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Fall 2017 · Vol. 46 No. 2 · pp. 148–163 

God’s Work and the Life of the Mind

Delores Friesen

I spent several hours today reviewing an all-day workshop that one of our current seminary Marriage and Family Therapy students will be presenting to a Christian international organization that places medical personnel in various countries around the world. I admired and stood in awe: her PowerPoint, use of humor, various media clips, cultural references, and in-depth content, as well as scenarios, dyadic and triadic breakout groups, and role plays were better than anything I have done in my thirty-year career in academia. She was anxious, however; questions of self-doubt, perfectionism, and competence kept creeping into our dialogue about the two presentations she will be giving. In her questions, I sensed a longing towards growth. In my commentary and response, I sought to empower and encourage her by confronting the things that hold her back. I tried to {149} arouse her curiosity about why this is so hard for her and how she might access the confidence, compassion, and passion she often exercises in other parts of her busy professional life.

I realize now, more than fifty years later, that various experiences of dislocation, suffering, decision making, and acceptance were the graduate school where I learned the scholarship of counseling, spiritual direction, and pastoring.

My teaching style reflects how I learn best: relaxed, open, free ranging, curious, always willing to try or find or create new options. Instead of depth, I tend to go for breadth. I ask students to compare and contrast, read widely, and find things that are of practical use to themselves and their client or church. Academics for its own sake has never appealed to me and my creative, ADHD brain, and varied interests make it hard to focus or hone in on the “answer”; rather, I look for the possibilities and try to open doors and windows for clients and students.


Before I entered school, I taught myself to read, thinking this would open the door to learning and would be the key that would admit me to school—albeit a one-room country school named Ogreeta in Native America country, northeast rural Oklahoma. My two older sisters got to go, so I reasoned that if I were able to read I too would have that opportunity. So, I lugged Egermeier’s Bible Story Book around for weeks, laboriously spelling aloud the hard, long words like J-e-r-u-s-a-l-e-m and N-e-b-u-c-h-a-d-n-e-z-z-e-r, hounding my preoccupied mother with my many questions and queries, until she insisted that I put that book away and go find something I could read on my own. There wasn’t much else to read, and I, even at that age, knew there had to be a way to crack the code and sound out the words, so I kept at it, trying everything I could to figure it out. Besides, how could I become a teacher (my dream at age five) or a missionary (my dream at age six) if I couldn’t figure out my own native language?

When our school burned to the ground one cold January day, we helped rescue the library and textbooks, desks, chairs, and other things, all of which were eventually received into our church. That school fire helped our church open its arms to the entire community, not just those from the Amish/Mennonite/Christian fold. And soon the church gave me opportunities to teach—first in Vacation Bible School, with a class of my own when I was thirteen—then topics and texts to prepare for “talks” at Sunday evening services. Our all-farm-boy youth group was only too happy to leave Mennonite Youth Fellowship (MYF) leadership and program planning up to myself and the only other girl, my friend Mary.

I began serving on the churchwide MYF Cabinet as Secretary of Faith when I was sixteen. This was my first prototype of an academic/spiritual community. I found it life-changing to envision, argue, seek Holy Spirit guidance, and create the necessary logistics to bring our planning and vision to fruition. Designing and leading programs, workshops, and small groups {150} for large youth conventions enhanced my teaching and leadership gifts. I wrote a regular column for Builder magazine as Secretary of Faith. We often met at the Mennonite Publishing House in Scottdale, Pennsylvania, which further whetted my interests in writing and publishing.

By the time I went to Hesston College (Hesston, Kansas), I had already exercised leadership and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that teaching was not only my gift and passion, it was also a calling. As editor of The Journal, I wrote editorials, planned and orchestrated other creative/news writing, and began to dream of writing for publication beyond the college campus. My professors at Hesston trained me to think analytically, to do inductive Bible study, to soak up world literature, and above all gave me many wonderful examples of how to teach and how not to teach. 1 I also met my husband of fifty-four years there. His broader exposure to the world and deep theological questions—informed by his boarding school, church, and extensive travel experiences in India—stretched and blessed me, enriching my worldview and deepening my missionary call.

