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This missionary is confident God has carefully prepared the field.

Photo Credit: Davide Cantarella

I have the uttermost respect for farmers. I am privileged to have some great farmer friends in North Dakota and they are among the most incredible people I know. The dedication and love they put into what they do, their outstanding work ethics, and their ability to fix machinery as big as a two-story house cause me to feel deep admiration for them.

But, to be honest, the thing that really gets me every time I talk to them is their profound sense of reliance on God. These people spend lots of time, effort, and money planting seeds, knowing that it’s really up to God to bring the harvest. Once they plant, they have no guarantee anything will come out. All they can do is pray for the right weather at the right time. Season after season, their life is one of planting and hoping.

As I look back and reflect on my own life, I do feel like a field in which God has been planting seeds with a specific harvest in mind. Like a wise farmer well-tried by years of experience, moved by a deep desire to see the right growth in my life, God has carefully chosen what to plant and when to plant it, has carefully watered it and, at times, even added manure to boost growth. Yet, He still had no guarantee that the result would be what He wanted. He planted, watered and waited.

Early nurturing

Born to a Christian family on the beautiful and chaotic island of Sicily, seeds of love and service were planted in my life since early days. My parents taught me what commitment to the life of a local church looks like. My Sunday school teachers instilled in me a love for Scriptures (I still treasure the leather New Testament I was given some thirty years ago for not missing a single class).

My pastor incarnated for me faithfulness, integrity, and a thirst above all things to be a person after God’s own heart. Then there were the intercessors, a group of women including my mom, who gathered regularly in homes and prayed specifically for persecuted Christians in the communist nations of Eastern Europe.

I grew up hearing stories about smuggling Bibles across the Iron Curtain, believers being tortured for their faith, and secret Bible study meetings that always had the potential of resulting in arrest and suffering, as they defied communist regimes and their atheistic laws.

Week after week, I saw women meeting, on their knees, praying for people they had never met, whose names they did not know, and yet were precious to them because they were precious to God. Their example taught me from early days that you must pray bold prayers with a humble heart, and that intercession is the seedbed of miracles. I did not understand it at the time, but God was planting some very precious seeds in my life.

Fruit from dormant seeds

I wish I could tell you that these seeds quickly sprouted and began growing and producing fruit, but that’s not my story. It took a while to see the fruit of what God planted. In fact, I struggled with the Christian faith; I struggled long and hard. On the one hand, I knew pretty much anything there was to know; and yet, I just did not get it. For years the Christian faith appeared to me as an imposition from the outside that demanded of me what I could not give. It was too much work to be different; it was a lot easier to be like everyone else.

As I result, for years I had to live with a mix of guilt, hypocrisy, and self-loathing that ate at me. I knew who I was supposed to be and hated myself for not being able to be that. This unbearable weight led me to despair and eventually, thanks be to God, to the cross of Christ.

Things started changing then. Seeds that had been dormant for many years, all of a sudden started sprouting. In my last year of high school I felt a call to ministry that caused me to abandon my plans of becoming a software engineer and to set on an adventure with God.

The seeds that had been planted were now yielding fruit.

As a result, in 1996 I moved to European Nazarene College to pursue a ministry degree. There, old seeds grew into plants and new seeds were planted. It was there that my identity as a minister was formed. It was there that I met my wife, Tanya, a Russian-born believer. And it was there that God called me to move to Russia, that very place that was blanketed with prayers for so many years by the faithful people of my church. The seeds that had been planted were now yielding fruit.

A country we love

I have lived in Russia for more than fifteen years now. I have served in a variety of positions including youth pastor, Nazarene Youth International (NYI) field coordinator, district superintendent, and field education coordinator. Tanya has had the privilege of serving a congregation in Moscow as pastor for over sixteen years. God has been good to us and we are grateful for all He has done in us and through us during these years of ministry in this country we both love so much. We are especially grateful for planting a desire for adoption and for leading us, about two years ago, to meeting our precious Liliana. She has brought and continues to bring much joy to our family.

But God is not done planting seeds in our lives. The new seed He has planted is a desire to start a new work in the country of Belarus. Considered by many to be “Europe’s last dictatorship,” Belarus is a country with strict religious laws that severely limit church activities and make church registration rather difficult. At the same time, Belarus has a stronger Protestant tradition than most former Soviet States, which basically means that about 2 percent of the population of the country regularly attends a Protestant church.

Maybe 2 percent does not look like much to some, but to us it says that Belarus is good soil, and that God has been planning good seeds there because He has a good harvest in mind. After a series of exploratory and strategic visits, our plan is to move from Moscow to Belarus by the end of this year.

In the new place there is much we do not know and much we will need to learn. We don’t expect this to be a walk in the park. And yet, we have this unshakable assurance that the God who has been planting good seeds in our life has already gone ahead of us; seeds of grace have already been planted in the hearts of people in Belarus. Good things are ahead of us because good things have been planted.

So we look back with gratefulness for all God has done, and we look forward with anticipation. The same farmer-God that has been planting good seeds in us is still on our side and He still enjoys planting, watering, and waiting for harvest.

Davide Cantarella and his wife, Tanya, are missionaries in Russia and are preparing to be church planters in Belarus.

Holiness Today
July/August 2016