When I decided to attend Cedarville University, I had a mental list of ALL the things I wanted to do as part of my 1,000 days. One of those things was going on a missions trip through Global Outreach. Finally, during my senior year, the opportunity came for me to check it off my college bucket list.
In June, I traveled to Italy with seven other people from Cedarville to serve at an English camp. I was worried that when I told people I was going to Italy, they would not see how it could be considered a missions trip (you know Italy, land of pasta, pizza, gelato, and espresso). During training and being in Italy, I was able to see the need that the ministry we were serving had and how our team was being the hands and feet of Jesus, even when we were not the specific individuals sharing the Gospel with the people we came in contact with (because none of us spoke Italian). That did not stop us from sharing God’s love and connecting with the people there.
Our trip began in Rome, where we spent the first two days adjusting to the time change and the culture. We walked all over Rome and took in all the history that surrounded us. During our team training, we read and studied the book of Romans. It was amazing to walk around a place and see things where Paul and Peter and other Christians in the Bible had been. Exploring the sites of Rome as a Christian was sobering at times. My team got to see Paul’s prison, where both Peter and Paul were said to be imprisoned. Another location that impacted me was the Colosseum. As a theatre major, I have learned so much about the history of that site and its effect on the history and development of theatre. It was also the site of so much persecution and martyrdom of Christians. These places were reminders of the Christians throughout history who dedicated their whole lives to Christ, even when it was unfathomably difficult. I was grateful to begin our trip with the reminder of the importance of spreading the Gospel and persevering through challenges.
After we had our fill of Roman pizza, gelato, and the metro and collected all the missing luggage, we got on a bus to head to camp. We were on our way to join 20 other Americans for staff training and prepare to welcome over 100 students to English Camp.
Where we served was called Isola Centro Evangelical. It is one of the only places in Italy where Christians can come and experience a Bible camp, conference, or retreat. The English camp reached out, especially to the non-Christians of the community. We taught English, played games, did arts and crafts, and led other fun activities. The Gospel was also shared with the students at camp every day before they went home.
English Camp does not only reach the students of the community. Between the two weeks of camp, Isola hosts a “pizza party” for the student’s families. The families get a chance to mingle with the Italian and American staff at camp. It is also a way to share with the families what their kids have been learning. At this event, the Gospel is shared with the parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends of the students participating in the camp. Everyone can take a Bible home with them. This was such a fun event to get to know the families better, experience Italian culture, and share the Gospel with so many people in the community.
I enjoyed this missions trip because I could see the long-term purpose of why we were there. In Italy, only one percent of the population is Christian. It can take years before an Italian may convert to Christianity. This English camp is a way for the camp to keep reaching their community and planting seeds. There were thirty Americans at this camp in the middle of nowhere in Italy teaching English. This was a large deal for the community. The mayor, who is not a Christian, came to thank us for coming and even sent his daughter to camp. We were able to help out with the camp’s largest outreach to the community. Through that, we could bless Joe and Stefania, the missionaries who run the camp year-round.
Something unique about this camp was that students and parents had the opportunity to invite their counselors to have dinner with them during the week. I have worked at and participated in many camps and have never invited my counselor or been invited by a camper to meet their family and share a meal with them. Two girls on my team got invited out by the same family more than once! I think that is a testament to the mission of the camp to reach out to their community and a testament to my team having the light of Christ in them even when they did not share the same first language. During these dinners, we could continue to plant seeds of the Gospel and represent the important work of Isola.
English Camp lasted two weeks. Every morning, the staff would head to group devotions, where we would study a passage of scripture to encourage us throughout our day and pray in small groups before heading to breakfast. Even in Italy, they follow “no Bible, no breakfast.” After breakfast, we prepared for the students’ arrival by finishing any last-minute plans for the day and heading to the gym to greet our students.
The students were divided into groups based on age. Each group had two Americans and one translator. The Americans were responsible for organizing and preparing English lessons to be taught every day. Everyone on our Cedarville team had another responsibility, like planning electives, group games, or lessons. Because all the American staff did not speak Italian, story time, discussion, and the Gospel Presentation were all led by an Italian. That way the students could understand what was being shared with them.
The language barrier was challenging at times, but I was still able to communicate with the kids in my group and form relationships. I learned that Pokémon is a universal language and that came in handy because the 8-year-old boys in my group were obsessed. My co-counselor, Jill, got very creative with incorporating Pokémon into every lesson so they would stay interested in learning. Those little boys tired me out for those two weeks at camp, but I was so glad I could be their friend and share God’s love with them through our interactions. Jill and I were even invited to dinner with one of our campers and his parents. They were not Christians, but we were able to be good representatives of the camp and Jesus Christ.
The two Sundays we were at camp, all the American and Italian staff met in the meeting room for church. I had never experienced a church service being translated before. What struck me the most was that God understands every language. I knew that before going to Italy, but being in a room and hearing multiple people pray, even though I may not have understood what they were praying, was a way God put me in awe.
During our last weekend in Italy, we headed back toward Rome and stayed with our host family, the Toias. Our time spent with them was an amazing way to wrap up our trip. What impacted me the most from our stay with them was the conversation they had with us before attending their church on Sunday. They told us that when we walk into church, the neighbors may yell at us and tell us we cannot go to church or worship, but that we have every right to be there and to continue going to the church. That struck me because I have never been told that I cannot go to church. Where I live in the United States, I have never been persecuted for my faith. Traveling to Italy, I knew the majority of the people were Catholic, but there was still a Christian population. I did not even think I would experience any sort of religious persecution or that that was something Christians in Italy faced.
The church service we attended was beautiful — even if I did not quite understand it because it was all in Italian. We got to help clean up after the service and prepare for the luncheon. We talked with other people our age about why we were in Italy and shared stories back and forth about ourselves. Our team made a sweet friend there named David. He was about 8 years old and spoke amazing English. When it was time for us to go, he told us to come back again. That made it so hard to leave.
While I was there, I picked up some Italian vocabulary. My favorite word that I learned was “contenta.” You can probably guess what it means: content or happy. There were so many moments during my time in Italy that I would just say “contenta.” Most of the time, it was when I was eating gelato or a whole Roman pizza, but there were so many beautiful moments spent with my team there. I enjoyed my time there and enjoyed the ministry my team was working with even more. I was so happy and content to be there with them serving Isola.
Major & Year: Theatre Performance, class of 2023
Favorite Bible Verse: Proverbs 3:5-6
Favorite Class at CU: Applied Leadership