Unsung Saints

Unsung Saints

The Companion honors the faithful members who are the backbone of the church.

Nov 1, 2017

Walk into a Covenant church and the truth of Paul’s letter to the Romans becomes evident. The body has many parts but each individual member has different gifts that join together to comprise the church as a whole. Some of those members serve in prominent, visible ways, while others stay behind the scenes, doing work that the rest of us may not even know about. It’s these unassuming, tireless saints who serve the kingdom—and help hold the body together.

We asked our readers to nominate members of their congregations whose ministry is unsung—the people who are the building blocks of our churches. That list, of course, is exhaustive throughout the denomination. Here are just a few of the unsung saints who enrich the Covenant.

Lifelong Evangelists

Bob and Margaret Nelson, Renew Covenant Church, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Favorite hymn: “Amazing Grace” (Bob), “How Great Thou Art” (Margaret)

Favorite holiday meal: Any Christmas meal, especially eggs and bacon (Bob)

Favorite thing to watch on TV: Minnesota Twins baseball

Bob and Margaret Nelson have been involved in a number of Covenant churches around Wisconsin over the years, including Bethel Covenant in Ellsworth and Prairie Lake Covenant in Chetek, and now Renew Covenant in Eau Claire. The Nelsons helped start the first Covenant church in Eau Claire almost forty years ago, which is no longer meeting.

They joined Renew when it was planted, and they have been committed and hard-working members ever since. Margaret likes to pass out treats to the kids at church on Sundays. They often invite others over for a meal and take their pastor, Jamie Staples, out to lunch.

“The first time I met with the Nelsons in their living
room they said, ‘We don’t really like the music, but as long as you keep reaching people we will come and help,’” says Staples. “They are truly focused on spreading the gospel. I am so thankful for them.”

Ever since Renew purchased their building, which was in need of renovation, Bob has gone over to the building once or twice a week, methodically working on projects to help renovate the building. For a man who’s ninety years old, that’s not bad.

Faithful Volunteer

Cinda Lium, First Covenant Church, Seattle, Washington

Favorite hymn: “Amazing Grace”

Favorite holiday meal: Mac and cheese

Favorite thing to watch on TV: Big Bang Theory

Cinda Lium likes to help at her church’s weekly neighborhood breakfast and their quarterly outreach to homeless moms and children in partnership with an organization called Mary’s Place. She warmly greets others and includes them in activities. She also serves in the community.

When she was fourteen Cinda was hit by a car and sustained a severe head injury. She was in a coma for three months and when she came out of it she had to learn how to do everything again—walk, talk, write. Some lasting disabilities have impacted her whole life.

“Instead of becoming bitter or using her limitations as a reason to not be involved, she chooses to take care of others,” says Sonja Whitaker, member at First Covenant. “To know Cinda is to love her. She is an amazing person who gives of herself endlessly, and her life is an amazing story.”

Practicing Care

Eunice Soh, Quest Church, Seattle, Washington

Favorite worship song: At the moment it’s “Do It Again,” by Elevation Worship

Favorite potluck food: Korean BBQ short ribs (galbi)

Favorite thing to watch on TV: TED talks, a few TV shows (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver), and a range of documentaries

Eunice Soh has served in many roles at her church—deacon, member of the worship team, leader on the
glocal action team, overseeing hospitality/greeting ministry. A nurse practitioner who is pursuing a PhD, she visits people in their homes, brings meals, gives medical advice, and provides care and a steady presence. She is the church’s global liaison with missionaries Bob and Grace Shim in Thailand and has helped lead several teams to that country.

“Eunice is consistent, caring, and proactive. If someone needs something, she shows up and meets that need,” says associate pastor Liz VerHage. “When someone was hospitalized for some time with complications, it was Eunice who showed up every single day for long shifts to sit by her friend’s bedside, providing wisdom and guidance during difficult diagnostic tests, bringing humor and comfort, even doing her homework for her intense PhD coursework in the hospital room so she could be nearby. This was all without being asked—it just arises out of who Eunice is. Whether on her job, in the mission field overseas, greeting people Sunday morning, or with her friends and community, Eunice is the kind of unsung hero that everyone relies on, loves and is loved by, and experiences through her actions the tangible, palpable love of Christ.”

