Uncovering the Gift Inside

06/23/2018 .
Clayton Heilman  .  Storyteller

Their eyes were lit with anticipation. It was a gift she hadn’t given much thought about — until that specific moment. To the members of this one-room church in Kenya, the impact of their new Bible was visible on every face. Every expression in the room broadcasted the gratefulness they felt inside as they held God’s Word, translated into their native language — Swahili.

“It was like God was rewarding me,” Renee said. “To give the gift of the Bible — I felt like I was fulfilling my life’s purpose by passing this incredible story into the hands of another person.”

Renee could not have imagined this one brief moment having such a profound impact on her life. She believed in the importance of missions, but she didn’t expect God to use this trip as a catalyst to expand her faith.

Renee had been steadily building a community of friends at Saddleback Church. But Renee and Robert felt like they had been consumer Christians for long enough; they wanted to get more involved. Robert had been a member of the choir for several years and had taken multiple PEACE trips to Africa. But now, together, they wanted to explore using their unique gifts to serve more in the church.

“When I first came to this church, I wasn’t sure if there was a place for me,” Renee said. “But when I met Robert, and connected with other people here, God was revealing a bigger plan for my life.”

From an early age, Renee’s friends and family had acknowledged her natural gift for teaching and communication. Her mother always told her that Renee would make a great teacher. Every time Renee heard these words, she imagined herself in a public school classroom with dozens of young faces in front of her — fidgeting impatiently and dreading the day’s lesson. Her welcoming personality and natural passion often attracted people to her, but she cringed at the thought of becoming a teacher. She quietly hoped that path was not in her future.

Renee assumed that if she ever taught, it would be in an area she had passion and expertise. As an IT professional, she routinely learns new skills and programs, attends workshops, and digests a lot of technical information to advance her career. It seemed logical that she might one day use her IT training to train others in the field. But God had a slightly different plans.

As the couple began serving at Saddleback, Robert encouraged her to look for opportunities to use her teaching gift. But Renee was a little hesitant.

“I always recognized that it was her shape,” Robert said. “She’s always had this influence — she’s inspirational. I watch her meet with people, and the way she talks with them, it’s always on a personal level. She has this gift where she can relate and connect with everyone.”

The couple spends many Saturday mornings serving with Saddleback’s Motel Ministry. It was at a local motel one weekend that Renee was thrust into the spotlight. Robert was responsible for sharing a short message, but he was out of town, caring for his sick mother. He asked Renee to speak instead. She reluctantly agreed and began preparing.

“I was scared, but I did it anyway,” Renee said. “I realized that the years I had spent in quiet devotion — praying and studying God’s Word — had equipped me to share with the people we served at motel church. I found the courage to step up and teach because of Robert’s constant encouragement leading up to that moment. Robert is an incredible nurturer and developer. He knows how to speak life into people.”

Renee looks back at all the leaders who have poured into her life and have helped her develop the skills and disciplines to become a mature follower of Christ — and sees those examples informing her teaching gift.

“Anyone can follow an outline, but as I’ve experienced God’s love and read his Word in the pages of the Bible, I couldn’t remain the same person,” Renee said. “And now I get to share that with others.”

When the Daring Faith series began, Pastor Rick outlined a bold vision for the church. As Renee listened to him talk about the ‘T’ goal — training up our church members to be global leaders — she felt this might be a next step for her.

“I felt God impress on me to step up and get trained to teach,” Renee said. “The new Master Teacher Training program was getting ready to begin — that seemed like the perfect fit. It was like God had highlighted the line on the panel in the bulletin to sign up. Now, I get to use my gift — and the lessons that have been poured into me — to inspire others.”

In addition to completing the Master Teacher Training, Renee leads a group at Women in the Word every Monday night. Together, Renee guides her group through the Emotionally Healthy studies, letting her passion and experience encourage the women in her group. She’s found her niche and she’s thriving as she allows God to work through her to teach others.

In Tent 2 at the Lake Forest campus, dozens of people file in on a Sunday afternoon, taking their seats at a round table with pens and folders neatly laid out. A pastor steps up to the front, he says an opening prayer and welcomes everyone to Class 201. Renee’s name is announced as she is welcomed to the stage.

She steps forward, fully confident in the gifts and message God has entrusted to her this afternoon at Saddleback Church. There is an energy in the air that she carries with her. She stands up in front of the small crowd, ready and excited to dive into the same life-changing principles that have been a catalyst in her life. And as she looks out, she briefly pauses before speaking, taking in every face in front of her. Here in this moment, she reflects the same anticipation and gratefulness that she witnessed in a small local church halfway around the world several years before. She was getting to apply God’s personal gift to her, and she couldn’t be more thrilled to be there.

“Welcome to Class 201 guys — open your workbooks ... let’s get started.”

Learn more about the Master Teacher Training Program at saddleback.com/masterteacher.

Learn more about Women in the Word at saddleback.com/women.