Friday, November 04, 2011


I’m thrilled to introduce a new feature to my blog – MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

The first week of each month I will introduce you to someone who is making a difference in their part of the world. We’ve all crossed paths with someone who has altered our lives for the better. I'd like to share some of these special people with you and give you an opportunity to meet someone new and I hope take time to pray for them.

This month I’d like to introduce a special young woman whom I’ve known since she was a girl. Nicole Lewis serves as National Director of Student Led Movements in Italy for Campus Crusade for Christ.

1. Can you tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up, your family, church, things like that. And can you briefly share your spiritual journey?

I grew up in the small and wonderful town of Glide, Oregon. My parents are Oregonian transplants. My Mom is from Montana and my Dad grew up in New York City. This made for a very fun and culturally diverse household. I think it actually has had a great impact on where I am today, living in another culture that is not my own, yet I feel at home.

I came to faith at a young age through a vacation bible school at my home church. I grew up hearing about Jesus, but it wasn’t until that point in my life where what Jesus did on the cross and a desperate need to understand how to be forgiven for the things I was doing, even at a young age, that I heard the message of the gospel and knew it was the answer I had been looking for. I was right, I was a sinner, but what I hadn’t realized is that Christ came to rescue me from my sin and shame through the cross and to reconcile me to God, when I got that, it changed everything for me.

Even as a child, I had a deep hunger and desire for Christ and God spoke into that desire through the community of my church, through men and women who showed me what it meant to walk with Jesus in a way that made me want to live like that. He spoke to me through worship, teaching me biblical truth, the scriptures we sing as praise to him and he guided me through pastor’s who opened up the Word of God and showed me things there that made me want to know more and more.

It was in my junior year of college though that an incredibly significant change took place in my relationship with God. I went off to Oregon State University and as I got to know young believers my age, and one in particular named Zach, that I began to sense a great gap between the kind of faith they lived and the kind of faith I lived. It was uncomfortable for me and a little frustrating, this Jesus zeal they had and expressed all the time to me and to others. The frustration wasn’t the zeal itself it was that in my soul I knew there was something missing from my life that I both envied and couldn’t stand in theirs. What I later realized, and where the Lord brought me to through Revelation 2 “I hold this against you, you have forsaken your first love,” was that though Jesus was the Savior of my life, I had never let him be Lord. I was still sitting on the throne of my life and what he was asking me to do was to surrender that to Him. One of my life verses that expresses the change in my heart, and the thing I saw in the life of my friend Zach and others like him, are the words of Galatians 2:2 “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Nicole, I remember those days and praying for you. I knew God was working in your life, but wow—amazing!

2. You work and live in Italy. How did a country gal from Oregon end up living in such a distant part of the world?

My journey to living in Italy began with the cultural diversity I grew up with in my home but also an influential trip I took to Europe when I was 15 with my High School Basketball coach. In Junior High my best friend and I decided that for our high school graduation we wanted to go to Paris. I am not even sure how we chose Paris, but we bought posters of the Eifel Tower and were determined to go. But when we were 15 our High School Basketball coach offered us the opportunity to travel with him and his wife for the summer in Europe. Seven of us went on the trip together, including my best friend and I. For two months, we traveled all over Europe, experiencing life overseas, getting to play and coach basketball and to see our beloved Paris. When I came back from that trip I was convinced that one day I needed to live overseas.

The other piece of the answer is part of my journey of growing as a follower of Jesus. My junior year in college, when the Lord radically changed my heart and I made Him the first love of my life, I think my decision to move to Italy was in a sense already made. When you lose your life for Christ’s sake and realize that it now belongs to Him, these life choices become part of our journey of faith. When I joined staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, the organization that I work for, I knew that I could have the possibility to live and work overseas doing student ministry, so I took every opportunity to see what life and mission overseas in the student world was like. When presented with the opportunity to move to Italy to help re-launch the student work there I said yes.

3. Many of us are insulated from the great big world that we live in. I’ve never been to Italy and would love to know more about the country and its people. Can you share some of its unique qualities?

Italy is an incredibly charming and beautiful country. I am sitting on a train right now traveling from Florence (Firenze) where I live, to Rome (Roma) and as I look out the windows I am reminded that I live in a beautiful country. There are parts of the Umpqua Valley where I grew up that look similar to Tuscany, the region that Florence is in, so in some ways it is foreign and yet also a familiar beauty. In some ways it is hard to explain Italy, because Italy is old. In America something that is aged is 200 or 300 years old. In Italy you could live in a building that was built in 1700 or you might live next door to a church that was constructed in 1200 or in Rome by the Coliseum that was built before the time of Christ. For American eyes it is a wonder, but for Italian eyes this is normal. I love that about Italy. In Italy there are many simple things that people enjoy—taking the whole month of August off for vacation to go to the sea or the mountains, new olive oil and wine in November that have just been harvested in September and October, meeting friends after work for appetizers and meals that last 3 hours because nobody is in a hurry to end their time of just being together as friends and family.

One thing that has surprised me about Italy that took me a long time to understand is that the concept of Italy and Italians is not something easily defined. Italy has 21 regions and each one is unique from the other. If you were to meet an Italian and say where are you from, they would not first say “I am Italian” they would say either the region or specific city they come from and then the country. It might sound insignificant but there is a great difference between a Florentine and a Milanese. Each city has its own dialect, different accent, regional and city pasta’s and desserts, different ways of seeing the world. It makes life fun, because you are constantly challenging yourself to understand what people are like and it also means that you get to sample a wide variety of very good food every time you travel. The pasta’s you eat in Florence are not the same pasta’s you will find in Naples. I like that a lot, because food is part of my enjoyment of the culture.

