Women in Ministry: Jenah Park
Jenah Park, the Director of NextGen at Highland MB Church in Calgary, is originally from South Korea. Her family immigrated to Canada and moved to Calgary in 2002 when she was 12 years old. Her mother was a Christian and her father an atheist. Struggling as new immigrants with many issues, it was her mother who decided to take the children to church in their new country.
They started to attend the Calgary Korean Presbyterian Church in 2005, and that is where Jenah started her journey of faith. At the beginning, she loved going to church: being on the worship team, going to the Sunday services, meetings and other activities such as short-term mission trips and vacation Bible school. She loved the activity of the church but deep inside she struggled to believe what she was told about Jesus’ love and purpose for her.
As time went by, she felt more and more worthless, and felt she was not measuring up to social expectations. She was not sure how or what God was calling her to do. At her lowest point, she considered herself “garbage”—not able to do anything of worth and certainly not loveable. By her twenty third birthday, she started considering suicide as her only option out of her misery. She never told anyone of her inward struggle, but kept up her bubbly outer show.
The day after her twenty third birthday, she was leaving on a mission trip, so she put off addressing her own anguish until “after the trip.” The mission team was providing Vacation Bible School and after a full day of ministering to children, the leaders and team members would meet every evening to pray and worship together. By midweek, during the worship time, Jenah begged God to show her what her purpose was, pouring out her sense of worthlessness to him. As she prayed, her pastor came over to her, “Jenah—God loves you and has so much purpose for you!!” In tears, her pastor showered her in words of Jesus’ love and acceptance of who she was, and Jenah finally, miraculously, began to believe what God had for her. At this point, Jenah realized that God was healing her broken and devastated heart and was restoring her. The next morning, she finally shared her painful journey with her group, and confidently dedicated her life to Jesus.
Leaning into God’s love and healing
Jenah felt God’s purpose for her right away. She felt God calling her to study at Ambrose University. Over the next six years there, she expressed that her biggest learning curve was learning to deepen and lean into her belief of God’s love for her while she sorted through a lot of ‘baggage’ and also worked on her Bachelor’s degree in Theology. Now she is continuing her studies at Ambrose University, working on her Master of Divinity with a pastoral focus. She describes this new venture as much harder, but is determined to really dig in and persevere in her studies as she also works full-time at Highland MB Church.
She became a part of the MB family serendipitously. In order to complete her studies towards her Bachelor’s at Ambrose, she needed to find an internship in a local church. After searching for two years, she finally found a placement at Highland MB Church. She was offered a full-time internship working with the younger children alongside Kyle Miller who worked with the youth.
A year later Kyle left, and Jenah stepped into a part time NextGen administration role, and then this turned into a full-time position as director of the program. As the Director of NextGen, she is responsible for children’s Sunday School—called KidQuest, a discipleship program for preschool through grade six. She oversees a Jumpstart Program with a local school, which provides a Friday afterschool program. She also directs the Youth and the Young Adults ministries, covering the full spectrum of preschool through college-aged youth. As a part of her pastoring at an MB church, she also attended the MB Pastoral Credentialing Orientation (PCO) in Winnipeg this past June, helping her to become more familiar with our Canadian Mennonite Brethren Church and our Confession of Faith.
What encourages her most about her ministry with young people is seeing them come to know Christ and decide to be baptized, as well as seeing children from her afterschool ministry become interested in attending Camp Evergreen where they can hear more about the good news of Jesus. These moments make it all worthwhile to Jenah. Seeing the ministry bear this kind of fruit renews her energy.
Her lowest moments were when she was praying for these same goals but Covid shut everything down. The pandemic restrictions occurred when she was new to her full-time role at the church these restrictions made it so difficult to find effective and meaningful ways to disciple the children and youth. She started out trying meeting online, but then quickly pivoted to in-person, socially distanced get-togethers at the church. She also changed “KidQuest” into “FamilyQuest”—inviting the families of the younger children to attend discipleship sessions along with their kids. They all sat on carpets, spaced six feet apart and worked their way through the discipleship program together. She ran this hybrid program for two years and though it was challenging, Jenah values the unique opportunity this period of time gave her to get to know the children and their families in a much richer way. In retrospect, she says the restrictions of those first years, though difficult, were also a gift to her.
Jenah admits that her ministries at Highland are high octane, to say the least! In order to promote her own personal renewal and restoration, she regularly goes to a nearby retreat center called King’s Fold. It has become her “circuit breaker” where she can stop, find space to commune with God and spend time with Him without interruption. She retreats to King’s Fold one day a month, and once a year, she spends a couple of nights there. She likes to “sit and watch the river flow, feel and listen to the wind, and admire the magnificent Rocky Mountains.” She reads the Bible on a certain swing chair, hangs out with Leila, the center’s dog, and visits the chapel to worship and pray. These retreats are critical to her ministry and studies and they keep her heart firmly grounded on Christ. It is her reminder that she “is nothing without Jesus.”
Another way she restores her heart and soul is by hanging out with friends and eating good food together. It renews her to simply talk and laugh for hours with this community.
A Perspective on Women in Leadership
Jenah is very thankful that the entire time she’s served at Highland, she’s never experienced any opposition to women in leadership positions there. At the church as well as at Ambrose University, she received only affirmation, mentoring and validation of her pastoral calling, and enthusiasm about what women could offer to church leadership. She firmly believes that women are called to serve and lead side by side with men in the church. “It’s not the gender that qualifies someone to serve in the church in whatever position.” Jenah believes that leadership is something that God uniquely shapes in a believer, and then calls them to, and it is precisely this calling and shaping by God that qualifies you to lead.
The MB church as well as all churches around the world need to remember the basics: reading and listening to God’s heart through the Scripture and understanding His heart through prayer. We all need to worship God in the Spirit and in Truth, whether in the Church on Sunday morning, or in our own daily context. We face a divided and polarized world and Christians need to remember our center point, Jesus Christ, and follow his commandment to move forward with justice and love. “We can only gain the wisdom, knowledge and power to be the salt and light of the world through God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.”
Finally, Jenah encourages us with Paul’s exhortations from Philippians 4:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again; Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Karen Esau is a freelance writer and artist from British Columbia.