Growing numbers of young women are entering Christian colleges to pursue ministry degrees. From those who study education hoping to teach overseas and minister to other cultures to those who plan to work on church staffs, young women are heeding the call to minister in a variety of avenues in today’s world.
Following are the stories of three Wayland Baptist University alums who found their niche in ministry after finishing their education.
Convention work is best of all worlds for Gates
Not everyone who enrolls in college knows exactly what they want to be when they grow up. Myra Gates was a good example of that. A native of Farmington, N.M., Gates knew college and Wayland were for her, though she wasn’t sure what the future held.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do; I just knew I needed to go to college. God made it real clear I needed to go to Wayland,” she said. After a short time, she settled on a psychology major and religion minor, then decided to major in religion as well after taking a few courses.
Gates said she never had a clear picture of what she was meant to do, though she knew she’d be involved in ministry of some kind. She served on the leadership team for the Baptist Student Union, and her active role there would later prove valuable. She was also involved in some musical groups, exploring other avenues she enjoyed.
After graduating a semester early, in December 1993, Myra said she planned to attend seminary later. In the meantime, an opening in the offices of the San Juan Baptist Association back in her hometown would be a good fit, and she committed to two years at the association. Somewhere along the way, however, Gates found herself loving the position, and she ended up staying for eight years.
“Ministering through churches made me feel like I was where God wanted me, and I didn’t need a seminary degree to do all those things,” she said. “I was very comfortable with where I was and knew my environment well.”
In 2002, Gates received a call about an opening at the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, which she initially turned down because she “didn’t want to live in Albuquerque.” After a week of prodding from God, she called back to pursue the job, and moved in June to become ministry assistant for music, student, recreation and family ministries.
The job involves working with Baptist Student Ministries directors at the New Mexico colleges, as well as with Baptist camps and retreat centers and music ministers throughout the state. It’s a perfect fit, Gates now knows.
“What I do here encompasses everything I’ve ever loved doing. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is what I am meant to do,” she said. “When my boss was telling me what the job encompassed, I thought, ‘I couldn’t write a better job description.’ Every aspect of the job is fun, and I look forward to coming to work every day.
Gates said her experiences at Wayland have benefited her greatly in her job. Experience with BSU as a student, especially in the arena of summer missions, has helped her relate to those ministers and students. Her musical experiences at WBU, attributed greatly to voice teacher Jennie Lynn Hodges, have come in handy as well, in her work and in her service as youth choir director at her church.
Myra notes the most rewarding part of her job as work with the New Mexico Singing Churchmen, a group for which she serves as road manager, and her work at youth camps. She spent two weeks in Thailand last summer with the Singing Churchmen, a great experience as well. She also enjoys the chance to tell students about Wayland and encourage them to pursue Christian education.
“It always surprised me how many places I could go and run into people I knew. It’s turning out to be the same way here too,” she said. “I get to travel and meet lots of people. I feel really spoiled to get paid to do this.”
Work with missionary children rewarding for Pratt
Studying for ministry was not in Joy Pratt’s initial plan. After enrolling at Wayland in 1993, she began her college career as a business major, specializing in computer science. After praying about her future, though, Pratt felt called to missions, and she soon changed her major to religious education.
“I was still up in the air because I thought, ‘what do you do with a religious education major?’ By my senior year, I knew I also wanted to get a family counseling degree and be able to minister to minister’s families,” Pratt said. “I had many allergy problems at Wayland, and had pretty much decided I might never be able to go overseas. I figured I’d work in the counseling field somewhere in the States and work with minister’s families…. but God had other plans.”
Her life experiences as a minister’s child and her desire to serve as a missionary would soon come together. After graduating in May 1997, Pratt attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, earning master’s degree in Christian education and marriage and family counseling in 2000.
Shortly before finishing her graduate education, Pratt said she began praying about where God would have her serve, still feeling a strong call to missions. She explored possibilities through the International Mission Board and Home Mission Board, finding only one listing that sounded like a good fit. Originally intended for a career missionary, the IMB was able to adapt it for Joy, who signed on as a journeyman.
She spent nearly two years in Costa Rica, working with missionary kids in seven different countries throughout middle America, primarily through the Spanish Language Institute. Her work entailed helping with educational testing and helping parents make decisions about their childrens’ educational needs.
