Very clearly, the Holy Spirit said to me, “Shawn, you have five minutes to get out of here before there is big trouble.”
That’s how our One Hope event in Bolzano, Italy wrapped up. The entire event was nothing like we had anticipated, and I’m happy I’m still here to tell you about it.
Our first One Hope Europe event after moving to Switzerland, was in Bolzano, Italy, exactly one year – to the day – from when we arrived in Europe. Tanja and I, along with our two young daughters, drove from our home in Zürich to Bolzano, in the beautiful Dolomite mountain range, with our worship pastor friend, François, and our friend Janelle.
We blitzed the world-famous Christmas market in Bolzano with 10,000 flyers inviting people to join us in the ballroom of the main hotel, in the heart of the market, in the middle of the city center, for a message of hope. We threw in free food and drinks, too. The flyers were all over the city, including a refugee camp in the city filled with Muslim people from Syria on their way to The Netherlands.
So that evening in the ballroom, as it filled with these devout Muslims from Syria, I was unsure how the message I had prepared to share with Italians would land. We had a powerful time of prayer together as a team, and then François got up to lead worship.
The atmosphere in the room was tense. François was on the platform singing, “What a Beautiful Name It Is” to a room full of people staring blankly at him. No, not just blankly staring … staring him DOWN. About three quarters of the way through the song, he was sweating bullets and looking at me like he wanted off the stage.
So, I got up on stage and said “Hey, I just want to give you guys a message of hope.”
I preached the gospel message out of Acts 17. I explained that God sets the exact place and time we live so that we’d reach out and find him. And I told them that God had positioned them right now in Bolzano, Italy, literally, for that night so they could find God. Then I preached Jesus, the cross, repentance. I quoted Billy Graham, “All roads lead to God, but only one road leads to heaven.” I said that one road is Jesus. He’s the only way for eternal life.
People got saved. I wish I could recall the exact number. But I do know that the six Syrian refugees stayed after the service said they had given their lives to Jesus wanted to follow him!
This is where things started to go downhill. Throughout the evening, there was one guy among the refugees who was recording the event live on Periscope. It was scary. He didn’t try to speak to us, engage with us, or act friendly in any way. He focused his live recording on our friend Janelle and on our two young kids. He continued doing this as the evening was winding down and we’d done the salvation prayer and taken a few photos with people.
This is when I heard the Holy Spirit’s CLEAR warning to get out of there. I didn’t know what trouble was lurking, but I knew it was time to go.
“We have to go. NOW,” I told the rest of the team.
We tore down the stage and loaded our equipment in our cars as fast as humanly possible. As we were doing this, a group of men from inside followed us out to our cars. We got in, took off, and thanks to some quick zigzagging through back streets, we were able to lose them and make it safely to the place we were staying.
It felt like we had parachuted in to enemy territory, preached the gospel, and quickly got out before things got bad. I thank God for the souls that were saved, and pray for more opportunities to spread the gospel, wherever that may be.