Hearing God’s Call
Thienel left behind a scholarship and a career in journalism when she heard the voice of God during a church retreat.
By Sophie Hurlock, Xavier University
Figuring out what path to take in life is a question that many college students, upcoming college students and even some adults struggle with.
It seems that when you’re between seventeen and your early twenties, so much is being thrown at you so quickly, it’s sometimes difficult to decide what it is you want to do. Life can pull us in many directions, and sometimes, it’s not the direction we had always pictured.
For Ozark Christian College junior Nikki Thienel, this is exactly what happened.
She had always pictured herself going to a college close to her hometown on a golf scholarship for a Journalism degree. This plan was almost set in stone for her, until one pivotal moment at a youth Christian camp changed her mind and her life forever. Nikki exchanged her dream of golf and journalism for one of serving God and changing the lives of young people.
“After my junior year of high school, I went to a church camp called Christ in Youth (CIY) for my home church, which I had been attending since I was around four or five years old. I remember going into the week with very little expectations. This was a camp that I had been going to for three years, and God had really moved into my heart.”
“But, in the first session on the first day, I had a voice in the back of my head that told me journalism was not what God wanted me to do for the rest of my life. He wanted me to go into ministry.”
“That thought scared me. I didn’t know anyone that was in ministry besides the people that worked at my church, and I didn’t know anything about what it meant to be in ministry. But I knew I had this thought in my brain and I couldn’t keep it to myself.”
“I told my youth pastor’s wife about the thoughts I had been having, and she encouraged me and talked with me on why I felt like this was something God was calling me to do. She did warn me that this would not be an easy life, not at all, and then she prayed for me.”
“That was only night one. The whole week, I was wrestling with what it meant to be in ministry. Going into ministry meant leaving behind the plans that my parents and I had put in place for my future.”
“It meant leaving behind my golf career and a safe career in journalism. And I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to do. I remember talking to the pastor’s wife everyday, and she would ask me how strongly I felt about golf and how strongly I felt about ministry. And each day, I felt more and more strongly toward ministry.”
“On the last day in our final session, CIY likes to recognize people who have made huge decisions in their lives, such as baptism, re-dedications and vocational ministry. I remember the man on stage telling people to stand up if they had been baptized or re-dedicated so that we could pray over them.”
“I prayed one last prayer, a final prayer over a decision that I still had not made. I prayed, ‘God, if this is your will, let it be done.’ The man on stage said, ‘If any of you have made the decision to dedicate your life full time to vocational ministry, please stand up.’”
“I stood up. I wasn’t planning on standing up, but I did. Something inside of me said, ‘This is what I want you to do, Nikki. This is what I want for you.’ And I knew this was God’s way of telling me to abandon my safe plan for life, and to instead chase after a life dedicated to serving God in a ministry setting.”
“The decision was made. And that meant a drastic change in my entire life.”
“When my youth group was on our way back home, we stopped by a Chick-Fil-A, and I grabbed my phone, because I had to call my mom. I told her I had some crazy news, and she knew something big was coming, but not as big as me changing my entire life plans.”
“She asked questions, but in the end, she was very supportive of my plans. I knew both my parents would be eventually. When I got home, I talked more to my mother about the plan, and then to my father. At first he was reluctant because of the plan we had already set up for my life, but eventually, he came around.”
“Changing my entire life plan meant moving eight hours away to Joplin, Missouri, so that I could attend Ozark Christian College. When I first moved down here, it already felt like home. The people at Ozark were friendly and very welcoming, and I was surrounded by people with a similar mindset to mine. I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be.”
“I had a ton of friends at Ozark, but there were times when I would get homesick and feel like I didn’t have the same connection with them as I did with my friends and family back home. It was in these moments that I would question why God had placed me at Ozark.”
“Even in these moments, God would show me that I was exactly where I needed to be. Through living on campus and attending church, I grew closer to the people at Ozark, and my relationship with God grew stronger as well.”
