“Like the hardened soil in the parable, Italians are like concrete. Our mission here has been both breaking the concrete and finding the cracks to plant seeds.” Under the blazing hot Turbigo sun, the missionary spoke to the gathered volunteers in quick Italian, his daughter proffering the translated English.
I remember standing there, already sweating despite the sun’s low posture, as I nodded. Here, in simple phrases, the missionary had put into words what I had seen and witnessed the past three weeks. Europe may seem like an intellectual ocean, but beyond that lies a spiritual wasteland.
One of the hardest things for my entire team was raising money. This wasn’t because it proved to be difficult, but we all felt odd asking for funds to travel to Europe for six weeks. To put it bluntly, we were worried people would question our motives. Missions to South America, Africa, and other third-world countries are easy to understand. After all, their need is apparent, and the work is quite necessary. But Europe? Did we really want to go for the work or the sights?
That was a question that haunted me even into the trip. I knew I chose the trip for the right reasons, but my sleep-deprived mind gave way to second-guessing. Was I being lazy? Did I really have a servant’s heart? What could I possibly offer the gilded, glittering world of the City of Lights?
Yet, as I read through Philippians that first week, the Lord quieted my heart. With that stillness, in the following days, came an astonishing reality. The City of Lights wasn’t bright and glittering at all but, rather, depraved and cloaked in darkness. I began to notice the homeless, the hardened, and the weary, all living in one of the world’s most famous cities and yet lacking imminent purpose.
It was a new kind of labor-field, one I hadn’t expected in the slightest. This theme carried all the way through the remainder of our trip, manifesting itself in various ways. For example, while Paris is primarily atheist and post-religion, Italy basks in the color and glory of Catholicism, yet most self-proclaimed Catholics don’t believe God exists. To counter that, the Eastern Europeans of Moldova have combined Eastern Orthodoxy with the animism of their earliest cultures, leaving a fatalistic and embittered generation.
While discussing all of this with one of the Paris missionaries, I told her, “It’s easy to minister to third-world countries because they know they need help. And when they know they need physical help, they’re far quicker to listen to our spiritual help.” Europe proposes a mission field that is anything but easy. The citizens that the missionaries interact with daily have no need for God in their westernized lifestyles. Many of the church plants in Paris go for a decade or more without ever seeing any fruit. In Moldova, the church we served was made up of just two people. To reiterate what I said above, Europe’s heart has turned into concrete.
Yet, such difficulties haven’t stopped the missionaries from looking for the cracks. They also did not hesitate to welcome us into their journey. After the first week of orientation and ministry, we joined in the Paris Prayer Connection, traveling through many of Paris’ districts to visit, pray for, and bring encouragement to the church plants.
Once that second week was through, we hopped a train through the French Alps and jumped into ministry in Italy. There, we canvassed by passing out flyers in Italian markets and dropping cards into mailboxes, inviting people into discussion and to our Sunday service. After the heat of the day had passed, then, we went to a park to minister with the kids that played there, doing everything from blowing up animal balloons to dancing to preforming a mime of Christ’s love.
After an eventful ten days in Italy, we flew to Moldova. There, we participated in a kid’s ESL (English as a Second Language) camp, engaging with the missionaries’ community and neighborhood. We ended the week in a “graduation ceremony” for the kids.
At the beginning of the trip, I did not understand why the missionaries did the things they did. In retrospect, I understand it’s all about building relationships with the people. This theme remained consistent in all three places, no matter how much the culture or activity changed. The work in Europe is not like that in Africa; the obvious humanitarian needs are few. Instead, the workers in this concrete field have to formulate friendships. They have to build lifelong relationships before they can invite them toward hope.
Sometimes, they will accept the invitation, but sometimes it takes seven years. Sometimes there are no cracks in the concrete, and years have to be spent praying that the Lord will send an earthquake. It’s disheartening and long, but the workers remain faithful. Seeing that faithfulness was such a blessing. Participating in it, even more so.
Not only do I understand myself, and what I feel called to, better, but I feel I understand the Father better. I saw the harsh, difficult realities of missions in the City of Lights as well as a weeping boy as his shackles fell off. I witnessed the slow work of harvesting in concrete jungles and saw the triumph of a first seed blooming. Through it all, I saw the Lord’s faithfulness and goodness play out in beautiful and radical ways.
He has not forsaken Paris, Milan, or Chisinau, no more than He has forsaken the slums of Africa. He is still at work, reaching into stubborn hearts and uprooting hardened soil. While I do not think I will see a European cultural shift in my lifetime, I do believe it is coming, and it will be all for His glory and name.
In closing, missions in Europe was not what I could have ever imagined. Nor was the harvest field what I would have thought. However, working overseas with World Team for these six weeks opened my mind and my heart to the difficulties of missions, the patience it requires, and the faithfulness of the Lord all the way through. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
Major & Year: International Studies, class of 2025
Favorite Bible Verse: Mark 13:36
Tea Order: Apple Cinnamon Spice