Hi, my name is Nathan Luitjens and I have the privilege of being the new Executive Conference Minister for Central Plains. As I sit here in my office in Kalona, Iowa, it seems strange to think about how my journey has brought me to this place.
I was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and spent most of my growing up years in Nipawin, a town of 4,500 people. In Nipawin, winter began by the end of October and usually didn't end until sometime in early April. The town had a total of four ice rinks, two indoor and two outdoor. Each year, Nipawin hosted a curling bonspiel where a prize for the winning team was four new cars. Olds, Iowa is (in many ways) a long way from home.
I didn't grow up in a Mennonite church. Both of my parents had grown up Mennonite, but there was not a Mennonite church in Nipawin, so we attended a Christian and Missionary Alliance church during my formative years. While there is a great deal about my faith development that I credit to this church, I also had many questions about faith that were raised during those years.
During my senior year, I was privileged to attend and live in the dorm at Rosthern Junior College, a Mennonite high school. This was, in many ways, my introduction to Anabaptist theology. While it didn't answer all of my faith questions, that year certainly caused me to continue to ask healthy and challenging questions about the theology I had grown up with. Following high school, I spent two years studying before finishing my undergraduate degree at Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University).
I spent two of my undergraduate years in Mexico City doing an internship. These were formative years as I worked in churches under local leadership while living with a host family from the church. I deeply enjoyed the experience of living and working in churches in Mexico, and I was challenged by the ways in which these congregations were using the Gospel to impact their local communities.
After finishing my undergraduate degree, I moved to Vancouver, BC where I attended Regent College, a seminary on the campus of the University of British Columbia. While there, I took a half-time position as the youth pastor at First United Mennonite Church (FUMC). I found working with youth and seeing them grow very rewarding. Iw as especially interested in the decisions they made about live and work and school. I also appreciated being able to apply what I was learning in school directly into my ministry context.
During those years in Vancouver, I was very fortunate to marry Rachelle, whom I had met in Mexico City. When my three year term at FUMC was up, I began to look for other opportunities in the Mennonite Church. One day I got a call from the search committee at Sugar Creek Mennonite Church in Wayland, Iowa. I am a little embarrassed to admit that I had to look up Iowa on a map (in my mind it was much further west), but after a couple of visits and al ack of understanding about just how frustrating the immigration system can be, Rachelle and I moved to Iowa and I began to pastor at Sugar Creek, a place that I have called home for the last sixteen years.
When I think about what I bring to this role in CPMC, I think about what Sugar Creek asked me to do when I arrived there in 2004. My work was to help them become more missional, and over the years as I have taught and encouraged, I have been a witness to this remarkable congregation as they have taken deeper and deeper interest in the community around them. Not everything has gone perfectly and we've had many fits and starts along the way, but I see Sugar Creek today as a group of disciples of Jesus who are seeking to engage with the folks they meet in their community in new and exciting ways.
I have also thought often about the societal changes that we are facing here in North America (and particularly here in the midwest). The world is changing around us. The church used to have more prominence and influence over the communities in which we live. We can mourn that loss of influence or power or we can begin to see the opportunities that a post-Christian society presents. Being a follower of Jesus doesn't just mean being like everyone else, but maybe a little nicer. Today we have the opportunity to differentiate ourselves from the world around us and to demonstrate what a life lived in service to Jesus could look like. As Anabaptist Christians we have a unique theology that should position us to show the world a different way of living and being that challenges the polarity and angry rhetoric of our society.
I am looking forward to walking alongside congregations as we seek to discern who God is calling each of us to be, and how God is calling us to engage with our communities I look forward to meeting with churches and to hearing the stories of what God is doing in our midst. When I begin full-time work with CPMC in September I will be available to assist congregations in thinking through your mission and vision as you engage with the world. I pray that God's kingdom would come and God's will would be done in our churches and communities as it is in heaven.
Nathan lives in Olds, Iowa with his wife, Rachelle, and their three boys, Mattias, Tristan, and Kieran. Nathan is working for CPMC .25 FTE, and will begin full-time in September.