After Stan and I graduated from Hesston and Goshen Colleges, he enrolled in seminary and I began teaching fourth and fifth grades at Parkside in Goshen. We were married the following summer and began talking with church organizations about our next steps in ministry and mission, always assuming that we would either follow Stan’s parents and grandparents into lifelong missionary service in India, since Stan already spoke impeccable Hindi, or go to Africa, our first choice since it was new to both of us and felt more vibrant. Africa was alive with national independence; Spiritual and Initiated Church movements were in full swing. 2 As children of the sixties, we were peace activists, full of enthusiasm, with dreams of changing the world and the church by noninstitutional means.


After Stan graduated from seminary, we left for Nigeria, West Africa, in August of 1965. We lived and worked in Uyo, a medium-sized town in the southeastern region, with Edwin and Irene Weaver as our mentors and colleagues. 3 During the week we both taught at the United Churches Bible College, and on the weekends we traveled throughout the region to Mennonite and African Initiated churches.

Our language studies were abruptly cut short when another family left because of their son’s illness. 4 Early the next year, storm clouds of political unrest were gaining the upper hand, and when the civil war began we were evacuated out of the secessionist state of Biafra, along with six hundred other expatriates, many of them Peace Corps volunteers.

We and seven other Mennonite Board of Missions (MBM) workers went to Ghana. Our new temporary assignment was to teach at both the Ramseyer Training Center and the Presbyterian seminary in Abetifi. Mercy {151} Adu and Sister Alice Danquah were my first women students who were training for ministry positions. Their passion and enthusiasm deepened my own call to ministry. We had fun in Abetifi, creating an original drama of biblical history, “The First and Second Adam,” from a sermon by Bengt Sundkler. We enjoyed working under an African principal and having a European missionary colleague who was reading Jürgen Moltmann and loved to discuss theology. Uncluttered by possessions (each of us took only a small suitcase out of Biafra) and with few weekend assignments, administrative tasks, or mission/church responsibilities, we began to dream of next steps—why not go to grad school and do African Studies? Why not write?

Temporary assignments gave us freedom to explore and delve into new things, but we began narrowing our research interests to the African Initiated (or Spiritual) Church movements, marriage, family life, and sexuality. We hoped our next terms of service could focus on writing and preparing teaching materials for the African church. The Christian Council of Ghana had several small volumes on marriage and family life, but nothing based on biblical teachings regarding sexuality and the family. The Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) had a very slim booklet on sex and the Bible, but it was not written for the African context and was hard to find. We had a growing appreciation of our Anabaptist heritage and what it had to contribute to the worldwide church along with a passion for further graduate studies.


Being child free, we took the opportunity to travel around the world, visiting friends, on our way back to the United States for a short break. But when we reached MBM in Elkhart, it was obvious that the Biafran War was more complicated, lengthy, devastating, and life changing than we thought. We were torn apart inside thinking of what our friends, colleagues, and the churches were going through. It was three-and-one-half years before we were able even to make an exploratory trip back to see what had happened to the people and places we loved there. So, faced with what to do next, we borrowed a car, and drove to Bloomington, to see if we could take a few classes in the University of Indiana’s African Studies program until the war ended and we could return to Nigeria.

The director, Gus Leibinow, wisely insisted that we both enroll in a degree program. Since it was late summer, we took a post-session class titled “Counseling the Culturally Deprived,” so we could get housing priority. I enrolled in the International and Comparative Education Master’s program and Stan in a Social Studies MAT, which gave us maximum freedom to design study programs and choose classes that would enhance our work in West Africa. I focused on African art, literature, music, Ivan {152} Illich’s deschooling of society, informal and village ways of educating, women’s roles, and child-rearing practices. I also took a class in writing for new literates and dabbled in some African language and linguistics. We took cultural anthropology and African history classes together. Stan focused on African history, geography, religion, and politics, while I reveled in West African novels, dramas, and poetry.

Some of our teachers, fellow students, and language informants had also been evacuated from Biafra and the Nigerian Civil War. Our professors loved the fact that we had lived in Africa and experienced some of the things we were reading about. They encouraged us to relate our writing and research as directly as possible to our location and assignments. It was exciting to search library basement stacks and periodical literature and emerge with time to write term papers and explore one’s own questions. Our first daughter, Rachel, conveniently timed her birth during spring break, and despite postpartum eclampsia Stan and I both completed our master’s degrees by the end of that summer.


The Nigerian Civil War raged on and on. With starvation and decimation of Biafra all too real (the area where MBM had been working) and no end in sight, we agreed to do literature development with the “Islam in Africa” project in Ibadan, Nigeria, Africa’s second largest black African city. However, visa difficulties and other red tape necessitated a temporary return to Ghana until we got the necessary documents for entrance into Nigeria.

