KEARNEY — “So many people think that following God is boring,” Ruth Rosenzweig, said. “It’s one of the most adventurous things there is.”
For 28 years, Rosenzweig has been a pastor at Lighthouse Church. She’s now the assistant pastor, one of three members of the all-female staff.
Her daughter, Deborah Schrader, is the senior pastor. Sandra Wang, a teacher at Sunrise Middle School, is the missions pastor.
How did they get where they are? Here are their stories.
Hippies find holiness: Ruth’s story
Rosenzweig, raised in tiny Dillonvale, Ohio, had shed her religious upbringing when, at age 21, she moved to southern California in the early ’70s to work as a traveling nurse. She met her future husband when she walked past his bungalow on her way to mail a letter. He was outside talking to the mailman. She stopped and gave the mailman her letter.
“The mailman introduced us. Ben invited me to dinner, and that was it. We were thick as thieves from that moment,” she said.
They called themselves “clean hippies” because “we had jobs and we took showers,” but added, “We were into holistic energy and the occult. We were pretty messed up.”
In 1977, they got married in a quick civil ceremony in Las Vegas.
Ben, an electrician, was home with a severe infection when he happened to turn on the 700 Club, a Christian talk show. A guest on the show said that “God wanted to help anyone with that problem,” and specifically named the infection plaguing Ben. The infection was lingering because Ben was allergic to the prescribed medication. Ben, who had abandoned his Jewish faith, was aghast. He prayed.
“God healed him. From that moment on, he believed,” Ruth said.
But Ruth was skeptical. “That caused a bit of friction,” she said.
Ben had called the 700 Club telecast seeking a local church. They suggested the Foursquare Church of Assembly. Grumbling, Ruth joined Ben at a service. There, assigned to pray with another couple, “Ben looked at that couple with tears in his eyes and said, ‘My wife needs Jesus.’ His faith was so pure. They looked at me and prayed for me,” Ruth said.
“Then the pastor asked if anyone wanted to receive Jesus. I knew I needed it. The moment I said yes, I felt a weight lifting off me. It was the most amazing thing. My life has never been the same,” she said.
Hungry to learn the Christian faith, the Rosenzweigs joined Bible studies. They began to lead others. They became licensed pastors. Doctors had told Ruth she would never have children, but she gave birth to three daughters between 1981 and 1989.
By the early ’90s, Ben felt drawn to the ministry. He learned of an open church pastorate in Kearney, Neb. “We had no clue where Nebraska was,” Ruth said. Ben, born and raised in California, had always insisted he’d never live in the Midwest, but when he visited Kearney, that changed.
The job offered housing, but no salary, but Ben was jubilant. He called Kearney “the promised land.” The family moved to Kearney. Two weeks later, in October, when a blizzard shut down the city for a few days, he kept saying, “Isn’t it great?”
He found a job at Valcom, a computer store, until the church was able to pay him a small salary. Ruth became a nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital while still serving as co-pastor.
“People would ask us, ‘When are you leaving?’ I told them, “If God tells us to leave, we will. Until then, we’re staying here,’” she said.
‘God has a way’: Deborah’s story
“I never thought I would do this. This is not what God planned on, but God has a way,” Schrader said.
As a preacher’s daughter, Schrader said she knew “the good, the bad and the ugly” of church life, but when she heard a speaker at Kearney Christian School who had done mission work in South America, she thought, “That’s what I want to do.”
She devoured National Geographic. She spent brief stints doing mission work in Mexico, Mozambique and Tanzania. In Kearney, she taught toddlers at a day care, but without a career path or money for college, she kept asking herself, “What am I supposed to do?”
Along the way, she had realized that missionaries must also evangelize, “and that’s not my personality,” she said. Meanwhile, she eventually became the children’s ministry director, then the director of missions, at Lighthouse Church.
From 2010 to 2012, she moved to Denver and completed classes at Youth With a Mission Denver, a global movement of Christians dedicated to serving Jesus throughout the world. “I realized I had a heart for the church and the body of Christ,” she said.
She worked for YWAM in Denver, but two years later, when her father’s cancer returned for the third time, Schrader came back home and began filling in for him. She had a pastoral license from the Foursquare denomination. Meanwhile, the couple serving as associate pastors at Lighthouse were leaving to be missionaries.
Ben died in April 2015. Ruth opted not to succeed him as senior pastor. She was tired. She had worked as a nurse and served as co-pastor while caring for him. She believed Schrader should fill his shoes.
“There wasn’t a lot of time for a normal transition because my dad went from being fine in October 2014 to being nearly incapacitated by December 2014. He was gone by April 2015,” Schrader said.
The denomination’s district leadership came to Kearney and met with the Lighthouse leadership team and the business council. After much prayer, they submitted Schrader’s appointment to the national church office, which approved it.
“Now it made sense why God had me here, working alongside my dad. This was God’s answer to prayer,” Schrader said.
Sharing God’s love: Sandra’s story
Wang, raised in a non-denominational church in her native Lexington, found Lighthouse Church when, as a student at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, she felt like God was calling her to seek more of Him. She “stumbled into the Lighthouse for a prayer meeting.”
She said, “I walked in, looked around, and it just felt right. The congregation was experiencing renewal, and it spoke to the hunger I was feeling.” An education major, she volunteered within a year to help with the youth group because “I wanted to spend more time with teenagers.”
After graduation, she became a teacher, but in the summer, Wang did overseas mission work. She worked with refugees in southern Israel. “I don’t use the word ‘mission.’ We talk about outreach and sharing God’s love,” she said.
Wang has taught at Sunrise Middle School for 15 years. A year ago, she married Andrew Wang, a Taiwanese man she met on eHarmony. Andrew is a para for the Kearney Public Schools and also works at Kay Jewelers.
Soon, the couple will move to the Detroit suburb of Hamtramck, Mich., to work with that area’s Arabic population, refugees and immigrants through a Foursquare outreach program. “God was pulling my heart towards working with people from the Middle East. I feel called to share the love of God with them,” she said.