My grandfather turned 90 last week. This year, he will celebrate his 68th year of being a missionary in Rome, Italy. He is still preaching regularly, not only in his own home church that he planted over 60 years ago but also around the country. He also writes for a monthly magazine and books for the edification of Italian believers. It has been an incredible ride, and I’ve learned so much from him over the years, but there was one day in particular that will stay with me forever. But first, let me tell you about his ministry.
It was 1949, World War II was just finished, and William Standridge, my grandpa, fresh out of college, was on his way to Italy as a missionary. He was 22 years old and had already decided a few things. If he was going to be giving his life for the Italian people, he needed to adapt as quickly as possible to the Italian culture. He would learn to wear what they wore, eat what they ate, and speak as they spoke.
Soon after that, he was on his way to speak at a young adults’ camp and although his desire was to dress like an Italian, he hadn’t adapted quite yet. After the war, Italians were experiencing serious depression, not just financial, but even more emotional turmoil. This affected their clothing. They all wore gray and black suits and ties, with very little color in them. As he approached the camp, he caught the eye of the woman who had organized the conference. She said that his choice of shirt that day was something she had never seen before–horses that were colored in every color of the rainbow. And so, he caught her eye even before she heard him speak. He taught them that week about his love for the Lord, and his ability to preach the Word stood out and she definitely wanted to get to know him more.
A few years later, this Italian woman named Maria Teresa De Giustina became his wife. Together they moved to Rome and began a tiny church in the heart of the city. They worked hard in Evangelism and slowly the church grew, and though ministry in Rome is very difficult the Lord raised up several elders and deacons over the years. They faithfully passed out tracts, he did some street preaching and even outdoor services where my dad and uncles would play their instruments and sing some hymns in order to attract a crowd. They also founded the magazine “La Voce del Vangelo” (The Voice of the Gospel), and they began publishing books and newsletters that have been read by hundreds of thousands of people all over Italy. This publishing house has translated and published many books by John Macarthur including some of his commentaries.
They have had an incredible ministry. Until three years ago. I received a phone call from my father and he told me that my grandma had been diagnosed with leukemia. I guess I always knew they would die eventually, but I had never had someone so close to me die before. My family organized a get-together in order for us to spend some time with my grandma before she went to see the Lord. On the plane, I was wondering what my grandma would be like knowing that she would be dying soon. All I can say is that she hadn’t changed one bit. The minute I came in the house, she informed me that in the oven was her famous lasagna as well as her famous apple pie. She was currently doing laundry and in her spare time was writing a book on how to serve the Lord with joy for the Italian church. She was incredible. No wonder we called her the energizer bunny. On the other hand, my grandpa wasn’t doing as well. The prospects of losing his wife of almost 60 years was overwhelming for him, and so he had been pretty discouraged over the past few weeks. And though I expected to be impacted by my
grandma that week, I hadn’t thought of the fact that I would learn an incredible lesson from my grandpa as well.
As we sat on the couch together (while my grandma was running around working hard), I asked how he’d been doing with everything. He started telling me about a particular afternoon a couple weeks earlier that he took my grandma to the hospital for her weekly blood transfusion. It was too difficult emotionally for him to go inside, so he let my aunt go in with her while he remained in the car. It was difficult for him not to cry while he was in the car. This particular time he sat in the car reading a little booklet written by an American author. It was a simple booklet and in it the writer was asking this question,
“Is there anything or anyone you love more than Jesus?”
This was pretty convicting for my grandpa as he acknowledged the fact that he needed to repent over loving his wife more than Christ.
This was very convicting to me. Here is a man who has preached most of the Bible, he’s spoken in hundreds of conferences, and written dozens of books, almost 90 years old and here he was in a car, crying, reading a simple book, answering a simple question and repenting over his lack of love for God. And telling me how thankful he was that God showed him this, and how God used this moment to encourage him and to help him to repent. This man understands and believes God’s Sovereignty, but still struggles with trusting Him, and is still working hard to love and become more like Jesus.
Many young people including myself can at times get very complacent; we can rely on our own strength and become too comfortable with where we are spiritually. Pride is such a dangerous thing. I’m thankful to my grandpa for all that he taught me over the years, but most of all, I’m thankful that he taught me the importance of humility and being eager to change and be sanctified up until my very last breath.
My grandma went to be with the Lord soon after my visit around three years ago, and though my grandpa was very saddened to live on without her by his side, God used that afternoon to encourage him to keep going and working hard till his very last breath. Although it has been difficult, he has kept on writing, preaching, and pastoring his church. Just last week, while celebrating his birthday with all of his children in the room and most of his grandkids present, as he shared with his family what the Lord had been teaching him lately, he stressed the importance of spending time with the Lord each day, growing in our love for Christ, and being willing to change and repent until the moment you get to see Jesus.
May we all have the humility to see ourselves clearly and to desire to constantly grow in the likeness of our Savior.
Thank you, Nonno, for your example of hard-work and humility. Happy 90th birthday!