In Accra, we returned to our Bible correspondence projects, using what we had learned at Indiana University and our visits to Israel, East Africa, and Mennonite Broadcasts in Virginia. After we moved to Ibadan, we were involved in Muslim-Christian relations, and Stan wrote a Bible correspondence study on the Gospel of Mark designed especially for Muslims. I, meanwhile, was pregnant with our second child, and found myself fully engaged in the world of toddlers, infants, and family life. But my scholar mind had been awakened, and I found myself researching and reading anything I could find on African home and family life, marriage, and child rearing. I also began writing again: short articles, poetry, and children’s stories. In our third term, we were officially assigned to Ghana, and I began a series of classes in Aladura and other spiritual churches, coteaching with Rev. Kuffuor, a Methodist minister who worked in the Marriage and Family Division of the Christian Council.

When our third child, Jonathan, was born, all these experiences, classes, and teaching notes came together in a late-night writing project. I also decided to apply what I had learned at I.U. about writing for new {153} literates to make lessons more easily translatable into Twi, Ga, and Ewe. Eventually, this was published in a book form as Let Love Be Your Greatest by Editions Trobisch in 1978. 5 It was eventually translated into eight different languages: Swahili, Hausa, Yoruba, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, and German, and used in Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. Walter and Ingrid Trobisch were my best mentors for doing counseling, writing, and teaching in the fields of sexuality and marriage. 6

Jonathan soon developed serious health problems, and local friends urged us to seek God’s healing through prayer. Sometimes the church mothers, prophets, and traditional healers used dancing or drumming for diagnosis; often it was part of the treatment. We struggled with many levels of this decision but ultimately concluded that we should seek medical help at Children’s Hospital in New York City. Our son fully recovered and has never had any other sign of difficulty, though the doctors predicted that he might have recurring infections or additional complications later in life.

I realize now, more than fifty years later, that various experiences of dislocation, suffering, decision making, and acceptance were the graduate school where I learned the scholarship of counseling, spiritual direction, and pastoring. From that first day in 1965 when an expatriate businessman at the airport in Lagos asked me, “Why the h___ did you let your husband bring you to this God-forsaken place?” I experienced God’s grace and guidance fueling my passion and using my natural gifts and relational skills to help others sort out their crises and find God in the midst of their suffering and difficult decisions.

After Jonathan was given medical clearance we returned once more to Ghana. We completed our time in West Africa in 1978, after thirteen years of inspiring, healing work with the African church, which has so much to teach us about community, suffering, worship, prayer, joy, and peace.


My research and the dedication required to become a scholar was honed through those early years of longing and insularity in Oklahoma, my Hesston, Goshen, and Indiana University professors, and the twelve times we moved (usually unexpectedly) into yet another home, culture, language, people, and church during the first sixteen years of our marriage. These many changes were balanced, however, by the repeated themes of sexuality, marriage, family, theological education, and ministry.

Back in the United States, we located in La Junta, Colorado, for a year where Stan served as interim pastor at Emmanuel Mennonite Church, then moved to Iowa City, where we both shared a half-time job at First Mennonite Church: I as Resource Minister (a fancy name for Christian education, youth, and family ministry) and he as Campus Minister. Stan {154} enrolled in doctoral studies after teaching for one year at Iowa Mennonite School to establish residency. I expected to return to elementary school teaching to support our family financially, as there was no way both of us could afford to go to graduate school. However, the farm crisis of the 1980s was in full swing, and there were no jobs. 7

To supplement our meager income from part-time jobs, I would occasionally write a quarter of adult Sunday school lessons for Builder magazine, and when Doris Longacre died before completing the Living More with Less book, her husband asked if I would finish it. 8 We knew Doris from Hesston, and she and Paul were close friends during seminary. In the end, Paul completed it from Doris’s notes, but MCC asked me to write a study guide for groups, and I led several retreats and workshops promoting both of those books. 9 I insisted on placing Action in the title and made sure that it helped people to actually change their lifestyle, not just read and talk about it.

My sister, who worked at the University of Iowa, encouraged me to apply for a graduate degree in Education. She thought my published book and African experience might help me get a scholarship. So I took the Graduate Record Exam, applied, and the rest is history. Being on scholarship meant you had to go full-time and be a graduate assistant. Fortunately, I had the privilege to assist Dr. Lauralee Rockwell, who taught both graduate and undergraduate courses in human sexuality and marriage and family counseling.

