Peace in the Whirlwind

Deep breaths. *inhale* And let it out. *exhale* Ok, let’s begin.

Can I tell you how crazy the past few weeks have felt? If you know me very well at all, you will know that my Myers-Briggs type might as well be written with only one capital letter: inFp. I identify pretty clearly with most of the descriptors of this type, but more than any other aspect, I am absolutely a Feeler. I think with my heart, I am concerned about the way that my decisions will affect other people, I deeply desire harmony, and I process a LOT of emotions.

A few weeks ago, my team leaders told me that they wanted me to shoot to arrive in Rome at the beginning of September. Whoa! I am so excited to be getting back to life and ministry and all my dear people in Italy, but this was a sooner departure date than I had anticipated, and not going to lie, I freaked out a little bit.

I started mentally processing what transition back to Rome will look like, leaving my family and the dear community that I have formed here in my passport country. The States are home, but Rome is home too. Movement is such a strange feeling now, because I’m always going to people I love and leaving people I love at the same time.

We started getting things in order for this planned departure date of September 8th, and I started to calm down. By the first week of August, I had all my support necessary to fund my budget for two more years of serving on the Rome City Team! Cue all of the emotions about being fully funded! Then last Wednesday, I bought my plane ticket! Celebrations!

Then just this weekend, I was finally getting everything in hand to apply for my visa. But Sunday night when I went to set an appointment at the consulate, the whole month of August was red – NO APPOINTMENTS AVAILABLE for the the rest of the month. I immediately prayed, “Lord, please present a solution. I don’t even know what to ask You to do, but please work something out!”

So here’s where we stand right now: Either the consulate will work with me somehow, I will be able to apply for my visa SOON, and I will continue with my plans to fly out on September 8th, OR I will go for a visa appointment on September 6th, I will pay the fee to change my flight, and I will depart toward the end of September. There is not a lot that I can do about it either way, and worrying is not going to help in the slightest.

So I am going to trust in the Lord’s timing. His peace that passes understanding has been SO comforting the last couple of days. Even when it feels like my emotions are riding a roller coaster, He will continue to be faithful.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
– Psalm 91:1-4 (ESV)

A Heart of Gratitude

How are you growing? Has anyone asked you that lately? What has God been teaching you?

I have been learning to walk through this season that God has me in with a heart of gratitude, not with a bubbling-over of frothy giddiness, but a steady, restful peace in the assurance that He has me right where He wants me. It took a while to get here. There has been not a small amount of bitterness in my heart toward the things that the Lord has tried to teach me in the past. Sometimes I didn’t even notice this negativity creeping into my thinking, but looking back I can see it crystal clear. I think the simple answer to this shift in attitude is due to a development in maturity that comes with time. Though the more complex reason comes through a surrender of my own desires and the working of the Holy Spirit on my heart.

I have been learning to fight the negativity. I have been learning not to react in irritation when people do or say hurtful things out of ignorance and to realize that their intention was probably to help, not harm. I have been learning not to be so quick to become angry. I have been learning not to judge and condemn my fellow Christians when they do and say things that do not convey the truth, grace, and love of Jesus Christ. I have been learning to speak gently, with wisdom. This isn’t easy and I fail in some aspect everyday. But it is a process of slow but steady progress. I have been learning that self-control (being a gift of the Spirit) comes through relying on the power of the Spirit. It sounds counterintuitive since self is part of the word. However, it is somehow freeing to come to the realization that I am not in control of anything external to myself, and I can’t even bend my will toward the will of God without the aid of the Holy Spirit. It is only by His work in my life that my desires and passions can begin to reflect His. I long to live not with self-righteousness, but in humility with grace and love toward others so that my words and actions might point them toward the One who has given me newness of life.

