Special guest post from Janie Brown of Mission Milan, Italy
About six weeks ago, it was our third anniversary of living in Milan, Italy. Since then, I’ve been reflecting on how we got here and, specifically, how the Lord calls his people to do difficult things. I have to start by explaining that never in my wildest dreams did I think we would serve as missionaries in another country. Fifteen years ago, if you had told me that we would move to Milan so that Mike could pastor an Italian speaking congregation, I would have laughed out loud. Us? In Italy? That’s just crazy. At the time Mike was pastoring a growing, vibrant church in the San Diego area, which we had planted a few years earlier. We loved our church family dearly and were content to grow with them. We had also just bought our first home and were raising four children. Although missions were important to us, we never envisioned ourselves on the foreign mission field.
Yet, in the providence of God, our church became involved in an Italian mission work. As a result, we made occasional trips to visit Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia in Milan. Although it was a blessing to meet God’s people on the other side of the world and interesting to learn about Italian culture, we left each visit saddened by the scarcity of Reformed churches in Italy. Over the years, this sadness began to gnaw at us. Each time we came home, we realized that we had so much in America. In San Diego alone, there are dozens of NAPARC churches from which one can choose. It is also home to one of the best seminaries in the world. There is no shortage of solid, biblical teaching and Christ-exalting preaching. Milan, on the other hand, is another story. It is a huge city with almost no Gospel witness. In fact, in the entire country of Italy there are no Reformed or Presbyterian denominations and precious few sound churches.
As I processed this disparity, the words of the apostle Paul frequently came to mind:
“How will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15).
Eventually, we started to wrestle with the idea of coming to Italy to help. I admit that it was a real struggle. Did I really want to leave my grown children, my church, and my home? In truth, the resounding answer was “No!” Italy is an enjoyable place to visit and a worthy cause for missions, but uprooting my life, being far from family, and saying goodbye to the church we planted seemed too difficult, too painful. As I thought about my hesitancy, I convinced myself that my desire for stability and comfort was “normal.” Aren’t these all the things we work for and dream of? A home, a family, a loving church community? Surely the Lord wanted me to stay in my contented world. But however much I tried to convince myself, I couldn’t escape the reality that God was calling us to do something difficult and uncomfortable, and that in his providence he had uniquely prepared us to face this task. The question was: would I bow to the idol of comfort or would I let the Lord conform me into the image of his Son?
Again, the words of the Apostle Paul echoed in my mind:
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).
Christ had suffered for me, for his people. He had to face the most difficult task, taking on the sin of the world so that he might save his people. The reality dawned on me that being conformed into the image of Christ requires all believers to do difficult things. Whether that is to weather the storm of cancer, endure the heartbreak of a wayward child, or go to the foreign mission field, each believer is being shaped and molded during this pilgrim life into the glorious image of our Savior. Being conformed into the image of Christ does not provide us with a pass on doing or experiencing difficult things.
So here we are three years later. Has it been difficult? Yes, in so many ways. Adjusting to life in a foreign country and learning a new language is challenging to say the least. The continual onslaught of Italy’s bureaucratic hurdles for foreigners is wearisome. Hardest of all is living thousands of miles away from my three grown children and my new granddaughter. Life here is not easy. But it has also been a tremendous joy to see the Lord at work through the power of his Word. The church has grown and the lost are being reached. People are being fed, nourished, and strengthened by the Gospel. The Lord has graciously given us love for his sheep, joy in our callings, and hope for the future of the church in Italy. While he calls us to do difficult things, he also reminds us of his wonderful promise: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Thanks be to God!
Janie Brown lives in Milan, Italy where she teaches English as a second language. She has a passion for the gospel, and the people, history, and culture of Italy. She and her husband, Rev. Michael G. Brown (Sacred Bond) have been married for more than thirty years and have four children.