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The place God called me

In anticipation of the USMB study conference on women in vocational ministry hosted by the U.S. Board of Faith and Life Jan. 14-16 in Phoenix, Ariz., the CL asked women who currently serve on the staff of USMB churches to reflect on their ministry. Of the 91 women we contacted, 12 contributed an essay to this project and 25 completed an information survey.

 We asked the essay participants to reflect on this statement and question: Author and theologian Frederick Buechner writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” How have you seen God combine your passions and interests—the things that bring you joy—with your church’s efforts to meet the needs of your church family, your community and/or our world?  

Reaching out

From the time I was about 5 years old, my parents say they could tell I was going to be a missionary. I imagine it was evident early that I had a deep passion for caring for people and sharing with them the abundant life I had found living under the lordship of Jesus Christ. As I grew and matured, I continually found myself drawn to caring for others practically, relationally, emotionally and spiritually. In some ways, I have been a pastor most of my life. 

Almost four years ago, I accepted a job at Willow Avenue Mennonite Church.  My responsibilities have morphed over the years to fit my passions and the needs of our community. At present, I serve as a mentor and pastor to our small junior high and high school youth group; I oversee our outreach efforts locally and globally; I established and now run our Midweek Community Meal; I offer pastoral care to people in our neighborhood; and I serve in various supporting roles for the church as the associate pastor to our pastor, Audrey Hindes.

My deepest passion is loving others from the overflow of love I experience in Christ. I am especially drawn to those who are less privileged than I or those who are marginalized by our community. Every Thursday an average of 65 people from our church neighborhood and congregation gather in our church fellowship hall to share a meal. This began as an effort to start a new midweek worship service with a light meal offered at the beginning. But week after week, more people were showing up for food and less and less were interested in staying for a service. We believe the core of our faith is found in Jesus and produces a life centered on community and a mission of reconciliation. So, it became clear that we are called to use the social power of a shared meal to break down the barriers that so easily divide us. As a result, we have people of many different ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, faith traditions and cultural backgrounds serving and leading together as we share far more than just food, but also our lives and in so doing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well,” 1 Thess. 2:8.

Whitney Allen
Associate Pastor of Youth and Outreach
Willow Avenue Mennonite Church (formerly College Community Church Mennonite Brethren)
Clovis, California


I am a teacher by nature and always have had a love and passion for people and music, so to combine these two together and work part time as the worship coordinator at Bethesda Church in Huron is an amazing combination for me. I enjoy my job immensely and don’t ever dread a day of work at the church or the school where I teach and lead music in many entities. I work part time at Bethesda and part time at James Valley Christian School, and these two jobs are a near perfect fit for my family and gifting.

For the last eight years I have been leading worship from the piano with a team of volunteer musicians each week and loving every minute of it. It is a great opportunity for me to use my gifts of music and singing along with teaching my church family new songs and bringing them to a place of openness to hear the Word.

I have the privilege to plan all the services and choose the music, schedule the teams and special music and work closely with the senior and associate pastor to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible each week and we are communicating the gospel of Christ and using music to do that. 

God has allowed me this great privilege for some unknown reason to me, and I am grateful to utilize a gift in the place that it is needed. I am grateful to my church family for their love and support in my role and encouragement along the way. I will keep doing my part as long as God calls me to it and appreciate the privilege to do so.

Lorena Blom

Worship Coordinator

Bethesda Church, Huron, South Dakota


We spend a lot of our lives trying to figure out who we are and why we are here; we want to know what difference we can make in the world. This journey is unique for each of us and is influenced by how we understand and experience the creator God, who we have walking alongside us and speaking into our lives, and how our church community invites and empowers us.

The church communities that I have been a part of have affirmed and encouraged me in this journey. I have had opportunities through formal education, personal mentoring and life experiences to understand more of who I am and now have the joy of using these passions and giftings in my positions as associate pastor and Micah Project director.

One thing I am passionate about is mentoring and empowering the next generation to discover how they can be a part of building the kingdom, God’s kingdom of love. I believe God creates each of us with unique gifts and passions to share as we live out the holistic gospel. This gospel brings good news that is good to all. It feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, welcomes the stranger, advocates for the marginalized and works toward shalom.

This gospel calls us out of the church pews into our neighborhoods and communities; it beckons us to get to know our neighbors, to listen, to share life, to walk alongside and then to work together to speak out against unjust systems and to create change that reflects the heart of Jesus. We are invited to bring light and love and hope to all by living fully into the unique person we are created to be, thus pointing others to the creator.