Juggling three children’s schedules and activities, two quarter-time jobs at church, night classes, evening and Saturday work at the bookstore, weekend potlucks, Sunday school classes, pastoral care for university students, occasional preaching, plus being responsible for Christmas programs and children’s and youth activities at the church, made it difficult to find time for graduate school. However, to renew my scholarship each year, I had to keep up a full-time student pace, including three practicums with clients and hospital patients.

I was also serving on two churchwide task forces: one on Women in Ministry, the other Family Life Ministries. Both required some travel, speaking, and writing. Fortunately, my social skills, extroverted personality, and years in Africa made it easier to be present with people I needed to contact, counsel, or host, and my quick, wide-ranging mind and varied life experiences gave me lots of questions and ideas for my academic research and writing.

Within four years, coursework was done, the scholarship ended, and to simplify our lives and become financially solvent, I left my part-time jobs and began to work full time as an academic counselor in the athletic department. I was responsible for the academic and personal {155} counseling/advising for the two hundred male student-athletes in baseball, basketball, swimming, track, cross country, gymnastics, golf, tennis, and wrestling (all sports except football). I worked with eight coaches and many of their assistants. My task was to help athletes remain eligible to play, ensure that they also got a good education, and confirm that they could function both outside and inside the athletic world. I had to supervise tutors, arrange for study halls, help them negotiate with their faculty, deans, and coaches, meet with their families (especially during the recruitment seasons), and most of all just be there for whatever those two hundred young men needed. It was my first experience of an almost all-male work environment, focused on competition and winning instead of service and ministry.

Nights and weekends, I worked on my dissertation. Because of my mentor, Dr. Rockwell, and the book, Let Love Be Your Greatest, I decided I wanted to pursue the subject of human sexuality in a seminary or Christian college setting. The common thread in my work in Africa, the local church, and denominational boards was making theological and biblical education accessible to laypersons, women, and families—not just church leaders and pastors. And I knew I wanted to continue to teach.

So, when I heard about a colleague’s dissertation project at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, many of my ideas and questions began to come together. 10 I had completed a master’s equivalency project in which I had designed an instrument for measuring counseling responses. So I decided to do a pre- and post-test scientific study to determine whether a short course in human sexuality would affect the knowledge, attitudes, and counseling responses of seminary students. Once I got approval from my faculty, the next hurdles were convincing a Lutheran seminary to allow me to teach a course on human sexuality, and finding enough students to sign up for such a course that had never been offered there before (or perhaps since?).

Not easily deterred, I walked in where angels feared to tread, and before I knew it I was trekking up to Dubuque over snowy roads four weeks in a row to teach twenty-seven seminary students. Once all that data was safely analyzed and in boxes, there was still my new job at the athletic department. To make progress on the dissertation, I would go back to work after supper a couple of nights a week to type rough drafts on the good electric typewriters at the athletic department while my friend from church, who came along, retyped the edited version of the previous night’s work.


Fast forward two years and we are packing the moving truck and heading for Fresno, California. A few months earlier, John Toews had called one {156} morning, wondering whether I might be interested in a faculty position at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (MBBS) in Fresno (now Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary). When he asked if I would be willing to send a resume, I told him that we had visited the seminary the previous summer and that I had left my resume with Larry Martens. 11 He found it and called back asking if I would like to come out for an interview. Every course the Fresno seminary wanted me to teach (except for psychopathology) was something I had focused on in my studies or had experience teaching—it was as if the job was made for me!

A fair bit of time was spent in my interview with the seminary faculty sorting out their questions and the theological implications for Mennonite Brethren (MB) of women in ministry. 12 I left not at all sure I would be offered the position and was glad I was also in conversation and the initial interview process with another seminary in Chicago. I was disappointed to see that the Fresno position would be in another almost all-male work setting, but the thought of a seminary-level Marriage, Family and Child Counseling program in a multicultural community was exciting! 13 I also liked the size of the school (after two Big Ten, 30,000-student university settings), the location, and the farming aspects of Fresno.

