Walla Walla University Student Pastor Mentoring Program
In June 2021, the mentor theology program at Walla Walla University was successfully completed for the school year with 11 participants! Each participating student submitted stories from their year in the program. Read on to hear their experiences.
Matthias Bernard: I was privileged and honored to learn more about how ministry operates behind the scenes for pastors. Being able to work with both Pastor Andreas and Pastor Alareece, I learned about the importance of preaching, meetings, presence and self-care from both pastors. What I saw that was amazing was the fact that God was using both Pastor Alareece and Pastor Andreas in my life to mentor me about the realities of ministry. There are realities that we, as ministers of color, face. Having been mentored by two ministers of color was a witness to God moving throughout this mentorship for me. I saw that the realities of this world we live in are coming into our church, as they should, and it is our responsibility to address these realities and shed the light of Jesus on them through our sermons, our composure, our interactions with people and the way we conduct ourselves in meetings as well.
I learned best while observing how Pastor Andreas and Pastor Alareece conducted themselves. I saw God working in them in the ways we interacted with each other and in the way I shadowed them in multiple meetings with several individuals. I was always included in several conversations even if I did not have much to say. I appreciated every moment I shared with both pastors. In the diverse community we live in, they were the prime examples of inclusivity in everything we did together. As I reflect on this year with both pastors, I recognize the knowledge that I have been given. I have been given this responsibility so that I may practice and apply it to my ministry now and in the future.
Aurora Gault: "Learning to be a pastor during a time of COVID can’t be an easy feat!” This was something I would hear often, but let’s be honest, when is learning to be a pastor an easy feat? Sure, adding in an extra complexity of online church service, the inability to do hospital visits, and the struggle over masks and distancing presented its own challenges, yet before I even started getting to know the Milton and Blue Mountain Valley Adventist churches, God had a plan. It was almost as if everyone had evacuated after some sort of natural disaster, the way everyone dropped everything to shelter in place in the spring of 2020. So, when I arrived in the fall, our work was cut out for us. COVID had changed the world and certainly changed the church, putting me at somewhat of an advantage coming in with an outside perspective.
Little by little, Milton started to re-open, restart, and rekindle the fire and passion in the members’ hearts. It thrilled me to see so much joy coming back together to worship once again. Worship lost any blandness it may have had and now proved to be a privilege we could enjoy when our community was healthy. Despite the steady growth of the Milton church back to what it had been before the first strike of the COVID-19 virus, Blue Mountain Valley Church remained closed, empty and dark. Standing in the church one Sunday morning as we did some repairs on the wind-whipped roof, you could almost hear the walls aching to hold the congregation that had once met there so joyfully. I wondered how the members were feeding themselves spiritually while not being able to attend church. How could we feed them? How can we get them back here?
The answer came in March, on a sunny (but still windy) Sabbath morning, as Blue Mountain Valley opened its doors and, for the first time in a year, filled with people. The joy filled the sanctuary instantly and a soft, happy hum of conversation and connection floated around the room. People longed for connection; it was painfully obvious and we knew we were better together.
“It is not good for man to be alone," God noted during his masterful creation week (Gen. 2:18 NIV). We recognize the reference of this verse is God making woman for man, but it is not good for any person to be alone. It is not good for communities to be disconnected. This may not be an exciting conversion story or an on-fire youth group or a glorious baptism, but it is the re-opening of church doors, it is a return to connection and communion with one another and it is togetherness in the worship of our loving God.
Levanny Laureano: Uncertainty is probably the word that best describes what was going on inside me at the first meeting of the Pastoral Mentoring Program. It was clear that I was unaware of what and where God wanted me to be. I remember meeting pastor Jaime Flores. From the start, I knew I had gained a friend — but actually, I have gained much more than a friend. I gained a mentor and father and I am thankful for that.
