Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hope for 2017

As I was writing Christmas and New Year's greetings to friends, I found myself writing (and praying) this over and over again: "May Jesus fill you with true hope as you trust Him with 2017!"

Hope.  It's a word we hear a lot this time of year.  We hope that the New Year will be even better than the one before it.  We hope we will find success, fulfillment, direction.  We make wishes and hope they come true.

The thing is, we aren't guaranteed any of those things.  While we can rely on God's provision and protection, we don't get to decide which gifts are perfect (James 1:17) and from what He should defend us (2 Thess. 3:3).  We desire control over our circumstances and long for confidence that 2017 will exceed our expectations, but our omniscient Father asks us to surrender and follow (Psalm 9:10).

According to Romans 5, our hope comes not from knowing what's ahead, but knowing the One who has already gone ahead.  Hope develops as we persevere through the most challenging of circumstances.  And hope rests in the finished work of Christ, who reconciled us to Himself "while we were yet sinners."

So, at the dawn of this New Year, "let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess" (Hebrews 10:23).  Whether our circumstances seem hopeful in our eyes or not, let's allow God's character and promises be our firm foundation.  May He fill us to overflowing with true hope as we trust in Him (Romans 15:13)!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

OnPractice: Connecting with Coaches

Recently, I was a guest author for TeachBeyond's monthly education newsletter called OnPractice. While working on this article, I reflected back on my years of teaching at BFA with gratitude for the opportunities to involve the local community, as well as many of you, in classroom activities.

“What do you think heaven is like?  Do you think we will get bored?” Many questions peppered my sixth grade Bible lessons. While we couldn’t stop to discuss every one, how could I ignore my students’ curiosity about the Word? Because of this, I had each student conduct a research project based on a self-selected topic of interest.  I asked several trusted adults from the community to guide small groups of students, and they became the mentors and managers of the project.  Students were evaluated based on completion, but they gained so much more than knowledge from their interactions with coaches.  

Similarly, adult coaches were an invaluable resource for an ungraded middle school research unit. Students developed inquiry questions for independent study and were matched with coaches – my family and friends around the world – who had experience with the students’ topics. One supporter sent a soccer ball for his middle school researcher, while my brother e-mailed with a student constructing a model trebuchet. It was fascinating to watch student motivation and creativity blossom through this intergenerational, interest-based learning experience!
Why Involve Coaches?
When designed effectively, projects involving adult coaches can have numerous benefits. Hearing other voices will enhance student understanding about a topic and potentially expose them to differing viewpoints. Communicating with coaches will build their confidence and grow their enthusiasm for learning. Furthermore, local community members and long-distance contacts may enjoy this “window” in your classroom. This is a great way to involve supporters, former professors, and nearby experts!
Where Do I Begin?
  • Consider Curriculum: Review curricular themes and goals, and think about whether adult coaches could help students learn specific content or skills. Brainstorm ways to integrate community mentors into already existing activities, or design a purposeful project with a coach-based approach. 
  • Connect with Coaches: Contact people directly or create an online survey to recruit potential coaches. Be sure to clearly communicate your expectations for these mentors, and for longer projects, check in with coaches periodically for feedback.
  • Make it Developmentally Appropriate: Guided independence worked well for my middle school classes, but high school students would likely thrive with greater freedom. At the elementary level, coaches could communicate with the whole class or provide enrichment for gifted learners.
  • Integrate Technology: Besides allowing for communication with long-distance coaches, tech tools may be useful for student research, peer collaboration, and teacher supervision of project progress. When introducing new tools, be sure to incorporate mini-lessons and provide scaffolded practice. 
  • Protect Students: Student privacy is of utmost importance. When I connected my middle school students with remote coaches, I moderated all communication. I sent student e-mails to their coaches and forwarded coach responses back to the students. This was a bit cumbersome, but it was worth it to maintain student privacy and allow me to monitor the process.
As you look ahead to the new year, how will you connect on a deeper level with your students? Perhaps involving coaches could be the next step for facilitating transformational education in your classroom.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Recruiting and Reconnecting in Minnesota!

What does it look like for me to be "on the road"?  Here's a glimpse into my recent recruiting trip.

Recruiting at Bethel University, UNWSP, and Crown College!

