SPRING HILL — What began as the hurriedly recorded thoughts of a woman on a mission trip 15 years ago is now a message in book form.
Love-Letter from Jesus: Come to the Savior was published in March by Carol Santoiemma through Xulon Press.
The cover of the 87-page book aptly illustrates its contents.
"The picture of Jesus' arms reaching out shows people what the meaning of the book is," Santoiemma said. "Its theme is coming to him, whether it's coming as a new Christian or as a Christian who wants a closer relationship with him. It's about intimacy with him, growth in him and living for him."
Santoiemma was on a trip with women from her church to help women in need in Hawaii in 1997 when she woke in her hotel room one morning to a beautiful sunrise. Still half asleep, she went to the window to check her watch to see what time it was and looked out over the Pacific Ocean. It was then, she said, that God had a special conversation with her.
"I became immediately inspired, sensing unexplainable joy and peace," she wrote in the introduction of her book. "The presence of God was so strong at that moment that words cannot explain it."
She felt an immense closeness to Jesus.
"Shortly thereafter, words came rushing into my mind so quickly, I could hardly write them down fast enough," Santoiemma wrote.
The result was what Santoiemma came to call a love letter from Jesus — 14 sentences of what she describes as "heavenly dictation."
"My love for you never ends," says one of the lines from the letter. "You are mine forever; come," says another.
After showing the letter to family and friends, the sentiment was put aside for a time.
Santoiemma continued on with her life as a licensed practical nurse, specializing in hospice care. She participated in more missions trips, including helping with a prison ministry in Guyana. She taught a faith-based life skills class at the Hernando County Detention Center.
About the time the Rev. Jim Keller took over as pastor at Fellowship Community Church, in 2002, where Santoiemma was a member, she rediscovered the letter and decided to put it in booklet form, adding some of her own thoughts and quotations from the Bible.
"She had it printed and we passed it out," Keller said.
Keller had reviewed and approved the booklet, as he later would the book. It fit in nicely with the Wesleyan/Armenian doctrine of his church. He made the booklet available to people who came to the church as visitors, those looking for teaching and new people coming to the church's food ministry.
"We passed it out to every new person as a spiritual guidance-type thing," he said.
Santoiemma distributed the booklet to Christians and non-Christians alike.
"Various missionaries were using it in evangelistic outreaches here at home and abroad," she said.
In 2011, an assistant pastor at the church, the Rev. Judy Baxter, encouraged Santoiemma to have the booklet published in book form. Santoiemma was unsure. She knew nothing about the publishing business. When Baxter sent Santoiemma information about Xulon Press, a faith-based publisher, Santoiemma believed it was the Holy Spirit directing her to pursue self-publishing.
She added additional Scripture verses, taken from the New International Version of the Bible, and commentary, and chose cover art as well as a verse for the cover that exemplified the book's message: Come to me, all who are weary and burdened … taken from Matthew 11:28.
"The reason I had it published was so I could play a larger part in the Great Commission and get the book (distributed) international and hopefully global," Santoiemma said. "My main goal is salvation of souls and changed lives for Christ, not fame, fortune or popularity."
Keller hopes the book will gain increased exposure. He continues to distribute it at his church.
"It can help (people) in their Christian growth or in initially coming to Christ," he said.
Besides using her book to evangelize and caring for her elderly mother, Santoiemma, 58, works full time as a nurse. She continues to be active in the church, teaching Sunday school and helping with the youth group. She and her mother donate generously to the food ministry.
Keller has only words of praise for Santoiemma.
"Carol has graciously signed and passed out a copy of her book to everybody in the church," he said. "She gives many copies away. If it does nothing more than help one person, then we know that the angels are singing in heaven."