It’s been nearly two months since my Italy mission trip. As I look back, I am overcome by the goodness of God and I remember why I marked it as one of the greatest highlights of my year on the BSSM end-of-the-year survey form. So many stories. So many testimonies. So many glimpses into the wonderful and redemptive heart of God.
Before I reminisce all that happened on this trip, I want to give thanks to everyone who supported me financially to go. Your support means so much to me. May this account give you much encouragement and inspiration that the seed you planted was not in vain, and there is life sprouting from your sacrifice even now 6,000 miles away from sunny California in the beautiful country of Italy.
First of all, Italy is one of the most influential and catalytic centers of culture and creativity in the entire world. Throughout history, we’ve seen the stretch of its ambition and power. Rome is the home of the Catholic Church and the birthing place of many different cultures and nations. Today, art and fashion is still the dominant language of the Italian people, and one can see clearly the spirit of innovation and excellence that they carry in so many realms of their community and culture.
One of the reasons I chose this mission trip was because it had to do with Arts and Music. Our leaders, David & Shanna Francescinni have a huge heart for Italy (David is Italian-American), and they are both artists and musicians. They organized this trip to specifically focus on releasing the Kingdom of God through creative arts, e.g. music, dance, painting, drama, flash mobs, and lots of prophetic words. I had never experienced something like this before (I had been part of many mission trips in the past but they were all organized conferences focused on preaching rather than creative arts and street ministry). I immediately felt a stirring in my spirit and thought, “Yes! This is what I want to learn to do!” I knew that it would be a great culmination experience for everything that I was learning at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry this year about prophetic art and Kingdom creativity. And indeed it was!
Now, let me take you back with me, to another place and another time… March 18-30, 2015. Follow our 25-member mission team as we travel across Italy and minister to people in 5 different cities. Our first stop: Asti.
Asti is a beautiful city with rolling hills and vineyards. Yes—just like the postcards. We were hosted by Pastor Marc King and his wife Danien. They live in a house set in the hills surrounded by fields and fields of green. I can only imagine how gorgeous it is in spring when all the flowers are in bloom.
In Asti, we hosted our first Creativity Conference with Pastor Marc’s church in attendance along with other pastors and leaders who traveled from neighboring countries to attend (Our sound man was Norwegian). I served on the worship team, playing keys and leading worship. My sporadic practice of the Italian language paid off! We sang every single song in Italian. “Rimaniamo saldi” means “We will not be shaken (or We will stand firm)” and “Io amo la tua presenza” means “I love your presence.” I’d like to say I even started dreaming in Italian, but that didn’t happen. I do, however, still often find myself thanking my servers in Italian, “Grazie!”
Prophetic Words – “God Knows Me”
On the first night of the conference, our leader Shanna preached a message on the creativity of God. Did you know that God is an architect? He gave Moses a detailed blueprint of the Tabernacle. From the very beginning, God wanted us to know that He values beauty, skill and excellence in regards to art and craftsmanship. The first man to be filled with the Spirit of God was the craftsman Bezalel who was anointed to build the articles in the Tabernacle.
Then Shanna demonstrated how we are able to prophesy over people using common everyday objects. She gave one man a jar of orange honey and started prophesying over him that he would start a business that would use creativity to reform Italy and that this business would actually cause him and his wife to come together rather than grow apart. Little did she know (which we later found out) that this man had actually just signed the paperwork to start his own business a few hours earlier! He had thought about quitting his nursing job and becoming a professional photographer for months, and he finally did it that very week! Not only that, his wife had been worried that this new business would cause problems in their marriage. Lo and behold! God, in His great love and mercy, showed them just how much He knew them and cared for them through these simple words of knowledge. Both husband and wife were in tears by the end. Sometimes, it’s the simple revelation that God really sees me and knows me that unlocks hearts to encounter His love.
Prophetic Art – “Sowing Seeds of Hope”
In the afternoon on the second day, we went out into the market and the public square to do “creative street evangelism.” Some of us played our guitars and sang worship songs; some of us danced in the middle of the pedestrian streets; some of us face painted; some of us stepped out and prayed for the people who stopped to watch. Before I came to Italy, I had prepared a few pieces of prophetic art to give out to people, so now, armored with the Holy Spirit and a few art pieces in my hand, I began roaming around the streets asking God to highlight the people He wanted me to bless with my art.