Setting up a TeachBeyond display.  This is my "home base" for the day.  It didn't take too many recruiting events to establish a routine for assembling the banners, brochures, and rack cards for people to peruse.  I never know what conversations will happen at the table, but I pray that God will provide people for me to connect with throughout the day.  Whether or not these interactions lead to completed inquiry cards and applications, I love the divine appointments to listen to their life stories, and speak truth and purpose into people's perspectives about the future (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Speaking to classes.  Although it's not possible on every campus, I welcome the opportunity to share with education majors about TeachBeyond.  I tell them the story of my uncertainty about serving overseas, and many nod their heads as they resonate with the roller coaster of indecision.  Conveying God's work in our partner schools is even easier to do since the mobilization trip to Southeast Asia last month!

Meeting with "influencers."  Talking with interested individuals is great, but establishing connections with professors, student life staff, and career services representatives can be even more valuable.  These "influencers" (as we call them) have the potential to impact many more students than I can reach in a few hours of on-campus recruiting!  It's great to be able to leave information for this person to pass on to their networks, which has ripple effects into the future.

Connecting with church leaders in the area.  Whether from the home church of a current TeachBeyond member or a personal friend of mine, I thoroughly enjoy talking with missions representatives from local churches.  It is helpful to learn more about their programs, such as focus people groups and the process for becoming a mission partner, as well as share about opportunities for their congregations to get involved with TeachBeyond.

Spending "down time" with friends.  On the trip to Minnesota specifically, reconnecting with friends was an added bonus!  I stayed with a family I know from Kandern whose college-aged daughter was in my small group at BFA.  It was wonderful to eat together, reminisce about memories from Germany, and hear about what has happened in the last year and a half.  It was so special to give their daughter Katie a hug, hear stories about college life, and meet some of her friends!

Reconnecting with Katie was a highlight of the trip!

I also had dinner with a former BFA co-worker, one of my first friends in Kandern back in 2010!  It was delightful to catch up with Emily and see her neighborhood in the Twin Cities.

What a difference 6 years makes!

Ultimately, recruiting is a seed-sowing adventure (1 Cor. 3:6-7).  Post-trip emailing and periodic reconnecting - the "watering" of seeds - are time-consuming but worthwhile tasks.  I never know which conversations will grow into serious commitment to overseas service.  Thankfully, God does!  I'm grateful that this work is His, that I partner with the omniscient Father who is ever drawing His children into deeper obedience and trust... which sometimes looks like joining TeachBeyond.

Beautiful sunrise over Crown College!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Reflections on a Whirlwind Trip!

I just returned from a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia: 9 flights and 4 countries in 13 days!  It was incredible to be able to see the schools, experience different cultures, and spend time with the current TeachBeyond members.

A "taste" of Southeast Asia!

Representing the TeachBeyond Mobilization team in Asia!

This trip reminded me of several key points about TeachBeyond:

No school or project is the same!  While the mission of transformational education remains the same, it plays out differently in various contexts.  Each school in each location has its own distinct challenges and blessings.  This makes it difficult to summarize the work of TeachBeyond in one sentence, but it means that there are opportunities for people with a wide variety of personalities, skills, and passions!  The conversations and experiences from this trip will be an invaluable resource as I guide future applicants toward a good "fit" for overseas service.

Quality education is a gift to a community.  Schools focused on serving missionary kids empower the parents of their students to stay on the field.  Others geared toward nationals have unique opportunities for outreach.  In each setting, good teaching and well-designed programs are a platform for exemplifying Christ to students, their families, and whole communities.

Praying on the site of the future Grace International School campus

Dinner with TeachBeyond members in Chiang Rai

There will always be a need for more workers.  School leaders in each location expressed gratitude for their partnership with TeachBeyond, yet also emphasized the overwhelming need for more staff.  They aren't looking for just anyone to "fill" the positions, but they welcome applicants for all sorts of positions - from librarian to seminary professor to teacher trainer.

 It was so fun to see friends serving around the world!

I'm exhausted from many hours on airplanes and two weeks of grueling travel, but I'm energized by this firsthand glimpse into God's work through TeachBeyond in this region of the world!  More than ever, I believe that God is at work through humble, surrendered servants who "shine like stars as [they] hold out the Word of life" (Phil. 2:15-16).  Greater things are yet to come.

Do you know someone (maybe it's you!) who might be interested in serving overseas?
How is God calling you to be part of reaching the nations with the Gospel?

Thursday, October 13, 2016


That's right... I'm headed to southeast Asia tonight!

