NEOSHO – When college students Sierra Wilson and Hannah Frances joined the newly-launched women’s Bible study group at Crowder College BSU in the fall of 2019, they had no notion that they would lead the group a year later. Neither saw herself as a leader, but Aaron Werner, Campus Missionary, and Mischelle Hill, a volunteer and lifelong member of FBC Neosho, noted the potential right away.
“That very first night, Hannah and Sierra were amazing to me,” says Hill, who Werner recruited to spearhead the new ministry. She was struck by “their biblical knowledge, their heart for service, and the ability to teach and lead, even as students. Aaron and I started talking early on that the goal would be to develop them and disciple them to the point where they could in turn disciple others.”
Werner concurs. “The plan was to train them and get them ready to take it over and make it entirely student led. Sierra and Hannah may not have known they were part of the plan.”
Hill, an empty-nester who works as the Materials Manager for Trouw Nutrition in Neosho, got involved with the BSU in 2010 after chaperoning a group of high school and college-aged students to the Passion Conference in Atlanta. “I fell in love with the college age. I knew the statistics about how many young adults leave their churches because of going away to college and being pulled into the world. The statistics were so dramatic, but when I saw their passion at the conference, I saw what God was doing in their lives. It ignited me.”
For the past decade, Hill has served the BSU in a variety of ways, primarily with their ministry to international students. When Werner approached her last fall about starting a Bible study specifically for ladies, she knew God was calling her to a new ministry pathway. “I’d already been in that discipleship role with a young lady at Crowder. I felt like God was putting that call on my life to be able to expand that discipleship beyond this one student. She was graduating, so the timing of it also was God’s perfect timing.”
Wilson and Frances showed up on the first night of the new women’s study and stuck around. Both girls were already heavily involved in the BSU. “My church doesn’t have many younger people,” says Wilson. “BSU has shaped a lot of who I am. If I wasn’t a part of it, I wouldn’t be growing as much as a Christian It would be a lot harder to keep Jesus as the focus.”
The BSU has been particularly influential in keeping Frances grounded in her walk with Christ. After losing a close friend in 2017 and her dad in 2018, “going to BSU was a constant light and place to get encouragement,” she says. “I’ve created a family there. I think I would have easily gotten swayed in college without BSU. Losing my friend and my dad would have been much more difficult.”
Over the course of the 2019-2020 schoolyear, 27 ladies from four different countries attended the women’s group. While some only came occasionally, others, including Wilson and Frances, found the group to be a lifeline of friendship and spiritual support. “I tell the girls every week,” says Frances “that they have a permanent family here no matter what. Having lost my father, I can understand the importance of needing a family.”
Hill asked Frances to help lead a few times over the course of the year. “At first I didn’t think I was qualified to do this,” Frances says. “Then, when she couldn’t be there, she asked me to go ahead and lead it. She told me, ‘it seems like the Lord is speaking to you through what we’ve been talking about.’”
When everything moved online in March, Werner assigned his leaders a day each week to make an online devotional to share in their BSU Facebook group. This experience helped prepare Wilson to lead the study. “I had never done that before,” says Wilson. “I was very scared. As the weeks went on, it helped me grow. It kept me in the Word and thinking about how to explain what I’ve learned.”
Hill and Werner turned full responsibility for the women’s group over to Wilson and Frances over the summer. The duo handled every aspect of planning and preparation, down to picking study materials and recruiting participants.
For the first several weeks, they led a study by Lisa TerKeurst called, “It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way.” Wilson says they chose it because, “it can relate to everyone…the semester isn’t supposed to be this way.” Their discussions dug deep into tough questions. “We’ve gotten into a lot of the harder questions,” says Wilson. “Questions that aren’t generally asked, but they need to be asked so that we can grow.”
Frances hopes the women she is leading can learn from her experience as they study together. “God has used both situations to bless my life in many ways. I never thought I would be able to say that,” she says of the loss of her friend and her father. “I want the girls to know that no matter what life has in store for them, in the good parts and the trials, God is able to do far beyond what we could ever think. He never fails and His word never runs void.”
After concluding the first study, they started a Love God Greatly study called “Choose Brave.” Wilson felt that subtitle, “How can we choose to have courage when our worlds are falling apart?” was relevant because “our worlds seem to be falling apart right now,” she says.
The second study requires the women to dig in deeper to Scripture themselves, instead of relying on teaching videos, a choice that was intentional. “The girls have talked about how they don’t know how to study the Bible,” says Wilson. “Generally, I think it’s not really taught; it’s just expected of you that you should just know. You can read it all you want, but you wouldn’t be applying it or actually letting it make a difference if you don’t know how to study.”
For both ladies, leading the women’s group has fueled their own growth. “Our girls will tell me things and ask me questions,” says Frances. “My knowledge of Bible has really increased.” Wilson agrees, “You learn a lot when you teach. It helps you apply what God is teaching you.”
Hill has found the same to be true, which is why she was so excited to raise these young women up to lead. “I have found over the years no matter what the ministry is, you always go in with the intention that you are going to be the one that blesses someone,” she says. “God just always turns that upside down, and you get blessed by it.”
The women’s group has expanded beyond Bible study and friendship into community service. They concluded the spring semester with a service project making teacher survival bags through Just Jump Ministries. This fall, they organized two more events on their own, making 180 bags for teachers at a local elementary school and roughly 300 for staff and faculty of Crowder.
Though the fall semester is barely halfway done, Werner and Hill are already encouraging Wilson and Frances to develop other students to take over the study. Since Crowder is two-year school, Werner knows the importance of leadership development to sustain the ministry. “We are starting the process of finding freshmen that they can be thinking about doing the same thing with,” Werner says.
“That’s what Aaron wants,” says Frances. “That students will come to Crowder and know that’s a turning point for their life. He wants the ministry to be student led and for us to lead people to Christ. If I can help someone with my story, that’s what I want: to lead someone to Christ because of what He’s done in my life. I want these ladies to take the word and use their gifts to bring people to Christ and to grow closer to Him.”
No matter where the Lord leads them in the future, she hopes the ladies see the BSU as a place they can always come back to. “I would also hope that they can go out and feel like they can lead whatever the Lord calls them to do and go wherever they think God needs them, and that Mischelle, Aaron, Sierra, or I would always be there for them.”