Palma's Thanksgiving Surprise

The spiritual journey of one Italian law student.

Katie Bearden (far left) grew increasingly frustrated.

Serving as a one-year volunteer, or STINT member, with Campus Crusade for Christ in Italy, the 24-year-old and a friend attempted evangelistic surveys at the University of Florence.

But few students were willing to talk with them.

Then they met her.

Her name was Palma Licusati (center), a short, friendly Italian law student.

She liked to practice her English, and soon the conversation moved from cross-cultural clichés to Katie and her friend explaining how to have a relationship with God.

Palma listened intently, but wasn't ready to make such a decision.

Like many Italians, Palma's spirituality had a small place in her life.

"Italy is an odd mix of a religious yet agnostic culture," says Gary Runn, who leads the campus ministry in Florence. "Most of the students have never gone to church a day past catechism."

Indeed, more than 20 percent of the country's people are nonreligious, according to Operation World, an international mission almanac.

The campus ministry in Florence has nearly 50 students involved, though most are non-Christians. In the past 2 years, only 5 students have indicated decisions to follow Christ.

The team hosts Bible studies, but most are an investigative look into Christianity.

Katie was hopeful when she met Palma, but as the months passed, her Italian friend still wasn't ready to follow Jesus.

Then last November, Katie and the campus ministry held a gathering to celebrate the American Thanksgiving holiday-a foreign concept to Italians.

With more than 30 students in a circle, each said something they were thankful for, such as a boyfriend or good grades.

Palma surprised Katie when she said she was thankful for her new relationship with God.

Unbeknownst to her American friends, Palma had made the decision a month earlier, after reading several books of the Bible.

"I now believe in Jesus and I know He is with me," says Palma. "He is with me everywhere."