Home of Wheaton Bible Church's Quarterly Magazine
Bernadette was on a mission: to find a place—a church—where her two children could receive the religious education she knew they needed.
Bernadette had grown up knowing God existed—somewhere—and that when life got too hard to deal with, a person could call out to Him in prayer.
“I was raised to believe in God,” she said, “and I remember as I child, praying before going to bed. I was taught that prayer is very powerful and that I was to pray to God for anything I needed, especially for big problems. But as I grew up, went to college, and later got married, God was way in the background of my life.”
“Then,” she said, “I began to pray.”
“I remember holding AJ in my arms and telling God, I love this child, and I will be the mother he needs me to be,” Bernadette recalls. “Until that moment—as I affirmed to God my love for my son—I hadn’t realized the depth of love I had for this child. I told God that if I needed to hold AJ’s hand to cross the street every day of his life, I would be there. If I needed to be my son’s eyes for the rest of his life, I would be his eyes.”
She remembers praying before, during and after every doctor’s appointment and every surgery, but as time moved on, her prayer became less constant. “I was very thankful for everything that went well for my son, but God once again became an afterthought,” she says, “until the next emergency.”
By the time her daughter Jasmine was born, four years later, Bernadette’s prayers, she says, were “more like pain pills that I took when I needed them than like vitamins I needed every day.
“And yet, even though God wasn’t a big part of my life,” she says, “I had vowed to be a good mother to my children, and in my understanding, good mothers get their children some religious education.”
She wanted AJ and Jasmine to have the kind of religious training she had received from the church of her childhood. It didn’t matter that her family had attended primarily on Christmas and Easter. What was important was that Bernadette and her brother had both been on what she calls the “religious-education highway,” starting with Baptism as infants, First Communion around the age of six, and eventually Confirmation.
“My son was getting to the age that I had to get him signed up,” she said, “and I knew I needed to get started early; otherwise, it gets harder to break in down the road.”
Bernadette had made sure AJ was baptized as a baby at a friend’s church. But it was a private ceremony, and she later learned that she hadn’t gotten the Baptism paperwork that was required to sign up for the church’s religious training classes for children.
The young mom energetically tackled the assignment of getting AJ enrolled, but after spending hours on calls and in meetings and running into a series of roadblocks, she was thoroughly frustrated.
“After all that,” she said, “I kind of talked to God about it: It shouldn’t be this hard. Right?”
That got Bernadette thinking about bigger, deeper questions like What will happen when I die? Even worse, what if I die and my kids aren’t part of the church? “There were just all these questions in my head,” she recalls, “about how this whole God thing works.”
A Nice Place
Around that time the father of a family friend passed away, and the funeral was held at Wheaton Bible Church. “In the past I was hesitant to go to a church that was different from my family’s church, but as I was in the building,” she said, “I looked around and thought, Okay, this is a nice place.”
Later, she recalled that experience as she passed the church on Sunday mornings, heading down North Avenue to meet a friend to go running in Villa Park. Each time, Bernadette would drive past the church campus going east, and then again as she headed home to Carol Stream. “I would see the traffic going into Wheaton Bible Church, and I’m thinking, All those people. This is interesting.” One of those Sunday mornings, sweaty from jogging, she pulled into the parking lot, came inside, and sat in the service to check it out.
In the Door
She didn’t know what the rules were or what she should do, so she just sat quietly in the back. “I liked the relaxed atmosphere inside this big church,” she said. “And nobody looked like they were just sitting there like zombies, with their minds on other things. It was also really nice to see how people were just standing and talking together in the Atrium.”
That first Sunday eventually became more Sundays as Bernadette visited sporadically over the next few months. And when Easter came around, she knew where she wanted to bring her husband and kids.
Attending church services was just step one for Bernadette. Her mission to get her kids the spiritual training they needed was still high on her agenda. But first, she thought, I need to learn enough to explain it all to my kids. So the next stop for Bernadette was the Alpha class.