With Jesus as the center of our faith, community as the center of our lives and reconciliation as the center of our work, North Fresno Church desires to be light, love and hope to the world and to invest in the next generation to share the holistic gospel wherever God calls them. It is out of this desire that the Micah Project was birthed. I have the tremendous honor and responsibility to direct this program that uses many of my passions and giftings. I was called from within the congregation to be the director, and I continue to be affirmed, supported and empowered by this congregation, a gift for which I am extremely grateful.

The Micah Project is a 10-month discipleship experience that places participants (20-and-30-year-olds) in an intentional biblical community setting while exploring church and urban ministry and growing in leadership development. See for more info or email

Rhonda Dueck

Associate Pastor, Micah Project Director

North Fresno Church, Fresno, California


I remember it well. The night I was curled up on the bathroom floor in a fetal position crying out to God: “If you can use this pain to help just one person, then it is worth it.” Maybe that sounds dramatic, but it was truly the cry of my heart. The thought that God could bring some purpose out of the pain gave me strength to endure. 

My daddy died when I was 5 years old. I was too young to understand at the time, and the pain got buried deep into my little heart. That night in my 30s I was finally feeling the gravity of the loss. God gently led me into the depths of my grief where the loss of my daddy was just one of many layers of unresolved grief from childhood and young adult traumas. The most difficult was facing the devastating reality of my abortions. 

God is looking for people who are willing. That moment on the bathroom floor, what I was really crying out was, “God, I am willing to be used by you.” God heard and honored that simple prayer. First, he picked me up and held me as I mourned and grieved; then he brought healing, freedom and a new joy to my heart. My personal journey with God, biblical counseling and healing studies is what he has used to prepare me for what he has called me to do.

My role as Women’s Ministry director at The Bridge Bible Church is nothing short of a miracle of grace. After serving for seven years in post-abortion ministry, God called me to minister to all women—hurting women, lonely women and women who just long for more of him. He has called me to share the hope, freedom and joy that come from receiving his love, forgiveness and healing. This is my passion. This is the cry of my heart. He has heard my cry and has been answering ever since.

God clearly placed me at The Bridge. It’s a perfect fit of my passion and God’s purposes. We are a church where the truth of God reigns and authentic community is encouraged. We are given freedom to be transparent about our brokenness because it is in those broken places that God’s power and love shine through the brightest. I love that I get to be a bright light for him.

Debbie Haupt

Women’s Ministry Director

The Bridge Bible Church, Bakersfield, California


The place God has called me to has been a process, a journey. I didn’t launch into adulthood intent on following a call from God on my life. That kind of language wasn’t even in my vocabulary—I wasn’t blessed with the idea that God might even call me to ministry. So, he had to take me on a journey. It started with investing my spiritual gifts in my local church. Through that, God opened a door for me to step into a staff position with my church. I don’t think I’d have accepted the role except that he shut the door on the career path I was on.

That was over 25 years ago. Since then, God has gently encouraged me to lean deeper and deeper into both my identity in him and my call in ministry. The journey God has had me on has been one of learning to spend time under his instruction, learning good and tough lessons in leadership and learning to say “yes” to opportunities he has put in front of me. And the more I’ve said “yes,” the more I’ve learned who I am in him and about his call on my life.

On this journey God has led me to places where my heart experiences a deep sense of sweetness in ministry. I’ve found that I have a passion for connecting—connecting the church to the nations, connecting people to a deeper life in prayer, connecting people to the work of the Holy Spirit and connecting people to the possibility of a call on their lives.

I love seeing faith and perspective grow as someone goes on a mission trip. I love helping a young person discern a future in ministry or missions. I love seeing people invite the Holy Spirit to daily lead them. I love seeing the church join in the redemptive work of Christ. I get to be part of a birthing process—God birthing new things in his church, in my church and in his people for the sake of his kingdom.

I don’t think God is done shaping my call; I’m still on a journey. I’m still learning to say “yes” to the new and sometimes daunting ways he asks me to invest for him. The sweetness of my call is really about the sweetness of my Savior who gently, over 25 years, called me into ministry.

Jana Hildebrandt

Connections Director

First MB Church, Wichita, Kansas

Experiencing God

My cup of gladness is most full when I am helping people become more aware of God’s presence in their lives. This might happen in the context of leading a traditional worship service, preaching a sermon or facilitating a small prayer group. But just as often, encountering God happens in the ordinary, everyday, mundane tasks and activities of life. Becoming aware of God’s presence in our lives is a lifelong exercise in learning to see.

