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?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

One Year & A New Role


What a year!  I calculated these numbers a few weeks ago and already most of them are outdated as people continue to inquire about the work of TeachBeyond and follow the Lord's leading overseas.  I have really enjoyed serving as a Mobilization Coach with TeachBeyond during my first year back in the States.  Throughout this bittersweet transition season, I have been grateful for continued involvement in God's work around the world through transformational education.

I'm also excited to be stepping into a new role with TeachBeyond as the Associate Director of Mobilization!  I will continue the tasks I had as a TeachBeyond Mobilization Coach with a few additions.

Over the past few weeks, I have gradually assumed some of my new responsibilities, which include:

- Creating a Mobilization Coach manual
- Training the new Mobilization Coaches (3-4 people who previously served overseas like I did)
- Meeting with the new Mobilization Coaches weekly throughout the year as their direct supervisor
- Further developing TeachBeyond's church partnerships
- Distributing online inquiries to the team of Coaches for individual follow-up
- Overseeing the collection of applicant data, such as personality profiles and background checks

Thanks for walking with me on this journey of trusting Jesus as I continue serving with the TeachBeyond Mobilization Team!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Remember.

Remember.

This week marks one year since God dramatically redirected my steps from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh.  With a seemingly God-ordained plan in place, I was surprised and confused at this change of course.

One week later, I got connected with my roommate-to-be through my would-be church.  Unbelievably, one week after that, we signed the lease on our house here in Pittsburgh.  It's overwhelming to consider how God orchestrated the whirlwind change in plans last July!

Remember.

According to Scripture, we are to remember who God is, what He has done, and how He wants us to live (Isaiah 46:9, Psalm 119:55).  God Himself is the perfect example of remembering, for He faithfully and flawlessly remains true to His covenantal promises (Psalm 105:8, 2 Tim. 2:13).

We remember that we were hopelessly "separated from Christ," but now His blood reconciles us to God (Eph 2:12-13).  We intentionally remember Jesus' sacrifice when we take communion (1 Cor. 11:24-26) and remember with joyful gratitude that He has "risen from the dead" (2 Tim. 2:8)!

The Spirit is our Helper to remind us of Jesus' teaching (John 14:26).

As the Israelites were instructed to remember their captivity and the Lord's rescue (Deut. 5:15, 8:2), so we acknowledge His daily provision and free gift of salvation (Eph. 2:8).

Remember.

Of course, the purpose of remembering is never to live in the past or longingly wish for days-gone-by!  In fact, sometimes looking back unearths pain, hurt, or disappointment.  Nonetheless, remembering the truths of God's character (James 1:17) and evidence of His past provision inspires us to live with great hope and anticipation for the future (Psalm 5:3).

Remembering God's faithfulness is what fuels my deep love of meaningful conversations and celebrations!  Through conversations with friends, I hear evidence of His work in their lives and share what He has been teaching me.  I love that birthdays and anniversaries and holidays are milestone opportunities for remembering what He has done and choosing to entrust the future into His hands.

Remember.

One year ago, there was no way of knowing that the email exchanges with my roommate, my landlord, and my church would lead to finding my place in Pittsburgh.  Over time, my house and my church have become places of rest and community.  As the coming months usher in a parade of one-year anniversaries, I remember God's miraculous provision with thanksgiving.  May our reminiscing and recollecting continue to lead us to wholehearted gratitude and deeper surrender!

What milestones do you remember and celebrate?
How does remembering fuel your faith?

"Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me."  Isaiah 46:9

"In the morning, Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning, I lay my requests before You and wait expectantly."  Psalm 5:3


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Orientation 2016!

I stood at the registration table with the TeachBeyond Mobilization Team, untangling name tag lanyards and assigning meal cards for the week.  After months of emailing with candidates, I could hardly wait for them come through the registration line to finally meet them in person!


Last week was the annual TeachBeyond Pre-Field Orientation, a week of training to equip TeachBeyond candidates for overseas service.  Content includes spiritual preparation, professional development, and cultural awareness, among other topics.  It can be an overwhelming week for participants as they absorb a lot of information and anticipate life overseas, not to mention using their free time to develop relationships with future team members and make support raising phone calls!

During some of the sessions, I had the opportunity to help out with the youth program!  This wasn't my primary role as in past years, but it was fun to blow bubbles, play pretend, and do a photo scavenger hunt with this group of soon-to-be missionary kids!


I was also privileged to present a session for the adult candidates on the importance of mentorship on the mission field.  Together we brainstormed the significance of mentors in our own lives thus far, and I shared about some of the specific challenges with mentorship on the mission field.  I challenged them to pray about what it looks like to live intentionally as mentors and seek out others to mentor them in their new contexts.


The week ended with a meaningful Dedication Ceremony to formally commission 81 adults for service in 23 different countries!  It was exciting to celebrate this milestone with the new members.


Eight of the candidates I processed, representing five different partner schools!

Please continue to pray for the new members as they trust God's provision in support raising, transition, and assimilation into a new culture.  The countdown is on... but this is only the beginning!

A few more photos from Orientation:

Erin was in the Velvet Ashes Connection Group I led in the fall, and then I got to be her Mobilization Coach when she joined TeachBeyond this spring!

Some of the Mobilization Team - we each live in a different state/province, so it was fun to be together for the week!

Ice cream in downtown Wheaton with some of the new TeachBeyond members!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Meet Laura

I met Laura at my very first recruiting event in September.  I had greatly anticipated my visit to Grove City College's Career Fair, as it was my first time recruiting on campus at my alma mater!  Over the course of the day, I connected with over thirty students interested in serving in educational ministry, including Laura.

