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Archive for Monday, October 17, 2011

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Slice of Life: Missionary, hospice work not foreseen

October 17, 2011

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Becoming an overseas missionary, ordained pastor and Lawrence hospice chaplain weren’t part of Brenda Wahl’s early life plans.

“I grew up hearing about missionaries in our South Dakota churches, but they always seemed old and uninteresting to me,” says Wahl, client care coordinator of Midland Care Connection’s North Lawrence Adult Day Center, 319 Perry St.

She planned to do social work, but her perceptions changed when she befriended missionaries’ kids and encountered a veteran missionary professor at Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Bartlesville.

“The MKs grew up in other countries, had experiences vastly different to my sheltered life and spoke other languages,” she said.

“The ‘Youth Problems in Today’s Society’ class was taught by a longtime missionary who’d just returned from serving in Papua New Guinea. I was amazed a missionary had such insights into modern American youth culture. These experiences helped open my mind.”

She graduated from OWU in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science, served a year in Brazil with the Wesleyan youth mission, returned to her parents’ South Dakota home and worked several part-time jobs for two years before volunteering for a one-year mission trip to Russia. She taught English in Wesleyan youth camps, taught English and Bible studies to college students and took basic Russian lessons. She stayed another year, decided to become a full-time missionary, completed a monthlong intensive training at the Wesleyan Russian Missionary Institute, attended language school and then spent three years teaching at the denomination’s Vladimir Bible College before returning to the U.S. to embark on theological studies.

She graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary, Kentucky, with a Master of Divinity degree in 2003, was ordained in 2005, and returned to Vladimir to serve as college director until 2008.

When some Russian doors closed, she returned to the U.S. and visited her sister in Lawrence.

“I wanted to be near family again, and I love Lawrence’s diversity,” she says.

“When I go to the grocery store, I can hear as many as six different languages being spoken.”

A seminary friend encouraged her to apply for Midland’s part-time hospice chaplain position.

“I hadn’t considered hospice work before coming to Lawrence,” Wahl says. “It was a wonderful opportunity to learn a new ministry and be involved in a medical environment. I enjoyed meeting people and hearing their stories. Lots of memories and secrets come out when people are facing the end of life, and it can be a good time for emotional and relational healing and forgiveness.”

She became the North Lawrence Adult Day Center’s full-time coordinator when the facility opened last year. The center is licensed to serve up to 40 adults over 18 who need daytime care. Wahl is responsible for the center’s day-to-day scheduling, activities, transportation and ensuring clients’ needs are addressed and met in an appropriate way, and she performs chaplain duties.

“My life’s been blessed. I’m on a wonderful journey and love what I do,” Wahl says.

“It’s a privilege for me to be part of people’s everyday lives, hear their stories, meet families and walk with them through life’s joys and difficulties. We get to know each other pretty well. It’s like an extended family.”

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