Buried in the belly of the ocean liner, the young couple struggled. The rough waters of the Atlantic rocked the ship mercilessly. The tiny windowless cabin, which was their temporary home, took the brunt of the pounding. Inside the belly of the seventeen-year-old Giovanna, her unborn child struggled. The mother’s womb, which was its temporary home, took the brunt of the mother’s vomiting. Nineteen-year-old Luigi felt helpless, not knowing how to comfort his wife or protect his child.
“Giovanna, it may not feel like it right now, but this was the right thing for us to do. Our baby will have a better life in the Stati Uniti d'America. God promised.” In his native tongue, Luigi tried consoling his bride.
Luigi’s tender touch and promising words brought a faint smile to her tear streaked face. He was glad he could assure her, though in his heart he cried out to God. “Was this the right thing to do? God, if this is your will for us, why are we suffering?”
Two weeks in the cramped cabin, a sick wife, bad weather, uncertainty of the new world ahead, and homesickness for his motherland, gnawed away at Luigi’s confidence, as he lay awake in his berth.
This skinny, tanned, Italian lad had already lived through more nightmares in nineteen years than most people encounter in their lifetime. Growing up in the 1930s and 40s in southern Italy, he had experienced poverty, hunger, devastation, and loss.
Luigi first lost hope for the future when he dropped out of the fifth grade to help support his family. His desire for knowledge became a lifelong pursuit to become self-educated, reading everything he could. He lost his cousin and friends when a bomb fell from the sky and exploded in the factory they worked. The images of their bodies blown to pieces would haunt him the rest of his life. He lost his innocence when forced to join the local Mafioso gang that terrorized the community. Crime after crime toughened his heart, breaking his mother’s heart. When he realized he had lost his soul, he left the crime lords to study for the priesthood.
At the age of eighteen, this young man applied himself to studying volumes of church doctrine. Also needing to support himself, he worked as an electrician whenever possible. One day, a job brought him to a missionary’s home. There he learned many things about the Bible that he had never heard in the monastery. He also learned of another country, one many miles away.
The missionary had been born in his native Italy and migrated to the Stati Uniti d'America across the ocean. It was in America that she encountered God in a new and personal way. Excited about her newfound faith, she returned to Italy to share God’s love with those she had left behind. Her story and her God stirred Luigi’s heart. He made the most important decision of his life and joined her gang of born-again believers.
As his relationship grew with God, and the missionary, so did his interest in her fifteen-year-old daughter who he had heard so much about. After months of corresponding through letters, Luigi and Giovanna realized they were in love and became engaged. When she arrived in Italy, she found her Prince Charming, wedding dress, and wedding plans waiting. Within two months, the couple married. A year long honeymoon in Italy followed.
During that time, Luigi continued to grow in his faith in God. He also grew in the knowledge that there were many Italian immigrants in the Stati Uniti d'America that didn’t know God as he did, nor did they have anyone to lead them in their own native tongue. He knew it was time to change that after learning of Giovanna’s pregnancy.
After docking in New York’s harbor, Luigi’s adventure began. The sights and sounds of the Stati Uniti d’America amazed him. There were no roads destroyed by military tanks, no bombed out shelters, no burned down buildings. Children ran in the streets wearing shoes, not barefoot, as he had been. There was an ample supply of food in a multitude of markets. Everyone owned a car, not just the government officials or the wealthy. America was a land of opportunity and freedom.
Within two years, Luigi owned his own business and had an Italian-speaking congregation. He never regretted trusting God, who fulfilled his plans to prosper him*. I know, I was that baby crossing the Atlantic with him.
*“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11(NIV)
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