Laura Jonker ’15
Graduate student, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan
Laura Jonker

Keeping the Faith

While a student at Northwestern, Laura volunteered and interned at American Reformed Church in Orange City. For four years following graduation, she continued to serve at the church as the director of children’s, family and hospitality ministries. Now a student in Western Theological Seminary’s Master of Divinity program, Laura hopes to continue ministering to families in the church.

Why did you choose to attend Northwestern?

I looked at nine different Christian liberal arts colleges in the Midwest before I knew Northwestern was the right fit for me. I was impressed with the academic strength of the departments, available financial aid and the campus community. But there was one distinction that significantly influenced my decision to attend Northwestern: It was a place where I would be challenged and encouraged to ask the tough life questions, not just answer them. I longed to learn in a community where we could contemplate the complexities of God’s world together. Northwestern certainly lived up to my expectations. Through my senior honors research project on prayerful intercession, independent study on the Children and Worship program, and numerous class projects and discussions, I was repeatedly encouraged to dig deeply into my own questions about how we live as Jesus’ followers in the world today. 

What did you appreciate most about the biblical and theological studies department?

The biblical and theological studies department is made up of incredible professors with both strong intellectual gifts and compassionate hearts for students. They support students as they explore the answers to their own questions and offer counsel when life seems to fall apart. The faculty know how to think deeply, love courageously and invest boldly in the lives of their students. My professors repeatedly spoke into my life and saw my potential even when I was full of doubts and fear. They made the religion department a safe and challenging place where I knew I was valued. They made it feel like home.

How did Northwestern prepare you for your studies at Western Theological Seminary?

My studies at Northwestern were almost an equal caliber to what I’m learning at Western. Even though I didn’t take a biblical language class at Northwestern, I’ve felt well prepared for the academic rigor of tackling Hebrew and Greek in seminary. Plus, several of the key concepts of pursuing shalom in God’s kingdom, valuing each human being as made in the image of God, and trusting in God’s redeeming work in the world are repeated in Western’s curriculum. When we read about mutual invitation (a structure for hosting cross-cultural conversations), I remembered talking about the same communication format in my Christian Leadership course at Northwestern. Needless to say, the transition has been quite smooth.

How did Northwestern help you grow in your faith?

Before my time at Northwestern, I had a very limited understanding of spiritual disciplines and the value of liturgical worship in the church today. Taking classes like Christian Spirituality opened my eyes to the wide range of possibilities for connecting with God. As someone who loves personal discipline, I was excited to explore different ways to read Scripture, pray, fast, or even study the Bible in group settings beyond the traditional devotional practices of my childhood. Northwestern provided me with opportunities to practice and learn about these spiritual disciplines through campus conversations, D-groups, campus ministry events and dorm discussions. I left NWC with a renewed appreciation for spiritual formation and a dream to continue learning about how to help create space for people to connect to God.

Tell us about your current ministry work.

I decided to pursue my master’s to learn more about integrating family discipleship with my love for our immigrant neighbors. I studied in Guatemala during the summer of 2018 to receive a Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate, and I now volunteer in teaching English at a bilingual church in Michigan. My seminary internship with a local church has two components: I help them develop curriculum and resources for young families to disciple their children, and I reach out to immigrant neighbors through the church’s Kairos Neighborhood Fellowship. When I conclude my time at Western, I hope to continue working with families in the church to develop cross-cultural relationships and healthy spiritual rhythms in homes.