Loving the unlovely

When it comes to serving, there are many people willing to travel the world to minister to children or to volunteer at a nursing home or to play bingo with cute elderly ladies. But what about the people living right downtown? What about the un-churched population? What about that freshman in math class who needs someone to confide in?

Zach and Heather (Mayer) Keller have taken Huntington University's dedication to service beyond the campus and have used that passion to reach their community.

For Heather, a 2013 graduate with a degree in family and children's ministry and youth ministries, being a part of residence life gave her the tools that she uses on a daily basis. Today, she is the children's ministry coordinator at The Rock Church in Portland, Ind. She also works with children with emotional issues at the local school.

"Being an resident assistant during my junior year, I gained an understanding of what it means to collect large groups of people that come from different backgrounds students with different struggles, different families," she said. "It taught me how to bring people together."

For her husband Zach, a 2012 graduate with a degree in math education, serving was integrated into his life at HU.

"Being the student director for Joe Mertz Center (now the Friesen Center for Volunteer Service) and getting into that leadership role showed me what service leadership should look like," he said.

The planning, coordinating and leadership skills he developed while serving with JMC are tools he uses frequently today. When he is not teaching math at Jay County High School in Portland, Ind., Zach serves as a student council adviser, helps run blood drives and fundraises for the United Way and Riley Hospital for Children. He also serves on the fundraising board for the United Way through the student council and serves together with his wife in the youth group at their church.

The dedication to service that they were taught to follow at Huntington helped Zach and Heather learn how to serve people after graduation when it is not always easy or convenient.

"College life won't always exist. PRIME helped me step out into the real world of ministry," Heather said. The PRIME Experience (Practical Research and Immersion for Ministry Effectiveness), is a seven-month, full-time, off-campus ministry experience with intensive mentoring by an experienced ministry leader.

For Heather, the experiences she had while on PRIME carried over into her interactions with people in her community.

"I learned that I don't have it all together, and I can connect with and serve people better if I am authentic with them," she said. "We don't have to talk about Jesus or throw Bibles at them, but we still have people ask us what is different about you."

Working in a public school system, Zach's faith is not something that can be shared openly, but serving his students daily through his teaching, he strives to be someone his students can trust and admire. His time spent at Huntington taught him how to express his faith nonverbally and, therefore, connect with his students.

"They see that I have those Christian values and I have had conversations with students after school about their struggles," he said. "Students can see what I am like at school and also what activities I am involved with outside of school."

Zach and Heather credit their respective departments at Huntington for guiding them and helping prepare them for the real world.

"The ministry department did a good job in terms of service, many of my assignments were focused on being in the community in churches or serving people," Heather said.

"The education department prepared me to be myself in the real world, be confident in my abilities and not be afraid to go outside the bubble and serve people," Zach added.

They said they communicate to all their students considering Huntington to take advantage of every service opportunity given on campus and around the country.

"It really did shape who we are as people, being able to be in community, serve and be educated at Huntington," Heather said.