“While doing team a recruitment event at middle school church camps across the state for Ozark this past summer, I received an email from one of my professors, letting me know that Christ’s Church of Labette Country in Kansas was looking for a part time children’s minister. I brought it up to my team, and they encouraged me to apply.”
“The Sunday before our last week at camp, we were visiting a church, and the sermon was on following God’s plan for your life. The entire time, I was thinking about this job. I felt like God was calling me to do this job.”
“When we got back from camp, I emailed my now-boss, Blade, and asked for information on what they were looking for. I applied and interviewed for the job and immediately knew that this was where God wanted me to be.”
“I felt like I was at home the second I visited the church. The people that I ran into were so welcoming. They genuinely cared about who I was and where I came from. That day, I knew this was where I was supposed to be. I never really had doubts about going into it, because I knew that this was where God wanted me to be.”
“At Christ’s Church of Labette County, I am in charge of kids from birth all the way up to fifth grade. We can have anywhere from 15-30 kids on a given Sunday. I play games and do all sorts of activities with them, such as three legged races or building things out of Legos. Every fifth Sunday, we do a Kid’s Sunday, where we bring the children into the main service hall and have them sing songs and perform plays for their parents.”
“I preach to a wide range of children, from children who are naturally interested in the Bible to children who were forced to come to church by their parents. This can be challenging at times, but I try to implement as much fun into my sermons as possible. Every game or activity we do at the church has a lesson, so the kids are learning even when they don’t know it.”
“When teaching, I do not particularly stick to one Bible passage. We talk a lot about the stories of the Bible, but more importantly, we want our kids to have a relationship with God and to know that he is there for them and loves them. So, we tell stories that always point back to what Jesus has done for them. I think it’s important for them to know just how deeply God loves them.”
“One of my most memorable moments as a children’s minister occurred in my first few months working at the church. One of the parents of a child I preached to came to my boss about wanting to be baptized. I was able to sit in on the conversation of why she wanted to get baptized. She told us that she wanted to accept Jesus into her heart.”
“I have heard these words from so many different people in my life, and every single time, my heart leaps. I get so excited, because one of the kids at Christ’s Church was changing the way that they were living and turning to Jesus. I was able to baptize her; this by far is my favorite part of the job. I love getting to watch kids come to the realization that they need Jesus in their lives.”
“One of the major things that I have learned since taking this job is that people in small town churches need Jesus just as much as people in larger churches. We’re all broken people; it does not matter how big the town where you live is. Jesus calls to us in Matthew 28: 19-20, saying, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ We are not called to stay where we are, we are called to go, and some of those places include small town churches.”
“I feel as though, through me, God is choosing to come into these kid’s lives. I know that God works and moves in our children’s lives through the people in the church, myself included. I have seen kids with behavioral problems improve through the work that is being done at Christ’s Church. I have seen kids that did not get along at first start to because of something that has been taught that day.”
“God has made a huge difference in my life. Before I had a relationship with God, I was broken, sad and needing a purpose. After I was baptized and started making Christ a priority in my life, I started treating people better. I had a joy in my heart that people noticed and asked why I was so happy all the time.”
“I never thought I would be baptizing people. I never thought that I would be able to teach about the God that save me from an eternity away from him as a job. I never thought I would get to fellowship with people and lead them to Christ. But here I am, working in a church, teaching kids about Christ, leading them to Christ, and it is only through Christ that I am able to do this.”
“For any college students, or upcoming college students who feel like God is pulling them in a different direction than they originally thought, I would say to listen. The biggest mistake that you could make when God is calling you to do something is to push it away and ignore it. If you feel like God is calling you to do something, do not keep it to yourself. Tell the people around you what you think, and ask them to pray for you. God works in crazy ways through community prayer.”
“Do not be afraid. We are told over and over again in the Bible to not be afraid. God’s plan is much bigger and better than any plan that we could have ever come up with. So, trust in God, listen to him and pray a lot.”