly in a nursing home, most cried because they appreciated somebody caring about them. The gospel simply shared through acts of love.
As we sang in the marketplace, the missionary passed out literature to those watching. I smiled as I saw a passerby thumb through the Gospel of John.
I’d learned in school that God raises some to plant seeds and others to harvest. I realized we were the seed planters. God had planned for me to be in Italy that Christmas, and though I lacked the faith, God accomplished what he’d set out to do.
Two years later, I returned. Same mission, same location. But this time, I anticipated what God would do. We had a purpose. And I had no doubts. God was there. God was active. He would use us in unexpected and glorious ways.