This month, we’re continuing our series of interviews by talking to Heather S. We’re focusing on Heather because she’s about to embark on an 11-month journey that’s going to take her from North Carolina to Southeast Asia. Heather grew up here at Pinewoods, she’s been an intern with the Youth Group, she sings on the Worship Team, she works with people who have special needs … and she’s about to join the 1%. (You’ll have to read the article to see what that means!)
Without further ado … here’s my interview with the one, the only, Heather S!
Pastor Joel: Heather … you grew up at Pinewoods. Tell us at little bit about how you came to faith. Can you think of a “moment” when you came to faith … or did you gradually grow in faith over the course of time?
Heather S.: Growing up at Pinewoods was such an amazing experience because it was pretty much family to me. Like many other kids who grow up in the church I do not think I truly understood what it meant to have a faith of my own until high school. I just remember feeling so defeated by having to live by the opinions and approval of others in the beginning of high school. Then one winter camp we went to Ridge Haven and it was like my eyes were opened to a truth about living in Christ that I finally understood and wanted to take as my own. I remember talking to Stephen and Anna Swanson and just telling them that I wanted to live freely in Christ and rest in the fact that He was all that I needed. That was the most freeing moment of my life. I remember feeling what true joy was after that and never wanting to live any other kind of life.
PJ: That’s awesome. You mentioned how the Youth Group, and your youth leaders played an important role in your Christian growth. Now that you’ve had the chance to work with our Jr. High and High School students as an intern, can you tell us about some of the challenges our young people are facing? What are some of the most encouraging things you’ve seen in the lives of our young people?
HS: I think high school is such a tough time of just figuring out who you are and taking ownership of your faith and making it your own, so I love the idea of the girls having someone older than them who is on their side and wanting to do life alongside them. Some of the most encouraging things I have seen in the past two years in our youth group is how on fire the students are for God. They are willing to talk to anyone and everyone about their faith and you can truly see that they love Christ. I have been so encouraged watching a lot of them step out of their comfort zone and live more in the freedom of Christ.
PJ: If you could say ONE THING to the young women in our church … if you could get them to know ONE THING before you head off to your next series of adventures … what would that one thing be?
HS: If I could give one piece of advice to women in our church, it’s that the only thing that can fill our hearts is God. I feel like this thought is thrown around and said a lot, but it is so true. When you grasp this truth, you’ll know, because it changes the way you live life and transforms every part of life. The only thing that our hearts can serve is Christ, because anything else our hearts try to serve will fall under the weight of our expectations.
PJ: You’re about to head up to Ridge Haven for the summer. For those who don’t know about Ridge Haven … what is it? How many summers have you worked there? Talk about the impact Ridge Haven has made on your life as a Christian.
HS: Ridge Haven is a camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains and it is beautiful. Ridge Haven is filled with games galore, beautiful sunsets, lessons from impactful speakers, and Christ’s love. I have seen Christ’s love in such a tangible way at Ridge Haven. This will be my fourth summer working there and I have such a heart for this camp. God has changed my life through going there as a camper and especially through working there. I have met lifelong friends who understand the Gospel and have helped me figure out how to live a more Gospel-centered life. Ridge Haven has an earnest heart for students and wants to see students grow in Christ. It’s the place where I was saved during my junior year of high school, and after that, I knew I wanted to be able to serve there. This summer will be different for me because I will be a director of all the camp’s summer interns, but I am so excited to see how God transforms and grows me there. I’m also excited to see how God transforms the hearts of these high school students I will be working with there.
After Ridge Haven, you’re going to go oversees for 11 months! Where are you going? What will you be doing there? Tell us a little bit about your call to overseas / cross-cultural missions.
HS: At the start of my sophomore year of college, I did not know what the next year looked like for me. I loved getting to disciple people, and I loved being used by God while I have been here in Pensacola. So, I prayed a lot about things the Lord might have for me and I felt like missions was one. I prayed that if this is what He was calling me to do, that he would open the doors and I would just walk through them. That is exactly what happened. So, I will be going to Southeast Asia in September. While I am in Asia, I will be mentored by those who are actively serving and are trained in ministry. I will work alongside the local church to help refugees and assist with English language education.