She’d found out about the church’s Alpha Course on the Internet (which played an important role in her investigation of the church she’d been visiting). She was intrigued when she learned that Alpha was a place where people can find answers to their questions about God and about the Christian faith.
The Alpha Experience
When asked at what point in her life she became a follower of Jesus Christ, she points to those weeks at Alpha: “I was a baby-step kind of Christian,” she says, “and I still consider myself a baby Christian in many ways. But it was during the Alpha course, I think it was fall of 2009, that I really understood how much God loved me.
“We were listening to a speaker talk about how much he loves his daughter. ‘I love, love, love my daughter,’ he said, and he talked about how you really can’t explain it but that deep, deep love is just there.
“Sorry if I start crying,” Bernadette says, “but it really gets to me when I think about hearing him say, ‘Take that love a parent has for a child, and magnify it. That’s how God loves you!’
“When my son, AJ, was born, that was when I really started to understand love, because I loved him in a way I’d never experienced before. I was ready to do anything for him.
“Coming to faith was a process for me,” Bernadette explains. “I’d always thought of myself as a good person—I don’t break laws or commit crimes—but as I went through Alpha, I began to really reflect on sin in my life and realize that I was a sinner and that Jesus died for me.”
That was totally different, she says, from the “facts” she had known for years about how Jesus died for the sins of the world. She adds, “I had never really felt it or understood that He died for me.”
That moment in Alpha when Bernadette got a picture of God’s love was a turning point. And just as the truth of the Gospel had become clear to her, she was eager for her son to learn too. So she signed him up for Awana, a weeknight program that seemed perfectly aligned with her desire for spiritual training for her children.
As a nurse with a full-time job in the insurance industry, Bernadette says she has always been the mom who searched park-district brochures and investigated programs around the area, looking for activities that would interest her kids and that she could do with them in her after-work hours. “When I visited the church’s website and found the description of Awana and what it offered and saw that it met at 6:30 on Wednesday nights—I thought, That works for me!
“AJ must’ve been in kindergarten or first grade when I signed him up, and I was very serious about it. Some kids may go to Awana for fun or to see their friends, but I wanted to be sure that AJ—and later Jasmine—were getting what they was supposed to in Awana, which means memorizing the verses.
“So I’m right there with AJ, learning John 3:16 as he is memorizing it,” Bernadette adds. “It is now one of my favorite verses, because it is the first verse I memorized as I was helping him learn it.”
Time to BEGIN
The next step for Bernadette was the BEGIN class, where she learned more about Wheaton Bible Church. BEGIN also introduced her to the idea of serving God through the ministries of the church. Before long she took on her first volunteer assignment, as a helper in AJ’s Sunday school class—but that was only the beginning.
The truth is, the places Bernadette has served at Wheaton Bible Church form an entire chapter of her spiritual journey, one that is still being written.
Why do you serve?
I serve because I am called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I do what I do because He loves me, and I pray I never lose my wonder of Him. He gave me hands and feet, and if I am His follower, I believe I should be using them for His glory.
Like many people, I live outside the Christian bubble. We live in a jaded, disengaged, disconnected world that is focused on other things besides God. But I don’t want that anymore. I need a God-centered community, and the ways I am involved within the church create the kind of community I need to be a part of.
It is a balm to my soul to have a church family that sees me as God sees me and who loves God like I love God, who follows Jesus as I follow Jesus.
When I was in a rough patch last year—when my brother and mother both passed away within a month of each other—I sent emails to the ministries where I serve, asking for prayer to get me through, and wow! When you are hurting, you want people praying for you who really know God and who understand what it means to talk to Him in prayer.
I love being part of the community at Wheaton Bible Church. Some people would be intimidated by a church this size, but the more I get involved here, the less the size of the church matters. And these days I see people I know every Sunday! How cool is that?
Why Do You Serve in Children’s Ministry?
Before coming to Wheaton Bible Church, I thought my role as a “good” parent was to get my children to church to learn about God. But the longer I’m part of this church, the more I realize that it’s my job to point my children toward Christ. And what better place to start than to become involved in the Children’s Ministry?