Through emails and conversations, Laura and I discovered that we had several overlapping Grove City experiences, including studying elementary education and leading the campus women's ministry.  It was so fun to get to know Laura throughout her process of discerning God's leading and working through the TeachBeyond application.

Laura graduated from Grove City on Saturday and is now preparing to go with TeachBeyond to a brand new school project in Mexico City, Mexico.  There are many exciting, yet daunting, days ahead!

Will you join me in praying for Laura and other new TeachBeyond candidates?
- Pray for courage and supernatural provision as they invite people to partner with them financially (Phil. 4:19).
- Pray for an overwhelming sense of peace and purpose as they prepare to move overseas (Phil. 4:7).
- Pray that God would be glorified in their testimonies of trust and obedience (1 Sam. 15:22).

Thank you for your support - through financial gifts and faithful prayers - so that I can invest in future TeachBeyond members like Laura!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Considering Serving Overseas?

Are you interested in possibly, maybe, perhaps-one-day serving overseas?  Or do you know someone who might be?  Here are eight suggestions when considering the question: What do I do in the mean time?  

1.  Pray.  This may seem like the obvious answer, but this needs to be the precedent before any other suggestion of something to do.  Rather than just praying for God to show you the specifics of where and what and when (He will do that in His timing!), ask Him to open your eyes to ways you can use your gifts for His glory right now in your current context.  (And read this post.)  Additionally, pray for missionaries and the people of the world.  Perhaps God will lead you to focus your prayers on one particular people group or nation.  Learn as much as you can, and pray specifically.  Whether or not God eventually leads you to work in this place, He will have expanded your vision for a needy world.

2.  Serve where you are.  As God reveals opportunities to reach out to others (see #1), follow His leading with enthusiastic obedience.  There is a common misconception that you have to raise support and go overseas to have Kingdom impact.  It's not true!  (Here's another good read.  This one, too.)  Be a servant right now, right where you are.  This is not only great preparation for cross-cultural ministry, but also a blessing to your community and an invaluable opportunity for personal growth.

3.  Get involved in a missions-minded church.  Plug into the ministries of a church so that you continue to grow spiritually and become connected to others who are also seeking to follow Christ.  Join the missions committee or a care team for a missionary the church supports.  Participate in short-term ministry in multiple locations.  This will help confirm your cross-cultural gifting and give you a better awareness of global opportunities.  Also, personally investing in a church develops a connection that could lead into a more meaningful sending partnership if you end up going overseas.

4.  Invite the input of others.  Ask family members, mentors, church leaders, and close friends (note: not just anyone) to speak into your process of discerning whether God is leading you to go overseas.  Can they affirm that your skills, passions, and personality align with the type of ministry you're considering?  Do they agree that you are ready to go overseas?  Seek wise counsel, and ask God to reveal truth to you through others' words.

5.  Seek out missions mentors.  Know someone who has served overseas?  Ask them about their experiences, how they decided to go, what made them stay, what made them leave (if they have returned to their passport country), why they got involved in the work they did... all the while keeping in mind that people have drastically different life and ministry experiences overseas.  Depending on how well they know you, invite their input, too (see #4).  If you aren't connected with any cross-cultural workers, ask your church or campus ministry to connect you with someone who has served overseas in the past.

6.  Befriend internationals.  Building relationships across cultures is a key component of missions.  Spend time with people from other countries - international students, refugees, immigrants - and maintain a posture of listening and learning as you expand these friendships.

7.  Give sacrificially to missions.  Broaden your global perspective and understanding of missions by financially supporting someone currently serving overseas.  You may also learn about support raising and staying connected to ministry partners in the process.

8.  Read and study.  
- Attend a Perspectives class, go to a missions conference (like Urbana), and/or attend a retreat help discern next steps.
- Immerse yourself in the insights of others on web sites like alifeoverseas.com or velvetashes.com.  If you are interested in specific mission organization or field of service, see if you can find blogs of people who serve there to get a better idea of what life is like.  (Yes, this is approved stalking.)
- Read the book Mission Smart by David Frazier.  As the subtitle states, this book offers fifteen questions to consider before going overseas.  This book is designed to spark discussion, so find a mentor (see #5) or form a small group of people who are considering overseas missions, and work through this resource together.
- With the guidance of your church, begin to explore potential sending organizations.
- When you get closer to actually going, read Looming Transitions by Amy Young.  This is a practical guide for preparing to leave well.

Do you sense the Spirit stirring you to consider going?  Are you interested in exploring what it would look like to serve Him internationally?  Someone recently asked me if there is a people group I'm passionate about, and I think you're it!  I love hearing the stories of people who are considering going overseas.  If you'd like to talk more about next steps (not limited to TeachBeyond, I promise!), comment below or contact me directly.

By the way, this is not an exhaustive list!  What would you add?
Write your thoughts in the comments below.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"I Shall Not Want"

This post was featured in my March monthly update email.  Click here if you'd like to receive these updates in the future!


Over the past few weeks, I've found freedom in naming fears and acknowledging insecurities- and then meditating on God's promises.  Recently, a friend sent me an Audrey Assad song called "I Shall Not Want," and I have been meditating on its powerful lyrics ever since.

Where we are filled with worry or doubt or confusion, Christ shines His light to illuminate the truth (Psalm 25:5).  Jesus invites us to lay down our daily frustrations, upcoming decisions, and anticipated changes - whatever the challenges of our present circumstances - to take up His yoke and experience His rest (Matthew 11:28-30).

What is He asking you to surrender today?  May we pause to taste His goodness, sense His leading, and know His peace.

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me, oh God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me, oh God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me, oh God