I had drawn “A ship sailing at sea,” and I gave this to an older man I saw waiting in front of a shop. I encouraged him that God was giving him new hope. At first he was surprised that I was giving out free art to people, and then he opened up to me and said, “It’s hard to have hope. Italy is really struggling. Many people have no jobs. I have three children, and it is not easy.” I ended up praying for him and his family, and I believe that he was really encouraged. Every time he sees that picture in the future, it will be a reminder for him that God gives us hope. Hope for him, for his family, and for Italy.
I gave out other pieces of art, including one that we (another team member and I) gave to the owner of a meat shop. I had drawn two massive clusters of grapes to represent prosperity and blessing, and we blessed him saying, “May God bless your business! May it prosper exponentially in days to come!” Often times if we want to show God’s love to the world, we need to express it in a way that they can understand and receive. That includes, but is not limited to, financial blessing and measurable success.
Sharing My Message – “I Am 100% Loved”
On our last day in Asti, ten minutes before Sunday morning service, I was asked to preach a short message on intimacy. I hadn’t prepared a message on the topic of intimacy (I had prepared sermon outlines for “identity” and “creativity”), so I quickly asked the Holy Spirit to give me a message. Suddenly, Holy Spirit gave me an insight: Italy is an extremely post-religious nation. Most of the young people don’t even have a grid for Christianity anymore. Perhaps the most pervasive residue left from centuries of oppressive religious institutions is the idea of performance-based love and acceptance. This is a common false belief that individuals and communities with strong religious backgrounds often have about God. That includes myself.
I shared my testimony:
When I first started working at church five years ago, my relationship with my boss was very strained. Why? Well, she was my mother. We talked about “work” everywhere: in the car, at the table, in the bedroom… Let’s say, we didn’t know how to separate family, work and ministry very well. Every day and every conversation was charged with tension. I remember one day, I was so frustrated I ran into my room and started crying my eyes out into the pillow. I wasn’t angry with my mom, I was angry with myself. “Why do I always get angry? Why can’t I change? What is wrong with me?!”
My mom and I are very different—polar opposites in many ways. While she is very people-oriented, I am super task-oriented, which often results in us talking in circles about two completely different things in the same conversation. I’m a passionate person and I love expressing it through my body language and tone of voice, which often comes across as aggressive (I’m not mad, I promise!). My mom, on the other hand, is gentle as a dove. I love change and innovation; my mom can eat the same food and have the same routine for the rest of her life. At one point, I started believing this lie: my mom doesn’t like me; she wishes she had a different daughter, someone more gentle and quiet—like her. I hated myself.
But one day, everything changed. My mom came into my room and sat down on a chair facing me. She said, “Melody, I know that we are very different, but I want you to know this: I fully accept you for who you are. I don’t want you to be like anyone else. I love and accept you 100% just for who you are. I admire your passion and your uniqueness, and I want you to know that.”
My mind was blown. I am fully loved and accepted for who I am. I don’t need to change myself. I don’t need to strive to be another person. My mom loves me for me.
Almost immediately, our relationship began to transform. I no longer felt oppressed by her or by the church. Everything became easier. I knew that I was loved. Sure, we still had our differences, but now they were points of admiration rather than conflict and tension. I began to recognize the wisdom and anointing that my mom carried, and as a result I was able to receive my inheritance from her as a daughter. I felt free to share my life with her, the good and the bad, without a single thought that she would judge me.
Now, I can honestly say, I have the best mom in the entire world. She carries the heart of God in everything she does, and she loves people so well. She is the most faithful intercessor I know, and she has helped me grow tremendously in countless ways through her gentle correction and words of encouragement.
Through this season, I’ve learned what intimacy looks like. Intimacy is being fully loved and fully accepted for who you are. In order for that to happen, you need to allow yourself to be seen and known for who you are—no holding back. Until you allow yourself to be known 100%, you cannot be loved 100%.