Who:  Six TeachBeyond staff from the Mobilization and Member Care/Personnel teams
What:  A whirlwind trip to our schools/projects in the region
When:  October 14-26
Where:  Three countries in southeast Asia
Why:  To get an overview of the schools and encourage our members there!

I'm excited for this opportunity to reconnect with TeachBeyond friends who serve in southeast Asia, as well as gain a better perspective for recruiting for the region.  I would really appreciate your prayers for our trip.  Please pray for...

  • Energy:  Pray that I'll be able to sleep on our flights and have energy for our jam-packed schedule!
  • Safety & Health:  Pray that my cold would not progress any further, and that we would have safety and good health throughout the two weeks we are away.
  • Flexibility:  This is always key for serving overseas!  Pray that I would trust the Lord with the details as I step out of my comfort zone.
  • Encouragement:  Pray that my team would be an encouragement to the staff and students at each of the schools we visit, as well as a witness to their communities.

Promises from Psalm 91:

"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in Whom I trust.'
Surely He will save you from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His feathers, 
and under His wings, you will find refuge;
His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart...
For He will command His angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways."

Friday, October 7, 2016

Grandma's Words of Wisdom

It's been three weeks since my grandma went to be with Jesus.

Grandma was - and will continue to be - an inspirational role model to me.  She was a woman of fervent prayer and deep trust in the Lord.  Grandma taught for almost thirty years, so it's no surprise that my mom, two of my cousins, and I have each had classrooms of our own!  I see so much of myself in Grandma: eagerly welcoming newcomers, enthusiastically hosting friends, optimistically embracing life as an adventure, and brimming with stories to tell.

Home video from January 1994 / Family vacation in Florida

October 2015 / Family gathered to remember and celebrate Grandma's life

My grandmother was a woman of many words of wisdom.  (Or, as she would probably say with a laugh, "a woman of many words"!)  Along with other members of the family, I had the opportunity to speak at Grandma's Life Celebration last weekend, so I decided to share excerpts from Grandma's emails over the years.  I'm sure she wouldn't mind me sharing these with you, as well.

Grandma's Words of Wisdom

God is love, and is in love with each of us.  Take time frequently to share this love.  Obedience to God's commands is the way we show Him our love. 

He commands us to be encouragers.  Don't let the busy pace of your daily responsibilities interfere with opportunities to be an encourager.  Let people know you recognize their kindnesses. It’s fun to be an encourager!

Our awareness of the Lord's leading and His provisions makes Him smile when He sees how we lean upon Him for strength and guidance. 

Sometimes when things do not go according to our plans, we are amazed at how God's provision for the day is even better than we'd dreamed.  Who said seniors are inflexible?  It's only our joints!

Sometimes God uses us as PART of the process, not its completion.  Following His lead is our only responsibility.  Our daily request should be that God will show us anyone we can encourage or help, that we will not pass up any opportunity.  

One tiny caution: get your rest, take care of a minor sore throat, for good health is the backbone of productive activity.

In all uncomfortable situations, I try – magic word: try – to see a benefit.  Though it may be small, finding it gives me the peace He promised.

In happy moments, praise God
In difficult moments, seek God
In quiet moments, worship God
In painful moments, trust God
In every moment, thank God.   
He loves to hear your voice.

This may be a year of political and economic turmoil, but we can trust in God's Word to strengthen, encourage, and guide us throughout.

God is always confirming His will.  Sometimes I find myself rushing ahead of Him, not listening closely enough, not quietly waiting, but He is there!  

Take advantage of every opportunity to see the world.  Life’s journey is a wonderful adventure.  Hold tightly to the realization that no step is unknown to the One who has created and loves you. 

Only one life to live, soon to be past.  Only what’s done for Christ will last.  Finish well, for many arms wait to hug you…. Mine included.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."  Proverbs 3:5-6

A sticky note I found in Grandma's Bible

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Starting Over

This month marks the beginning of my second year of living in Pittsburgh.  It's hard to believe that I've already witnessed a whole cycle of the seasons here, seen this city from all of its colorful angles.  And yet, it seems like a lifetime ago that I left Germany, followed God's redirection to western Pennsylvania, and "started over" in this new-to-me city.

I'm no expert on starting over.  Many students I knew at BFA have more experience uprooting, saying goodbye, and beginning again than I do.  However, as I "reentered" life in the States this past year, I noted several things that helped me to connect in Pittsburgh.  For the first time, I found myself new in a place that others didn't know I was new.  I was no longer a freshman in college or new staff overseas with orientation and special programs to help me navigate my new world.  It was up to me.