The only problem was that I was afraid. I know how to take care of my own kids, but caring for other people’s kids scares me. So I prayed and hoped that someone else would step up to volunteer to teach Sunday school. I received the letters from Pastor Vance [Frusher] about help being needed for Sunday school or having to face the possibility of rooms not being opened for Sunday mornings. As a mom, this brought tears to my eyes, so I took a leap of faith—and that step led to others.
Why Awana Club?
Helping in Awana has helped me grow in my own faith. I memorized my first verse—John 3:16—when I was teaching my kids to memorize their Awana verses. And as I memorized that verse and others, I started to understand more about the Gospel and how powerful it is. There is always something for me to learn from the kids and from other Awana volunteers, including one who has been teaching for thirty years! We are all the body of Christ, and as we serve together, we grow together.
Neighborhood Bible Club?
My son AJ’s first-grade Sunday school teachers, Nora Miles and Lisa Saul, have kids who go to the same elementary school as mine! A couple of years ago Nora invited me to a moms’ prayer group. One thing led to another, and before you know it, we had completed our fourth year of hosting a Neighborhood Bible Club, ministering to kids who have never prayed or seen a Bible. Their families do not go to church or even think about God. It’s our desire that kids will come to Christ, then families will come to Christ, and then our community will come to Christ!
Even if the kids forget everything except singing a song or playing games, I know we’ve planted seeds of love that I hope they will remember, because the Bible tells us that love never fails.
The other thing is that I really love the songs and hand motions that go with them. I didn’t grow up in a faith community with Vacation Bible School or Neighborhood Bible Clubs, so I’m reliving a childhood I didn’t have! Whether it’s at Awana, at the summertime clubs, or at other special events for kids where the Gospel is presented on a level that kids can understand, I start tearing up, because hearing the Gospel presented at that kid-level really gets to me.
I didn’t start volunteering overnight. In fact, I had to really think about what I wanted to be involved in here. It took me about two years to even think about joining a Bible study, but now Tuesday nights at the Place 4 You women’s Bible study are dedicated “me” time. And when I heard they were looking for volunteers to serve as greeters and helpers, I decided I could do it. So now I greet ladies as they arrive. Not hard to do at all.
Front Door Ministry Team?
Greeting people has always been pretty easy for me. I usually have a smile on my face when I am out and about—a habit that I think started in high school when I was folk dancing and our instructor told us to smile when we danced, as this is part of performing for the audience.
Wherever it came from, I think welcoming people is a spiritual gift for me. I remember when I was first coming to the church, and processing all my spiritual/God/church questions, and I remember hearing something about spiritual gifts. I didn’t think I had any spiritual gifts or special callings. But a smile and a hello—I can do that! And one lady even gives me a hug when she comes through my door.
Serving in the Library?
I love reading, and I love libraries—I feel very comfortable there. And Wheaton Bible Church has a very cool library, with a great selection of books and media that you won’t find in a regular library or bookstore. If I didn’t volunteer in the library, I may have not met Ms. Helen and countless others. I am also given a lot of grace at the library. (I’m the volunteer who has misplaced a DVD or two‑–or three.)
Single Purpose Clean-up Team?
I was in the Atrium one Sunday morning when I saw Angie Roberts at the SERVE table and went over to talk to her. I love being busy, being a part of something, and I love living the Gospel, so when Angie told me about a serving opportunity where they only needed an extra pair of hands and feet to help clean up after the Single Purpose dinner and meeting, I was in. My husband came along too. I love that he is volunteering with me on those Friday nights.
I’m so glad the church has the Single Purpose program for single adults. If we are the church, then we should support one another. I want people to understand that I show up to serve because God loves them and I love them too. I want to show others the same grace God has poured into me.
That’s my serving for now. But my husband is wondering why I am not serving in the Gathering Grounds Café, because he wouldn’t mind a free cookie now and then.