From a very young age I have felt irresistibly drawn to God. As a child, I was encouraged to read my Bible and pray every day—and I did.  Despite my intention to major in business administration in college, I experienced a deep desire to study Greek and enrolled in that course. Before I knew it, all I wanted to do was learn more about the Bible, which at the time I believed was the “road map” to encountering God. Some elders in my life were worried that I would “reason away” my faith. But academic study of the Bible only made my faith stronger.

Being allowed to ask hard questions gave me confidence that our God was big enough to handle it. The more I learned, the more excited I became, and I couldn’t help sharing with anyone who would listen and talk with me. I loved listening to and companioning others in their walks with God as they explored their own passions and embraced their suffering. I loved helping them to see where God was at work in their lives and in the world around us. I loved helping them discern how the Holy Spirit was prompting them to use their gifts and graces.

Today, I’m a year and a half into my role as the pastor at Willow Avenue Mennonite Church (formerly College Community Church Mennonite Brethren). My main areas of oversight are worship, congregational care and administration.  One of the hallmarks of our church is “Sermon Talk,” an adult education program that happens each Sunday after the worship service. This is where the rubber meets the road as people have the opportunity to raise their own hard questions and ask the preacher to say more about something that piqued their interest in the sermon. We explore and discern together the implications of Scripture, music and prayers offered during the worship service.

Many members of our community have or are retired from careers in education, health and other services. They pour themselves into deeply meaningful work on a daily basis.  Drawing on my education and experience, I create opportunities for our congregation to encounter God in ways that restore, refresh and renew so that they are inspired and equipped to continue their work and ministry. My job is to weave meaning out of the stuff of their lives, to help them see how God has been at work in and through them and to fortify them to continue to serve—and see—God in what they’re already doing. 

Audrey Hindes


Willow Avenue Mennonite Church, Clovis, California

Understanding community

Shortly after attending North Fresno Church for the first time, I applied and was accepted to join their young adult 10-month discipleship and leadership training program called the Micah Project, which is led by Pastor Rhonda Dueck. My interest in the program stemmed from a deep shift of perspective that was asking, “What is biblical community?” My interests have always been in the organization and well-being of people. I explored these interests as I studied political science, participated in student government and public policy groups, lived in different communities, created or participated in art and sports and pursued health and wellness job positions.

What shifted for me was a passion for understanding what made living together as Christians so life-giving and different. My personal experience of being taken into a Christian home for healing because of a debilitating injury far from home fueled a drive to understand this irrational love for a stranger. How was I part of their community? What motivated them to welcome and accept me as I was? To care for my injury and well-being at their expense was not something that most communities do without some sort of transaction, expectation, initiation or application process. These questions directed me to following Jesus while being cared for and shown the gospel from a new perspective.

Under Pastor Rhonda’s teaching and direction as part of the Micah Project, I was empowered to accept my current position at NFC. Before I knew it, God was already connecting my interests and passion with the church’s efforts to do the same things. Most of the job duties I could perform from my previous nonchurch experience, but it has simultaneously challenged me to make a deeper connection to my Christian faith.

NFC’s vision for ministry includes the Anabaptist value “community is the center of our lives,” which by no means has been lost on me. Through this role I’ve grown from asking, “What is biblical community?” to “Where, when, why and how?” I thank God for this opportunity as now I see it’s developed significant growth in my understanding of what biblical community is. Especially through receiving, implementing, practicing and sharing in it as NFC’s hospitality and kitchen coordinator.

Kelly Kucharski

Hospitality and Kitchen Coordinator

North Fresno Church, Fresno, California

Creating community

Seventeen years ago, when my oldest daughter was born, I resigned from my full-time teaching job to be a stay-at-home mom. When my son was born two years later, the loneliness of my new role began to sink in and I longed not just for community but for camaraderie. And so, I began searching the local area for ways to connect with other women. Over the next decade, I found myself involved in various moms’ groups and women’s Bible studies all over town. Seeing the need for a deeper connection between women in our own church family, I eventually took an active role in gathering women for Bible studies, playgroups, book studies, parenting classes and more. I loved being a kind, welcoming presence for a “new” woman or an encouraging friend for a struggling mom. I loved seeing women connecting, comforting each other, laughing, learning and, most of all, belonging.

