Heart & Mind
Volume 22 No 2 | Spring 2009
June and Ryan Connelly share more than just a surname. For the past few years, this unique mother and son duo have both been pursuing course work toward a Master of Arts in Transformational Leadership (M.A.T.L.) degree, offered through Bethel Seminary’s InMinistry program (see box on page 9). June, who works full-time with Silver Birch Ranch (SBR) in White Lake, Wis., began the program in the fall of 2005, and soon realized the courses would also be a perfect fit for her son, who is founder and director of Lion’s Ridge, a Christian adventure camp in Bozeman, Mont. June will graduate this spring; Ryan will complete his degree early next year.
Different paths led the two to Bethel, with some common denominators along the way. June grew up in the Chicago area in a strong Christian home with parents who had a heart for ministry. She accepted Jesus at the age of seven, and was heavily involved in church activities, youth ministries, and Bible camps. After marrying her high school sweetheart and earning a degree in elementary education from Wheaton College, June settled down in a small town in Wisconsin with her husband. She taught fourth grade for several years until her children were born, and the family became very involved in church, which helped provide a priceless support system for June later. “Little did I realize that my greatest spiritual challenge and the key to my spiritual growth would come through the disintegration of my marriage,” June recalls. “Around the same time my husband left (after 25 years together), both Ryan and his sister Kate departed for college. In that time, totally alone, I had to come to grips with whether God was really enough for all my needs.”
This turning point helped June realize God’s all-sufficient love, and she embarked on a new and unfamiliar path. “My life had been centered around my family, church, ministry, and friends. I started a job as director of the Chamber of Commerce in our community, which provided me with experiences and challenges I’d never had before,” June recalls. “And because so many people were aware of my circumstances, I had many opportunities to share how God had been my hope and strength.”
A few years later, June began pursuing a master of arts in ministry at Moody and also contemplated a career change. A friend encouraged her to pursue her passion for ministry again. In April 2000, a position opened up at Silver Birch Ranch, where the Connelly family had long been involved and where June had volunteered in the past. Today, she serves as office manager for the Christian camp and works closely with family camp programs, overseeing women’s retreats, and hosting outreaches. She also co-teaches a personal development class for college students in Nicolet Bible Institute, SBR’s one-year Bible college program. “I get excited,” she says, “when I have an opportunity to use my gifts to make a difference. Camps can impact people of all ages spiritually in a unique way.”
Still hoping to finish her postgraduate degree, June started looking for a program that would allow her to continue her job at the same time. Bethel’s Transregional Director of Seminary Admissions and Recruitment, Joseph Dworak, came to Silver Birch to conduct StrengthsFinder coaching with the staff, and encouraged June to consider the seminary’s transformational leadership program.
Ryan’s story, as one might expect, bears similarities to his mother’s. Like her, he became a Christian at an early age (seven) after a puppet show at church, and was also very involved in ministry while growing up. The breakup of his parents’ marriage was pivotal for him, as well, proving to be a time when, as Ryan puts it, he learned what “joy” means. “It’s the confidence we have in a God who cares about us and is working for us no matter what hurdles life presents.”
Attending college at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana, Ryan received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 1998. He worked for three years as a manufacturing and design engineer for Stryker Instruments, but his love of ministry and the outdoors beckoned, and he left to spend a year doing camp missions with his grandfather’s ministry, Camp Elim, in south Haiti. During that same year, along with his adopted dad, Lee Dawson, Ryan began pursuing a dream: Lion’s Ridge, an outdoor camp devoted to Christian adventure education with a powerful motto: “training eyes to see, hearts to love, hands to serve.” Ryan began the ministry full time in 2003, and currently serves as executive director.
June encouraged Ryan to look into Bethel’s M.A.T.L. program, and his decision was cemented after talking to Dworak as well. Though the Connellys share the same degree path, their schedules have been different. Thus, until this spring, they’ve never had a class together. “Ryan’s been great to me when we’ve both been here for intensives,” June shares. “I’m really looking forward to having Old Testament and Senior Seminar with him. He’s got an unusual sense of humor and he’s incredibly intelligent, with much to offer.” Ryan echoes her enthusiasm. “It’s been fun to share topics of conversation and the learning process with Mom,” he says. “Our fellow students seem to think it’s cool that we’re in the program together, mostly because my mom is so cool!”
Mother and son appreciate the InMinistry program’s convenience and practicality. “The schedule works well with my camp schedule,” June says. “And being able to continue learning while working is incredibly beneficial. I’m very practical and want to apply what I’m learning in the context of where I am.”
Ryan praises the program’s benefits as well. “The curriculum is well-suited for my vocation. I was able to dual-track my professional and ministerial growth, and will be using the things I’ve learned for a very long time as I lead this organization and work to develop the staff and students who come through Lion’s Ridge.”
June and Ryan share yet another similarity. Both value their investment in seminary most for the way it has equipped them to serve others. “The Great Commission is best expressed for me, personally, in Acts 20:24,” notes June. “My life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about God’s wonderful kindness and love.”
Ryan would no doubt agree.
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