My family moved around a whole lot while I was growing up. I went to seven schools before I graduated from high school. We were always active in church, I mean we were the people who are there when the doors open and when they close as my mother was the church organist and sometimes the Minister of Music as well. While I can remember significant experiences about all the places I have lived, I want to share about one that influenced my being here at River Road.

Between my sophomore and junior years in high school we moved from Knoxville, Tennessee to Detroit, Michigan. It was the year that the group Arrested Development had the song “Tennessee” out (Google it) and my accent suffered relentless teasing. Transitioning so late in one’s adolescence was difficult. I am an introvert and can be shy… and as a 16-year-old all of that was just exacerbated during this move. I remember many crying spells on the floor of the bathroom with my mom or dad just hugging me telling me it would get better. Eventually we found a church home in a lovely Presbyterian church and I made wonderful friends.

What was unique about this congregation was the youth minister, Gretchen, who was the first female youth minster I had ever encountered. She became a confidant, mentor, and friend. She wrapped her arms around me and listened, believed in me, and gave me hope. She also saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself, the gift of leadership and ministry. During my senior year of high school she gave me a weekend and said: plan a retreat for the middle schoolers. So I did, and I led part of the retreat as well. (It was all centered around Garth Brooks’ song, ‘We Shall be Free’…again, just Google it). I don’t know if it was a good weekend or not, but I do know I loved the challenge. She then had me start coming to middle school youth group and would occasionally ask me to lead a game or give a devotional thought. It was the beginning of my call. This experience stayed with me so much that I changed where I was going to college because Georgetown College had a Youth Ministry minor. (And where I first met Daniel Glaze, for better or worse!)

Gretchen has continued to be an important figure in my life. Every time I share my call story, she is in it. She saw something in me I could not see in myself. This was one of my favorite parts of being on the Passport National Office Staff. Every summer I would oversee a team of 18-20 college and seminary students and it was my job then to see something in them they couldn’t see themselves. To remind them that they are God’s beloved, and that they are capable and gifted and called. More than a third of Passport’s summer staff end up in full time ministry, and a vast majority of those experience that call as a part of their ministry with Passport.

This is my hope for my time here at River Road as well: To speak truth into these youth. To hold them when life hurts. To celebrate when life is good. But more importantly to remind them, to teach them that they are God’s beloved, and that they are called, gifted and capable. I believe this deep within me and have had that very truth spoken to me and it was life-changing.

Written by Marnie Fisher-Ingram