Heather Flies ’95, S’02 Named 2018 Alumna of the Year for Bethel Seminary

Growing up, Heather Flies watched her five older siblings leave their southern Minnesota town to attend Bethel University. After high school graduation, Flies followed suit. There, she discovered the heart God gave her for young people. Now she has her Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Bethel Seminary and is in full-time junior high ministry at Wooddale Church.

By Cherie Suonvieri ’15, content specialist

August 01, 2018 | 4 p.m.

Heather Flies, Junior High Pastor at Wooddale Church

Heather Flies, junior high pastor at Wooddale Church and Bethel Seminary Alumna of the Year

When Heather (Heinsch) Flies ’95, S’02 was in early middle school, she transferred from a private school to a public school. As a young, enthusiastic extrovert, she welcomed the opportunity for new friends—but rather than being welcomed herself, she was met with bullying because of her weight, faith, boldness, and strength.

Having been raised in an uplifting family that celebrated who she was, Flies found herself caught in a battle over what to believe. “It took quite a bit of wrestling to get to the point where I believed that I was someone made on purpose and with purpose,” she says. “As soon as I claimed that, it changed everything.”

Today, Flies is nearing her 22nd year of service as junior high pastor at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, helping students discover who God created them to be and affirming them along the way. “It’s a passion of mine to allow kids to be who they are no matter how different it is,” Flies says. “And it’s also a passion of mine to be an example of somebody who loves who God created her to be so that kids have the freedom to do the same thing.”

The youngest of six children, Flies was raised in southern Minnesota by her stay-at-home mother and her father, a long distance truck driver. At 4 years old, she remembers her oldest brother Greg venturing off to attend Bethel University. Fourteen years later, she followed in his—and the rest of her siblings'—footsteps, becoming the sixth Heinsch to attend Bethel.

“I started my communication degree at Bethel because I wanted to work in the public relations department for the Minnesota Vikings, marry an offensive lineman, and have big babies,” Flies says with a laugh. “But God had a different plan.”

During her undergraduate studies, Flies spent her summers working at Trout Lake Camps in Pine River, Minnesota, which is where she says the Lord began to develop her heart for junior high ministry. Of the nine weeks Flies spent at Trout Lake Camps each summer, junior high week was her favorite.

By junior year of college, Flies was certain of her call to youth ministry. Knowing strong communication skills would be foundational, she leaned into her academic studies, layering her years at Bethel with experience with young people.

In December 1996, Flies began working at Wooddale Church and has been in the same role since. As the junior high pastor, she oversees the 7th, 8th, and 9th grade ministry, which includes creating and implementing Sunday and Wednesday programming, teaching the 9th grade spiritual formation class, facilitating retreats and mission trips, and all other tasks required for fruitful service to students and their families.

Then in 1998, Flies enrolled in Bethel Seminary to earn her Master of Arts in Theological Studies. “I wanted to be a better junior high pastor because I believe junior highers deserve someone who is knowledgeable…” Flies says. “And that’s exactly what happened—through study of the Word, through classes on pastoral care, I learned how to be a better junior high pastor.”

“I think the biggest thing is that I honestly believe I am doing what God crafted me to do. When you’re living in the middle of that, it just feels like breathing. I don’t even have to think about it.”

— Heather Flies

While Flies has had opportunities to move into different types of ministry, she’s chosen to continue devoting her time and energy to junior high students. “I believe this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” she says. “I have fought to stay in the game and on the front lines with junior highers, because I believe they are capable of so much more than people give them credit for." 

Flies’s long-term commitment to junior high students at Wooddale has allowed her to see the impact of her ministry and helped her maintain relationships with her former students. She’s watched them graduate from high school, and she’s officiated their weddings. She’s seen kids grow in ways the rest of the world never expected.

Flies tells the story of a student who was cared for by a foster family at Wooddale. This student demonstrated difficult and sporadic behavior in both school and church, but Flies saw the potential in him. “I remember leaning into that relationship, calling out what I saw in him and how I believed God was working in his life,” she says.

Years later at this student’s high school graduation party, they stood locked in a hug with tears flowing from their eyes. “I looked at him and said, ‘I remember what you were like when you were 10, and I look at you now and I am so grateful for what God has done,’” Flies says. “I would have missed that if I would have left the junior high ministry.”  

Beyond the sweetness that comes with watching her students grow, Flies credits the longevity of her service to the joy of the Holy Spirit and her high capacity for social interaction. She also has her support system at home: her husband Chad, whom she met when he volunteered with the junior high ministry, and her two Saint Bernhard dogs, which weigh in at 138 and 127 pounds. And on top of it all, her sense of purpose keeps her going.

“I think the biggest thing is that I honestly believe I am doing what God crafted me to do,” Flies says. “When you’re living in the middle of that, it just feels like breathing. I don’t even have to think about it.”

Nominate the 2019 alumni of the year

Every year, Bethel honors three outstanding alumni who are making a difference in their communities. If you know an incredible alum who deserves to be recognized, tell us! Nominations are accepted year-round and remain in consideration for 3 years.

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