Community Outreach

Gayle Korenchen, First Covenant Church, Duluth, Minnesota

Favorite hymn: “As the Deer.” “When my girls were little they also liked this song, and I would sing it to them before bed.”    

Favorite potluck food: A big crockpot of meatballs

Favorite thing to watch on TV: Home remodeling shows. “I’ve picked up a few easy home repair tips along the way!”

First Covenant Church has a rich history in Duluth, yet its neighborhood of Lincoln Park has changed considerably over the years. There is a shortage of affordable housing, and with the closest grocery store thirty blocks away, it is considered a food desert.

Gayle Korenchen keeps the church tuned in to and participating in addressing the needs of their immediate neighbors, says pastor Josh Rude. Gayle organizes the church’s role in a neighborhood collaborative gathering called Meet on the Street. Many neighbors who have relied on FCC at moments of greatest need now say, “That’s my church.”

She also organizes many of the church’s seasonal activities, including the Easter egg hunt for children and the Holly Jolly program at Christmas, where neighborhood kids can “shop” for Christmas gifts for their family from items donated to the church. Between 150 and 200 people attend this event annually. In October, she organizes Fall Fest, bringing around 200 people to the church for an evening of games, food, and prizes. And throughout the summer Gayle helps organize a BBQ each Thursday night which 100 people from the neighborhood attend. Each August at the National Night Out Gayle gives away school supplies that the church has gathered to neighborhood children.   

Bringing Scripture to Life

Ruth Eckels, Covenant Shores Retirement Community, Mercer Island, Washington

Favorite hymn: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

Favorite potluck food: Potato salad

Favorite thing to watch on TV: Any program on Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN)

Ruth Eckels is a regular Scripture reader on Sunday mornings. She reads with feeling and sensitivity to the text, according to Covenant Shores chaplain Greg Asimakoupoulos. Ruth also writes short drama sketches that she and others perform to illustrate the theme of the day. And she arranges chairs and puts out hymnals for the weekly hymn sing. A student of the life of hymn writer Fanny Crosby, Ruth travels to area churches and, dressed as the nineteenth century composer, gives presentations on her life and music.

A couple years ago Ruth taught a weekly Bible study at the local nursing home on Scripture memory. She hand-sewed nightcaps for each attendee as a way of illustrating the power of God’s word during the night when anxiety and fear rob their sleep.

Outside of church the ninety-eight-year-old writes and sends a daily email to her children, multiple grandkids, and great-grandchildren with a Scripture for the day.

“I tell her that she has such a positive impact on me that if she was not in my life, I’d be ‘ruthless,’” says Asimakoupoulos.

Tireless Worker

Glenn Samuelson, Ceresco Covenant Church, Ceresco, Nebraska

Favorite hymn: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

Favorite holiday meal: Christmas dinner with ham and Swedish potato sausage

Favorite things to watch on TV: Classic movies, History Channel, Science Channel

When there’s a funeral, Glenn Samuelson shows up before the pastor to set up chairs. Then he ushers, runs video, works in the kitchen, and does whatever else needs doing. He mows the lawn, fixes what’s broken, puts up the Christmas tree, and makes sure the cross is up for Lent. Glenn doesn’t talk a lot, but when he speaks, people listen.

In 2014 the church discerned a need for a Christian preschool in their small town. “So we created one on a shoestring budget,” says former pastor Jodi Moore. “People were in favor of the project but Glenn started out a bit skeptical. He asked lots of questions and talked about his doubt. Sometimes people fold their hands and refuse to help when they disagree. But Glenn never thwarted the process. He actually became one of the biggest cheerleaders! He helped make shelving and coat hooks. He put together tables and hung white boards. He hung new banners and served on the inaugural Little Lights Preschool board. He attended the open house to meet families and kids. He was always interested in what the kids were learning and how many were enrolled. Glenn may be an ‘old-timer’ in this church, but he is one of my unsung heroes. His forward thinking is a great contribution to the momentum and vision of the church.”

