Nola Crooks lives in the town of Parsons in Southeastern Kansas, is mom to a blended family of six out-of-the-nest children and works as a fourth-grade schoolteacher. She serves on the National Board of American Baptist Women’s Ministries (ABWM) and as Midwest Geographical Coordinator for ABWM, which has engaged her in 15,000 miles of travel “meeting American Baptists all over the United States.” A member of First Baptist Church in Horton, Kans., Nola runs the technology each week for a second congregation First Church is supporting called Connexions. That church is focused on mission and outreach. Her spouse, Richard, is First Baptist Church’s pastor.
I’m an American Baptist because it is the place that brought me home, loved me through single parenthood, taught me what it means to be the spouse of a pastor, allowed me to grow and mature into the person where God calls me to be, and compels and challenges me to see each person around me as a creation of God. I can’t imagine worshipping in a place that doesn’t allow me the freedom to develop my own personal relationship with God, to evolve toward a deeper understanding, and to mature into the person that God is calling me to be. It is the American Baptist church that has given me that opportunity.
I received the gift of faith growing up as the child of a military father. There was only one time when we lived in the same town as my grandparents and other family members. Most of my life was spent at least a couple of states or more – or an ocean – away from my parents’ home town. Church life, however, was a constant. Regardless of where we lived we didn’t miss Sunday school or church. On a military post we had two denominations – Protestant and Catholic. When we were stateside, we would travel to my parents’ home state of Louisiana for summer in my father’s rural hometown. I would share a bed with my widowed grandmother in a small non-air-conditioned room. As a fan moved the hot air in lazy puffs, my grandmother would share her Bible reading at night by reading aloud to me. As I have grown I have realized those nights were the genesis of my faith; a faith that was kindled at age 10 when I committed to Christ in a Sunday school class. That faith has been confirmed, tested and transformed as I’ve aged.
My first experience in an ABCUSA church took place in 2002. I was a single mom supporting four children. I had been participating in a church of another denomination, but was feeling out of place and unsure of my role due to my divorce a few years earlier. I became friends with a group of women who were part of a local American Baptist church. While visiting a friend’s house, I noticed they were starting a Bible study using a book Bad Girls of the Bible. I had previously read the book and asked if I could join the study. I found in these women a group that was supportive and caring. Those relationships led to my becoming involved with activities at their church. I was given opportunities there, such as helping out with the Wednesday night elementary girls group, working on Vacation Bible School, in addition to attending worship services. The church made sure my children were able to attend the Central Region ABC summer camps when the cost was beyond my budget. They supported me spiritually, emotionally and financially while I completed my teaching degree. They continue to pray and care for me to this day – even though I no longer live in the same town.
I think the greatest challenge facing the church today is accepting change – understanding that the church has been changing ever since Jesus died on the cross. Part of the challenge is letting go of what we think “church” should sound and look like. Another part of the challenge comes with learning how to be open to ministering in a way that shows our desire to be the hands and feet of Christ.
I pray for my husband and family. I also pray for children – the children in my classroom, the children in my town, the young girls and women I’ve gotten to know through my association with ABWM. I pray that I am able to follow where God is leading me, even though I don’t always understand the purpose behind all the things that end up in my lap.
I struggle the most with time. I really envisioned myself as having a great personal daily time with God when my children were grown, and I had so much time to myself. So much has been brought into my life in the past decade that I still struggle with identifying a consistent time each day when I can stop to reflect, listen and pray. My biggest struggle as a woman is that I am regularly challenged as I seek to structure my life to create and maintain a healthy balance between faith, family and work.
I am most passionate about the importance of ministry to women of all ages across the world. I have become aware of this perspective while serving for the past three years on the National Board of ABWM. My awareness began with the Break the Chains campaign, through which American Baptist Women raised money to help women and young girls trapped in human trafficking. Through joining with ABWM I have learned more about the plight of women across the Asian, African and North American continents. I think of young women who aren’t able to go to school due to simple hygiene needs or because of school tuition/uniform requirements. Beyond that, I’ve learned about young women who are denied opportunities and educational options merely because of their gender. I have a growing awareness that there are women in our country who fail to reach the potential that God seeks for them, and that we as women – as the church – have an obligation to support and empower these women. I find my passion growing in my concern for these women, and wanting to help change their plight.
I think that 10 years from now churches will most likely continue to struggle with their identity and mission. I believe that over the next 10 years successful churches will be working to more clearly identify and act upon their mission, becoming more integral in the life of their communities.