Caroline Bennighof and Krystal Smith served as interns this summer. In preparation for their internship, after submitting their applications and references, we began speaking in February, having several Skype conversation over the months, in which we spoke about the church in Montenegro, particular scriptures to be reading, ways to pray for the church and for our time, missions, etc. When they were in-country, we had regular meetings and worked closely together.
We often returned to the idea of living stones, the very reason we are named Stoneworks: looking to see what relationships God is establishing, and honoring Him by honoring those relationships. Other themes were self-surrender, living by the Spirit, being a servant, mutual submission out of reverence for Christ, and the headship of Christ.
After arriving in Finland Caroline spent a week in Russia seeing the ministry there, then we went to Estonia where we picked up Krystal and Kristjan Põld (son of pastor Artur Põld in Jõhvi), and we all drove south to Montenegro. You can see pictures of the trip here.
During the many hours in the car as we drove, we had very good conversations and listened to quite a few recordings by Elisabeth Elliot. Of course, we got to see Central Europe, the Baltics and the Balkans, stopping in Budapest, Vienna, Auschwitz/Birkenau, Tallinn, Helsinki and other places, and that was a great experience for everyone. While in Montenegro, among other things we talked about what it means to live by the spirit and desiring the gift of speaking to people for their encouragement, edification and comfort.
After helping with the camp in Montenegro, we drove back up through Europe and spent our final 4 days in Finland, where my wife and daughter (Olga and Valerie), Caroline’s mother and Olga’s mother joined us. You can see a map of our drive here.
It was a rich, rewarding time, and we are very thankful to the Lord for His goodness to us in it.
Below are their end-of-summer reports –
My internship with Stoneworks International was a powerful and enriching experience for me. Not only did this internship allow me to experience the missionary life and the culture and people of Montenegro and Eastern Europe, but also it really blessed me with spiritual development.
I really enjoyed working with Caroline Bennighof because of the different strengths we had and the ways that God allowed us to confess to one another and share with each other throughout the course of the trip and now that we are back at school in Raleigh together. It was incredibly powerful and enriching to work with the church in Montenegro, to serve and build relationships with the youth, and to learn from and develop a rich friendship with the youth leader, Violeta, the pastor Vladimir, and his wife Marijana.
The time that we spent driving through Europe on each end of the trip allowed us to see much more of Europe and broadened my perspective and experience, particularly on the way to Finland from Montenegro where we were able to spend time in Vienna, Tallinn, Auschwitz, and Camp Gideon. However, the drive was fairly physically taxing particularly going to Montenegro right after a plane flight.
That being said, the time that we spent in Finland at the end of the trip was significant and a very important part of the internship. This time was a reminder that the internship and the overarching purpose of our time in Europe was not about serving people or being helpful but serving and worshiping God. Having four days to be in God’s word and before him, to reflect on and process what He had done and to prepare for heading back to the U.S. with a new mindset and without as much of a need to debrief and unwind was very valuable. I know that had I gone straight home after Montenegro or after driving back, I would have a harder adjustment back the United States and would not have processed or been able to write as much about the trip and the time that was spent. Just as in the Old Testament, this “Sabbath” time was a reminder that we rely on God, not on ourselves, that he is our strength and that all the work that is done is fully His and not something that we can take ownership of.
In addition, the preparation before the trip and follow up after the trip has been very valuable and encouraging. The wisdom imparted to us about Montenegro, the church and missions, the work we were given to prepare (of reading specific scripture and being in prayer for specific things), and the ways that Mike has checked in with us and continued to pray for us and offer us what he believes the Lord wants to share with us as we adjust to ministry and life here in the States has been instrumental.
To speak a little bit more on the spiritual development God orchestrated through this internship, one really important element was learning about and having the chance to seek and experience the gift of speaking to people for their encouragement, edification and comfort as described in I Corinthians 12 and 14. Another thing that was very valuable to me was how much Caroline’s and my input and discernment and initiative were taken seriously and implemented-I did not expect to be so respected and given a voice in the decisions for the two weeks we were ministering in Montenegro and the travel time.
Also unexpected but incredibly valuable were the relationships we were able to form with the young women in the youth program and who came to camp. Originally, our role was intended to be more behind the scenes and supporting the team, which we were still able to do in many ways, but we also were led by the Spirit in relationships with the youth and given God’s favor to speak into their lives and love them well and having the internship be flexible enough to allow those relationships to develop was crucial.
As someone seeking God’s will for my life with doing long term international missions, this trip was one of the most valuable things I have ever gotten do because I was able to learn so much about missions and begin to develop connections and see different places where I may be able to fit into ministry in Eastern Europe and Montenegro especially.
The internship gave me a sense of God’s heart for Montenegro and this part of the world and a desire to potentially commit a portion of or even my entire life the making of disciples in this part of the world.
But more than that, it grew my relationship with Christ, my reliance on God’s word and my fervor for prayer and speaking God’s word, not my own, to people, and I have seen the fruit of this development in huge ways even in the two weeks since I have returned from the trip.
In many ways, the internship marked a turning point in my walk as a Christian by deepening my relationship and service to the Lord, my understanding and reliance upon the Spirit and my heart for missions.
There is much more to say about what I learned, how I was shown my spiritual gifting and how I was given the opportunity not just to be equipped but also to serve and minister to people, particularly the team from the states and the youth that came to camp in Montenegro, but these are some of the highlights.
One thing that made our time in Eastern Europe different from a typical service trip was the luxury of time before and after our work in Montenegro to discuss such things as our call to discipleship, the topic of spiritual gifts, and how our lifestyles can glorify God. Our hours of travel time on the road presented us with the opportunities for rich conversations, as well as practice in choosing to love and serve each other even when we were together almost around the clock.
A few different times throughout the trip, I was amazed by the ways that God showed me His absolute protection and jealous love in very tangible ways. Never in my life have I felt so safe although I am individually so helpless.
His love was also clear to me in the ways that He allowed me to be a part of spiritual occurrences. That He would speak to me and through me shows me that He is making us no longer servants but friends who know what the Master is doing. How incredible!
The importance of really dwelling in Scripture in order to pray it with power came to my attention several times in Montenegro. Rather than just seeing Scripture as spiritual food for myself, I now see it also as powerful ammunition when laboring in prayer.
The constant collaboration and teamwork with Krystal taught me a lot about being different members of one body. With so much time spent together in tough situations, we came face-to-face with the ugly temptation to be jealous, competitive, or resentful of one another but dealt with it head-on through earnest conversations and prayer. God calls us to be thankful for one another in our giftedness and in the ways that we can be strong for each other when we need to be.
Seeing the work of long-term missionaries in Montenegro drew me more towards that kind of lifestyle than I have been drawn before. I feel increasingly flexible and open to whatever life God has for me. I want to be pliable in the Potter’s hands. I pray that the feelings I have of being a stranger and an exile in a foreign land will lead me to love more and not less.