Prayer & Senior Ministries

Gloria Orellana, Iglesia del Pacto Evangelico de Albany Park, Chicago, Illinois

Favorite hymn: “Tus Ojos Revelan” (Your Eyes Reveal Me)

Favorite holiday meal: Thanksgiving with turkey, vegetables, and sweet potatoes

Favorite thing to watch on TV: Cooking shows

Prayer is so important to Gloria Orellana that she gets up early in the morning to spend time with God. She regularly has Friday prayer sessions with members of the church.

As the church’s first coordinator of the Edad Noble Ministry (Noble Age Ministry), Gloria comes alongside members who are sixty and older. Through this ministry she celebrates birthdays, teaches doctrine and Scripture, buys hearing aids, leads Thursday church services, and counsels and comforts the hurting and dying. She is also an adult-Sunday-school teacher, a member of the pastoral leadership team of coordinators, and organizes special activities such as the church’s International Night parade of cultures and Easter morning vigils.

“With humbleness and determination she has stepped into numerous leadership roles,” says pastor Tomas Sanabria. “Her skills and creativity have benefited the church and my own ministry here.”

Children’s Ministry

Elizabeth Dewberry, Kingdom Covenant Ministries, Miami, Florida

Favorite worship song: “Never Would Have Made It,” by Marvin Sapp

Favorite potluck food: Roast beef

Favorite thing to watch on TV: Inspirational programs on TBN, or stories about the Bible. “I try to protect what I watch and keep my eyes on Jesus.”

Each aspect of Elizabeth Dewberry’s involvement as an integral part of the children ministries community outreach at Kingdom Covenant Ministries goes well beyond her own self-interest. At one time, she recognized that many of the children in the two-to-four-year-old class that she teaches had not eaten before coming to church. She promptly provided healthy snacks to all the children. She continues to stay late to make sure the rooms are tidied for the school that uses the building during the week.

“Elizabeth participated in my discipleship class,” says pastor Doris Granberry. “She is a faithful member of KCM and is always ready to willingly fill a gap. Her saying is, ‘To God be the glory.’”

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Community Activist

Darrell Ropp, Valley Evangelical Covenant Church, Stillman Valley, Illinois

Favorite hymn: “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” “Many times in my work as a hospice chaplain when I’m asked to give a prayer, I open with the words of that hymn.”

Favorite potluck food: Rice pudding. “We used to have a big contingent of Swedes at the church but they’re mostly gone now—and so is the rice pudding.”

Favorite thing to watch on TV: “We have a routine. We start with the national news, then the local news comes on. Wheel of Fortune is next, followed by two episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.”

Serving on the library board and acting as an elder statesman in the community are just two of the ways
Darrell Ropp has served in his community. He also serves as a chaplain with the local hospice.

“In the small town where I serve Darrell Ropp is well-known and admired,” says pastor Rick Lindholtz. “A retired math teacher in his eighties, Darrell goes to the local auction barn every week. Usually he buys the dregs no one else wants for a couple bucks at most. At home, he sorts, cleans, and repairs what he’s bought, then takes it to the thrift store operated by the Rockford Rescue Mission, where the needy can purchase items at a reasonable price. The proceeds support the mission.”

Many community people know Darrell as the man who kept up the vacant lot across the street from his home for so many years that the village ultimately adopted it and named it Ropp Park. Every summer on the first Sunday of August, Darrell’s family and friends present Music in Ropp Park, an evening of performances. “It’s Stillman Valley’s way of sending a love letter to Darrell and his wife, Karin,” says Lindholtz.

