Stories of Transformation

Kerkula Pehlke

Kerkula MedallionMA in Counseling, Class of 2016

I was born and raised in the war-torn country of Liberia. I was not only forced to witness the slaughter of innocent people during the war, but I also suffered severe losses of loved ones as well. The war may not have physically killed me, but it broke my spirit and slew me emotionally. After the trauma of war, my heart felt numb, hardened, and dead within me. However, the Lord took away my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh that earnestly desires to love and serve God by serving the brokenhearted. My calling in life is to walk with individuals in their pain, and to help them find God in the midst of their agony. I felt there was no better way to accomplish this than to attend a seminary that had a solid theological program that coupled with an exceptional counseling program, and thus, I chose Western Seminary.

I enrolled in seminary, particularly Western Seminary, because of its outstanding reputation in producing some of the best pastors and counselors along the West Coast. I wanted a superb education that would adequately prepare me to work with victims of war, and grief of all kinds. Even after three strenuous years of learning, I am grateful that I chose Western over numerous institutions that promised lower tuitions or shorter programs. The education is worth the price and I am proud of, and more than confident, in the training I have received at Western.

Prior to enrolling at Western I worked as a foreman for one of the largest steel mills worldwide. Although I was paid well and was regarded as very successful, everyday I worked there I felt empty within...for five long years. It felt as if I had fallen out of God's will for my life immediately after graduating from Bible college. It was on a mission trip back to Liberia that I felt something needed to change. My direction in life needed a drastic turn for me not to completely die from within. The job was my career, but not my calling in life, and when the company refused to accommodate my school schedule for only 24 days out of the year, I knew it was time to hang up my hardhat and follow the longings of my heart at Western Seminary.

Giving up a job that paid well, a warm home, and relocating my wife and two children (at the time) to a remote area in order to afford living expenses was extremely difficult. However, I do not regret a single day in the pursuit of my calling through Western Seminary, and God has been more than faithful in providing for and taking care of us. 

My wife and kids are the primary individuals God had used to start the process of un-thawing my jailed heart and to awaken my deadened emotions, but little did I know how much healing I needed to do in this area prior to walking into Western. I was transformed when I accepted the Lord, and the Lord has used my family to transform my life significantly, but never in a million years did I think God would use an educational institution to bring alive a part of me that died in the war. I was often perplexed at how passionate I could be for the Lord; that I could be sympathetic toward the hurting and that I was driven and outwardly successful in life. And yet, I remained so detached from my own emotions, as if God had somehow forgotten to instill them within my own heart.

Thankfully, something life-transforming has happened to me during my time at Western, slowly bringing the rest of my heart alive. There are not words to describe it, except that it feels so good to fully feel, to fully breathe, and to fully live once again. It is a feeling I have not experienced since the day that AK-47 went off, the man begging for his life dropped dead, and his wife, squeezing their newborn baby, began weeping bitterly before my horrified eyes. Something within me died on that fateful day along with that innocent man, and to have that 'thing' back, alive again, is one of the highest, life-transforming experiences I have ever felt during my studies at Western Seminary. Thank God for Western, I feel whole again. I am a better man of God, a healthier husband, and father, and am filled with hope for the future. For God still turns ashes into beauty.

I am often reminded of this when I dance, laugh, and play with my wife and kids, as these are things I once considered as foolish and childish. I would never wish the horror of the war on any individual; nevertheless, without the war I may never have become a Christian, been adopted, and/or even had the opportunity to enroll in Western Seminary. Perhaps the war was a preparation for my destination. However, without Western, I would still be a broken man trying to help others walk a path I had never walked myself, until now. Western is more than an institution; it is a community of believers committed to developing true followers into the mold that God has created them alone to fill, for the glory of God and for the hearts of men and women. 

 

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Western Seminary is an accredited graduate school founded in 1927. It offers trustworthy and accessible training for gospel-centered transformation at both the graduate credit and personal enrichment levels for those currently serving, or aspiring to serve, in key ministry leadership roles. The Western system consists of four campuses (Portland, OR; San Jose and Sacramento, CA; and Online) and a teaching site (Seattle, WA) that together serve approximately 950 credit students annually.