The paths to ministry are as numerous as the people who pursue them. But for four Mennonite Brethren leaders—USMB national director Don Morris, Southern District Conference minister Tim Sullivan, Central District Conference minister Rick Eshbaugh and MB Foundation planned giving advisor Garvie Schmidt—that path went through the Ulysses MB Church, now New Life Church, in southwest Kansas.
These individuals, as well as Morris’ wife, Janna, and Sullivan’s wife, Donna, graduated from Ulysses High School in a two-year span in the mid 1970’s, but each found their way to UMBC—and subsequently, to ministry—at different times.
Yet the spiritual climate of UMBC in the 1980’s contributed to each one’s call to ministry and involved investing in the lives of young people through mentoring, providing opportunities to develop gifts and sending people with financial support.
Mentoring toward ministry
Shortly after Sullivan began attending UMBC in 1979, Jules Glanzer, who was pastor at the time and who currently serves as president at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan., invited Sullivan to a weekly morning Bible study with Ulysses football coach Max Hiebert.
“It was an opportunity to deepen my knowledge of Scripture and rub shoulders with two men that I respected a great deal,” Sullivan says. “At the time, I didn’t know that the intention of those meetings was to mentor and disciple us toward vocational ministry.”
Glanzer describes the morning meetings.“Every Friday morning, we got together,” he says. “You could call it a Bible study, a men’s group, an accountability group. We didn’t call it any of that. We’d have donuts and coffee, and we’d sit and talk and share.”
Also influential was Sunday school teacher, Ted Goertzen, says Sullivan, who, with his wife, Donna, moved back to Ulysses in 1979 after graduating from Seward County Community College in Liberal, Kan., and spending a few years working in Liberal.
The Sullivans served as youth sponsors, and at the National Youth Conference at Estes in 1983, both Tim and Donna sensed a call to vocational ministry, Sullivan says.
Sullivan completed his bachelor’s degree at Tabor College, then attended MB Biblical Seminary (MBBS) in Fresno, Calif. In 1990, he accepted a call to pastoral ministry at Parkview MB Church in Hillsboro, then transitioned to the Southern District minister role in 2004.
“We were the recipients of a great deal of investment of time, prayer, money and intentional discipleship and of much love (at UMBC),” Sullivan says. “We had a good model of what a church family looks like.”
The value of encouragement
Morris, too, acknowledges the people who came alongside him as key in helping him realize his calling. He also remembers Hiebert, who passed away in May 2019, as a mentor and encourager.
“(Max) met with me for early breakfasts, Bible studies and prayer times,” Morris says. “His belief in me was very instrumental in my hearing God’s calling.”
After graduating from Kansas State University, Morris and his wife, Janna, returned to Ulysses and began attending UMBC in 1978.
The couple served in a variety of capacities, including as youth sponsors and deacons. Morris also served on the MB-governed hospital board, as a Sunday school and Bible study teacher and church moderator.
As Morris studied the Bible, he sensed a call to full-time ministry but wrestled with it because he did not wish to leave the farm. Two UMBC pastors, including Glanzer (pastor from 1978-1982) and Byron Neufeld (1982-1988) aided in determining God’s call, Morris says.
Thinking he would pursue work as a family counselor, Morris enrolled at MBBS in 1988, but after two weeks changed his degree path to pastoral and family ministry. After graduation, Morris served in pastoral ministry at Pine Acres MB Church in Weatherford, Okla., for 13 years, then served as Mission USA director for 12 years before accepting a call to serve as national director.
“All along, the experience at Ulysses MB has helped me see the high value of churches supporting people when they are called to ministry,” he says. “It has encouraged me to remember to shoulder-tap young leaders, that what you and others say in encouragement may be the impetus they need to move forward with ministry.”
Morris, Sullivan, Eshbaugh and Schmidt all mention the recognizing and affirming of gifts that was part of UMBC.
Garvie Schmidt, the only one of the four who grew up at UMBC, left Ulysses to attend Tabor College, graduated with a bachelor’s degree, married his wife, Diane, then spent two years in the U.S. Conference Christian Service program in Eugene, Ore., before attending MBBS.
“My call into full-time ministry was a gradual process,” Schmidt says. “You could say gradual steps of obedience and trust. There were various people in the church that encouraged this spirit of exploration.”