Italy sounds like a place I'd love to visit one day.

4. What does a typical day look like for you?

Oh wow, I wish I had a typical day. I work basically from 9-5 each day. But like today, I am traveling to Rome to be part of a conference of youth workers from all over Europe who are coming together to share best missional practices to reach teenagers. Last Thursday, I was working in my office on a project for our Italian Staff Training and then met with a student for coffee, who’s still processing the gospel. Then I went to our student Bible Study Thursday night, which usually lasts about 4 hours, but includes, of course, dinner. In Italy, ministry and food are inextricably bound. So when I’m in Florence my days are usually spent in combination working at my office and meeting with students. I also travel because of my role in the cities where we have student ministries where I meet with the staff, see how they are doing and help them move toward building movements among students in the University campuses.

Clearly typical does not describe your life--surprising and diverse seem more appropriate.

5. What do you love most about what you do? And what is your least favorite part of your ministry?

I love influencing the lives of others, and I love pointing people to Christ. The thing I have always loved is sharing what Jesus has done for us, with someone for the first time or watching a young believer grow in their faith. One of the most satisfying moments for me is when I watch that young woman or student I have been investing my life in begin to invest their lives in others. It is the sweetest joy.

Some years ago I met a woman at a student conference who I realized had discipled the woman who discipled the woman who discipled me. My great grandmother, if you will, in the faith. I had fun sharing with her about the women I was investing my life in and thanked her for the influence she’d had in the lives of those who were helping me grow. I shared that with the girls I was discipling at the time and I remember when one of them proudly introduced me to my own spiritual grandchildren. Oh Bonnie, it was such a thrill! I don’t even know how to express in words my thanks to the Lord for allowing me the privilege of investing my life in women and being part of the process of how God is changing them to be more like Jesus.

My least favorite part? For me the two hardest things are, first the bittersweet reality of meeting amazing people who change your life and then having to say goodbye to them when the Lord leads them out of the story of your life and into another chapter of their own story. You thank the Lord for the time you had to be woven into the story of each other’s lives, but there is grief at saying goodbye. It is a moment when I am most aware that what I am longing for is eternity where there will be no more goodbyes. I am anxious for it. The other hard thing is to see those you love walk away from the lovely One. I imagine it must be similar to what a parent feels, though I am not a parent so I can only guess and I would assume it is much deeper, when they see their own children making decisions they know are not the best, but you have to let them make their own choices, Experience brings growth. But there is deep pain in watching that happen, deep pain and prayer.

I love your image of spiritual grandchildren. There is nothing more thrilling than watching Christ come alive in the lives of others and to know God included you in the process.

6. Do you have a favorite song, book, scripture. . . why is it a favorite?

Oh man favorite song…there are too too many. I would argue that song is the language of my heart and so there are so many songs that have touched me deeply. I will give you two that are in my mental favorites “playlist”. The old hymn Be thou my Vision and one that the group Selah sings that might be called Before the throne of God Above. Oooooh Books, I love books! My most recent favorite is The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. Since I live in Italy, I’ve read two books whose theme is the persecution of the Christians under Nero, The Martyr of the Catacombs and Quo Vadis, which have totally come alive to me here, along with Ben Hur. When I am in a light mood, I love reading the classics, Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins or Nick Hornby and Alexander McCall Smith.

Favorite Scripture--OK, this is one I can answer fairly easily. Though there are several verses that capture different seasons of my life and how the Lord is transforming me, but my all time favorite scripture is actually the 21st chapter of the gospel of John. I love this sweet story of Jesus and Peter meeting once again at the sea of Galilee. I love it because of the question Jesus asks Peter “Simon son of John do you love me?” Three times, the same question and it cuts me to the heart “Nicole, do you love me?” I think that is one of the most significant questions God has ever asked any man, and Jesus and I meet here often. John 21 is our early morning garden walk, it is our coffee bar, it is our sunset stroll and I have come back here with Him time and time again to talk about that question.

A powerful verse. I will meet more often with my Lord over this one as well. Thank you for the reminder.

7. What is your greatest need? And how can we pray for you?

I would say first, please pray that I would not forsake my first love. In Italy, Jesus is everywhere and nowhere. He is painted on walls of buildings and cathedrals but He is like white noise, and people don’t even notice him anymore. The greatest risk for me could be that Jesus becomes the white noise of my own life and heart and at that point I have nothing left to offer. I want and need to love Jesus more passionately and deeply each day. So that would be my first prayer request.
The second is for patience in the process of transition in Italy. We are becoming more and more an Italian led movement. But cross cultural transitions are not easy. We share a common Christian vocabulary, but that does not mean we always attach to those things the same meaning. So pray for me and for my team and our movement as we form a cross cultural identity that in a country that has a long history of division, that we would not let the enemy divide us.

I will add this little vulnerable prayer request, but If it is God’s will, would you pray for a Godly Man, who is Crazy about Jesus to fall deeply in love with me.

Kisses, Nicole

Thank you, Nicole, for giving us a glimpse of your place in the world. And thank you for all that you do for the glory of God. I am and will continue to pray for you, dear one.

Grace and peace to you from God.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing yourself with us Nicole, and the wonderful interview Bonnie. Nicole at one time Italy was one of the most religious cultures in the world why do you think this has changed so much. . I am praying for you in Italy and praying for all of those who may have forgotten him. I do like your comment that god is like white noise... Interesting... Makes me think and compare. Praying for you Nicole as well as you too Bonnie have a blessed saturday