I love my job. This past year has been the most unpredictably wonderful and rewarding season yet in my work in full time ministry and this past weekend was a culmination of it all when I was in Italy for a whirlwind 5 days and 5 nights. Afterward as I was flying from Italy back to the States, I reflected on it all and I had to record what the Lord put on my heart so that I could share it with whoever wants to hear what He has done.
Four years ago, I knew God wanted us to go to Italy. He had moved mountains to prove it and would be releasing us to full time ministry there soon. The conviction to go propelled me toward obedience but the fear of the unknown was always pulling at me. Yet, He sent me away to a serve Him in a place that was foreign, to a people I didn’t yet love, with a job description that was still to be written.
I never could have imagined then, what has become my reality now. Here I am, the Founder and Director (insert a little healthy fear and trembling as I write that) of Alleanza Tesori Raggianti (Radiant Treasures Alliance): a national alliance of advocates across Italy who are burdened by the injustice of commercial sexual exploitation in Italy and committed to making an impact to the glory of God!
God is moving in Italy to raise up His people – people I now love – to fight the injustice. He is jealous to restore His daughters – treasures I dearly love – who have been trapped by modern-day slavery. I can’t tell you how privileged I feel to be able to be such a part of all He is orchestrating. Doors have opened that could only He can open and I get to walk through them!
Thankfully I haven’t had to take these steps of faith alone. Jon has been my biggest champion. I couldn’t have done any of this without His unending support. He has encouraged me to keep at this ministry at times when I considered giving up and he has contributed countless hours of his time, energy and talent to help make it a success. All of his behind-the-scenes design work is what has become the face of ATR and I think its evident how much he believes in the ministry and cares about its image!
I have also had the honor of leading a fabulous team of gifted, passionate, and godly, women, a.k.a. the ATR Steering Committee, to build the foundation for the organization we have felt led to establish. They have not only been instrumental in bringing ATR to where it is today, but they have been instrumental in bringing healing and renewal in my life as they have entrusted me with the directorship of this endeavor He has put in our hearts.
This past weekend was an amazing experience as I watched what God is doing in and through ATR. “Equip, Empower, Unite” was our big kick-off event and it was an exciting time to introduce ATR to more than a couple dozen people representing ministries that span 8 different regions across Italy.
This is only the 2nd time we know of when evangelicals doing anti-trafficking ministry in Italy have gathered together. The first was a year and a half ago when we hosted a training for caregivers of survivors of sex trafficking. It was great to see familiar faces from that first gathering and encouraging to have new ones in the mix too!
I had the privilege of spending the first hour of our time together introducing the group to ATR – describing the mission, vision, strategies, structure, and opportunities for involvement – as well as introducing them to the steering committee who each described her role at ATR.
We are taking steps to become a registered non-profit organization in Italy that is forging ahead with plans for victim intervention, training, awareness campaigning, safe house development and more. This work will be overseen by members of the steering committee who are coordinators of different work groups. The work groups will be made up of ATR members and their involvement will be the fuel for the work of ATR across Italy.
We are seeing God unite believers in Italy who were once operating independently or felt alone and we are becoming a stronger force because of it. Near the end of the day long event we asked everyone in the room, all potential ATR members, to think of at least one thing he or she could contribute to ATR and its greater mission. Their thoughts were recorded on this group diagram as a symbol of how much we can do when we work together.
Collaboration is not something that is common in Italy, even among evangelical churches, so we are in awe of bridges He has built and in anticipation of much more to come as we equip, empower and unite this group and continue to add others to it in the months to come!
Our group photo marked a milestone for ATR, but ultimately for the battle we are all waging to push back the darkness that drives the commercial sex industry in Italy. We spent time in corporate prayer to close our time together to thank God for all He has done, celebrate all He is doing, and ask for His continued direction and protection. I also spoke our theme verse over the group, “All who look to Him are radiant with joy, no shadow of shame will darken their faces,” to remind us of its beautiful promise of restoration for all who look to Christ – trapped treasures and outreach workers alike.
The day of the “Equip, Empower, Unite” event was a fantastic one, full of reasons to be encouraged and inspired to keep walking this road we’ve sensed God directing us on. But I want to leave you with a short story of something that happened right after the event that was probably the most meaningful moment of the whole weekend for me.
The night before the event, we as a steering committee, invited Anna to join our leadership team. Anna is a young Italian woman who is beautiful inside and out with a huge heart for God and serving Him. She has just finished her law studies with an emphasis on human trafficking. We unanimously agreed that she was a crucial missing piece and would serve as a fabulous leader in the area of advocacy and legislative reform for ATR and the treasures we serve. She took the evening to consider our offer and then told us something right after the event that brought me to tears. She explained that about four years ago, after Jesus got hold of her heart, she questioned whether her intended career in law was something she should continue to pursue. She couldn’t see how God could use it but felt Him leading her to continue without knowing what job description He had in mind for her. The tears came to my eyes when she then said; “I believe your invitation to join ATR is the answer from God that I have been waiting four years to hear.”
Wow. What sweet confirmation that this ministry is something that God wants and how humbling to be part of something He has been preparing long before a thought of it had entered our minds. Not to mention how ecstatic we are that she is joining us!
Four years ago I had no idea what God would do with my willingness to step out and follow Him and neither did Anna. Today we see how He was weaving ATR together even then. What a wonderful reminder of the goodness there is in His sovereignty and how exciting to think of all that He might have in store for the next few years!
I love my God and I love my job!