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to share some of my story with people who are new to the city - the same small group I attended a year ago!  It's amazing to think how God used my year of adjusting to equip me to welcome Pittsburgh newcomers this fall.

Do you find yourself in a new place, or are you looking to get more deeply connected where you live?  There's certainly no recipe for instant community, but here are a few suggestions from my experiences:

1.  Explore and get lost.  True story: For awhile, I only knew how to drive to Target and church from my house without using my GPS.  When I allowed myself the adventure of attempted navigation, I discovered new sections of the city to enjoy and more efficient paths between familiar places.  In Pittsburgh, exploring invariably means crossing a bridge unnecessarily or getting stuck in Parkway traffic from time to time, but it's all part of the experience!  A less risky and highly suggested option: Ask someone who knows the area well to drive when you go somewhere together, and you can learn a lot as the attentive passenger!

2.  Find your happy places.  Personally, I'm recharged when I'm strolling along the rivers at Point State Park, looking over the city from Mt. Washington, or sitting under the globe lights on my front porch.  What energizes you most or reminds you of familiar places you miss?  Whether it's a picturesque running trail, a cozy coffee shop, or an international food store, locate these places in your new city, and it'll start to feel more like home.

3.  Make a bucket list.  Creating a list of things I want to do and see in Pittsburgh made me even more enthusiastic about exploring my new city!  (In case you were wondering, my bucket list includes studying in the Cathedral of Learning and going on the Ducky Tour, as well a sub-section for  the burger restaurants and coffee shops I want to try.)  Find out more about your area, and you can begin your own list.  Note: Asking for bucket list suggestions is a great conversation starter and checking things off the list can be accomplished with new friends!

4.  Get connected to a church.  My involvement in my local church has been a lifeline for me in this first year of living in a brand new place.  Joining a small group, serving in church ministries, and attending special events outside of weekly services are great ways to meet other people, while also being fed spiritually and serving the community.  It's important to be discerning about where to attend church, but chances are you won't find a church exactly like the one(s) you previously attended.  Ask the Lord to direct you to a place where you can grow in your relationship with Him and others, and be open to wherever He might lead you.

5.  Make new friends, but keep the old.  It turns out that the lyrics of the tried-and-true Girl Scouts song are actually true!  While it's impossible to keep up with everyone I know, I need friends with whom I share history and memories.  They "get" my sense of humor, pray for me with deeper understanding, and remind me of God's faithfulness.  However, I also need people to live life with me in this current season.  It may feel risky and exhausting to initiate new friendships in a new place, but I've found that many others around me are also hoping to find another friend or two!

More than anything, we can rest in the confidence that Jesus will give us exactly what we need in His timing.  He's been reminding me of that truth throughout in this season of transition, and I have a feeling it will be a recurring theme throughout my life.  He is in control.  He is enough.  May Jesus be glorified as we daily trust in His presence and rely on His provision.

"Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  Joshua 1:9

"Every new season of life is an invitation to leave behind the things of the season before, the trappings and the traps that have long expired, right for then, no longer right for now." - Shauna Niequist, Present over Perfect

What has helped you get connected in a new community?
What do you appreciate about the place where you live?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Lots of "New" for New Members

It has been a few months since orientation, and many of our new members are on the field now!  In this time of transition, they are facing a range of emotions...

Confusion as they settle into their new homes, new cultures, new "normals."

Hopefulness as they welcome students into their dorms and classrooms.

Homesickness as they miss familiar places, processes, and people.

Enthusiasm as the school year kicks off with energetic ceremonies and exciting events.

Uncertainty as they create course materials, learn to drive or use public transportation, try to communicate in a new language, and embrace many other unknowns.

You get the idea.  It can be overwhelming.

I'm reminded of my own transitions and God's presence and promises that sustained me during those seasons.  Join me in praying that they would be encouraged by the truths that the Lord is with them (Deut. 31:6), working through them (Phil. 1:6), and using them for impact (Eph. 2:10).

The math classroom of a new member serving at Faith Academy

Black Forest Academy new staff, two of whom I worked with this year

Exploring the area is always an adventure

First day at BFA today!