“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”
-Proverbs 16:32 (ESV)

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
-Colossians 4:4-6 (ESV)

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.”
-Proverbs 15:1-2 (ESV)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
-Galatians 5:22-26 (ESV)

God Called Me Slowly

The first week of August I attended a training at the EFCA national office. As part of our time together, we were each asked to share our testimony of how the Lord has called us to our ministries. I thought I would share what I wrote. This is my story:

For some, the calling to ministry happened in a moment in time that can be recalled as a single event. That was not the case for me. I think that, knowing my heart, God knew that a more clearly displayed message would have scared me and sent me running the other way. Instead, He strategically placed hints of this message in my life piece by piece over time. God called me slowly.

Growing up in the church, I got involved in ministry activities from a very young age. As I grew in my relationship with the Lord, my passion for missions grew as well. I also had a fascination with all things Italy. But I didn’t ever connect these two loves until I spent a semester of Bible college in northern Italy. As we studied and served, my eyes were opened to the need for the light of the Gospel to bring hope to dark, post-Christian Europe, and specifically Italy. It was then that a spark began to glow.

After this semester, I was working and looking for another job, but door after door kept closing. When sharing my frustration in my situation with one of my church elders, he asked me, “What do you really WANT to do?” And I answered semi-jokingly, “Well, I’d really like to go back to Italy.” We laughed, but then he told me that he thought I should pray and actually consider going back in a ministry role. So I did. And as I thought and prayed and sought guidance, the Lord opened the door to ReachGlobal. I applied and was accepted to serve on the Rome City Team for a one-year term.

When I eventually got to the field, it was wonderful and terrible and beautiful and hard and I loved it. But I thought, “Surely this life isn’t for me in the long-term.” When considering my next steps toward the end of that year, I knew I wasn’t ready to make a long-term commitment. But at just the right moment, I was told that I could finish out the short-term assignment and come back for one more year. I hadn’t even realized this was an option, but I knew immediately it was the answer I didn’t even know I was looking for. I committed to return for a second year.

Year two was so much more rewarding. My language improved exponentially. I became more deeply involved in the life of the local church. I was able to see ministries expand. It assuredly was not without it’s difficulties, but the growth I was seeing was beautiful. Reaching the end of this second year, I began to make arrangements for returning home, and I became incredibly sad at the idea of leaving this ministry, these friends, this life behind. But I wasn’t considering returning to Rome long-term at all. Then one night at dinner with my team leaders, they told me how much they would love for me to come back, and asked me to really consider it. So I said I would. As I began to explore this possibility, I realized that I was still operating in the same mindset that I had had at the end of year one. I was still thinking, “Long-term is a long time. As a single woman, there are so many obstacles in this context. It would be too hard.” I hadn’t let myself re-process everything, and I realized, “I have already been here for two years, God has been faithful to provide for all of my needs and He will continue to be faithful.” Once I overcame that mental roadblock, the decision to return long-term was almost as immediate as the decision to return for my second year. If the Lord has shown favor and grace, if I love what I do, if there is a purpose and place for me, and if people desire my return, how can I not come back to a place that has become so dear to my heart? The Lord paved the way. He has used my whole life to lead me to this place. My favorite verse is Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Last year was hard, but it was the best year of my life. I know that following God’s leading to long-term ministry is the best decision I could make, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

The Harvest is Plentiful

Last week I was at the ReachGlobal national office in Minneapolis to interview to transition from short-term to long-term service on the Rome City Team. There were 13 of us interviewing in total: 5 “Change of Status” [transitioning], and 8 Candidates [new to the organization]. Those of us transitioning had a time of debriefing, before the others arrived, in which we had the opportunity to talk with organization staff, get counsel from Pastoral Care about transitioning, and have discussion with one another about how our short-term experience had been.

The other days were spent discussing ReachGlobal distinctives and particulars, sharing our stories of how God has called us to full-time ministry, spending time with a counselor, and interviewing with several organization staff about various areas of health. ReachGlobal has a strong commitment to health [spiritual, relational, mental, physical, etc.], so all the staff want to insure that each candidate is a good fit for ReachGlobal and that ReachGlobal is a good fit for each candidate.

