Gene and Susan Coleman are church planters with TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) in Mestre and Venice, Italy. Believers there are few, but passionate, and pursue God at all costs. This is the story of Donatella.
Donatella is Venetian and proud of it. What tourists pay money to come see for a couple days, she was born and raised in. She is part of the small group of true Venetians that still live on the islands. Every day she takes a vaporetto (water bus) to work as a maid in a hotel near Saint Mark’s square.
While sharing a unique culture with other Venetians, Donatella is, however, very different from her compatriots. She is a citizen of two countries: Italy and Heaven. Her citizenship status changed in 2001.
During Donatella’s teenage years, she formed a negative opinion of herself. She was told she was too closed as a person; she progressively turned inward and kept to herself. Eventually, a young man started to pay attention to her, and they moved to Milan together. Five years later in Milan, after going through some horrible experiences with her boyfriend, her world came crashing down around her, and she realized that she was more alone than ever before.
Donatella moved back to Venice, married a man she met at the restaurant she was working in, and had a daughter. But she never recovered from her devastating loneliness, even though she was married. It haunted her.
It was not until her sister-in-law invited her to church for a baptismal service that she began to see clearly. The stories of those being baptized reached deep into her heart. Everything they said about Jesus resonated to the depths of her being.
When she heard that she was a sinner, she readily agreed. When she heard God would forgive her if she only asked, she did it willingly. When she was told that God would save her by faith, she believed. And when she gave her life to Jesus as Savior and Lord, she found that he also became her friend. Not everything changed in her life after that, but she was no longer oppressed by loneliness.
Growing Faith in Obstacles
Her journey of growth has not been easy. Donatella has felt the competing powers of this world and the kingdom of heaven. At home, it was the indifference of her husband and rejection by her daughter of the truths that had changed her life. At work, her colleagues could not understand what she had experienced. And she hasn’t been able to gather with the church regularly because of her work schedule.
But God has not abandoned her. Several years after her conversion, she met a missionary couple who worked at our church, Il Faro. They helped free her from a very legalistic church she had been attending. Later, another missionary who also worked with Il Faro took Donatella under her wing and, for nine years, discipled Donatella—doing Bible studies, leading summer games ministry for children, and facing crises together.
Slowly but surely, God has been shaping Donatella’s character. Becoming more and more convinced that God loved her unconditionally, she began to share her faith openly and without fear of making a mistake.
Donatella continues to grow. She takes a copy of every Bible study and sermon home with her and studies them. In fact, she has a considerable archive of these materials she has collected over the years. Her teachable spirit and her practice of taking advantage of every opportunity to share her faith in Christ continue to mold her into a woman of God.
Donatella has much to offer. We are teaching her to use her story of how God has changed her life to tell others about God’s love. We hope she will combine her story with her biblical knowledge to share more effectively and begin leading ladies’ evangelistic meetings.
Would you pray specifically with us that God, in His sovereignty, would lead people into her life with whom she can share her story?
[Image via Matt Hintsa/flickr]