While the seminary took time to process my candidacy, I redoubled my efforts to get the dissertation finished so I could get through all the hoops of defending it in case I got an offer and we decided to accept. I had moved enough times in my life to know that it would be almost impossible to uproot a family, settle in a new community and church, begin a new job, and still have time to return to Iowa to complete my PhD. I continued to work full-time, wrote, typed, and revised through many wee hours of the morning, successfully defended the dissertation, made all the necessary revisions and additions, and was approved for graduation in late August. 14

And then MBBS offered me the job, and I took it. The day we packed our moving truck, a friend who came to help took the finished copy of my dissertation to Kinko’s got five copies xeroxed and toted them around to the various offices to get the required signatures. I walked across the University of Iowa platform at graduation, then we got in the truck and left, with an unexpected stop in the desert to allow our overheated car to cool down.

Meanwhile our children had grown up during the eight years we lived in Iowa City pursuing two PhDs and being active in ministry there. Our first daughter was in college, and the second daughter didn’t want to move, so she stayed in Iowa City for her senior year of high school. Only our son, Jonathan, moved ahead to life in Fresno with us. Notice that instead of the two weekender suitcases that we took out of Biafra, our possessions {157} (especially books and papers) now required a moving truck, despite my having written the Study/Action Guide to Living More with Less!

We arrived in Fresno midmorning, late August, late to a faculty meeting (due to the overheated car), and endured several days of 105-degree temperatures. Years of graduate student life, academic debt, moving costs, and the minimal salary, made it imperative that my spouse also find a job. However, we felt fortunate that at least one of us would be employed in academia. Already in the late 80s it was clear that pursuing advanced degrees had better be because you love the life and work of a scholar, not because you are seeking status or wealth!


Thirty years later, very little of what I had planned and hoped to write got done. My Wabash grant project, which I envisioned and talked about with others, became another professor’s sabbatical project. I was asked to write nine different chapters for other people’s books. 15 All of these projects were enjoyable and collaborative, but it took a military chaplain to see the common thread of pastoral care in all this writing: worship, HIV/AIDS, aging, teaching peace to children, healing children of war, sexuality, conflict, and marriage. My most significant sabbatical involved traveling to ten African countries to observe “best practices” in HIV/AIDS ministry and to encourage MCC to ramp up its response to this global pandemic. On our return, our lengthy (one hundred pages single spaced) written and verbal reports to MCC increased their worldwide efforts significantly. We spoke on the topic in a variety of settings in the US and Canada, hosted a conference at the seminary on local initiatives in meeting the pandemic, and I designed and taught a course on HIV/AIDS, at the seminary.

In teaching human sexuality, there are many challenges. Over the years, I have developed creative ways to help students feel comfortable enough to raise their real questions, to face their own internal processes, to imagine themselves and then practice listening to and speaking with someone who holds very different values, orientations, and beliefs than themselves. We study sex education, abuse, transgender issues, affairs, sexually transmitted infections, sex trafficking, sexual orientations, desire, along with various expressions of sexuality and relationships, and through it all I try to never lose sight of the goodness, beauty, and wonder of our sexuality and our bodies.

The most enjoyable aspect of academia for me has been designing and developing new courses. In addition, I will never forget the many wonderful people I have had the privilege of working with. I worked with five deans and four presidents in my twenty-nine years at MBBS, and in the past five years as a professor emerita I have done adjunct teaching {158} under four more presidents and two provosts at Fresno Pacific University! As a Professor of Pastoral Counseling, I have often had to speak up for the strengths and uniqueness of practical theology, and the importance of practicums, servanthood, and applied education and theology. 16 Working for change in the church takes lots of patience, a big dose of courage, and the willingness to confront the hierarchies and institutional barriers. I loved getting out into the churches, taking seminary education to the laity, including children. 17

My goal for students has been to help them grow to where they can sit with a client or someone in their church or neighborhood and minister to them like Jesus did with the woman taken in adultery or Zacchaeus up in a tree. When I am questioned about where I stand, what I think, or what the church should do, I lead the students back to the Scriptures. 18 For example, we consider that “God created male and female . . . and it was very good” or the obvious delight and celebration of sensuality in the Song of Solomon. The two repeated themes of holiness and honor are present in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, so we use these as guideposts whenever sexuality is discussed.

Counselors and pastors deal with the reality of where people’s lives are lived, and the ideals to which the world points us are often very different from those held by the church or described in Scripture. Sexuality is a subject where scientific research, medical expertise, media, Scripture, cultural, and religious traditions all need to become part of the dialogical process. I have spent decades of my life learning how to teach volatile and difficult topics, like polygamy, pastoral sexual abuse, erectile dysfunction, homosexuality, rape, infertility, pornography, gender dysphoria, lack of desire, postpartum depression, and psychosis . . . topics that have so vexed the church that it is almost impossible to discuss them. My job requires that in addition to teaching the content, I move the students to a place where they can sit with someone who is struggling with these kinds of issues and minister effectively in a counseling session or pastoral setting.

