As a senior English major I considered continuing my education and completing a Master’s degree. I even took one of those prep tests. I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but a door opened and I walked right through it.
I had heard of the Avanti Italia program from the semester I spent in Italy back in 1995. It is overseen by the College Church of Christ in Searcy, AR, which is where Harding University is located. The school program I was in was actually a part of Harding and not FHU. There was a social event at the Avanti building and we met the workers there. We also worshipped at the church of Christ in Florence often with the Italian church and Avanti Italia workers. At that point in my life, I had no inkling or desire to be a minister or do mission work.
But by the time I got to the middle of my senior year, the chance to live overseas teaching English and the Bible really appealed to me. Of course, the fact that it I would be living in Italy was also cool. I had a couple of friends who also committed two years to serving in this way. The program recruits Christians who are college graduates to spend two years in Italy, mostly in Florence, but also other regions, to simply teach English lessons using the Bible.
Some students just want English but they get the Bible. Some want Bible discussion from the beginning, others grow in their interest.
I made the decision in December of 1997 and had a year to raise my support. I needed around $900 per month for a two year period. Fund-raising was a challenging and faith-building experience. I also appreciate my home congregation (Lone Oak) for being my sponsoring church.
I was scheduled to leave in January of 1999. What would I do from graduation (May 1998) until then besides raise support?
God had an answer for that, too.
The Clements Street Church of Christ in Paducah, KY, stepped in. My grandparents attended there. I often joked that they were the congregation’s youth group. It was an older, smaller (around 40-50 members) congregation that was in between preachers and needed someone to fill in. And my grandfather recommended me. From about July through December I preached both times each Sunday and taught Revelation on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening continuously. (Why Revelation? I had just completed a really good Bible class at Freed my final semester and had good notes and a couple of good books. It went pretty well.)
It was a wonderful experience for someone with no Bible degree, no preaching classes, little speaking experience. I grew a lot. They were a sweet group of Christians and I will always appreciate my grandparents and them for giving me that great opportunity.
The next post (next week) will cover my time spent in Italy, and I may need to break that into two parts.