Posted on February 21, 2023 Heather Cutillo ABFMS – DR Congo alumna, goes home

Heather Lynn Cutillo, American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS) alumnus, crossed over into her eternal rest on February 13 in Denver, CO, one day before her 37th wedding anniversary.  She was 67 years old, ending a long journey with Stage 4 gastric cancer that she courageously walked for 3 years.

Heather was born in Wheaton, Illinois on December 27, 1955 to Philip Gammon and Elizabeth (Libby) Gammon. Her father was a pastor at Wheaton Bible Church. Four years later they moved to New York City where her father pastored for 3 years at Calvary Baptist Church. In 1962 the family settled in Cresskill, New Jersey where her father continued pastoral service at Northern Valley Evangelical Church.

The influence of the church and her family were profound in Heather’s early upbringing. Through participation at Sunday School, Pioneer Girls, missionary conferences, and attending nearly every service at church, it created a warm and lively context in which to nurture her faith.

Early in life, when she only 9 years old, she made a commitment to serve God with her life. This commitment was reinforced through her confirmation class at age 12, when she was baptized and chose Romans 12:1-2 as her life verses. She wanted to follow Jesus with her whole heart.

She attended Cresskill High School for 4 years and graduated in 1973. From 1973-1976 she completed an RN nursing program at West Suburban School of Nursing where she nurtured numerous Christian friendships. She sang in a touring choir directed by John Wilson, a man who deeply influenced her faith. Her interest in overseas mission first began with a Student Missionary Project to Taiwan. She also served as president of the local Nurses Christian Fellowship, which she stayed involved with throughout most of her career as a nurse. The relationships she developed with her fellow student nurses endured throughout her life, and were particularly supportive during her last years with cancer.

With a desire to be a missionary nurse, she completed a BA in Bible at Wheaton College in 2 years while serving as a nurse in the College Health Center. She then lived for a time in Anoka, MN working as a nurse and living with her parents while she paid off her student loans. Her father at that time was pastor of First Baptist Church in Anoka and this became her church home during that time.

In 1980 Heather made a 2-year commitment to be a missionary nurse in Zambia, Africa, teaching nursing students at an AEF (Africa Evangelical Fellowship)-supported remote, rural hospital in Mukinge in the NW corner of Zambia. She worked in all areas of the hospital: delivered babies, sutured wounds, cared for patients with tuberculous, leprosy and other tropical conditions, and especially enjoyed her work in the pediatric department. Her most meaningful relationships were formed in the Bible study fellowship she had with 10 student nurses. She also was blessed to come to know a woman in a local village named KapaBaya: “She was my grandma,” she said, a joyful, godly woman with leprosy who she visited nearly every Sunday.

Heather loved to travel. Besides traveling with her family as a young girl to visit relatives in South Africa, she particularly enjoyed traveling with her sister, Robyn, during this time. They went on a whirlwind tour of Europe after first visiting relatives in Cape Town, South Africa, touring in France, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Scotland, and England.

After living again for a short time in Minnesota with her parents, Heather moved to Chicago in 1984 to complete a Master’s program in Nursing at Rush University to become a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP). Adding to her busy schedule as a student and nurse in the pediatric ICU, she began volunteering at an urban ministry called Lawndale Christian Health Center. There she participated in the care of a pregnant woman named Sandra, a woman who had suffered a great deal of abuse and trauma in her life. Heather stayed with throughout her pregnancy, gained her trust, and was her sole support at the time of delivery. Sandra’s doctor at Lawndale was Bob Cutillo. First introduced through their combined care of Sandra, their relationship quickly grew and on cold, snowy Chicago night on February 14, 1986, they were married at Lawndale Community Church.

With a common interest in urban ministry and overseas service, Bob and Heather were commissioned as American Baptist missionaries to Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1989. After spending 6 months in Quebec, Canada learning French, they arrived in Kinshasa with 2 children, Kate, born in Chicago on October 6, 1987, and Steve, born March 8, 1989 in Quebec, Canada.

Their time in Kinshasa was turbulent, to say the least. The country was malfunctioning under the leadership of a corrupt government led by President Mobutu, and hyperinflation of the local money inhibited many efforts at progress. But a primary care health center in the Kintambo region of Kinshasa was ultimately renovated and expanded and began to serve the people of the community. Their time in Kinshasa abruptly ended on September 23, 1991, when the military revolted against the Mobutu regime. The city was ransacked, tanks rolled in the streets, and after 3 days of chaos the United States Embassy called for evacuation of all its citizens. Quickly ferried across the Congo River to Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, they and most missionaries were brought back to the United States.