I see mission and ministry as central to the life of every Christian, including scholars. It kept my writing and teaching relevant to also be in the trenches, working with suicidal clients, broken marriages, and anxious children; or traveling to Thailand, Japan, and India, attending ICOMB meetings (International Community of Mennonite Brethren); and interviewing and debriefing new and returning missionaries during the eleven years I served on the Mennonite Brethren Mission and Service International board (now MB Mission). These kinds of practical ministries and board work were both meaningful and challenging, and rounded out my international experiences and academic world in some beautiful and powerful ways. {159}

The life of the mind is also the life of the spirit, the life of the activist, the servant, the student advisor/recruiter/advocate. And practical studies is also a legitimate field of scholarship. What is more complicated than human relationships or the human mind? My philosophy of academics is likely different from others—perhaps it is a minority voice. But let me encourage those of you who meander, or find your lives interrupted not once but a dozen times—God can still use you! The challenges to faith that have been mine are to remain gracious, kind, loving, observant, and patient, all the while empowering every student, every client, and myself to grow.

I have had plenty of challenges academically and personally as a woman in ministry who teaches, preaches, and writes in the fields of sexuality, grief, and relationships. It’s been a great fifty-five years of working in classrooms and counseling rooms. I wouldn’t trade the life of a teacher/professor/scholar for anything else, unless it was a pastor/missionary/therapist/spouse/parent. For me, all of these roles have been combined and intertwined in wonderful ways beyond all human comprehension. God planned and orchestrated my life in ways that I could never have imagined. Every single class the seminary asked me to teach used some aspect of my history or training.

When the MB General Conference included that disappointing exception clause in the 1999 resolution, “That women be encouraged to minister in the church in every function other than the lead pastorate,” 19 I decided that we would celebrate and honor MB women who were preaching, and began collecting and editing women’s sermons. Though some colleagues told me there weren’t enough sermons to make it worthwhile, selections from over eighty women were submitted, and All Are Witnesses is still blessing and empowering many. 20 I rejoice that our MB sisters in Congo, India, and Canada now have more open doors for ministry, and continue to pray that there will be more openness in other locations.


Some of the crises of faith I have had in my career as an academic have concerned organizations: Will the institution of the church, the seminary, and Christian colleges survive? If so, how? And why? Am I willing to let my job go so someone else can have a chance, or so the institution can survive? What is the real mission of the church? Others have related more specifically to my profession: Why has the ministry of counseling been undervalued or relegated to the secular world? How do I reconcile the low pay and the overpacked work weeks with the multitude of administrative, recruitment, and paperwork duties, including government and licensure red tape for self and students, that make it impossible to get writing {160} and research done? How does one teach respect, honor, and holiness in today’s world with its political and media frenzy? Latina students have different perspectives, needs, challenges, goals—how can I make what I am teaching relevant to them?

Here are some of my initial questions when I began as a professor: If I let them know I am ordained, will that close or open doors? How do I not only survive but thrive as an extroverted woman in a world of introverted academics? 21 If my gifts are primarily relational, how can I lead with those skills and use the life of my busy, somewhat cluttered mind to invigorate, inspire, and challenge others? How do I keep a passion for Jesus that spills over and ignites and invites others? How can I do more to encourage others who feel called to ministry, but for whom fewer doors are open, or may open later, or only halfway? How can I help others find and make peace within and without?

I conclude with a few suggestions for those who may be exploring or considering the life of a scholar:

  1. Instead of being waylaid by interruptions and delays, look at them as avenues for God to work in and through your life. Detours teach us alternative ways of moving.
  2. Keep growing in your own mind. Ask questions, explore, invite others who disagree with you to dialogue. Learn to listen to a variety of perspectives.
  3. Creativity, flexibility, openness, determination, and passion are more important than knowledge and success.
  4. Learn the languages, passions, hurts, and questions of those you teach and those who read what you write. Learn from your students and your readers.
  5. Don’t forget to be practical. Help your readers and students to act, not just learn.
  6. Change and growth are central to the gospel.
  7. Spend time in international settings, enlarge your worldview, expand your cultural understanding. Welcome differences. Learn from the world community. It opens you in ways no book or library can.
  8. Find colleagues with whom you can build a learning/teaching community. Collaborate. Change the church and the world.
  9. Never teach a course or lecture the same way twice! {161}

Learn from Jesus—he used the discovery method: objects, stories, actions, parables, questions. His words were healing, accepting, and loving as well as wise and insightful.


