LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Something began cooking in the heart of Chef Barb Stem when she heard about the Word of Life Fellowship's mission to South Korea, a place she had learned to love during her time in the military.
When she was invited to return as part of the organization's Student Youth Ministry in English, she found her calling.
"Family group time is a time when we share what we are learning throughthe word, our prayer's needs and our hearts. I guess hat's the arena that I probably taught best in," Stem said.
"Many had come from difficult backgrounds and had experienced heartaches that no young person should have to suffer."
It was Stem's ability to offer compassion that made the difference.
"I have always loved deeply and they were no exception. I shared my passion for Jesus Christ with them and I shared my unconditional love. I didn't realize the impact that it had until the end, as I had one young woman come up and take a picture of my tears, as she wanted to remember my tears," Stem said.
The students made her a poster full of sticky notes in the shape of apples, specially written for each teacher. "It was the second greatest gift I received while I was there. The first was the pleasure of seeing nine young men and women come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior," she said.
A senior consultant with Tastefully Simple, a direct-sales company offering a variety of easy-to-prepare foods through home parties, Stem works independently and has to raise her own money for mission trips. But her love for South Korea was born when she served there with the U.S. Army Reserve, where she was a cook and environmental health specialist.
"After church, a gentleman and his wife approached me and asked if I would ever consider going for six months. I was at Bible study one night and the Lord provided from someone (I don't know who put money on my Bible while I was away)."
"She's a faithful girl whoobviously loves the youngpeople she was workingwith," said Dave Nightengale, director of short-term mission activity for Word of Life Fellowship.
Back home, Stem attends Lakewood Ranch Baptist Church and is considering how her new skills in using the Bible to teach English might translate here for working with people learning English as a second language.
"It's a place of fervent spiritual dynamic where many people are coming to Christ. They teach English, but they do it by teaching the Bible," said her Bible fellowship leader, the Rev. Joe Brannon, now a teacher at Braden River Middle School. "When she came back she was just glowing with what God was doing in her life and she was watching for what that would be. When she got this opportunity to go back, she said, 'I'm gonna trust you, God, and go from there.'"
Stem created a blog where she keeps updates about her mission trips at http://bstem.wordpress.com.
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7024, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.