Peace in God’s will

Darius and Pepita

This morning I went to the office of the Associazione Italiana Allevatori, the Italian Breeding Association, to register the change of ownership of Pepita. We have Pepita, a small horse with haflinger blood, since a couple of months and we are sure that she is an answer to our prayers. Nine years ago, we arrived with two horses in Umbria: Forsane, a chestnut mare, and Darius, our dun fjord pony.  Both of them almost twenty years old, we didn’t want to leave them in France, although we had no intention to ride either of them.

Two years ago, after Darius showed us the way, we found Forsane lying helplessly on an incline, with her back against a huge rock and her legs upwards the slope. There was no way she could get up and we had no idea how long she had been lying there. A morning, a whole night, or 24 hours? The vet, who we called right away, told us later that she had fallen because she was dying and not the other way around. We could only hope that he told us the truth and hadn’t said it just to make us feel less bad. Anyway, from the moment the vet put the poor horse out of her misery, Darius was alone. Now, horses aren’t created to live on their own, they are herd animals. On the one hand, we didn’t want to insert new animals into our small menagerie, because we think that at some time we will need to travel in our work for God. Animals are wonderful company, but they also tie you down. On the other hand, though, it hurt to see Darius trudging in the meadow or standing staring in the stable, obviously suffering from solitude. Therefore, we started praying. “God, if it is in Your will that we’ll have another horse, please let it cross our path.” We specified that we wanted an older mare, preferably a pony so that it wouldn’t eat that much hay, although Jan worried a bit that a too small pony could easily escape through our rickety fences. It wouldn’t be the first time that we’d hear the sound of horses’ hoofs outside our bedroom window in the middle of the night. We prayed for more than a year, almost every day.

Then, one day, I got a phone call: would we be interested in a small, retired, twenty-year old mare? We made an appointment. When we saw Pepita, it struck me how much she looked like Forsane: chestnut with a white blaze on her head. She was a lot smaller though, but still higher than Darius. The stableman explained that she was a very calm and sociable horse. She had just one vice; she was a master escaper. Oops. When I looked at Jan, I almost could visualize his worries about getting up at night for horse rescue missions. Then I felt a Nudge. Before I knew it, I heard myself say confidently, “We have prayed so long. If we really believe this is God’s will, we must trust Him also for keeping Pepita safe within our fences. I believe she won’t run off.” A couple of days later, I went to fetch Pepita. I walked into the valley to the riding school on my own, and up the hill again with Pepita behind me. She reacted very well to the “Pat Parelli” instructions I had learned in France and we arrived at home without any problems. I think it was love at first sight. After the initial ritual of nuzzling, chasing, and running to establish the hierarchy, Darius and Pepita were inseparable.

On the third evening after Pepita’s arrival, Jan heard a horse neighing very loudly. “Milly, come quickly, I think Pepita has escaped!” Jan panicked, and we ran outside with a flashlight in search of a run-away horse. Nothing. Jan was about to start the car to hunt her down. “Maybe we should control the meadow first,” I said. Jan hesitatingly agreed, and we walked into the field, moving the beam of light nervously around in search of our equines. Suddenly, we saw them: caught in the circle of light, they stood with their heads over each other’s necks, hugging–no, caressing–each other, visibly exhilarating. Probably, they had lost sight of each other, but now were reunited. And happy. Pepita never tried to escape, not once. She was peaceful and safe in God’s will.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you (Isa. 26:3).


God loves all – and wants us to come directly to Him


Yesterday morning, we brought our harvest to the olive press in our village. After we put our thirteen crates on a pallet and received the promise that our oil would be ready in the afternoon, we rang the bell of the lumber jack, who lives around the corner, to pay for the 2 cords of firewood he delivered a couple of weeks ago. We had tried to pay several times before, to no success, because we found nobody at home. This time we were lucky; his wife opened the door, a friendly woman, who is always interested in how we are doing. She accepted the money and proudly showed that she still had the Christmas card we had brought her last year. Of course, we had written an encouraging Bible verse on the card, and almost naturally, we began to talk about our faith and our mission in Italy. “We love Jesus and the Italian people, and Jesus loves the Italian people even more! We really want to share His love with all of you,” I said. “Yes, but doesn’t He especially love the believers?” she asked. For one moment, I was dumbstruck. Then I answered, “No, He loves every single person, believer or non-believer. That’s exactly why He came to the earth; to enable everyone to come to Him. But He loves them already before they do so,” I explained. “We cannot win God’s love through our faith,” I continued, “but if we believe in Him and in everything He has done for us, we can feel His love. And we want to answer His love.” She looked at me for a moment. Then I could see that another thought popped up and she asked, “And what do you think of the current pope?” The expression on her face told me that she liked him a lot. Many Italians ask us this same question, expecting us to respond positively. Pope Francesco is a friendly man, appealing to many people with his humble behavior and easy-to-understand words, but He still represents an unbiblical function in an unbiblical institution. Jan and I never engage in a discussion about the pope though; instead, we start talking about Jesus. “Did you know that you can relate to God without any intermediary person?  Jesus made that possible!”

It hurts every time we realize that most Italians simply don’t know the truth about Jesus.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. […] So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. […] We love because he first loved us (1John 4:10, 16, 19).

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Carrying fruit

Picking olivesYesterday, we picked olives. Not for the first time in the nine years we live here, but this time our harvest will break all records. Probably because we had a summer that wasn’t as dry as previous years, the trees are heavy with little fruits in all shades between bright green and deep purple. Enjoying the still warm autumn sun that gives everything a golden glow, we stem the olives from their branches into the buckets that hang with ropes off our necks, while balancing on our ladders to reach even the highest ones. Every now then, we empty our buckets in a crate on the ground. Bucket after bucket, crate after crate, day after day.

Last night, we counted thirteen full crates, containing fifty pounds each. Not bad for five days work, especially when considering our picking method. The Italians use large nets, which they spread out on the ground under the trees, and let the olives simply drop on the nets. When they’re done with a tree, they fold the net to collect all olives and pour them in a crate. This procedure is much faster, because don’t have to bother about aiming at a bucket. However, a prerequisite for using nets is that the ground around the trunk is cleared of weeds, sprouts etc. Unfortunately, we never manage to do this work, so we’re restricted to hand-picking.

While working, I thought back at the chat that I had the day before with my daughter, in the car, while bringing her to school. She shared with me that she finds it sometimes difficult that some girls at school gather in little groups to gossip or to make fun of other kids. She often feels she is their target. I explained that, whatever happens, she is not involved at all. “It’s their problem, not yours. You know who you are and what you’re worth. The mess around you doesn’t change a thing about you. Don’t let it influence the way you think of yourself or your behavior.”

Just as the briars and brambles don’t prevent the trees from producing olives, we shouldn’t let our circumstances determine what comes out of our hands, mouths, or minds. The weeds surely can make things look prickly, but they can’t alter our being or our purpose.

“I praise your, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Ps. 139:14)

“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:26)

“I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rules, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).