Usher

Dale Holte, Anchor Covenant Church, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Favorite hymn: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”

Favorite potluck food: “I never like to pass up a potluck at church, so many good meals. My favorite has to be lasagna!”

Favorite thing to watch on TV: “In the fall, it has to be football, but my wife and I like The Amazing Race.

In addition to serving as head usher and head of building and grounds at Anchor Covenant Church, Dale Holte has been a small group leader for middle-school boys for the past three years.

“Dale does so much, without being asked, without telling anyone, and often without any thanks,” says pastor Bruce Bruns. “He’s the one I call when something needs to get done. Anything. Anytime.”

Abolitionist

R. Evon Benson-Idahosa, Metro Hope Covenant Church, New York, New York

Favorite hymn: “Just as I Am”

Favorite potluck food: Cornbread

Favorite thing to watch on TV: “I don’t really watch television, but when I do it’s investigative journalism or documentaries.”

Evon Benson-Idahosa left a lucrative law profession to pursue an inner call to advocate against human sex trafficking. She founded and now leads PathFinders Justice Initiative, which seeks to eradicate modern-day sex slavery and the exploitation of women and girls in the developing world through judicial reform, empow-erment, and community transformation. Through this organization, Evon has worked tirelessly in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, working to liberate the 276 girls kidnapped by the extremist group Boko Haram from their school in the town of Chibok, Nigeria.

“It’s been an honor to have Evon as a member of our church for the past four or five years,” says Metro Hope pastor José Humphreys. “She is tireless in her work to bring to light invisible people groups who bear the image of God.”

Feeding the Spirit and the Body

Nancy Weaver, Turlock Covenant Church, Turlock, California

Favorite hymn: “Up from the Grave He Arose.” “We don’t sing those Easter songs enough.”

Favorite holiday meal: Scalloped potatoes and meatballs on Christmas Eve

Favorite thing to watch on TV: “All the dancing shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars because my husband and I have been ballroom dancers for about fifty years.”

nancy-weaver

Nancy Weaver has been team leader for the church’s ministry in partnership with Turlock Gospel Mission, serving meals for the last eleven years. She leads a women’s Bible study and for many years hosted a Sunday evening couples small group in her home. She is the nursery coordinator, making sure the nursery is staffed, supplied with snacks, and the lessons are planned and ready to go each week. She heads up the serving committee, which provides coffee and refreshments for Sunday morning fellowship, refreshments or meals for funerals, and is the first one to bring a meal to someone who has just come home from the hospital or whose loved one has died.

“As a now retired high-school home economics teacher, Nancy really shines in the kitchen,” says pastor Steven Carlson. “She can organize, prepare, and lead a team cooking for twenty or 200. The food is always delicious, creative, and she can make a fabulous meal for pennies on the dollar. Nancy has a servant’s heart and serves the Lord with great joy and commitment.”

Core Planting Team

Jevon and Jillian Evans, Kingdom Covenant Church, Chicago, Illinois

Favorite worship song: “You Are the Living Word,” by Fred Hammond (Jillian), “Journal,” by Casey J (Jevon)

Favorite potluck food: Peach cobbler (Jillian), “I recently adopted a strictly plant based diet, so I would guess beans and rice…?” (Jevon)

Favorite thing to watch on TV: Chicago Fire (Jillian), Black-ish (Jevon)

Having served on the core planting team at Kingdom Covenant Church for the past three years, Jevon and Jillian Evans have both gone beyond the call of duty, working relentlessly as two of the most dependable servants in the church. Jillian’s primary role is director of children’s ministry and Jevon’s is as sound engineer, but they both serve in many areas—leadership team, setup/breakdown, men’s and women’s ministry, and community outreach. They also donate needed items for ministry in the surrounding community.

“As I look at the constant contribution this couple makes in our church, I am certain we would not be where we are today without their service,” says pastor David Washington. “I believe that everyone in our congregation would nominate them without a second thought. And even so, the congregation as a whole are only privy to about half of the contributions they make.”