It was great to spend time at the national office getting to know the staff better, catching up with friends, and meeting other amazing people who have a passion to see hearts come to know Jesus all over the world.

Yesterday, I received my invitation to become a long-term ReachGlobal staff member! Going forward, I will continue with more training to better equip me for this new position, starting with another event at the national office in August. I will also continue to build on my ministry partnership team. If you are interested in joining my team and supporting financially, either monthly or with a special gift, please visit the EFCA website, click “Give Now,” and put “Account #1488 – Creamer” in the Designation field.  Or you can contact me for information about other methods of giving.

I am so excited about this next leg of the journey. It’s so encouraging to see so many of our personnel transitioning to long-term staff, and I’m thrilled to be one of them.

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

– Matthew 9:35-38

Big News

The last few months have contained so much activity. I finished my online Teaching English as a Foreign Language [TEFL] certification course and started tutoring and helping with some English classes. For about a month and a half, we increased our street outings with Schiavitù Mai Più [Slavery No More] to every weekend instead of every other week. We wanted to have a greater presence and witness to the Treasures, so we decided to do a trial run of this expanded schedule. There are a lot of changes happening and the vibe in the zone feels tumultuous. We here rumors of higher and more frequent fines for the girls, and we feel an urgency for a breakthrough with them. Right now, we are taking a break from our outings to evaluate the situation and pray for guidance on how to proceed. We have had awareness raising events and have seen growing interest from the public and among the Church to put an end to trafficking. I have also started a project to use photography and art to create some graphics in Italian to use to spread the word about the mission of SMP.

The Lord is near to the broken hearted. -Psalm 34:18

 

I’m so encouraged by all the growth I have seen over the past year. Growth in our anti-trafficking ministry, growth in the local church [the church plant that I am a part of in my neighborhood just celebrated its 3rd anniversary in January], and growth in myself.

My second year of short-term service on the Rome City Team is coming to an end in just under 1 month, and after much prayer, discussion, and evaluation, I have decided to transition to a long-term position! I have really wrestled with this over the last couple of months. I wanted to make sure to make the right decision for the right reasons. When I started to plan my return to the States, I realized that if I love a place and its people so much, and if I love what I do, and if my team leaders and friends really want me to come back, then maybe I should really consider transitioning to long-term. Here is what my team leader, Sarah, has to say about it:

Heather has served thus far on the Rome City Team for 2 one-year terms. We have seen her grow and develop as a Gospel worker and as a person. She has shown diligence, adaptive skills, and integrity in the face of the many and various challenges of missionary life in a foreign, urban culture. With each phase, she has progressed and even come to flourish as an integrated and respected member of the local church, the mission team, and in this city as an ambassador for Christ.

As team leader, I value her service, her character, her support and contribution to ministry. My husband (Brian, Europe Area Leader) and I have envisioned team ministry goals, which include a continued role and responsibilities for Heather. Because we are confident that Heather can play a part in strategic local ministry projects, my hope is to have Heather return as soon as possible to the Rome City Team in the capacity of long-term staff.

Respectfully,

Sarah Bennetch, Rome City Team Leader

This is going to be a long process. I’m working on documents to change my status with ReachGlobal, and when I get home, I’ll have interviews, training, and more partnership development to do before I come back to Rome. I am really looking forward to the time that I will have back in the States. It’s going to be a wonderful time to reconnect with family, friends, supporters, and churches. This is a journey, and I’m so glad that I’m not on it alone.