After spending time discerning that going back to Kinshasa would be difficult, Heather and Bob left missionary service. They came to serve at Christ House and Columbia Road Health Services in Washington, D.C., a recovery and respite center for homeless men with medical, mental health, and addiction issues. They lived in Christian community for 2 years with a branch of the Church of the Savior, then moved to their own home. Heather was a PNP at Columbia Road at the same time she was busily raising her 2 small children. A highlight of this time was getting to meet Mother Teresa. One day she came to the health center to thank the staff who gave primary pediatric health care to the orphans that her Missionaries of Charities sisters brought to the clinic regularly.  Heather was their primary care practitioner and always appreciated the special love and care these orphans received from the sisters.

In 1998, Bob and Heather were recommissioned as American Baptist missionaries to return to Zaire and work at a large rural hospital in Vanga, Zaire. The intention was to begin a Family Practice residency for Zairian physicians. But before arriving, the country again plunged into war. Most missionaries were diverted to Durban, South Africa to wait and see if entering the country would become possible. After 6 months of waiting, Heather and the family returned to the United States and once again left missionary service.

In 1999, Heather and the family moved to Denver, Colorado to join a medical clinic serving Denver’s urban underserved at Inner City Health Center. Bob was the medical director, while Heather re-programmed herself once again and became a Certified Diabetes Educator, working with patients of many cultural backgrounds both individually and in groups to teach them about living well with diabetes.

After 13 years at the health center, in 2017 Heather made one last career change and became the school nurse and Child Health Care Consultant at New Legacy Charter School, a newly-formed school for pregnant and parenting teens. Caring for both the teen moms and their children in the early learning center, Heather once again focused on developing relationships across socioeconomic and cultural barriers and became close to many of the students.

During these Denver years Heather energetically involved herself in prayer groups, mentoring moms at MOPS International, and actively participating in church life on mission committees and governing councils. Above all, she always believed in the power of prayer in community with others.

Heather had a way of crossing barriers and offering unbiased love to those who often had suffered the lack of enduring love before. She always felt that God had a special place in his heart for the afflicted and poor, and the commitment she had made long before to offer herself as a ”living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) meant caring for the least, the lost, and the left out.

In March 2020, at the same time that the COVID epidemic began, Heather was diagnosed with advanced gastric cancer. Immediately near death, God graciously granted her a response to chemotherapy which continued at varying levels of success over the next nearly 3 years. Able to watch the 4 grandchildren grow from babies to toddlers to kindergarteners and first graders was a special gift of this time. In December 2022, with all options exhausted, the cancer again quickly spread. One last gift of God on this journey was her ability to stay at home in hospice for the last two months of her life where she died peacefully and surrounded by love.

Heather was kind and gentle but also feisty and strong. One thing she was adamant about at the end: “Please be sure that people know that I never lost a battle with cancer. God was always in control, not the cancer.” One of the biggest truths that guided Bob and Heather over these final, challenging years with the twists and turns of advanced cancer was from Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Cancer did not take Heather’s life. It was the God-ordained moment, known before she was born, when the Lord took her home to be with him.

Heather is survived by her husband, Bob, daughter Kate (Tim) Miller in Erie, CO, son Steve (Rachel) Cutillo in Lafayette, Co and grandchildren Theo, Rory, Lily, and Stella. Her sister, Robyn and brother-in-law Remy, live in Switzerland.

The graveside service will be on February 25 at Olinger Chapel Hill Cemetery, 6601 S Colorado Blvd, Centennial, CO. A celebration of Heather’s life is planned for March 18, 2023 at City Church, 120 W 1st Ave, Denver, CO.

Condolences may be sent to Bob Cutillo, 3141 York St, Denver, CO 80205 or Memorial donations in Heather’s name may be directed to:

International Ministries (American Baptist) 1003 W. 9th Ave. Suite A, King of Prussia, PA 19406

Christ House, 1717 Columbia Road NW, Washington, DC 20009

Lawndale Community Church,3827 West Ogden Avenue, Chicago, IL 60623