My Call to Go

Philippines map

The Lord has been so very gracious and faithful to me over the last few years.  When I moved to the DFW metroplex for grad school in 2009 I had no idea the journey I was beginning, and at that point I had no intention of still being in the Dallas area nearly five years later. In the last five years I have graduated from DBU with a Master of Arts in Student Ministry.  I also started a new job with an organization called Go Now Missions.  I help plan mission trips for college students, walking alongside the students from the beginning of their application process all the way through their trip; in my mind it is the perfect mix of details, organizing, and shepherding students.  I have also become very active in my church: First Baptist Irving.  Currently I am on the leadership of a new singles class that launched in January.  It is a joy to be part of a local church that takes the Lord’s command to GO seriously.
It has also been five years since I took my last overseas mission trip.  Even before beginning work at Go Now, I felt a heavy desire placed on my heart to be a sender and a prayer partner for those who are called to go.  I can honestly say I have found great joy in playing the role of supporter/prayer partner.  I have waited patiently for my opportunity to go again, but if there’s anything God has taught me during this season of my life, it is to find joy through SERVING while you are waiting.
I have the opportunity to travel to the Philippines with First Irving this summer, partnering with some career missionaries who have been serving there for years.  Our trip will be the last week of July.  At this point in the planning stages it looks like our trip will have 2 parts to it: we will be doing some construction work around a local seminary and will also be doing some evangelism training with some local believers.  The area where we will be working is an area where the missionaries have been praying about beginning a ministry- a city that seems to be ripe for the harvest yet overcome by false religion over the last decade. We look forward to literally getting our hands dirty so that seminary students from all over the world can have a well-functioning place to be equipped for ministering in the places where the Lord sends them.  We are also looking forward to training believers in how to share the Gospel with people who worship a false god.  We will be partnering with some local believers in both aspects of the trip.  This is my favorite thing about this trip- all we can offer is a life-changing Gospel with the hopes that the locals will take ownership of it and begin to impact their own people with the Gospel.  One of my biggest passions is equipping other believers to use the gifts that God has given them.  I absolutely love watching people figure out their God given gifts and then seeing them take off and use their gifts to advance the kingdom.  This is the thing that initially drew me to this trip.  The more I researched the Philippines and got to know the heart of the missionaries we are partnering with, the more excited I became about this opportunity.
I send you this letter to give you the opportunity to partner with our mission in the Philippines.  As one who has seen the power of prayer ministry behind mission trips, I beg you to join our team by covering us in prayer beginning today until the day we return, July 27th.  At this point we only have 4 people going on our team, but we would love for you to join us by praying specifically for our team.  More prayer topics will come as we get closer.
I also know that some have the ability and calling to give financially to trips like this one.  In no way do I want to pressure anyone, but I also know better than to stand in the way of people doing what the Lord calls them to do.  I currently still need to raise a little more than $1100.  There are 2 ways you can give- you can send checks to me or to the church (please do not mail cash).  If you send a check make sure you make it out to First Irving and put my name in the memo line.  There is also an option of giving online through the church’s website as well. Here are the instructions for giving online:

  • Click on the “Give” tab
  • Click on the link “One Time Contributions”
  • Select the fund “Philippines 2014”
  • Select my name “Erica Valenta”

Again, I am extremely excited that I have the opportunity to go once more, and I ecstatically invite you to join me on this mission.  Your prayers are cherished above all else.  If you feel led to give financially, that would be welcomed as well.  I’m thankful to be surrounded by a body of believers, literally from around the world, who share my desire to see all nations come to know the Father.

Until the Whole World Hears,
Erica Valenta

Every Gift is for a Reason

About 5 years ago I was taking a Spiritual Gifts test.  This wasn’t my first go-around at something of it’s kind, so I obviously knew what the results would be.  Encouragement. Hospitality. Service.  With a dash of administration sprinkled in every once in a while.  These are the traits I knew God had set in my Spiritual DNA…the fruit that had been reproducing itself in my life as I walked further along with Jesus.  But not this time.  No, this time there was a gift that rose to the top that completely took me by surprise: SHEPHERDING?!?

