Laura Jonker ’15
Director of children’s, family and hospitality ministries, American Reformed Church, Orange City, Iowa

Keeping the Faith

Laura first began serving at American Reformed Church as a college student, volunteering each Wednesday night to teach kids how to use sign language during worship as part of the “Hands of Praise” group. As a junior, she was offered a part-time internship with the former director of children’s ministries before stepping into the role full time after graduation. As she envisions her ministry future, Laura dreams of someday attending seminary and working at a spiritual retreat center. Most important, she wants to bring God’s kingdom to others through enabling them to experience emotional, spiritual and mental health.

What are some of your responsibilities at American Reformed?

I continue to lead Hands of Praise but am also in charge of all volunteer schedules for Sunday school programming, planning lessons and leading small groups. I chair  the ARC Welcome Team, direct a community mentoring program for at-risk students and oversee seven different programs for children ages 3 through fifth grade. I also help coordinate family events, mentor students and provide spiritual growth resources for parents through weekly newsletters. I plan VBS in the summer, volunteer at an after-school program, design bulletin boards, brainstorm lesson ideas and choreograph Scripture songs. When it comes to developing relationships with kids and showing them the love of Jesus, the possibilities are endless!

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 religion department?

The religion 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 religion professors 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.

What are some of your favorite memories from Northwestern?

There are so many! Some of my favorites include winning second place at Airband two years in a row with my wingmates, long bus rides during choir tours, going on IHOP pancake runs at midnight, dressing up as a jester and dancing with carrots during the Heritage Singers madrigal dinner, and hosting a giant gingerbread house party in my apartment during my senior year (we even gave out prizes!)

How did Northwestern help you reach your goals?

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 with Dr. Smallbones 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. I hope to use this passion to pursue spiritual formation/counseling at seminary so I may continue to help people hear God’s voice in their own lives.