Missionary Diary: Juggling Motherhood, Discipleship, Exercise, and an Avalanche of “WhatsApp” Messages

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Jessica Cowell and her husband Simon have been missionaries with the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in southern Italy since January 2017. They live in Bari, in the heel of the Italian boot, with their four children. Here they work with university students for GBUs (University Bible Groups).

September 2021.

A new school year begins! 6.30am and we get up to get three kids ready – little Timothy, 3 in November, started for the first time this week. School is five days a week but only in the morning. You can choose to do school for half or full day, so take the kids home for lunch or have them eat the two-course meal at the school dining hall – the half -day is a common choice in the south, lunch is very important and many people come home from work at lunchtime to eat with family.

I now technically have mornings with just my three month old daughter, Sofia, who is having a good nap, so maybe I will have some time to work and organize the house better?

Part of the “maybe” has to do with the uncertainties that remain after last year: Will COVID change our twice-weekly routines again (school open, school closed)? This seems less likely as we reach 90% vaccination of 12+ year olds. The other part of “maybe” is just that babies don’t always follow the book, right?

I print out some documents before his nap since his bedroom is currently the office – our apartment is small by Australian standards but large by Baresi, given that most families have one or at most two children. Then I manage to sit down, check a few emails, and write.

Meanwhile, Simon is preparing PowerPoint slides for his Revelation presentations for our annual student leaders conference, Formazione. He will be taking the bus to Rome on Friday with two of our student leaders and many others to study the Bible, undergo training in leading inductive Bible studies and plan for the year ahead – a year in which most groups do not yet know how many students will study in person, or whether non-students like us GBU staff will even be allowed on campus. This may give new impetus to our students to reach out to friends, but there will be challenges if we are not able to be on their side.

I was greatly encouraged to see her caring for each member of our church family and her desire to see each of them grow in love and service to the Lord.

While he’s away, our former student leader and good friend, Marianna, comes to stay with me. After graduating she found work in Bari and last year came once a week asking if we could continue to meet and train her – which we are very happy to do!

Two weeks ago we sat down after Sunday lunch and ended up talking about some of the needs of our church and what we could do to meet them. I was greatly encouraged to see her caring for each member of our church family and her desire to see each of them grow in love and service to the Lord. For example, one of the young men with fairly limited Italian can play the guitar, and she suggested we ask him to play before the service and during the Lord’s Supper. By late Sunday afternoon, we had a whole page of similar action items! And when I say ‘afternoon’, in Australia we would probably call it afternoon and evening: the kids had had dinner and were almost ready for bed by then. Sunday lunch lasts a very long time in Bari

We arrive around lunchtime and pick up the kids from school. I have decided this year to “silence” the WhatsApp messages from the different classes. I get along very well with the other mothers, but I have a hard time watching and replying to messages all afternoon, as has often happened over the past year.

Sure enough, when I check later, I missed 68, a really light day: I’m navigating and don’t need to do anything differently or respond. I’m trying to be more thoughtful this year about things that will help my mental health – in general I’m trying to continue the good habits I put in place when we had a very low point in March in the middle of another lockdown and skyrocketing cases.

This week I ran my first 5k – after many years of insisting that running was not my sport…

Exercise is another element of that, and in fact this week I ran my first 5K – after many years of insisting that running was not my sport, I finally tried it, and in fact, I’m glad I have something that I can continue to enjoy throughout this year.

Simon also found a group of guys who play football (soccer) once a week. Last year any sport like that was canceled due to COVID, so the timing is very good. He found them through a new Christian friend, so he’s getting to know a group of Christians from other churches around Bari, some of whom have been on the fringes of the GBUs but haven’t come regularly so far. Plus, exercise (even if he’s a goalie)!

Basically, there’s a lot of new stuff happening – which isn’t hard after a year where it sometimes felt like nothing was happening at all. Of course, that wasn’t true then and it won’t be true this year even if all these plans and activities don’t go as we hope. Our good God and Heavenly Father remains in control and we can trust Him and continue to point others to Him.

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