I admit there’s a selfish side to all of this. I’ve done much of this out of my own need to belong. But don’t we all have times we desperately need a true friend by our side? If I desire that for myself, how can I not want the same for my brothers and sisters in Christ in this place?  As I’ve walked through the perils of parenting, the pain of miscarriage, the fear of foster-care licensing and the unknown steps of adoption, I needed to hear, “I’m here for you. I love you. WE can do this.” I want to help create this kind of community within our church family.

In his book Leap Over a Wall, Eugene Peterson writes, “Friendship is a much under-estimated aspect of spirituality. It’s every bit as significant as prayer and fasting…. Friendship takes what’s common in human experience and turns it into something holy.” I guess that’s why, after all these years of seeking out, forming and fostering friendships between other women, it took a friend to sit across from me over lunch and tell me, with the kindest conviction in her voice, “You can do this, Jamie. I absolutely believe that God has called and equipped you to do this job.”  In believing her, I believe I was listening to God’s Spirit.  I accepted the position at NFC and have seen, day by day, the wonderful ways that God has indeed trained and equipped me to be a pastor in this place.

Within my roles I coordinate, recruit, give oversight to, mentor and equip volunteer leaders of small group ministries (Sunday school, midweek adult Bible studies, Life Groups, etc.) as well as worship ministries (vocalists, musicians, tech, etc.).  I meet weekly with our lead pastor to coordinate our Sunday morning worship services, in which I plan and lead the congregation in worship along with our volunteer music team.

Jamie Mack

Director of Discipleship and Contemporary Worship

North Fresno Church, Fresno, California


I am the associate pastor of children’s ministries at North Fresno Church. I have been in this church for under a year but have served in a variety of other roles at other churches for 23 years.

My deepest passion is helping guide people closer to our loving God, compassionate Savior and active Holy Spirit. My guidance has taken different forms based on the present need of the church as well as the ministry and authority given to me in the place I serve.

I believe we are all on a journey of faith. Some of us may be aware only of a higher being who is present in this world, while others of us have experienced the salvific work of Jesus Christ. No matter where we are on our faith journey, however, we can each take a small step closer toward Jesus. I enjoy talking with people and discerning where each individual is on their path of faith and then challenging them, in their own unique way, to grow closer to Jesus.

Sometimes my nudging is subtle, bringing awareness of God’s presence and comfort to someone in grief. Other times, my guiding is more direct in counseling sessions or small group times. Through worship, prayer, nature, visual aesthetics and design, I help people connect with God in a kinesthetic, tangible way by creating spaces and experiences where our minds can settle, be gently guided and where we can focus on the quiet voice within.

My passion to guide people toward Jesus also expresses itself in teaching children and adults about him in ways that are engaging, entertaining and relevant to current culture and age-group. I am a storyteller who enjoys bringing Scriptures to life.

My systematic mind also enjoys laying out reading plans, curriculum and strategies to help people navigate Scripture and form routines of study and personal connection to God through prayer, Scripture reading and life application challenges.

Recognizing God’s activity in our world and challenging us to be involved in making a positive difference in our neighborhoods and communities is an absolute must as we walk closer to Jesus. The incarnate witness of our living Savior is most apparent in our own lives where we live, work and play.

I am honored to serve God’s precious people and help guide them closer to the Giver of Life who meets all our deepest needs.  

Connie Nicholson

Associate Pastor of Children’s Ministry

North Fresno Church, Fresno, California


Galatians 2:20 has been my life verse as long as I can remember. From a very early age, when I accepted Christ as Savior, I had a strong sense that my life would be about Jesus. I believe that was God’s first call (small c) on my life—to follow him. As I grew in my faith, there was a growing awareness within that God was Calling (capital C) me into much more. Throughout different seasons in life, I can recall several godly people who affirmed this in me.

For years I lacked clarity but continued to seek God for next steps. I remember wondering how he intended to use such a variety of seemingly strange and unrelated experiences to direct my path. When things got hard, I mean really hard, I felt disillusioned and disqualified. Little did I realize he was doing much more than leading me to a role or destination. God was (and still is) radically transforming and preparing me to be able to recognize and fulfill what he has for me.

A pivotal point in my life was when I began to recognize that God’s purpose for me was so much more about my identity in Christ rather than what I was doing. Embracing this reality has brought incredible freedom. Don’t get me wrong, this continues to be a process—but one filled with much more joy and less frustration. Now that I am older, and hopefully a bit wiser, I can connect the dots and am often stunned by God’s wisdom, patience and redemptive power.