Youth leaders such as Ted and Ellie Goertzen, Dareld and Debbie Karber and Roger Schultz had an impact, among others, he says, adding that he was given opportunities to be involved at UMBC, including leadership responsibilities in MBY, counseling at camps, chairing the Christian Endeavor programs, teaching vacation Bible school, preaching and serving as interim pastor in the summer of 1982.
“The opportunities I had as a youth to test my gifts and leadership abilities helped me gain confidence as a young person,” Schmidt says. “Knowing that I had a host of church family and prayer warriors praying for me and encouraging me helped me be accountable to steward God’s call in my life.”
Following his graduation from MBBS in 1983, Schmidt served in pastoral roles at MB churches in Fairview, Okla., Henderson, Neb., and Enid, Okla., for 28 years before accepting his current role as a planned giving advisor at MB Foundation in Hillsboro, Kan., in 2011.
Sending and supporting
Sending out was also a key part of life in Ulysses. The church was generous with its support of missions and paid the tuition for those who wished to attend seminary.
For Rick Eshbaugh, this was surprising, considering he was a relatively new transplant without a Mennonite last name.
Having grown up in Ulysses, Eshbaugh became a Christian in high school as a result of Bible studies and the influence of teacher Max Hiebert.
After pursuing a youth ministry degree at Sterling (Kan.) College, Eshbaugh served as a youth pastor in Rock Island, Ill. But he became disillusioned as a result of church politics, and when his father’s health began to deteriorate from Parkinson’s disease, he and his wife, Esther, moved back to Ulysses in 1980. Unsure of a future in ministry, the Eshbaughs came to UMBC.
“When we attended, they had a very vibrant young families ministry,” Eshbaugh says. “There was a Sunday school class.… It was a good place for us as a young couple.”
Glanzer met with Eshbaugh for conversations over coffee. He and Ted Goertzen, who served in various church leadership roles, presented Eshbaugh with the idea of attending seminary, and Eshbaugh agreed.
“We were kind of surprised when they offered to pay our tuition,” Eshbaugh says. “I was thinking that I’d be happy if they did anything, but I was very surprised that they adopted us. It was a key period for me because I think I was running from God.”
When Eshbaugh went to MBBS in 1982, the church paid his tuition, just as it had or would do for a number of others.
The sending mentality was part of the DNA at Ulysses, Glanzer says, which was evident at the church’s annual harvest mission festival and winter Bible conference.
“During the harvest mission festival, they always had these humongous offerings—$10,000 to $15,000 offerings all going to missions,” Glanzer says. “There was this heart of giving themselves away. One year, I said, ‘Why don’t we tithe our people?’ … The whole church had a day of prayer and fasting for people to be called out and go into ministry.”
Since his graduation from seminary in 1985, Eshbaugh has been active in ministry, all but five years of which have included pastoral ministry in Enid, Okla., Topeka, Kan., Birch Bay, Wash., Eugene, Ore., and Harvey, N.D., where he took on the role of part-time district minister six years ago. He became the full-time Central District Minister two and a half years ago.
Replicating the impact
The ripple effect from Ulysses has been far-reaching, and Morris, Sullivan, Eshbaugh and Schmidt reflect on ways churches can foster and encourage young leaders in their own congregations.
Churches can replicate what UMBC did by encouraging youth to lean into their potential for vocational ministry, Sullivan says.
“They can duplicate the process of shoulder-tapping and calling out individuals into a deeper walk with Jesus and greater commitment to the local church,” he says. “They can make spiritual development of young leaders a priority and an intentional ministry.”
Eshbaugh, too, highlights the need for intentionality in equipping the next generation.
“There was the sense that they were praying for it, they were resourcing for it, they were looking for it, they were tapping shoulders, they were actively involved,” he says. “I think in some churches, it’s more accidental maybe.”
Schmidt speaks about the importance of encouragement.
“We as a church body must continue to walk with our youth,” Schmidt says. “Encourage them, build relationships with them, value them and their contribution, be their cheerleaders, give them opportunities to grow (and) be gracious to them as they find their way and yes, even make mistakes.”
Then, as Morris says, once youth are equipped, the church need not be afraid to let go.
“The Ulysses church didn’t try to dissuade us from leaving,” he says. “Several young leaders left during that time and the church could have tried to hold onto us, but instead freed us to be sent out and then helped us along the way.”