Answering His Call: Northwest Women Leading in Ministry

Alice Moncher's eyes crinkle around the edges when she greets you at the Northside Church in Anchorage. Even with her mask on, you know you're welcome. A mother and grandmother, Alice is an active part of her local church and her Alaska Native community. 

Cheri Gatton is a compassionate shepherd. Her passion for sharing Jesus and His love is evident as she performs her duties as a pastor in the Idaho Conference. She cares about her members, and it shows.

Charé Largent has served as church administrator for more than 40 years at the Kalispell Church in Montana. She's had many visits with worried parents and stressed members, she's chaired many board meetings and made countless phone calls. It's her mission to help everyone's personal ministry to be as effective and pleasant as possible.

Crystal Kielman works with numbers. "When I was a kid, I always preferred the more concrete school subjects," she said. As the undertreasurer for the Oregon Conference, her ministry is stewarding member gifts, ensuring ministry moves forward at more than 160 churches and schools.

Emma Busto just graduated from high school. That hasn't stopped her from seeing needs and getting involved at her local church to make a difference. At 18, she is the youngest Pathfinder director in the Northwest.

Kelli Robinson takes ministry seriously. She believes her strongest witness is how she treats others. She knows she's not perfect, but that doesn't stop her from promoting Jesus through her actions in her community and congregation at Mt. Tahoma Church in Tacoma, Washinton.

The women you'll meet in the following stories come from several states and varied backgrounds. Despite their different journeys, they share one thing in common. They are answering God's call to serve. 

Escaping the Darkness: Through Music

Growing up listening and singing in church on Sunday, Alice Moncher, a member of the Northside Church in Anchorage, fondly remembers music in her childhood. So when she went to visit someone in the Alaska Native Medical Center and heard music in the lobby, she was entranced.

"It was inspiring to everyone," Moncher said. Each time she returned to the hospital, she saw different groups in the lobby. But something was missing.

"Our church wasn't represented," she pointed out. And so she obtained permission from the hospital to host a singspiration hymn sing and testimonials in the lobby on Sabbath afternoons. It was well-received.

"People sometimes ask us to go upstairs when we're done singing and pray with their family members who are ill," Moncher said. "Our presence means something to them. We bring a bright ray of hope to their darkness."

Moncher can relate. For more than two decades, she and her husband prioritized partying and drinking over everything else in their lives, until one morning, they realized how tired they were of it all. They poured every drop of alcohol they had down the drain, sobered up and eventually moved into a house.

Shortly after they moved, a flyer came in the mail for a prophecy series taking place just down the road. Moncher attended, and at the end of the series she was baptized.

"I was saved from 25 years without Christ in my life, and I want others to know they can escape the darkness, too," Moncher said. "God had a plan for me, and through His mercy and grace, He brought me into His marvelous light. If there's even one person out there who feels lost in the dark, I want our singspiration to show them Christ's light. That's why this ministry exists."

Editor's note: Due to the pandemic, all activities at the hospital have been canceled. Moncher has moved this ministry to the Northside Church until they can return to the hospital.

I Speak Farmer: The Ministry of Pastoral Shepherding

"I've taken so many leadership tests, and they all place me in the 'highly qualified' category for pastoral ministry," said Cheri Gatton, pastor of the Parma Church in Idaho. She'd always felt the call to ministry, though the first part of her career was working with farmers as a commodity broker.

When Gatton and her husband were baptized in 1992, opportunities to be involved cropped up everywhere. She served as director of women's ministries — a volunteer position — for 14 years in the Idaho Conference, then began volunteering as assistant pastor in the Meridian and Parma Churches.

"The more I did it, the more passionate I became," she said. During the 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, Gatton connected with Esther Knott from Andrews University. Knott helped Gatton enroll in the seminary's graduate program in pastoral ministry to undergird her abilities as a pastor. She graduated in the spring of 2020.

"I can honestly say this is my calling," Gatton said. "God opened all the doors, and every time he did, I just walked through. I've just been true to what I believe God is calling me to do."

And that time she spent as a commodity broker? That's played a hand in helping her follow her path, too.

"I speak farmer," she said with a grin. "God has blessed me with the gift of being able to use my skill set to minister to my church. I'm a shepherd who has been given a flock to protect, instruct and show Jesus. It's not fancy, it's a job and it's a calling. And I love it."

What God Has in Mind: A Ministry of Support

Charé Largent has been a member of the Kalispell Church in Montana for more than 40 years, and is officially the church administrator. If her ministry had a more modern title, it would probably be something like Member Success Director.

"I just try to keep the church running as smoothly as possible," she said. "I regularly ask people, 'What can I do to help you make things work?' I want everyone's personal ministry to be as effective and pleasant as possible."

Though typically Largent operates quietly behind the scenes, sometimes her work is tangibly evident, like the time she spearheaded the church's efforts to pay off a $900,000 building debt in only six and a half years.

"The whole thing was such a God trip," she said. "People in our church were dedicated and responsible, so God took those assets and made it happen. It's been wonderful to see what happens when you step back and let God take charge."

Largent also serves as chairperson of the church board, as well as on the conference board of directors. She occasionally delivers a sermon, too.