It’s the same way in our relationship with God. In order to have intimacy with God, we must first realize that He loves us and accepts us fully, 100%. This is the gift of righteousness that Jesus paid for us. We are fully acceptable before God because of what Jesus has done. Secondly, God loves us because He made each one of us unique and beautiful in His eyes. God could have created clones if He wanted to, but that’s not Him! God loves your personality, because He gave it to you! Each one of us is able to love Him and express our worship to Him in a completely different and unique way. If we live our lives trying to be someone other than the person that God created us to be, we are robbing Him of the uniquely intimate relationship He wants to experience with us, and we are robbing the world of witnessing the distinct expression of His beauty through our lives.
Once we realize how loved and accepted we are, everything changes. It’s the number one desire of the human heart! Every single person on the earth longs for intimacy. Once we experience it, our potential is limitless. Just like my relationship with my mom. As a result of our breakthrough, I now have access to the incredible amount of wisdom and anointing that she carries in relationship and in ministry. I can literally see the difference in my life, and it’s incredible. Likewise, if we tapped into the revelation of God’s love for us, how vastly would we experience His goodness and blessing! God is longing to lavish His love on us! But we hold the key. Will we open up our heart to Him and allow ourselves to be fully seen and fully known by Him?
After I shared my message, I prayed for everyone, that we would experience God’s love for us and that we would draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the boldness that comes from the full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:22).
After the service, multiple people came and shared with me how the message impacted them. One lady said, “Someone prophesied over me during worship that I was a princess of God, but I had never wanted to be a princess because I thought that it meant I needed to act a certain way. I like to play sports! I’m not a princess! But now I know that God really loves me just the way I am.” As she said this, she began to cry. She said that she could finally believe that God loves her and sees her as His princess in her own unique way.
Two girls also came up to me. By their appearance I could tell there was something different about them; they both had short-cropped hair and dressed in gender-neutral clothes. Later they told me that they were girlfriends. This was my first time ministering to a gay couple. For one of them, this was her first time coming to church. She told me that she always knew she was “different,” and my message really inspired her to accept herself for who she was. I was happy for her. Then I asked if I could pray for her, and she said yes. I began to prophesy over her, “You are a strong peace maker. You have a high value for peace in relationships and society.” I asked her if this was true. She said, yes, and she was currently struggling with a lot of conflict at home with her mom, so I blessed her relationship with her mom and released my own testimony of reconciliation with my mom over her.
I discovered something. God opened the door for me to minister to a gay couple through my testimony. Even though they may not have taken the best conclusion from it (God loves us for who we are, but He doesn’t condone our sin), in the end I had the opportunity to prophesy over them and speak life, whereas I would not have had this opportunity if I had chosen to pass judgment instead. It’s the difference between asking, “How can I love you well?” rather than, “How can I fix you?”
Prophesy – “Supernatural Shopping”
On our seventh day in Italy, we went to Florence, arguably the most beautiful city in Italy. We practiced supernatural shopping, i.e. as we shopped we asked God to highlight people that He wanted us to pray for and bless. A team member and I really wanted to buy shoes (I heard that Florence is the best place to buy authentic Italian leather boots), so we went into a shoe store and started looking around. I eventually started a conversation with the lady who was serving us and found out that she loved to dance. We asked if we could bless her, and she said yes, so we prophesied over her and her dancing. She seemed really encouraged. I ended up buying a pair of boots, and she gave me a 10% discount!
That’s supernatural shopping!
Flash Mob – “Creativity Opens Doors”
The second creative conference of our trip was held in the city of Modena. On our first day there, we did a flash mob dance in the public square. We had practiced the choreography in advance, and now the big day had come—but it was raining! We decided to do the dance anyways because our permit was limited to that day. It turned out to be completely awesome! The rain added tons of points for drama—wet hair whiplashing across our faces, water splashing under our feet as we danced and stomped on the stone pavement.
When we finished the dance, we turned around and realized that there was a large group of young people watching us! They just happened to be walking through the public square when they saw our dance. Many of them were also artists and musicians, so they were very intrigued. Our team took this opportunity to share with them our purpose for coming to Italy, i.e. to express God’s love and beauty through creativity. It was amazing to witness the open door that creativity creates for us to witness to complete strangers, because art truly is a highway to the heart.