I had the opportunity to pay many visitations to members of all the three churches, and in doing so, believed that I was ministering to them. But I was mistaken. Not only did I have the privilege of ministering to many, but in doing so, I too was ministered to. The motivation to visit is not always present, however, one cannot help but notice that the Holy Spirit has watered the soul at the end of a visit. I laughed, cried, rejoiced and mourned with many members who are now family to my wife and me.
For the first time in my ministry, God has bestowed on me. I presented a Week of Prayer. I learned that it requires a lot of discipline, devoutness, help, rest and God. I was touched by those who declared that God spoke to them through the sermon given that day. I knew God was leading the way. I did not know that an ex-Adventist member came back to church because of the sermon. I give glory to God.
As I previously mentioned, I was able to mourn at the tomb of a loved one of a church member a couple of times. I learned so much from these experiences and I was blessed to be part of them.
We had a Youth Week of Prayer at College Place Spanish where all three churches are involved. We were blessed and continue to be blessed by many of the speakers, who happen to be students of Theology at WWU. We are getting great feedback and can feel God’s presence.
It was more than an internship. I now have family within the members of all three churches. They are my family in Christ, and we (my wife and I) get to have them in our lives from now to eternity. I learned that the essence of ministry is serving, just as Christ did when He walked this earth.
Raven Leonardini: This year has looked different for obvious reasons, but I feel very blessed to have gotten to be a part of so many ministries at the University Church. I have had the opportunity to see the administrative side of the church through board, financial, safety daily operations and facility meetings. Through this, I have been able to gain a greater understanding of how a church functions behind the scenes and what a huge overlooked ministry this is!
I have also had the privilege to be up front this year; preaching, presiding, greeting and floor managing. The task of preaching and presiding is not an easy job, but a privileged one. Recently, I preached about one of the toughest moments in my life and how I was challenged with the issue of theodicy. After the service, many people told me they enjoyed my sermon, but what moved me most was the girl who told me how blessed she was because she had been struggling with understanding how God can be here in the present. My sermon helped her realize that God is with her in the day to day, not just the times of the Old Testament. Not only did I learn to enjoy the task of preaching while working with Pastor Alareece, but she taught me about a wide range of things like church safety, outreach, finances and pastoral care. Getting to use my skills and the knowledge she instilled in me to minister and grow our church members has been so rewarding.
This year the university did a lot of outreach, as we always do, but given the tough year we have had, we have had to be more intentional about reaching out to people. I lead out in a couple of outreach projects, bread deliveries, podcasts and visitations. One of my favorite things I got to do was lead out in a gift bag project. A group of us interns went out and delivered the bags to all of the faculty around campus. Hearing the feedback of what a blessing that was to people was so beautiful. I also got to work with the youth and do Bible studies with a group of seventh and eighth graders for four weeks. I was really nervous about it; I was not nervous to talk about God, but I was nervous about the age group. Building relationships with these students was challenging, but being open and honest with them made the group open up quickly. We had so many meaningful conversations and it was so much fun getting to talk about how they live out Jesus’ life in their day to day.
In all, I have been extremely blessed to be a part of so many lives at the Walla Walla University Church. Through chiIdren’s outreach, member care and administrative ministries, I have seen God work through me and, even more, through the people around me.
Rachelle Martling: This year I was able to see God work through my ministry with the youth at Eastgate Church in Walla Walla. Before COVID-19, the church hosted a weekly in-person youth nIght. When I started work, one of the first things I did was start up the weekly youth night program over ZOOM video conferencing. Some weeks there was a lot of attendance and other weeks no one showed up. However, we remained committed to continuing the program. Towards the end of my time leading the online youth night, I was able to see those who participated grow spiritually and become better leaders for the younger kids. Now, the youth night is back in-person and I’m thankful I was able to make a difference during those lonely months when we couldn’t be together.
Ryan McMurphy: I have found this experience to be one of incredible growth. When I first learned that I would be working in children’s ministries with Jeremy Foss, I was a little shocked. It’s not a position that I had entertained before and was nervous taking on something I felt like I had little experience with. On top of that, was the fact that the internship was during the early throws of COVID, church wouldn’t resemble what we were all familiar with. There would be masks, six feet of separation and ZOOM meetings.