  1. Calvin Redekop, Clayton Beyler, Willard Conrad, M. A. Yoder, Paul Friesen, Melva Kauffman, Marvin Miller, and Sara Ann Classen were particularly formative in my becoming a professor.
  2. Ghana was the first West African country to gain its independence in 1957; Nigeria soon followed in 1960. There was much ferment, joy, and excitement. These countries were full of young people, over fifty percent of the population being under eighteen.
  3. The Weavers had served with MBM in India along with Stan’s parents and were pastoral counselors at Hesston when we were students there, so they were already spiritual mentors and family friends. They both had great minds and open hearts and were vibrant, creative, impeccable models of team ministry, devotion, and missiology, often giving us things to read, challenging us with questions, and introducing us to church leaders and two European professors, Dr. Andrew Wall and Dr. Harold Turner, who were doing original research on African church history.
  4. Dr. William Welmers, a renowned linguist, had come to Eastern Nigeria on a sabbatical to set up a language course for eight new Lutheran missionaries. He allowed us to join, and we benefited from his dedicated scholarship. He had painstakingly worked at documenting the five tones that made Efik/Ibibio so difficult for Westerners to learn and understood how frustrating it was to find a completely different language seventeen miles away.
  5. Delores Friesen, Let Love Be Your Greatest: A Study Guide to a Happy Marriage (Kehl, Germany: Editions Trobisch, 1979. A second editon was published in 1981.
  6. We had become acquainted with Walter and Ingrid Trobisch’s wonderful series of books on love, marriage, birth control, fertility, and sexuality, set in West Africa, and had used them many times in our work. When we did the Bible correspondence survey, we wrote to them and asked if they knew of any good Bible correspondence lessons on marriage and sexuality. They said “No” and suggested that we write one. When I was engaged in this project, I contacted them, and they decided to publish it. The Trobischs were a German/American Lutheran missionary couple who worked in Cameroun, which shares a border with Nigeria. We met Ingrid at Walter’s memorial service in Minneapolis. They were my best mentors for how to do counseling in the field of human sexuality.
  7. When I applied, I was told (1) my MA and three years of experience meant I was overqualified, and, (2) the fifty-two teachers who had been laid off the previous year would be the first in line for all openings, including substitute teaching jobs. I took a minimum wage part-time job at Provident Bookstore, {162} which paid for our groceries, fed my love of books, and taught me how to order and sell books in addition to reading and writing them.
  8. Doris Janzen Longacre, Living More with Less (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1980).
  9. Delores Histand Friesen, Living More with Less Study/Action Guide (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1981; rev. ed., Sioux City, IA: Alternatives for Simple Living, 1999).
  10. John Hershberger had preceded us at First Mennonite Church in Iowa City, though he was given a half-time position for campus ministry. He had designed and taught a very brief workshop on child abuse and domestic violence at Wartburg and had been able to show how important even this very brief exposure was in changing how seminary students thought about and responded to situations of abuse.
  11. We had candidated for a joint church ministry position with a full-time job for Stan and a half-time job for me, so I left my resume with the seminary, thinking it would be great to teach there part-time. Dean Toews was not at work that day, so I visited briefly with the President, Larry Martens, and remembered seeing him place the resume in the top drawer of his filing cabinet.
  12. I was ordained in Iowa City at the First Mennonite Church after my seven years on staff there. Members felt it was wrong to have not recognized my work, gifting, and sense of call, since they were already in the process of ordaining the woman who followed my tenure. I wondered whether I should include this in my resume, knowing that Mennonite Brethren did not allow women to be ordained and, in 1987, very few MB women were in paid positions or even working part-time on ministry teams. When I was offered the faculty position, I was asked to become a member of an MB church, which we gladly did. But the MB denomination could not recognize or hold my ordination, so we have also maintained an associate membership in Mennonite Church USA. Encouraging and developing women’s gifts in ministry continues to be a central focus of my work!
  13. I came to teach at MBBS in the fall of 1988. The counseling program was limited at that time to no more than twenty students, and only a handful of graduates had completed the program before I arrived. Today that program is the largest major in the seminary, with classes offered in two locations, Fresno and Visalia, as well as some hybrid/online options, and there are sixty students in the major. Faculty and students love the interdisciplinary nature of the courses and feel that the theological and biblical courses they take, the integration of psychology and theology, and the approach and training of the professors at the seminary help them utilize their faith as they grow in their chosen professions of teaching, counseling, ministry, and therapy.
