From Life Flight Nurse to Christian Leadership
Ielene was raised in a loving and happy family in Houston, TX. However, the Christian denomination of her family of origin did not promote personal Bible study. Despite attending services each week, it wasn’t until she was in her twenties that Ielene received Christ as her Lord and Savior through a sermon at a Baptist church.
“I understood I was a sinner and needed to repent of sin and trust Christ as my Lord and Savior. From that day forward I was changed. Everything was different. I quickly gravitated to reading Scripture and many apologetics books. I soon wanted to study God’s Word in an academic setting, but I realized it would have to wait a few years.”
She received her B.S. in Nursing from UT Austin in 1979 and spent many years serving as a Life Flight Registered Nurse before transitioning to full-time ministry. DTS graduates often refer to their lives in the context of “before and after seminary.” This former life can be influential in the ministry they pursue. This is definitely true for Ielene.
“God has a unique way of using our past and intertwining it into our future in truly unimaginable ways. When I was a young nursing student at UT or working the night shift as a Life Flight nurse, I never thought that God would use that specific training in ministry. However, in God’s providential grace, my experience as a trauma nurse eventually led me into full-time work as the church/school nurse then into the prayer ministry at my church.”
Ielene married at age thirty-one and eventually had four beautiful children and a beautiful stepdaughter. After fourteen difficult years of marriage, she became a single mother with four young children living at home. Her passion to study God’s Word remained even though she knew seminary would still have to wait until the children were older.
Her DTS application was partially completed and saved on her computer for six years. She finally hit the submit button in 2009. In January 2010, at the age of 54, she began her seminary classes. After seven years of part-time study, she received her MACL degree. Interestingly, her very first seminary class was BE 101 with president Dr. Mark Yarbrough!
“My desire to go to seminary was based on my dissatisfaction with my biblical illiteracy. I knew what I believed, but I could not defend my faith adequately. Being around those who studied and knew the Bible well influenced me to want to know more. Seminary gave me the foundation I was looking for all along!”
Ielene’s favorite things:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:7–10)
If I had to pick one, I think my favorite class has to be the one that took me from being a biblical novice to another level of Scriptural understanding. This “light bulb” class was ST:101 with Dr. Doug Blount. The apologetic aspects of that class allowed me to develop a firm foundation that I continued to build upon throughout seminary. I was a skeptic growing up so comprehending the truth of what Scripture is helped me stand firm in the faith. I learned how and why I could trust the Bible as the inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God. Quite a leap from where I started.
I absolutely cannot choose a favorite professor. What I can say, is that what I learned in the classroom from all my DTS professors was much more than what was discussed in any lecture. Their preparation, humility, faith, and fruit from their lives, motivated me to strive and keep going. I have also seen unmerited grace and unconditional acceptance and love for all students by the professors. They were not dismayed if you were biblically illiterate, nor highly impressed if you were a great biblical scholar. Either way, each student mattered uniquely and equally to God and the professors at DTS. I esteem all those at DTS who put God first and devoted their lives to the study of his Word. These are my heroes now!
Ielene’s current ministry and advice for seminary students:
What is your current ministry and how has your seminary degree been beneficial in your role(s)?
Prayer – I am the Administrator for the Prayer Ministry at Second Baptist Church in Houston, TX. I oversee the daily activities of the SBC prayer ministry, including the 24 -Hour Prayer Line and the Hospital Visitation Team which covers our six campuses. The hospital team includes pastors and many lay volunteers. Our ministry facilitated over 3,000 in-person hospital visits in 2019. The Prayer Ministry department is the critical communication center for our church body. We believe that excellence in pastoral care includes getting the correct person to make the pastoral touch through prayer or a visit at exactly the right time. Rapid attention at the time of crisis is fundamental to excellence in pastoral care. We make it our policy to be available to do all levels of pastoral care 24/7. To truly be the hands and feet of Christ this must be our policy. We know God has perfect timing!
Professional – I use my DTS degree every day in my current ministry. My DTS training impacts every writing assignment I have ever done for my church, every Bible study lesson I have ever taught, and absolutely every prayer with a person in crisis over the phone. Every aspect of my ministry and my life have been affected by my time at DTS!