I am in my sweet spot when I am serving and helping people. I have the privilege of being on staff and assisting those in our church family find ways to serve others and have impact for Christ. I am practically giddy about a new ministry partner that will enable our church family to help house and feed homeless families while providing them access to a variety of resources to achieve financial stability.

Linda Oelze

Director of Care, Community and Volunteer Ministries

First MB Church, Wichita, Kansas


God has clearly called me to serve in an area that brings great joy to my heart and utilizes my gifts, talents and experiences. I serve as the mission’s director at Laurelglen Bible Church (LBC) in Bakersfield, Calif. I have worshipped at LBC for 29 years and have had the privilege to serve on staff now for nine years.

When I first attended LBC as a young woman, I had never been discipled nor attached myself to a church family. So those first four years were instrumental in my spiritual and emotional growth. I was baptized and became a member of the church in 1990. Through a series of events God turned my world upside down. He took the very hardest things in my life and redeemed them for his glory.

After adopting a Romanian orphan in 1993, I left my very successful 18-year career in banking to start a mission’s agency called Children to Love (CTL). Though originally an outreach to the abandoned children in Romania, CTL now works in Romania, India, Uganda and Ukraine with the most marginalized children and people of these countries. After eight years as the executive director, I had clear direction from the Lord that the season to be a stay-at-home mom was now upon me. So, beginning in 2001 I spent all of my volunteer time at schools, soccer fields, theaters and at LBC in women’s ministry and missions with regular trips to Eastern Europe. In 2009 I came on staff during a time of transition at the church and in 2012 I took on the leadership of missions following a complete reorganization of the church. Once again God took the very hardest time in our church and redeemed it for his glory.

It has been an exciting adventure to reshape and strategize the future of our mission’s emphasis here at LBC, and I consider it a great joy to use my experience in missions, administration and leadership for reaching the ends of the earth. God even uses my banking skills on staff and in other countries. I travel several times a year to places like Uganda, Kenya, India, Thailand and Romania. I have family members in these places that look very different than I do, but I love them more than tongue can tell. I am blessed to influence my church leadership team as a director and love encouraging young people to live their lives radically sold out to take Jesus’ name to the nations. I plan all-church events and work with great volunteers of all ages and giftings. I like to consider myself a team builder and believe that the church is God’s plan to reach every tongue, tribe and nation. What an honor to be part of this plan at this time in this place!

Rille Pinault

Missions Director

Laurelglen Bible Church, Bakersfield, California


While getting my bachelor’s in biblical studies, I distinctly remember the semester I noticed a preaching class being offered. I thought to myself, “I will not be taking that class.” Considering my gender, inadequacies and fear of public speaking, I convinced myself God was not calling me to preach. Still, my insecurities could not drown out another voice that was whispering, “Maybe. Why not?”

After I started seminary, I heard that soft voice speak again when I saw a preaching class on the course schedule. I tried to remind the voice of the list of reasons why I wasn’t a preacher, but it would not listen. Instead, it blurted out to another student, “I want to try preaching sometime.” Before I could swallow my words, the student responded, “We need a pulpit fill in two months; I will let my pastor know.” Two months later, without any official training or guidance, I got behind the pulpit and preached my first sermon.

I’ve come a long way since then and have fallen in love with preaching. Sometimes, when I walk to the front of the worship space, I hear God assuring me, “You were made for this.” I am a born researcher. I love exploring ideas, observing people, reading and studying the Bible and theology. I am also incredibly sensitive. I live with my heart wide open, willing to embrace every joy and sorrow that comes my way.

When I preach, the best parts of me come together—I use my head to communicate my heart. The Spirit aligns my heart with God’s heart and uses me to speak God’s love into the broken parts of people. When I see eyes well with tears, shoulders relax, eyebrows wrinkle or heads nod or tilt to the side, I know congregants have found what they have been looking for: connection, belonging, hope, something worth believing and someone willing to embrace the mystery, messiness and uncertainty of life.

Whenever my dad comes to hear me preach, a smile stretches across his face that you can feel, and I imagine God is doing the same thing. It brings me a great sense of fulfillment knowing that God is pleased with me. God’s love and affirmation continue to guide me back to the pulpit, giving me a fresh word, renewing my passion and energy and reminding me that God created me for this.

Grace Spencer

Youth Pastor

Neighborhood Church, Fresno, California

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