Greeter

Ruth Greier, First Covenant Church, Youngstown, Ohio

Favorite hymn: “Amazing Grace”

Favorite potluck food: Swedish meatballs. “I’m German but my mother-in-law was Swedish, and she taught me how to make them. So now that’s what I like to bring.”

Favorite thing to watch on TV: “I don’t watch much TV. I do watch the news sometimes, but usually I read my Bible or a book. The only programs I might watch would be The Voice and America’s Got Talent.

At First Covenant Church, Ruth Greier is affectionately referred to as the “professional greeter.” There is a rotating schedule of greeters who stand at the sanctuary door each week, but Ruth is in the narthex every Sunday. The eighty-nine-year-old is always at church early to take up her post, welcoming everyone who comes through the doors. As a member for fifty-five years, she knows when someone is missing and either calls them or asks around to see where they are and to make sure they are okay.

Ruth also makes the calls for setting up funeral lunches. She is always ready to do anything that needs to be done. “She willingly and joyfully serves behind the scenes,” says fellow member Lucy Sharkey. “What she does is not even listed as a position to be filled at the church. She just shows up regularly, welcomes everybody, and loves unconditionally.”

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Sacramental Service

Mike and Sue Cummins, Rancho Vista Covenant Church in Chula Vista, California

Favorite hymn: “Fill My Cup, Lord”

Favorite holiday meal: Thanksgiving with turkey and ham

Favorite thing to watch on TV: Sports

By taking on the responsibility of purchasing the elements and diligently preparing them every Sunday communion is served, Mike and Sue Cummins work quietly and unobtrusively to fill the needs at Rancho Vista Covenant Church. They also clean up afterward.

“No one even knows they do it,” says fellow church member Nancy Reed. “The elements are just there, and everyone knows they will be.”

Latino Ministries

Abraham Bejarano, Emmanuel Covenant Church, Northridge, California

Favorite worship song: “What a Beautiful Name”

Favorite potluck food: Hallacas (Venezuelan tamales)

Favorite thing to watch on TV: Big Bang Theory

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Lead pastor Abraham Bejarano is also the director of Latino ministries in the Pacific Southwest Conference where he works with Latino church planters and pastors. He gathers Latino lay leaders, Latino clusters, and Ministerios Hispanos de la Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico (MHIPE).

“Abraham is not well known across the Covenant, but his work is so profound that everyone should know him,” says Central Conference superintendent Danny Martinez. “He is a humble servant of God who would never promote himself.”

Handyman

Leo Cachu, Eagle Rock Covenant Church, Los Angeles, California

When Eagle Rock Covenant needed someone to run the audiovisual equipment for worship services, Leo Cachu stepped in. For several years he took on the work alone. He also handles many handyman duties around the church—working on electrical outlets, installing motion sensor lights, changing light bulbs in the sanctuary (no small task). He even unstops drains and toilets. Recently he fixed a leak in the baptistry that had been a problem for many years. Some things take time, but he gets the job done.

Devoted Bible Study Leader

Delma McClain, Bayside of Placerville Church, Placerville, California

Delma McClain has devoted years of faithful service to leading Bible studies and whatever else is needed behind the scenes. “She is the first to give away credit,” says associate pastor Betsy Vanderpool. “But without her faithfulness this church would have likely folded during past hard times.”

Delma McClain

Hospitality

Max Balkema, Evangelical Covenant Church of Lafayette, Indiana

It is important to Max Balkema that everyone know Jesus, and he makes every effort to ensure that they do. He greets all who walk through the church doors and helps connect them to someone else within church community.

“When we first moved to town,” says fellow church member Kate Cogswell, “Max and his wife, Maxine, invited us over and talked to us about our relationship with Jesus. This is a long-standing ministry for the Balkemas. When they discover someone who doesn’t yet have a personal relationship with Jesus they invite further discussion and journey with people until they get to introduce them to their Savior.”

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