I did not know what it would be like to really travel, like the kind to a new continent and to actually be in front of famous structures like the Colosseum. I imagined having my idea of service completely taken over by the meaningful, life-altering conversations I would have with refugees about the way Jesus has changed my life.
Nothing went quite like I expected it to go, some even slightly disappointing, but the way God worked in my life more than exceeded my expectations.
I traveled with a group of classmates from unique religious backgrounds. Many of my friends abroad said how much they loved to travel and listed it on their Instagram descriptions: “planet-wanderer,” “pursuer of wanderlust,” “coffee-lover always dreaming of traveling.” Of course a person’s life cannot be decided from a social media tagline, but through getting to know the people on my trip, I found that travel itself was their life pursuit, the thing they sought for fulfillment. Interestingly, my friends without faith in Christ as their core belief, were the same ones I found talking about the next weekend rather than appreciating the one we experiencing. Instead of tasting our truffle ravioli, they would be talking about the pesto trofie coming up.
This is how God taught me about the idol of travel. Surrounded in class by the sculptural idols of the Imperial age 1 B.C. to 1 A.D., I realized the sinful desire to put idols before God did not stop with Rome’s official state religion of paganism. Our hearts are in the same condition, just in a different historical context. In this modern age, we do not widely worship physical statues, but the new acceptable idol is the “next thing.” We think the next place we travel to will be fulfilling, the next food we taste will finally amaze us, the next bucket list accomplishment will complete our life, even though the last, or even current, thing on the list never did.
God reminded me that only a life for Christ is fulfilling. He gave us a world to explore that we can certainly see His beauty in and enjoy His gifts while we are here, but the things of this world do not satisfy our souls, and the attitudes on my trip confirmed it.
God also used Rome to make me bolder. I grew in boldness by flying over the Atlantic ocean, by crossing streets in front of speeding Vespas, and by navigating a foreign city through piazzas and flaky bus routes. I butchered my way through ordering Italian dishes and critiquing aloud in Art History.
The biggest way God had me conquer my fears was in witnessing to my classmates. Study abroad was not my first experience in evangelism, but it was a huge step in sharing my faith with my peers.
When God put me in classes that discussed the early stages of Christianity, with the opportunity to point out the differences in what Jesus taught and decisions made by the Church, I knew He had something planned for me. “You have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control,” 2 Timothy 1:7 reminded me.
Striking up conversations about the Gospel—how it could change lives, and how it applied directly to us—came easily, albeit a deeper than normal topic, and naturally. It was as if caring for another person, no matter the conversation that entailed, was completely acceptable.
Thinking about the complete change in me surrounding my idea of evangelism makes me so thankful for the work God did in my life and the walls he broke down in my heart. Who knew that He would use Rome to do it?
This summer in Rome, I learned about living as a missionary. Our Mission Mentor works as a refugee missionary, and we also had the chance to meet relational missionaries and missionaries focusing on victims of sex trafficking. When asked why she decided to leave her life in America and work with men fleeing the oppression in Iran, my Mission Mentor responded, “Well, God called me to.”
In working at the refugee center and hearing from the missionaries, I learned we are not working for the fruit of our labor to be seen, but for the Lord. Of course we should pray and strive for results, but simultaneously be content in doing the work He has called us to do. For our group of Veritas girls, that meant volunteering at the refugee center, one of the only places to welcome these men in Italy, whether or not we could hold a conversation. If we loved them by encouraging them while playing games—motivated by the fact that Jesus loved us first—it did not matter if we could tell they understood the Gospel more. We were living it out, and Christ has the power to open their eyes.
The Colosseum was not life-completing, but it was impressive. My conversations with refugees were not all about the Gospel, but they were spoken in love. The people on my trip were not perfect, but they are loved by the one true God.
This summer, God confirmed that His ways are higher than my ways, and I am thankful for the way He used my home in Rome.
This is a blog post by Kaitlyn Hansen, a student at Texas A&M University who studied with Veritas Abroad in Rome, Italy.
What’s holding you back from life transformation? Don’t let fear or apathy be the cause. Put purpose in your travel experience: serve a community while you fulfill your degree. Apply today for Veritas Christian Study Abroad! Not ready yet? Get more info or set up an advising session with us.