PJ: What role, if any, did short-term mission trips have on your decision to spend 11 months in Southeast Asia?
HS: I think some of the short-term mission trips that I have been on have opened my eyes to the need the world has for Christ. Seeing this spiritual need for Christ in people’s lives also helped open my eyes to tangible ways I can serve others and be the hands and feet of Christ. It’s crazy to me that God wants to use broken people to love His people and to tell His story, but it’s also so cool that he equips us to do this.
PJ: I couldn’t agree more! How did you break the news to your parents? (Mercer and Jean) Did you just say, “Mom, Dad … I think I want to spend a year doing missions!” How did they react? Were they happy about it? Were they a little bit nervous? Did they try to talk you out of it?
HS: My mom and I talked a little bit the year before about me taking a year off and doing something ministry-minded between my sophomore and junior year, but I don’t think she took me seriously at all. In November I told my parents that I had prayed a lot about it and that I was going to start an application to do missions … just to see if this was the door God was opening for me. I asked them to pray about it as well so that I would have my eyes opened to what I should do. I still don’t think that it had hit them that I was seriously going to leave the country for a year. When I got accepted and it became real, my parents were so excited for me but at the same time sad because we’re best friends and it stinks to be thousands of miles away and a 14-hour time difference between you and your best friend. My mom initially tried to talk me into going for maybe just 2 or 3 months. She was nervous I was not going to be able to get the funds or that I wouldn’t be safe there. But it has been awesome to see God grow both of us. Both us have learned to trust God completely with this calling. I think my mom is still very nervous and sad to see me leave but she also is so encouraging and in constant prayer for me. My parents have been an amazing support system for me and I think this decision would have been more difficult without them.
PJ: Let me change gears a bit. You work with special needs students at Pensacola State College. Tell us a little bit about that. How did you get involved with the PALS program? What has working with special needs people taught you about the gospel?
HS: I absolutely love my job at the PALS program. Freshmen year of college I got a position as an ambassador for PSC and it pays for my schooling. My boss there told me that if I needed a job I should look into getting one at the PALS program because they were looking for mentors for the special needs students. I had never worked with special needs students before and was kind of nervous. But I have fallen in love with all my students and have grown so much in getting to work with them. They teach me how to love unconditionally. The joy that they have in life is so unreal. They are zealous about life and even the small things in life. They love every single person they meet no matter who it is. I think they display Christ’s love so much in their day to day life. I have learned true joy and love from watching them. I hope to major in special education, because I have enjoyed working with them so much. Honestly, sometimes when I am having a bad day I just go hangout with them because you literally can’t have a bad day when you’re around people who are that full of love and life.
PJ: I know you’re raising support right now for your trip. The church is already supporting you through our Missions Team … but if someone wants to give you additional support, how would they do that?
HS: I am so thankful for the support the Pinewoods Missions Team has showed me and even the whole church in general. If someone would like to support me please contact me and I can give you the different ways to support me or I can send you a support letter with all the information on it. If you cannot support me financially I would love for you to join my support team and support me in prayer.
PJ: That leads me to my last question … how can we be praying for you?
HS: Please be in prayer that God would help prepare my heart and get it ready to be away for so long and prepare it to love others. Pray that I would love the students this summer and the people I will be working with in Asia, but not that I would love them in my own love but love them completely with Christ’s love. I love the idea of being an empty vessel and God completely filling me and using me how He wants to use me, so pray that I would be that empty vessel. Pray also that I would live in the truth of the Gospel and preach it to myself daily. Please pray that God would calm mine and my parents’ nerves about this next year and that we would know that if God is calling me into something He isn’t going to leave me to do it alone. Also, please pray that I will learn to trust God fully through this support raising process and through the rest of the process.
PJ: Absolutely! Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions! We’ll definitely miss you while you’re gone, but we’re so excited about how God is working in your life!
Well … that’s all for this month! Please keep Heather (and her parents) in your prayers. I think God has done some amazing things in Heather’s life … I think he’s doing some amazing things through Heather’s life … and I think we’re all so excited to see what he’s going to do in this next chapter of her life.
What an amazing God we serve!