One thing I never seemed to learn in college, was how much I loved learning.
The hidden nerd within me fell asleep around 5th grade, rolled over restlessly with classic literature around late high school, and remained largely dormant until around 2004. Full time ministry and life had created a need to grow academically, spiritually, Biblically, and theologically in new ways. I found mentors who helped me discover books that would stretch me – both by affirming what I believed, and by challenging it. I took a few classes through the Free Methodist Church, and surprised myself with high grades, before being ordained in 2009. I considered “continuing education”, but with the beginnings of parenthood, I decided to wait. I wanted things to “calm down a bit” before I jumped into a Masters program. (This is where all parents everywhere laugh a bit at my naivete.)
Finally, in January of 2015 I began my MDiv through Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan Seminary. We had 3 growing children at home, and a 4th daughter trapped in the DR Congo since late 2012, that we weren’t sure when/how we’d bring home. I’d waited long enough, and life didn’t show any signs of “settling down”. My senior pastor at the time encouraged me to check it out, and it seemed like here was a program that not only “allowed” you to be in ministry while learning, but actually embraced your place of service as a primary lens through which your learning would be taking place.
I was really glad I waited until life was “calm” before continuing my education. In June 2015 during an on-site intensive in Marion, IN we received word that our daughter’s health was failing in the DR Congo. That launched a trip to Kinshasa to care for her needs, and over the next half a year worked out a move into foster care to make sure she’d survive until we could bring her home. We were finally given permission to bring her home in early 2016. We purchased one-way tickets in the middle of the semester and found ourselves trapped without any idea when we would be allowed to leave Africa ourselves.
After a few weeks, we finally made it home on March 31st and I dropped any summer classes in order to soak in these first moments together as a family. This pushed graduation back, but was well worth the change, and Wesley Seminary professors and advisors encouraged these moments.
I picked classwork back up that fall, just as the new school-year was beginning. (Remember – I’m also a full-time youth pastor here!) Things started to find a routine, and our youngest daughter was learning both English AND what it meant to live in a family context. Then 2017 arrived. Our lead pastor announced he was leaving, and I found my own position precariously perched on the edge of the unknown. I accepted a slight pay-cut, and increased ministry oversight in order to stay and even fill-in through that summer many ways until a new lead pastor arrived that fall. We survived all of this because of our amazing church, volunteers, and the Holy Spirit for sure. Life was busy, to put it mildly. Through it all, classes continued. Graduation was coming in late 2018!
In November of 2017, God decided to pull another trick that apparently He’d been working on years before. He slowly (very slowly!) made it obvious that we were being called to full-time missions work in Hungary!! It was a difficult but exciting thing to announce, and we’ve been slowly starting to work out the details. (We’d love to come share at your church/group!)
All of that to say – life didn’t slow down. If anything, it was as if life said “Oh yeah? Gonna start a degree? Take this!” and began ninja-kicking things. Still, the crew at Wesley Seminary, our amazing church friends/family, and the Love of God have helped us navigate these days. As I finished my final “Capstone” class in Marion, IN last week – I’d urge anyone considering taking a step like this – pray, and step forward. If you’re in ministry already, don’t wait for “things to calm down”. It has been a great blessing – personally, professionally, and spiritually.