It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. -Deuteronomy 31:8

Summer in the City

Well, it is summer in Roma yet again, and as it goes, the warm weather brings visiting teams, special event opportunities, and a few extra trips to the gelateria. So grab some sunscreen and let’s take a look at what the heat has in store for the Rome City Team for the next couple months:

-OEC-
This week we have our Summer Outreach English Course. It’s a week long intensive course that we are putting on Monday through Friday [July 7-11]. We have a team from the States that arrived yesterday [July 5th] that has come to help us teach these classes. We are praying that the Lord will bring open hearts and open minds. The classes will be taking place in the Salvation Army facility that is in my neighborhood and would be an excellent opportunity to begin to develop relationships with people in the community. We still don’t know how many will be in attendance, but we will be thrilled even with a handful of new acquaintances.

-YWAM Team & Vision Trip-
We will be working with a visiting Youth With A Mission team from Leeds, England the last two weeks of July. We are prayfully considering what kind of activities to include in the schedule for their time with us. During the time they are here with us, we will also have a family visiting us for a vision trip. This means that they have been seriously considering joining the Rome City Team and now want to visit our team to get a feel for how ministry and life function in Rome. We hope that this time will be fruitful and insightful and that the Lord will give clarity to help their decision.

-Freedom Days Planning-
With temperatures climbing higher and higher, October seems like an eternity away, however we are already beginning to plan a schedule and events in advance. October 18th is the European Anti-Trafficking Day, and leading up to the 18th, our team will be participating in an “18 Days of Freedom” awareness-raising campaign. We are hoping that this campaign will shed light on the issue of human trafficking and will stir people’s hearts to join the fight to end modern day slavery.

-Personally-
In June, I was thrilled to have one my dearest friends come to visit for a couple of weeks. Now, my parents are planning a trip for September. Living overseas has its upsides and I’m thrilled to be working here as the Lord has called me to for this time, but being away from family and friends can be difficult at times. It makes it all the sweeter when loved ones are able to make the trip and come for a visit. I am tremendously grateful for these blessings.

Come and make my heart Your home
Come and be everything I am and all I know
Search me through and through
‘Til my heart becomes a home for You

-My Heart, Your Home//Watermark

Waiting and Stillness

Ciao, everyone!

I hope you had a peaceful holiday season. I hope you had time to meditate on the strange beauty of our Savior, come to dwell among us, as you celebrated His birth at Christmastime, and that you had time to reflect on the way the Lord has worked in your life over the past year as this new one has begun.

For me, like many of you I’m sure, this past year contained many ups and downs. But I treasure the reminder that each New Year brings of the REnewing, REfreshing, and REfilling that Christ gives us.

They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

-Isaiah 40:31

Being back home during this time has been such a blessing. I’ve really enjoyed spending time with family, catching up with friends, and remembering how to truly rest in the Lord. But it has also been a period of transitions with its share of discomforts, and this past month especially, He has been reminding me to wait on Him, which has always been a difficult concept for me to follow. And though I may not understand His timing, He does have a plan and I know that there is a purpose. There will always be opportunities to wait on the Lord, and during this season He has been bringing me to meditate on Philippians 4 in the stillness.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

-Philippians 4:8

In the quiet of waiting, the Lord has encouraged me with many of these “things above.” One such instance was my Skype check-in this past week with my team leader Sarah. She updated me on the continuing work of the Rome City Team, particularly of the Slavery No More ministry’s on-going outreach to the “treasures” on the street and the growing interest of the community in this effort. There will even be an informational meeting and basic training session on Saturday the 18th for those who want to get involved in the anti-trafficking ministry. Sarah also let me know that they are eager for me to return to Rome and to take on more responsibilities in the team, such as managing and updating our team’s “web presence” and heading up our English teaching ministry. There are already plans in the works for two week-long outreach English courses this summer. In preparation for further teaching opportunities, I plan to enroll this week in an online Teaching English as a Foreign Language [TEFL] certification course.

At this point, my goal is to return to Italy in April for one more year with the Rome City Team. The Lord has been faithfully providing during my time in the States and I am beginning to look into options for applying for another visa and to search for low-cost airfare. As always though, I must be fully funded before I can depart for the field. I am so looking forward to rejoining my team-family and diving into another journey of following Jesus with open hands and an open heart.