As it turns out, I actually ended up learning by doing — and I had fun doing it. I developed and presented Sabbath School lessons over ZOOM for the youth class which re-energizing my photoshop and graphic design muscles. I got to spend time with age groups from grade school to high school and learned the different approaches that worked with the various age groups. I was part of putting on events outside of church, such as the Noah’s Ark activity and the Easter Walk at Bennington Lake. From event planning to working with small children, I’ve received a lot of exposure during this internship.
The effect on the children and youth has been positive. I have been able to develop a meaningful relationship with many of the kids, which had previously been impersonal ZOOM calls. While I have had the chance to give plenty of lessons and be involved with the kids, I have been the person that has learned the most. They have equipped me with experiences that will help me have a positive impact on any future youth I may work with. I could not be more thankful. After assisting with getting the children’s ministry ball rolling with Jeremy, I can trust that their spiritual walk will be in good hands even after I’m gone.
Andrew Moeller: Honestly COVID-19 hampered many things this year and in the end I don’t feel like I got all that I could out of the program. There were no baptisms, or recommitments, or a victory over a bad habit, or Sabbath work or a youth who has grown spiritually — at least not that I’ve talked to. I guess, as much as I hate to say it, I’ve seen God more at work in my own life than in those around me. There were certain times when I felt that I needed to go for a walk to clear my mind. So I'd leave my room and head out of Sittner Hall on my usual route. Throughout the entirety of the walk I would talk to God out loud. One night, as I was walking, I heard coyotes in the distance. But I kept going. As I was walking past Martin Field I had this feeling that I need not turn back, but continue forward. Every time I tried to turn around and walk back this strong feeling came over me that I just needed to keep going. It was just too strong to fight, but finally I decided that I’ll fight the feeling and head back because it was getting late. So, I turned around and headed back. As I got to the entrance of Martin Field and I heard the coyotes in the woods to the side of me. Had I gotten there any sooner, I would have encountered the coyotes and potentially have had a bad outcome. I truly believe that God was the strong feeling telling me to continue forward. This event is one in many when I know God intervened in my life and it helped further strengthen my faith in Him.
Angelo Simorangkir: Throughout the 2020–2021 school year, there were many different opportunities to do God’s work. Through the internship at Milton, however, there was much done in these unprecedented times. Although the beginning of the year went by slowly due to the constraints from COVID, we were able to bring people back into the church building. By staying consistent and reliable to the church family, Milton and Blue Mountain churches were able to keep the buy-in from the communities through the season. Eventually, we made the transition from worshiping completely online to in-person/online worship services. At Milton, we were able to put events made for the youth and weekly prayer meetings back into action with around 15–25 people per meeting.
We also were able to bring in students from Walla Walla University to present services for Milton Church and continue in the soul-winning efforts in our valley. While having the privilege of being mentored by Pastor Lloyd and Pastor Nancy, I was able to see what it means to be present with a congregation while having a strong devotional and personal life with God. I was able to sit on board meetings, give devotionals for numerous different events happening within our community, visit the congregation members and help them in their homes, go on hospital visits and so much more. Through Lloyd, I learned what makes a charismatic sermon flow, how to treat those who look to you for leadership and, even more, how to be a good husband. With Nancy, I saw how a sermon can build off of the congregation and level with them in a way that's almost conversational. I saw how she remembered things from her conversations with members and brought up those conversations later and helped them feel heard and validated. Although what I learned from each can be found in either of them, it was through having both of them that I truly grew in my relationship and my ability to be a leader within a church.