Initially, I was in doubt.  There was no way I could be a shepherd.  That’s the gift that pastors have, and I am NOT called to be a pastor.  My BSM director challenged my thinking, asking me what I thought a shepherd did?  All I could think was that a shepherd was the pastor of a church.  Her challenge dug deeper when she encouraged me to really figure out what it means to be a shepherd, and how that can play out in a Christian’s life.

So, what is a shepherd?  What does one who is gifted in shepherding do??  Here’s what I’ve learned in both the literal and Spiritual sense:

1. A shepherd takes care of his/her sheep.  This includes physical and spiritual needs, if we’re looking at it from a Biblical standpoint, which we are.  Physically, this would include knowing each sheep individually and caring for them deeply.  Knowing them so well that you see every unique scratch and every new injury.  Understanding what they need, and how their needs differ from another sheep’s needs.  Knowing when they need to rest, and allowing them to run around when they need that.  Forcing them to drink when they don’t think they need to, and handing them their food when they don’t understand how to find it themselves. 

Spiritually, this would look like caring for each individual person who has been put in your “ministry.”  Taking the time to get to know people on a personal level, knowing their pains, understanding their hurts, asking the hard questions when you know the answer is not going to be as easy as you would like.  Encouraging someone to do what they need to do, even when they don’t see the benefit of it.

2. A shepherd protects the sheep.  Protects them against the evil around them and is quick to destroy the things that are unhealthy for the sheep.

Spiritually, a shepherd is always on their guard.  Aware of the things happening within their “pasture” and willing to sacrifice for the good of the whole flock.  Whether it’s a church, a small group, or a family, a shepherd is always aware and always praying against the evil one.

3. A shepherd scans the perimeter and brings the strays back into the flock.  They see that one sheep that is running away because they don’t realize they are safer with the rest of the flock.  Then the shepherd brings them back, and takes care of them the same way they took care of them before they tried to run away.

Spiritually, a shepherd cares for the one who tries to go off on their own.  When someone leaves and then comes back, the shepherd still cares for them the same.  When there’s a person who sits on the outside of the group and never talks, the one with a shepherd’s heart cares for that person.  They want to know that person’s story.  They long to see that person involved and welcomed into the larger group.

These are three of the attributes I’ve learned out about a Shepherd. 

So, is this me?  Are these descriptions of a shepherd something that describe me??  The longer I’ve contemplated this topic, and the more I’ve gotten to know exactly who I am, this is what I can tell you:  I love people.  I love helping people figure out where their place is.  I find joy when someone moves from being a bystander to one who is actively using their God-given talents to increase the Kingdom.  I tend to be drawn to those people who seem all alone, because I want them to be connected.  I want them to know that somebody cares and loves them.  I can often, before a word is even spoken, tell by the look on someone’s face that something is not right in their world.  I observe body language way more than I let on, and it worries me when I know something is wrong, but I can’t put my finger on it exactly.  I like to know what is going on in the lives of the people in my “circles.”  Not because I’m nosy, but because I truly do genuinely care.  And mostly I want to know because when something is not right, I want to help fix it.  I carry other people’s burdens heavily on my shoulders.

So…it would seem I have the gift of shepherding.  No, I will never be a pastor.  I don’t feel called to be the leader of a large group of people, nor do I seek out opportunities to be the leader.  But I will always, because it’s in my DNA as a believer, care deeply for those who are around me.  I will always ask the questions even though I don’t care if anyone asks them of me.  I will keep loving on those on the outer edge.  I will care, cry, and try to fix, because that is who I am.