"It's so much fun to watch others grow, and that's really what my job is," she said. "I help others figure out their gifts and how God is calling them to use those gifts. If you feel like you're a good fit for the role you fill, you're doing what God has in mind for you. And there's nothing better than seeing the joy in someone doing exactly that."

A Behind-the-Scenes Leader: Ministry from the Treasury

"When I was a kid, I always preferred the more concrete school subjects," recalled Crystal Kielman, Oregon Conference undertreasurer. "When you did a math problem, it was right or wrong — there was no discussion."

Naturally, when she got to Walla Walla University, Kielman chose to study finance. Though her post-graduation trajectory initially landed her in the healthcare industry, she felt called in a different direction.

"I know I had a purpose," she said. "Somehow I just felt that purpose was elsewhere for me." When an opportunity came for her to join the treasury department at the Oregon Conference, she jumped at it. "It's been a good fit," she said.

She has now been undertreasurer — one step down from the treasurer — for two years, having been invited into the position with only a few years of experience. Now she oversees the treasury department and its far-reaching functions such as conference-wide payroll, collection of tithes and offerings, accounts payable and more.

"What I love about this work is that we get to support every single other ministry in the conference," Kielman said. "From Big Lake to Hispanic Ministries and everything in-between, we're literally there to help them do what they do for God, and I love it."

When thinking of church leaders, most often it's the names of pastors, professors and authors which come to mind. Kielman works among the unsung leaders of the church, making sure everything else keeps going.

"My role at the conference has really helped me see my local church differently," Kielman admitted. "I've started thanking those who work behind the scenes to ensure things happen when and how they need to. Their ministry is important, and I'm grateful for the privilege of noticing."

A Safe Space: Youth Ministering to Youth

Quite literally, Emma Busto grew up in Pathfinders. She unofficially became part of her first club at five years old, when her mother started helping out at their local church. Now, at 18, she is the youngest Pathfinder director in the Northwest.

"When we got to the Osburn Church, I asked about Pathfinders," Busto said. "No one wanted to direct, so I said I would."

It wasn't a stretch for her to take over a Pathfinder leadership position. With 13 years of experience in clubs, Busto has countless honors of her own, and has begun the five-year process of becoming a Master Guide. She led her first Pathfinder meeting in September, and it was an "awkward success," Busto said with a laugh.

The club is still going strong, though she admits they can't do all the things she wants to yet, due to lack of supplies. For example, the camping honor is top on her list, but they don't have tents. For now, they're working on the honors that don't require a long list of supplies, such as health, nutrition, fitness and origami.

Busto plans to take the club out to the community later in the year to do leaf-raking, snow-shoveling and other tasks to serve their neighbors. She also wants to make sure the young people themselves are ministered to.

"I was bullied a lot as a kid, and Pathfinders got me through it," she said. "Pathfinders was safe, and I knew I could be myself there. I had a voice. It's really important to me to provide that for these kids, too. They matter here, and they matter to God. It's my job to make sure they see that."

Stopping the Cycle: Ministry Through Violence Prevention and Recovery

"My aunt, who worked at a juvenile detention center in Tacoma, noticed what was happening to Black and Brown girls who entered the system," said Kelli Robinson, member of the Mt. Tahoma Church in Washington.

Her mom and aunt wanted to create something special for these girls when they got out, so they founded Our Sister's House in 1995, a small nonprofit providing advocacy, education, intervention and prevention resources and services for survivors of domestic violence, with a special focus on African American women and children. They offer weekend programs for adult survivors, children who witness violence and youth perpetrators.

"We're trying to help stop the cycle of violence as early as we can," Robinson said.

Our Sister's House started as a group home for girls of color and has shifted into a collection of programs with the same vision: offering survivors of violence a safe place where they are respected and heard.

Robinson loves doing community outreach, and she doesn't limit herself to OSH. Whenever she can offer assistance, she does — handing out food, gift cards, socks, COVID-19 tests or whatever else individuals experiencing houselessness need.

"Any time we can do something to better and to serve our community, I jump on it," said Robinson. "It's such a wonderful experience to be out there on the streets, meeting people — taking their hands, looking them in the eye and asking how I can help."

Robinson said her strongest witness is in the way she treats others, which is why her ministry is so important to her.

"To me, the way to best promote Christ is through my actions," she elaborated; "being uplifting, accepting people where they are and being non-judgmental. I know I'm not perfect, but I hope I give others a chance to see Jesus through me."

Answering His Call

Women leaders — like Alice, Cheri, Charé, Crystal, Emma and Kelli — are being used by God to bring people from all across the Northwest into His kingdom. This is good news indeed!

These six women are just a microsample of what so many are doing for God.  Northwest women from all walks of life are answering Jesus' call to willingly and prayerfully follow in His footsteps. Their combined passion, energy and dedication can and do fuel thousands of efforts for Christ at home, in the courtroom, among refugees, in a hospital, from the podium, doing financial counseling, speaking on TV, providing health education or myriad other situations.

If you are feeling God's call to ministry, at any level, take courage from these women who said yes when Jesus said, "Follow me." Step forward in faith and minister to a world longing for our Savior's love. 

Featured in: March/April 2022


Jay Wintermeyer

North Pacific Union assistant to the president for communication and Gleaner editor