Lydia Tupper: In looking back over my Pastor Mentorship program plan for the year, I became a bit discouraged as I thought back over all the plans I had made, and the way that COVID had impacted them and taken away from me those experiences I had been so excited to have. And yet, even as I was thinking this, I began to realize all the work I had done, the unexpected projects, the lessons I learned, the flexibility I gained from facing changing guidelines and world circumstances every Sabbath. I realized that even though this program did not unfold as I expected in a COVID world, I have still gained unique experiences, built relationships with some truly incredible people and am now looking forward to continuing into the summer full time.
I enjoyed this internship for many reasons, but one of the most significant is the fact that between my two churches, I was afforded experience in many different facets of ministry. Things like youth leadership, community outreach, preaching, project organization, visitation and more. One project I helped get off the ground was particularly interesting to me. I worked with members of the good neighbor church to bake fresh bread and put a tag on it with our contact information that stated who we were and that we wanted to connect and support the recipient in any way we could in these troubling times. I then distributed it to the neighborhood surrounding the church. We had the distributors take notes on the responses of each recipient, and then compiled the information into a Google sheet so we could keep track of which of our neighbors would be open to more interaction and ministry in the future.
My favorite part of this project was the distribution process. I loved handing a warm loaf of bread to people who looked like they may be having a rough day and seeing their faces light up in the face of an act of genuine kindness, then making a note to come back and visit again. We received many positive responses and thank-you's and even a note in our mailbox soon after from someone who told us it was exactly what they needed that day. It is hard to know how far the effects of this ministry will go as it depends on the response of the recipients, but I can say for certain that we planted a seed by demonstrating to our community that being a Christian means exemplifying the Christly value of kindness and caring for others. The church has continued to carry out this project on a semi-regular basis as COVID restrictions have allowed. I hope to get back out there soon!
Madison Turner: My time in the pastoral mentorship program was good. I really liked working with Jaci and Bev because they both live really interesting lives. I love learning from them as they have a lot of things to teach that I am interested in. It was nice growing my relationships with them and to learn more about spirituality.
I would say about 65–75% of my work was online so it was kinda hard to connect with people in the church. It's already a big church, too. But I appreciated the precaution that this church has taken to keep its members safe. I have not felt pushed to be in situations that may lead to more spread of the virus. The pastoral team offers a very healthy environment to work within.
Because of COVID-19, I did not get to work with as many people as I would have liked, but that’s just how it has to be right now. I also am not planning to become a pastor and I think this internship helped highlight that for me. The parts I liked was when I could connect with people, like my mentors, or in Bible study or helping with Junior Sabbath School. I appreciated pastors, but I don’t want to be a pastor for an extended amount of time. And that’s okay. I learned new skills like preaching. But even though it is not my favorite, I am still better at it now. I also liked working with women, since they understood the experiences I have had in my life and were very helpful in learning from moments of sexism.
Since working with people is mostly when I see God’s work and because there were not many opportunities for it, I didn’t have a lot of "come-to-Jesus" moments. But I did experience God on a regular basis when I was having a Bible study with a woman in the church. We talked a lot about the character of God and the Bible. It was nice to be reminded of those things while also applying them to our lives.
Benjamin Watson: One of the favorite experiences I had this year was helping with the Change the Day program. The whole idea of the program is to do kind, little things or things that are out of the ordinary for people. The intention is to burst the bubble of normalcy just enough to change a person's day for the better. Working with each group was a treat, as each one had different ideas for acts of kindness. Sometimes, when in a drive-thru line, they would pay for the people behind us while others gave out encouragement cards and flowers to random people in town.
I think my favorite aspect of the whole experience was that it was a very anonymous series of good deeds. We’d often try to speed away from the drive-thrus or make sure that people knew it was a free gift with no strings attached. That’s something I’ve really learned through my mentorship with Troy this year. It’s not about us. That sounds so obvious to say, but the idea that we need to make everyone feel valued and respected in our ministry is difficult in practice if you’re not careful. I aim now to do small or big things to help people and to find ways to make sure there's an equitable playing field to ensure no one feels less than and everyone feels valued as a child of God in the Kingdom.