We all have our own Spiritual DNA that is unique to us.  If you have a gift- it is for a reason!  Don’t let your preconceived notions make you think that God can not use YOU, and the way he has wired YOU!  If you have a gift, and if you are a believer then you DO have a spiritual gift, then use it!  Use it not for your own benefit, but to advance the Kingdom and grow disciples.  Ultimately, that is our calling.  If you’re an encourager, encourage with all that you have.  If you are a giver, give over and beyond.  If you are a teacher, study hard and teach to the best of your ability.  If you are an administrator, don’t let anyone overlook the importance of details.  If you are a helper, keep serving even when no one notices you.  If you are a shepherd, shepherd well. 

“Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I am Single. I am Selfish.

I am single.  I am selfish.

I’ve heard many people voice the opinion that single people are the most selfish- and it’s often singles who say it!  Every time I heard it I was offended.  Me?  Selfish??  Never!  I’m always giving of my time, and I look out for everyone else’s needs.  I do what everyone else wants and sacrifice time and money.  Atleast this was my view of myself for a long time.  Then recently it just hit me: I. Am. Selfish.

I’m selfish.  I’m so self-centered.  I have become the single person who wants things done her way.  Maybe it stems from the fact that there’s no one else in my life to depend on- so I just rely on myself and want to do everything my way.  I don’t have to think about anyone else when making decisions about my life- what I spend my money on, what food I buy, when I eat, how often I wash my car, when I do laundry.  It’s just me.  My decisions affect me and no one else.  I am my own keeper.

Then again, that’s not the truth at all.  These are the false ideas that satan likes to feed us sinners, especially those of us who are single.  He wants us to THINK that our lives don’t affect anyone else.  He wants us to believe that the decisions we make only have consequences for us.  He hopes that we live in a way where we don’t care about others and don’t live for something bigger than ourselves.

This is easy.  This is normal for most single adults.  This is wrong.  This is sinful.  This lifestyle puts ourselves on a a pedestal and says that we are the most important person in our lives.  Christian single adults: we need to wake up and slap this lie right in the face!  No decision we ever make only affects us- for we are part of the body of Christ.  The decisions we make not only affects the immediate present but also the roads God will lead us down later.

My selfish decisions seem to not be a big deal now, but I fear the decisions I make right now will end up biting me in the rear one day when there is someone else (or prayerfully a whole houseful of someones) whom my decisions will affect.  The decisions I make today, even those that seem so small, are affecting the woman I am…the person I am becoming…the whole personality that I portray.

I am single.  I am selfish. I must live for something that is larger than me.

My Unapologetic Apology

Over the last two months I have NOT been the friend, sister, daughter and roommate I should have been.  A little less than 3 months ago I started my “dream job” that I had waited and prayed long and hard for.  It was the answer to many prayers, even filling some needs I didn’t realize I had.  When I started, I thought not much else would change in my life.  I would be living in the same house.  I had the same friends.  I was still connected to the same church.  However, I have come to realize that this transition has possibly been one of the hardest I’ve ever had.

I’ve been exhausted.  I’ve been drained in every way possible- physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  I’ve worked long hours.  It’s a ministry position- and ministry never stops.  When I come home I don’t want to talk to anyone…I’ve been talking to people all day long!  At work, I WORK- go figure.  I don’t have any free time during the day for anything, which means preparation for outside things must be done at night. 

I also LOVE my job.  I get so much joy out of working with college students, BSM Directors and College Ministers.  I am a details oriented person, and the details I work on help ensure that students get to travel all over the globe to share the one true Gospel.  This is the community I have always wanted to work in…so what’s the missing piece?

Then, it hits me.  This job carries more weight spiritually than any job I’ve had in recent years.  Satan hates the work we are doing.  He is also actively at work trying to stop what God is actively at work doing.  Spiritual warfare can hit physically, mentally, spiritually, and even emotionally.  And it has. 

So, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for being distant.  I’m sorry for being so tired.  I’m sorry for not taking an active role in relationships.  I’m sorry for seeming lazy. 