Supervisor – I also use my DTS degree to be an internship supervisor to seminary students. Our church prayer ministry provides hands-on internship training in the hospital visitation ministry. We first train seminary students, then give each a large number, as well as a large variety, of hospital patients to visit and pray with. (This was pre-COVID-19. We will resume ASAP.)
President – One of the blessings of going to DTS is that eventually, you get to be a DTS Alum! My degree completion in 2016 has led me to serve as the alumni president for DTS alums living in and around the Houston area. As president, I assist Stan Newton, Director of Community Relations & Formational Ministries, who has been leading the DTS ministry to Houston alumni since 2019. Together we serve under the umbrella of the alumni team in Dallas led by Dr. Greg Hatteberg. Our recent Alumnae Zoom meetings organized by Dr. Jerry Lawrence have been excellent and very meaningful to our DTS women alums from around the world. Classmates have reconnected, shared ministry stories, and helped each other in many ways.
What has been the biggest influence of seminary in your life?
Preparation – My degree deepened my love and knowledge of the Lord and subsequently deepened my faith. Therefore, I can teach adult Bible study classes and witness to others with greater confidence. I understand through the power of the Holy Spirit I can now teach through Scriptures and do so with more skill and accuracy. My “big idea” is going to be based on sound exegetical work and therefore accurate biblical principles will be conveyed to my audience. I have had the joy of teaching Bible study classes to single-parents and single women over the last few years.
Spiritual Growth – My spiritual growth is one of the biggest changes DTS has had on my life. I went to seminary to deepen my knowledge of God’s Word and deepen my faith. I felt frustrated with my level of faith and biblical knowledge and I was determined to understand the Scriptures better. My spiritual growth, coupled with the biblical knowledge I acquired, permeates my ministry, my family, my mind, and my soul. My absolute favorite book ever, in or out of seminary, is “Love Your God with All Your Mind” by J.P. Moreland.
Provision – I know how God can provide and protect because I saw how he did that for me through my journey and especially in seminary. Being a single mother of four children and working in full-time ministry allowed for many instances of reliance on His provision. There were so many occurrences of needs and they all happened in rapid-fire succession. However, the blessings always met the needs. After the prayers were answered and the storms had passed, I had to just stop and say WOW! Only God!
What is the best advice you can give current students?
Be Practical – I understand every seminary class syllabus can be overwhelming. My advice to anyone in seminary is to focus 100% on the assignment at hand and do it to the very best of your ability. Try not to dwell too much about the long haul in front of you. Instead, just focus on getting the very next assignment done with excellence.
Persevere – Remember that God has allowed you to achieve the desire of your heart by attending seminary. But you can expect to encounter all kinds of obstacles including spiritual, financial, and family attacks. Our enemy is real, and he will try to stop you in subtle and not so subtle ways. Pray and lean into other believers when those trials occur, but do not let your self be the obstacle to finishing. My father was a US Marine and a professional athlete and he would often say, “Be strong!” His encouragement helped me in many ways in life, but I learned that ultimately, only the Lord could give me real strength. You want to depend on the Lord, not on any strength you may think you have. When you graduate from DTS you will be acutely aware it was Him, not you, who got you through.
Remain Upright – Wherever you serve, your character and your actions are your ministries to the world. How you love others reflects who you are as a Christian, and people will be drawn to the Christlikeness in you. A seminary degree from DTS equips you at many levels but be aware that all the ministry efforts of a learned biblical scholar can be wiped away with one wrong decision or interaction. Conversely, the godly compassion and wisdom gained from a DTS degree can shape generations to come for God’s kingdom. In the end, it is your godly character and witness that makes you an effective Christian in ministry, not the degree itself.
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;” (Philippians 1:9–10)
Shirley Ralston (MACE, 2008) serves on the leadership team for the DTS-Houston Alumni Association. She is a writer, teacher, and pastor’s research team member at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She is also a founding member of the HFBC Missionary Care Team. Shirley and her husband Jeff now reside in Houston after several years living in the Middle East and the South Pacific.