When her journeyman time ended, the Institute asked her to return and do much of the same work. Since the IMB no longer offered the position, she pursued other avenues, eventually returning in September 2004 under the auspices of Latin America Mission, an interdenominational organization. She first applied in September 2002, then attended a conference and interview process in January 2003 and spent the next year raising support for her trip.
Currently, Pratt is a guidance counselor at the MK school that is run by the language institute, located in San Jose, Costa Rica. The institute serves as a language school for missionaries planning to serve in Central or South America, and the MK school serves the children of missionaries for a short term or of missionaries who actually serve in Costa Rica. Pratt is able to give the students educational advice and counseling and help them make decisions about their future education. She also helps lead an orientation for new students about the issues facing them in transition.
“This job is a good fit because of what I am trained to do and being able to minister to families who are facing certain issues,” Pratt said, noting that her own experiences as a minister’s child help her relate to the children. “Part of what we want to do is recognize any problems the kids are having and be someone they can talk to about it. It’s important, because it’s often a question of whether our families stay on the field or if things reach a crisis stage and they leave.”
Pratt recalls her years at Wayland fondly, noting the encouragement of Dr. Gary Manning, professor of religious education, as being particularly helpful. Her parents have also been supportive, knowing since her early days as a GA that she would be involved in missions.
For Pratt, the job is rewarding simply because she is able to encourage others.
“There is spiritual warfare on the mission field, and there are times when people would like to give up. At times, just walking alongside them is enough to make a difference,” she said. “ It’s also rewarding to be able to help with whatever issues come up and to see the kids who are struggling with the idea of leaving and transitioning to another place begin to understand and work through that.”
Aleman finally fulfilling call to preach the Gospel
Lucia Aleman still recalls the day she got hit with a dose of reality concerning her future in ministry.
“My mentor in the religion department was Dr. Ira Peek, and we would talk often about ministry. One day after class he sat down and explained that Southern Baptists weren’t open to women preaching. He told me, ‘You need to realize you have a degree that you might not be able to support yourself. You need another degree in case you run into obstacles.’”
It was the first time Aleman had realized there might be problems with her pursuing what she felt was a calling from God to preach, one she said she first received as a young girl of 15. As a student at Wayland, she had served as a volunteer at Calvary Baptist Church, a mission congregation where she worked with youth and preached regularly. She also spent every summer of her college career doing mission work, mainly with migrant populations.
“I came (to WBU) wanting to be a pastor. I didn’t have enough insight then to realize that it wouldn’t become a reality. I thought if I was faithful it would happen, but I soon realized it wasn’t within the denomination,” said Aleman. “As long as I was a student, the door was open. A lot of the trenches I was in, there weren’t many Hispanics and we were more welcomed. Once I stopped being a student that changed.”
Already planning on seminary, Aleman chose Southern Seminary after her graduation in 1989, pursuing a master’s degree in social work instead of her original plan for a master’s degree in divinity. While at Southern, she pastored in the Lexington area, and worked as a chaplain in a women’s maximum security prison, later completing her social work internship there as well.
Aleman continued her service with migrant workers after earning the MSW, able to relate to those populations due to her own upbringing in a migrant family. She spent time in South Texas, then moved to Wisconsin to work for United Migrant Opportunity Services.
When Aleman’s mother became ill, she moved closer to her Quanah home, buying a home and acreage in Cache, Okla. and moving her parents there to live with her. She then took employment at Fort Sill in Lawton, working as a family advocacy therapist on a contract basis to the Army. As a licensed master social worker with advanced clinical practitioner standing, Aleman works with Army families dealing with various issues related to service, deployment and transitioning back to the states.
“The job is rewarding because of my insight into the Army and what soldiers go through. I do a lot of play therapy with children and work with families,” Aleman said. “And I still see myself as involved in mission work.”
Though she’s happy in her vocation, the calling to preach never left Aleman, of whom Dr. Fred Meeks, chair of Wayland’s Division of Religion and Philosophy said was “the best preaching student I had at the time.”
Strongly wanting to fulfill that calling, Aleman joined the Methodist church and is now in the process of working toward the role of minister. Once she completes the candidacy requirements and mentoring process, she’ll be assigned a church. She sees herself pastoring in Oklahoma someday soon.
But she has no regrets for where life has taken her thus far, and has enjoyed the career she’s had for the past few years.
“At first, I had a bitter feeling and felt rejected. Now, I look at it that (the change in vocation) was part of life and everything has a purpose. God had a different path for me,” she said. “I think my degree has enhanced my skills and has given me insight into the spirituality of my work.”