I am not sorry for the job I’ve been called to do.  I am not sorry that I would do anything for my students- no matter the time or need.  I am not sorry for working long hours.  I’m not sorry for the spiritual battles I face every day.

The battles won’t change, but I must do something different.  I must be more intentional.  I must rest when it is needed.  I must unplug my email on days off.  I must stay in the Word to keep Satan from getting a foothold on any part of my life.  I absolutely MUST stay in constant communication with God, through Jesus Christ, asking the Holy Spirit to be my strength.

Satan has no place in my ministry.  He has no place in my relationships.  He has no place in my emotions or thoughts.  This is a constant Spiritual battle, and praise God we are on the winning team!

So, I’m sorry and I’m not, all at the same time.  Some things will never change, so I must change the way I handle them.  It might not make sense, but this is my unapologetic apology.

I Want That

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be married.  I’ve watched friends and family members go through all the motions.  I’ve known the secrets before they were even on the bride-to-be’s radar.  I’ve watched as friends glow when they tell their story, and teared up as they walked down the aisle to the love of their life.  I want that.

I’ve seen married couples who minister so well together, that you can’t mention one without the other.  Those who have a welcoming home with an open door.  Two people who are always willing to share their story and see the importance of using their togetherness for something more than themselves.  Marriages that glorify God in a manner worthy of the Gospel they proclaim.  Husbands who love their bride just like Christ loves the Church.  Brides who respect and find joy in serving alongside their husband.  I want that.

I’ve seen couples who, although they aren’t married, seem to have it all.  They have a plan.  They “fit” so well together that no one imagines them ever NOT being together.  They serve.  They laugh.  They welcome others into their lives, even those who are single.  They find joy in just being with one another.  They encourage one another and challenge each other.  “They” just make sense.  I want that.

Then, all of a sudden, it changes.  I don’t know how.  I don’t know why.  I just realize: I am really enjoying my life right where I am.  I still want THAT.  I still desire what THEY have.  I still hope and pray towards a marriage that I’ve described.  But, it’s just different.  It’s like deep in my heart I finally know that’s not the main point.  That’s not the final goal.  That’s not all I think about nor do all my dreams and ambitions end there.  I’ve realized there’s so much more to life than just what we are told it should look like.

Sure, I’ve taken a pathway less traveled.  It hasn’t always made sense, and it hasn’t always been easy.  But this is my journey.  And praise God I’m finally at a point where I appreciate where I’ve been and where I am!  Where I end up will just be icing on the cake.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your story has to look like everyone else’s.  Having a unique story isn’t always easy, but trust me, it’s far better and much more exciting!

Words That Are Not Just Words

Love.  Best friend.  I feel these can be two of the most confusing terms known to human beings.  Let me explain.

Love is a concept that every human understands, hopefully every human has felt, and prayerfully every human will experience on the deepest of levels at some point in their life.  I think the fact that there are multiple “kinds” of love adds to the confusion that often ensues when someone uses the term love.  I’m not necessarily talking about romantic love, as I am in no way equipped to pretend like I even understand that.  I’m not even talking about the deepest of love that any human can ever experience- the love that is expressed in the Gospels as “a man laying down his life for a friend” (John 15:13).  There is a love that we all hold for those who are closest to us.  A love for family.  A love for close friends.  A love that says “you are important to me and I care about you.”  The thing I’ve pondered about this kind of love is this: do you have to earn this love or is it automatic?  Think about it.  Are there people in your life who you tell “I love you,” but it’s just that- words?  People who you’ve always “loved” but don’t show anything for it.  Family members you feel obligated to “love” yet have nothing in common, never talk, and have no idea what’s going on in their life.  I fear we throw the word love around so much in casual relationships, that the most important “love” relationships of our lives begin to seem dim as well.  We begin to not hold “love” up to as high a standard because we don’t know how to separate love from like.  We love because we’re supposed to, but when there is no action along with it then love is just a word.