  14. Delores Histand Friesen, “Sex Education in the Seminary Setting: Its Effect on Attitudes, Knowledge, and Counseling Responses” (PhD diss., University of Iowa, 1988).
  15. Delores Friesen, “Worship: Important and Real,” in A Kingdom of Priests, ed. Wilbert R. Shenk (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1967), 54–64; “How Can We Help Children Respond to Injustice?” in Growing Toward Peace, ed. Kathryn Aschliman (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1993), 235–76; “Peace Education and {163} Conflict Resolution,” in Healing the Children of War, ed. Phyllis Kilbourn (Monrovia, CA: Marc, 1995), 251–66; “Islands of Hope in a Time of Despair,” in Out of the Strange Silence: The Challenge of Being Christian in the 21st Century, ed. Brad Thiessen (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2005), 201–18; “Mutual Address and Accountability in Couples Therapy,” in Mennonite Perspectives on Pastoral Counseling, ed. Daniel S. Schipani (Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 2007), 155–71; “Aging with Spirit,” in The Voice of a Writer: Honoring the Life of Katie Funk Wiebe, ed. Doug Heidebrecht and Valerie G. Rempel (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2010), 219–30; “The Gift Restored,” in Sexuality: God’s Gift, ed. Anne Krabill Hershberger, 2nd ed. (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2010), 257–75; with Anne Krabill Hershberger, “The Gift: Further Study,” ibid., 277–94; with Mary Shamshoian, “Peacemaking in the Family: A Systemic View of Domestic Violence,” in Violence and Peace: Creating a Culture of Peace in the Contemporary Context of Violence, ed. Frampton F. Fox (Pune, India: Union Biblical Seminary, 2010), 204–42.
  16. There is a kind of scholarship and patience that sits with a troubled person in a counseling room for decades, if need be. Getting a license as a therapist is a major academic accomplishment. Mental illness, sexuality, disability, injustice, violence, and abuse present some of the most difficult theological, spiritual, and personal challenges the church has ever faced. All pastors could benefit from courses in human development across the life span, domestic violence, human sexuality, and basic counseling skills.
  17. Note my published writing regarding children: teaching peace and conflict resolution and helping them respond to injustice and heal from the wounds of war. Many of my poems regarding HIV/AIDS, family, and human development also are about children or childhood experiences.
  18. Many people are not aware that thirty-nine of the sixty-six books in the Bible involve some aspect of human sexuality.
  20. Delores Histand Friesen, ed., All Are Witnesses: A Collection of Sermons by Mennonite Brethren Women (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 1996). Although this book is now out of print, copies are still available in Winnipeg and Fresno.
  21. When I was hired in 1988, I was the first full-time woman professor at the seminary. I spent many years in many meetings as the only woman colleague. Once when we took a personality and conflict style inventory as part of our faculty/staff retreat, only three of us were extroverted and only two of us (Henry Schmidt and myself) scored high on the perceptive (like to keep options open) scale. All the others, about twenty in all (including women staff members), were introverted and scored high on the analytical “J” side of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Yet our students were training to become pastors, missionaries, evangelists, counselors, and teachers, all of which require good relational skills and “open” minds that can dialogue, serve, and communicate, as well as study.
Delores Friesen is Professor Emerita of Pastoral Counseling at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary (Fresno, California). She received her BA and BS in Elementary Education from Goshen College (Goshen, Indiana), an MS in International and Comparative Education from Indiana University (Bloomington), and her PhD in Counselor Education Counseling and Human Development from the University of Iowa (Iowa City). She spent thirteen years as a missionary in West Africa, where she taught in three theological schools as well as in African Initiated Churches. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with specialties in aging, grief, sexuality, and marriage/family. She is also an adjunct professor emerita at the seminary in Fresno and at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Elkhart, Indiana). Delores serves on the Congregational Care Commission at College Community Mennonite Brethren Church (Clovis, California). She and her husband Stan have three children and six grandchildren.

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