An app and prayer started Doug Williams and his family down the path to becoming missionaries to Italy.
Now, the Tyler residents are preparing to leave for Milan where they will serve with a team from the mission agency Crossworld and seek to make connections with Christians as they spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It all started more than a year ago when Doug, 40, was working as a hospice chaplain. In the role, he spent a lot of time in the car, visiting patients at home and he wanted to find something productive to do with that time. So, he decided to pray. To help him in this effort, he started using as an app called Instapray, through which he could request prayer and pray for other people from around the world. He noticed other men who were sincere in their prayers, and one of them was a young man living in a majority Muslim country.
This man had received a full scholarship to study engineering at a university in Milan and was very excited about it. After communicating with him for about six months, Williams asked the man what he thought about the idea of Williams finding an English speaking church he could go to when he got to Milan. The man supported the idea, so Williams asked his pastor at Grace Community Church.
It just so happened the Tyler church has supported a missionary couple in Italy who planted an English-speaking church in Milan.
Williams got contact information and started communicating with church's pastor. After about six months of talking, the pastor and his wife saw how much Williams and his wife, Amy, 40, were interested in their work and asked if they wanted to come visit for 10 days. They did.
So, in September 2014, the couple traveled to Milan where they stayed with the missionary couple and met the team of missionaries there and saw the great need for missionaries in Italy.
Italy is less than 1 percent evangelical and about 99 percent Catholic, the couple said. There are less than 500 missionaries in the entire country and some of those are relief workers.
But the goal in going there is not to "conquer Catholicism or Rome," Williams said. Rather, it is to build bridges, help tear down the boundaries that divide evangelicals and Catholics and look for opportunities to work with Catholics, he said.
Once the Williams decided they wanted to be missionaries, they applied to Crossworld, the Kansas City-based mission agency, and were accepted. They are now in the fundraising process.
Living in Europe is not cheap, Williams said. He likened living in Northern Italy to living in New York City.
Their outgoing expenses to leave the U.S. and get settled there are $80,000. They've raised about 30 percent of that and must raise 80 percent before they leave. They plan to leave by December, but if they can go in the summer, they will.
To stay there, they need to raise about $10,000 a month. Williams said that is comparable to a teacher's salary over there, so it is not living in luxury. They plan to rent an apartment for them and their three kids.
The family's initial commitment is for three years, after which they will have their first furlough.
The first year will be spent engaging in culture and language training in Bologna, about 130 miles southeast of Milan.
The second year will be the orientation year in which the family interviews with the different mission teams and determines which one is the best fit.
At that point they will start engaging in full-time ministry and continue through the third year.
The Williams have three children - 8-year-old twins Lilly and Zach and 7-year-old Story.
The children will attend public school and learn Italian there. There is no bilingual program, so Mrs. Williams said she has told them to focus on learning the language the first year rather than the actual subject matter (math, science, etc.) because they will repeat the grade.
"I think they will really have a lot of fun learning," she said.
Mrs. Williams said although the couple had thought about missions before this, they never thought about Italy. Yet, they are very excited about it.
Williams is from Mississippi and Mrs. Williams grew up in East Texas so she said the couple wanted their kids to know the world at large.
The family already has been using apps and computer programs to start learning Italian before they move. They don't have a plan for how long they want to stay, but are going with open minds.
"At this point, we're wanting to go indefinitely," Williams said. "We feel like it's more productive if we look at a life change."
They don't know exactly what they will be doing when they get over there, they have many experiences from which to draw.
Williams has a background as a pastor and a chaplain. In 2010, he earned a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary.
Mrs. Williams worked for Lifeway Christian Stores for 15 years, has served as a church worship leader and teaches Kindermusik, music and movement classes for children, in Tyler.
As for the young Iranian man who was the catalyst for Williams looking into Italy in the first place, he began school in Milan and found an international church, though not the one that Williams recommended. However, he got involved in the college group and is doing very well, Williams said.
"Actually, he's about (as) excited as I am about the idea of us meeting in Milan this December."
Doug and Amy Williams are open to speaking to churches, ministry groups and other organizations. Contact them if you are interested or visit their Facebook page or blog for more information.
Facebook: Williams Family for Italy
To donate, go to crossworld.org/give/give-now and enter Account # 40291. Your donation will go to Doug and Amy Williams.
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