“Best friend” is another term I fear is thrown around so much that it can easily lose its meaning.  People talk about their “bffs”.  They go from one best friend to another as if it is a title you try on and throw out with the different fashions that come and go.  Shouldn’t “best” friend be a term that is given to that one or few persons who actually GET you.  Those people who have experienced more with you than you could ever dream experiencing with anyone else.  The friends who know you better than you often know yourself, and who can read right through your masks.  When people jump from best friend to best friend, it really makes you wonder what makes a best friend.  Is it what you can get from someone or what you can give?  Does a best friend have to be someone you’ve grown up with your whole life?  I don’t think they have to, but it’s ok if that’s the case.  Sure, most people use the term “bff” loosely in our society, but do we really see the significance of having a “best friend forever”?

Love.  Best friend.  Two terms that mean far more than we might think when we use them flippantly.  I would much rather save the word love for the people and times when I really mean it from the bottom of my heart.  And I would absolutely prefer to have a few best friends who I KNOW would stick beside me no matter what.  These are not just labels to give people.  They are deeper heart feelings that come with a greater weight than I think we understand.

And so, I don’t use the term love loosely.  And I’ve had the same best friends for 4 years and don’t see that changing any time soon.  I would rather guard my heart and use such lofty terms when they are absolutely the truth.

Love well.  Choose best friends wisely.

Letting Our Yes be Yes…

I really enjoy observing, researching, and learning about the current generation of young adults, particularly the “Generation iY” as Tim Elmore refers to us.  There are so many things that contribute to the characteristics that seem to be distinct to our generation.  Some of those characteristics are beneficial indeed.  However, some of them send up red flags and make me fearful of the direction we are headed.  I need to preface what’s about to be said with admitting I am in this generation, I am just as guilty as anyone else, and I am in no way pointing fingers.  This is just merely observations and convictions.

In the book of James he writes “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (James 5:12)  And in Matthew Jesus says “Let what you say be either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  Anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:37) I’ve used these verses many times, but lately I’ve been thinking about them in terms of our generation.

How often do we say we will do something and then cancel at the last minute.  The term “flaky” is often referred to, but is it something deeper than that?  Do we just not commit to something because we are afraid of having to back out if something better comes along?  Is that just another reflection of not letting our yes be yes and our no be no?  I personally would rather someone be honest and straight up tell me that they don’t want to do something rather than “commit” then back out later.

Lately I’ve had many conversations with people concerning our generations’ inability to commit.  This can come up in jobs- we move around to multiple jobs to find the “perfect” one, but in the process we don’t have roots built anywhere (guilty).  This trait rears its head in relationships- not just dating or romantic ones, but in normal friendships.  I fear that our inability to commit to friendships could affect our mindset when it comes to committing to our covenant marriage relationship one day.  Sometimes this area creeps into our “settling down” ability.  This mindset prevents us from putting down roots anywhere, because we always want to be able to have a way out if the right opportunity were to present itself.

Like I said before, I’m guilty.  All my years in grad school I was constantly afraid of committing to anything that would tie me down in case I needed to get up and move at the drop of a hat.  I fear that mindset prevented me from having some meaningful experiences.  Eventually, I ended up staying right where I started, so I am thankful I finally began to learn the benefit of committing to things and people.  I am learning the benefits, if you will, of saying what I mean and meaning what I say.  The beautiful thing that comes with letting your yes be yes and your no be no is that you are dependable, consistent, and more at peace.  Dependable and consistent are characteristics that others observe.  Peace would be the inner feeling that allows you freedom in knowing you don’t have to put up a front- just be honest.  Don’t back out on commitments, and learn to be planted wherever you find yourself.  I pray that our generation, my self included, become a generation who takes what we say seriously.  What a difference our generation could make for the Gospel if we lived out this Biblical concept in every area of our lives.