One of the ways we are getting ready for mission in Italy is through a Skype-based discussion group of others at a similar stage, all led by a Brit who, due to being born and raised there, is more Sicilian than English. The group is known as “Proposte”, which apparently means “suggestion or proposal”, for reasons unclear to me. In any case, it is enormously helpful to consider the implications of living in Italy with someone who not only knows what it is like, but can also appreciate what us foreigners may find most difficult or significant. By shaping our expectations as close to reality as it is possible to do from a distance the group of us can hopefully find the transition quite a bit easier. This is important for a number of reasons, but not least because missionaries tend not to stick around in Italy. The number who leave after one term and never return is appalling. As remarkable as Italy is for so many reasons, it is not always an easy place to live and find traction as a missionary.
Last week we spent some time with very practical aspects, namely politics, education and administration. I find the politics exciting. The education system is something Julia has a solid handle on. Administration? That’s an issue. I confess, the thought of spending days instead of hours on mundane official tasks is not something I expect to do well with. I fully expect to be brought to tears when it takes three days to trade my UK drivers license in for an Italian license, or whatever happens to be our first encounter with officialdom. This last Proposte wasn’t the first time I had been warned, although it gave the opportunity to discuss it a bit further.
What was most helpful in the discussion was the challenge from Jonathan (the aforementioned Sicilian-Brit) to see these moments as opportunities for sanctification. That is, those frustrating, monotonous and completely unnecessary hours spent waiting for any sign of progress can be a chance to grow in patience, to learn kindness in less than ideal circumstances, and to remember that the fruit of the spirit are not just intended for our good days. Basic perhaps, but I find the reminder helpful. The reflex when things aren’t as they should be is always to push back, to yell and scream, but maybe all of that self-pity is drowning out the voice of Jesus.
The reality is that the system of bureaucracy cannot be avoided if we live there, and it can’t realistically be fought with any chance of winning. And so instead of ranting and wailing against the injustice of it all, these can be moments where we invite Jesus to wait in line with us, and where we gracefully accept the challenge that we remain a work in progress. Even something as infuriating as bureaucracy can be used to shape and form us.
So that is my challenge for the moment. I want to learn to see the negative things-whether they be small or large-not as the end of the world but as a chance for my Father to continue the ongoing work in me. And maybe God can use even Italian bureaucrats for his glory.