Due to some complications, one new school project was unable to open its doors this fall.  Our teachers who were already in-country were offered several options.  Two decided to take positions at another school in the same region that had already begun classes but still lacked key staff members.  Their willingness to trust Jesus in the midst of these changes and jump into new positions is inspirational!

Take two: Headed to Bogota, Colombia, to serve at El Camino Academy!

Please also join me in praying for those who are still raising support - that they would find encouragement and hope in Christ, and continue to trust in God's timing and direction.

"[I am] confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ ... And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God."  (Philippians 1:6, 9-11)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Catch Up with Heather!

For those of you in the Newtown area, I'd love to reconnect with you next week!
Click here for more information or to let me know you're coming.
All are welcome, so feel free to invite others!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

God Be Glorified

Over the past few months, Jesus has been showing me more about His glory.  I had the opportunity to share a little bit of this at a church event last night, and I pray that Jesus is glorified as I share these thoughts here.

Our goal in life should be glorify God.  According to John Piper, glorifying God means "feeling and thinking and acting in ways that reflect His greatness, that make much of God, that give evidence of the supreme greatness..."

We are called to consider how we can bring Him glory in our choices and conversations, in any season or circumstance, whether it makes sense or not.  The question should continually be this: How can I glorify God in this?  As it turns out, this life is actually not at all about our happiness, comfort, or fulfillment.  Although we may feel happy, comfortable, and fulfilled at different points in life, that's not the main goal.  It's about God's glory.

When we use the phrase "God has a plan," we usually mean "God has a plan for me."  Yes, He does.  However, I'm realizing more and more that God's plan is not about our finite blips on the earth, but about His overarching redemptive story.  By His grace, we are woven into the plot line of that story, but none of us is the main character!  As supporting roles, our one job is to bring Him glory.

So, what gives God glory?  How do we actually glorify Him?  This is far from a comprehensive study of God's glory, but here are a few thoughts from recent personal reflection.
  • Praise: In the Psalms, David pours out many prayers and songs of praise to God (Psalms 19, 29, 34...); however, it's important to note that these declarations are often made in the context of suffering and desperation (Psalms 25, 86...).  When we choose to acknowledge God's goodness and praise Him in the midst of challenging circumstances, we can be confident that He is glorified.  (This playlist is a compilation of songs that have been meaningful expressions of praise for me lately.)
  • Abide: As we stay connected to the Vine, bear the fruit of His Spirit, and bring bold requests before Him, God is honored (John 15:8).  Utter dependence on the Lord and delight in His presence brings Him glory.
  • Serve:  We are called to use our God-given gifts to serve others in the strength that He gives us, "so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 4:11).  Our faithful service will, in turn, cause others to praise our Heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16)!
  • Trust:  Hebrews 11 provides an extensive list of men and women who had faith in God, despite uncertainty and hardship.  Faith - that is, "being sure of what we hope for" (Hebrews 11:1) - is unnatural and counter-cultural.  Just as Daniel (Daniel 6) and Joseph (Genesis 50:20) believed and praised God without knowing the outcomes of their situations, we glorify God when we choose to trust and rest and find our confidence in Him.
  • Obey:  Listening to the Holy Spirit and following His leading - that's obedience.  We glorify God by obeying not with dutiful compliance, but joyful purpose.  This pure obedience demonstrates our love for the Lord (John 14:15).  There is no guarantee that obeying will lead to better circumstances, but we can rely on the guidance of the Good Shepherd, who knows His sheep intimately and offers abundant life (John 10:11-15).
Ultimately, as we strive to live like Christ each day, God will be glorified.  Our attitudes should be modeled after Jesus, who humbled Himself as a servant and was obedient unto death (Philippians 2:5-13).  Jesus' mission on earth was to glorify His Father, and He accomplished that powerfully in His death and resurrection (John 17:4-5)!

Does this focus on God's glory remove the pain, confusion, or disappointment that we experience?  Definitely not.  There is a perpetual tension between our shattered realities and His perfect goodness.  In one hand we hold our brokenness, while the other contains His unchanging character and promises.  One does not discredit the other, but they exist beside each other in an open-handed posture of surrender.  Praise God that this tension is temporary, and we have the hope of eternity with Him (Col. 3:4, 1 Cor. 13:12)!

In humility and trust, may we continually choose to ask, How can I glorify You in this, God?  In seeking and obeying, we have our answer.

In what other ways can we glorify God?
How are you choosing to praise, abide, serve, trust, and obey 
in this current season of life?