When my family moved from Colorado to Bakersfield, Calif., in early 2016, I knew one person who had grown up there. Rachel had been my housemate during Bible college, and when I reached out to her to find out more about my new community, she mentioned Claudia Moore.
At that time, Claudia and her husband, Gary, had been doing youth ministry in Bakersfield for over 30 years and attended The Bridge Bible Church where my husband would serve as the pastor of family ministries. Rachel told me about the encouragement Claudia had been to her as a teenager—guiding her into a biblical way of thinking and teaching her how to live as a Christian.
Ironically, one of the first events I attended at our new church was a “retirement from youth ministry” party for the Moores. Adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s, including the couple’s two grown children, praised the Moore’s faithfulness and influence on their lives. Mere months after that event, when the junior high director position became unexpectantly vacant, Claudia and Gary once again took the helm. That was four years ago.
In addition to serving in youth ministry in two different Mennonite Brethren congregations, Claudia has also led a women’s inductive Bible study for 21 years.
Shortly after moving to Bakersfield, I joined that Bible study. Not only does Claudia’s engaging teaching style bring God’s Word to life, it also goes deep, challenging students to wrestle with the truths of Scripture. Claudia has been an example to me of a woman who tirelessly uses her gifts to serve the church.
Women in the New Testament
The women of the early church were living during extraordinary times. Women and men stepped up to establish the church, described this way by the apostle Paul: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
Many dividing barriers were down, and all believers were called to contribute to God’s work (Romans 12). We meet one such woman in Acts 9:36-39: “Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So, Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them”(ESV).
You can feel the women’s love for Tabitha. I imagine these widows tenderly touching the garments she had made and showing them to Peter—trying to articulate how well Tabitha had loved them. What happens next is amazing. Peter raises Tabitha from the dead and presents her alive to the Christians. When this miracle becomes known throughout her community, many believe (Acts 9:41-42).
Priscilla is another woman mentioned in Acts. Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, were Jewish converts who lived in Rome and were tentmakers with Paul. The couple is mentioned six times in the New Testament, and four of those times, Priscilla’s name is listed first. Her spiritual gifts seemed to fall in the areas of teaching and wisdom.
When a Jewish evangelist came to town and began preaching publicly about things he didn’t fully understand, Priscilla and Aquila stepped in (Acts 18:26). They used their gifts to teach and disciple the “learned man” Apollos. While the norm in Greco-Roman society was for a woman to be her husband’s property, Priscilla was Aquila’s partner. The couple supported Paul’s ministry in a multitude of ways, which earned them his love and admiration.
In a society where women were largely treated as inferior to men, the church offered them the chance to teach, serve, lead and disciple. Along with Tabitha and Priscilla, we also see Phoebe, a revered church deaconess, and Eunice and Lois, the mother and grandmother who raised Paul’s protégé, Timothy. These women had the opportunity to spread their wings, discovering the beautiful ways God had gifted them to contribute to his work.
Today, the topic of women serving in the church can be a sensitive one—particularly when you’re discussing women in pastoral ministry. In some situations, women may feel as if their gifts and contributions are not valued. And yet, I have seen women navigate this tension well, faithfully using their gifts to build the church. Here are three women from Bakersfield who inspire me.
Gina Coleman is the person you want to have coffee with when you’re struggling and need wise advice. Behind her soft voice and comforting Southern drawl (she grew up in South Carolina), lie gifts of leadership and administration. She once helped organize an all-church weekend mission trip, where 1,000 church members served in Mexico.
Gina has been serving in the church for over 30 years in a variety of volunteer roles in women’s, youth and children’s ministry. She has sat on pastoral search teams, mission boards and church building committees. She and her husband, Buttons, have raised three children who love the Lord, including their son, Nathan, who now serves as pastor of discipleship and outreach at The Bridge.
Gina says she has felt valued as a woman in the church. “Men and women bring different gifts and perspectives to the table,” she says. “It’s unifying to see all of us sitting around a table working together to bring God the most glory in a situation.”
When I first met Maria Salazar, she was surrounded by a hoard of children at her church’s “Hope for the Summer” vacation Bible school ministry. Telling kids about Jesus is her sweet spot, but Maria wears many hats. With a congregation of just over 100, Plaza Iglesia, the Bakersfield church Maria and her husband, Cesar, planted in 2010, requires a lot of hands-on work. She has served in children’s and youth ministry, worship arts and even on the tech team.
“My very first ministry was the toilet cleaning ministry,” she says, laughing. “It’s always the first one they put you in. It’s how they test if you’re really serious about serving.”
Last year, Plaza Iglesia, a primarily Hispanic congregation, went through the process of becoming a Mennonite Brethren church. Cesar, the lead pastor, preaches in the Spanish service and Maria preaches in the English service.
Their teamwork may be one reason God is using the duo to raise up younger couples to serve in a similar way.
“Many Hispanic churches have a lot of women and not a lot of men,” Maria says. “Most of the people in our church are couples, and they serve together.”
During the stay-at-home season of COVID-19, Maria took on some additional roles, including video editing and leading worship online, but she’s truly happy to serve.
“The biggest joy for me is to see God transform lives,” she says. “It’s always been an honor to be a small part of what God is doing.”
Last fall, nearly 100 women flooded Claudia Moore’s inductive Bible study at The Bridge, a congregation she helped plant 17 years ago.
“Being in ministry for so long has helped me recognize my spiritual gifts,” she says. “I love teaching people who are striving to learn, whether that’s students or women in my Bible study.”
Claudia, and her husband, Gary, began serving together shortly after they married. Gary, a retired police officer, and Claudia, a former NICU nurse, have led junior high and high school ministries and college groups while also raising two children who are now grown. The Moore’s long-running ministry to students in Bakersfield has produced impressive fruit. Many of their former students are pastors, missionaries and committed Christians who are now raising their own children.
Serving in one community long enough to minister to the kids of former youth group members is one of Claudia’s greatest joys. “We have ministry grandchildren,” she says.
This year, Claudia and Gary plan to step into more of an advisory role at The Bridge.
“Then again, there’s no retirement in ministry,” Claudia says. “Each of us is given a ministry to fulfill, and when we’re right where we’re supposed to be, there’s blessings and fruit that come with that.”
Fulfilling our ministry
Early this year I met Rachel, my former college roommate, for coffee while she was in town. As she reflected on growing up in Bakersfield, she said, “I really should tell Claudia how the things she said impacted me. She told me I could invite God into every aspect of my life, and that really shifted my whole direction.”
Rachel is just one of many people who have been impacted by Claudia’s ministry. I am another. When I joined Claudia’s Bible study as an overwhelmed mom of young children, she told me, “Even if you can’t finish the homework, just come. Doing the homework is like preparing the meal, but I want you to just come and eat.” And that’s exactly what I’ve done.
Like Tabitha and Priscilla, these three women—full of good works and acts of charity— are using their spiritual gifts to edify the church. And as they faithfully serve, God is using them to transform lives and expand his kingdom.
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is the co-author of “Grit and Grace: Devotions for Warrior Moms.” Her husband, Kevin, is a pastor at Bridge Bible Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Bakersfield, California. They have four young children.