Live Music – “Shifting Atmospheres”
After the flash mob, we all went into a café to dry and warm ourselves up with a cup of coffee. Immediately I saw the grand piano and asked one of the waiters if I could play on it. He said yes. So I started playing, and some of the girls on our team gathered around me and started singing. We filled the café with music and song. The pastor’s wife told us later that the café owner had commented on our music, saying that it shifted the atmosphere and brought a positive aura into the room. Isn’t it amazing how much of a difference music can make? It doesn’t matter what tongue you speak or faith you have; music is a universal language. I personally enjoyed the experience very much. One of my dreams of playing live music in a café was fulfilled.
Prophetic Painting – “A City on a Hill”
For the night service, I was assigned to do prophetic painting during worship. I painted, “A City on a Hill.” After worship, we were asked to show-and-tell our paintings and give them out. I asked if there were any business owners in the room, and one man stood up. I gave my painting to him and said that God wanted to bless his business to be a city on a hill, a source of light to this world. He had something that other worldly businesses did not—He had Jesus and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. His integrity and creative ideas would be a testimony of God’s reality and goodness.
After service, another lady came to me and said that my painting really touched her. She was also a business owner; she owned an afterschool and her vision was to release light in the darkness. She didn’t know why she didn’t stand up earlier, but she had felt the Holy Spirit gripping her heart. She seemed very arrested by a burden to release God’s Kingdom through her afterschool. It was beautiful to see the spiritual and secular converge in this woman’s life.
Blessing Homes – “Beauty Arise”
One evening we split up into groups of 3-4 people and went into people’s homes to pray for families and individuals around the city. On our last visit, we went to the home of a man who hadn’t left his house for a very long time—a hermit. We weren’t even sure if he would let us in, but he did! We got to prophesy and speak life over him and awaken dreams; he had always wanted to be a writer. I felt a prompting in my spirit to sing “Beauty Arise” over him (a song I wrote in December 2014). As I started to sing, I suddenly realized how appropriate and relevant this song was for him. Every lyric from the song seemed to hit the nail straight on the head. The lyrics are following:
Why do you hide your face from being seen?
Why do you keep your voice from being free?
For your face is lovely, your voice is sweet
Your beauty is unique
You carry a tune inside you that only you can release
Why do you quench the fire in your heart?
You are much stronger than you think you are
You hide in your shell, afraid to break out
But darling here’s the truth:
No one could ever be a more perfect, beautiful you
See the winter is gone
Behold, the springtime has come!
Oh, it’s time, spread your wings and fly
It’s time, beauty to arise
Open your eyes, take the skies
Don’t look back, hit the gas!
Beauty soar, beauty fly, beauty arise!
Darling, don’t you know that
The man seemed visibly touched. Our translator asked if he liked the song, and he said he liked it very much. After we left his house, my teammates said they felt like this song was written just for him. I agreed. I was amazed at how God could use a song I wrote to speak so accurately and powerfully to someone on the other side of the world and who didn’t even speak the same language as me.
For the last leg of our trip, we went down south to Sicily and hosted our biggest creative conference yet. The schedule was pretty crazy. We had five services a day; the last service started at 9pm. That’s how Italians roll. I spoke a little bit about Songwriting during the afternoon workshop time and also led worship.
During the worship of our last service, I felt God’s presence and a sense of freedom in such a strong way, like I had never felt before while leading worship. I felt so free just to be myself in worship, even though I was singing in Italian! I praise God that language is not a barrier when it comes to worship. God’s presence is a universal language!
That concludes my Italy mission trip. What an adventure! What a journey. This year God has been speaking to me so much about His heart for creativity and His closeness towards us. Through the Arts, His love and sensitivity is expressed in the detail and shown through the cracks of our imperfections and vulnerability. There is nothing quite as beautiful and inspiring as the children of God expressing who they truly are, i.e. jars of clay with an incredible treasure hidden within to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us (2 Corinthians 4:7-11). We are not afraid to be bold and shine, because it is His beauty and glory that reveals itself through the masterpiece of our lives.