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Ben Bielenberg and the Blue Moon Youth Center

Ben Bielenberg and the Blue Moon Youth Center

Ben Bielenberg is a Calvary Alum (CBC ‘13) working as a missionary in the small town of Blue Mound, Kansas. He and his wife, Krista, have three children. Through connections made at Calvary, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s in Pastoral Studies, Ben got involved with Village Missions, whose mission statement is, “helping country churches thrive.”

Ben and his family moved to Blue Mound so he could be the head pastor of Federated Church right in the center of town. He is the first pastor in a long time to actually live in town; “the previous pastors lived in Kansas City and would drive down every Sunday to do service. They never lasted very long doing that.” Because he lives in town, Ben has gotten several opportunities to build relationships with the community in ways such as serving on the local volunteer fire department.

It is because of Ben’s relationship with the community that the Blue Moon Youth Center has been so successful. The building which Blue Moon is located in today was originally built in 1947 as a local theater. Several people throughout the years have attempted to utilize the building as a theater, but because of the nature of a small town, businesses tend to die pretty quickly. When Ben realized this space was just sitting empty, he quickly brought it to the attention of his church board, saying, “Why is nobody using this space? We should be using it!”

In the summer of 2018, the Federated Church purchased the building from the city and began construction to update it. Many people were so excited for the new community center to be built that they were willing to put in time, effort, and money into helping turn it into something great. Even the people who were not regular church attenders joined Ben during construction. This gave Ben more opportunity to build relationships with community members outside his church. In the summer of 2020, Blue Mound was hosting a car show when a stranger stopped by to show off his car. While there, he heard about the community center. He loved the idea and wanted to help. He turned out to be the owner of a theater equipment company. He happened to have old (but still in good condition) theater equipment on hand. The man decided to donate that equipment and even had his employees help set it up.

Today, the Blue Moon Youth Center is being used nearly every single night. “Throughout the week there are various Bible studies which meet there, and every weekend we show movies for free—a different movie on each night.” They charge a dollar or two for food and snacks. This makes it a great and affordable place for families to hangout on the weekends. There are really only two other businesses in town aside from the Blue Moon Youth Center: one of them is a local restaurant and the other is a bar. “We have a bit of a running joke that we’re in competition with the bar to see who has more cars in the parking lot each night.”

Ben attributes the success of the youth center to God. “He clearly orchestrated it all from the beginning. I mean, nearly everything we use at Blue Moon was donated.” Even the timing was clearly God’s work. Ben was able to get to know the locals and become one of them. “Anytime an outsider comes into town to start a business, it doesn’t last long.” God has used the time Ben has spent amongst the community to build trust and lasting relationships, leading to many conversations about the Gospel.

Blue Mound Federated Church

Ben interacting with people at Blue Moon

A view of Blue Moon from down the street

Dr. Bonine reflects on time with Calvary alumni in Europe

Dr. Bonine reflects on time with Calvary alumni in Europe

Bonine’s travels took him all across Europe, traveling via train by night, and visiting Calvary alumni serving as missionaries by day.

“I told the people I met along the way about my visits with Calvary grads, which then led to several spiritual conversations!”

At the turn of the century, Dr. Tom Bonine got the idea to backpack through Europe so he could “visit the Calvary graduates doing mission work in Europe.” Bonine wanted to assure them that the Calvary students were praying for them. When he got the idea for the trip, he “didn’t hesitate whatsoever.” In July of 2000, he bought a 30-day Eurail Pass and began his travels. 

The Eurail Pass was a blessing of convenience during his travels, allowing him to get on and off the trains throughout countries. “I didn’t need to purchase tickets as I traveled throughout the Eurail Pass countries.” On top of simplifying transportation, the train also provided a place to sleep at night. “I could travel at night, sleep on the train, and then the missionaries didn’t feel like they needed to find housing for me.” However, his travels were not without their own set of challenges. Once, when Bonine couldn’t sleep on a train and all the hotels were booked up, he ended up sleeping on a park bench in Split, Croatia. Another difficulty was knowing which train he needed to take and when it would leave the station. Once, Bonine accidentally boarded a train through a Non-Eurail Pass country, and was scolded by the conductor for trying to show his Eurail Pass. “I gave him my envelope of German Marks and kept apologizing—in English, which was a mistake—but he let me stay on the train,” he recounted, “minus my envelope of German Marks.” 

On a typical day during Bonine’s trip, he would meet the missionary in the morning at the train station and then he would “spend the day with the missionary visiting their ministry, then return to the train station and ride the train to my next missionary appointment.”

Bonine says that it was a joy to witness Calvary grads, even his own former students, working on the mission field. He says that he found it a “huge blessing” to be able to see the good accomplished by these alumni. He was encouraged to hear the missionaries talk about “how well Calvary had prepared them for the work they were doing,” serving Christ in a myriad of ministries and helping the Europeans grow spiritually. Another fond memory Bonine recalls from his trip is meeting Europeans while on the train, “I told the people I met along the way about my visits with Calvary grads, which then led to several spiritual conversations!”

Overall, Bonine was quite satisfied by the trip. During his time there, Bonine was able to see that “Calvary’s programs of study were successfully preparing students for effective ministries,” and found that “the missionaries appreciated having someone check up on them, and to pray for them.” He is thankful that he spent his time in Europe with the Calvary graduates rather than the stereotypical tourist travels. “As I traveled across Europe by train and saw many of the tourist sites, I thought, ‘If I had spent this money to just see tourist sites, I would be very disappointed.’ The time spent with missionaries was the highlight of the trip, and it was well worth the expense.”

Bonine currently serves as adjunct faculty, teaching courses such as General Psychology and Human Growth and Development.

Dr. Teddy Bitner is passionate about campus community

Dr. Teddy Bitner is passionate about campus community

“When you choose to focus on God, no matter what’s going on around you, everything comes into perspective.”

Dr. Teddy Bitner began at Calvary University during the 1999-2000 school year as a history teacher. During his first semester, Bitner was still working for the United States Army. Because of this, he commuted to Washington D.C. every week and spent Tuesday to Thursday there. Bitner described his challenging schedule, which meant teaching class at Calvary on Monday nights, and then getting up at four the next morning to leave for the airport.

Throughout the years, Bitner went from being a Part-Time Adjunct Professor to being the Chief Academic Officer and the Vice President of Academics, as well as continuing to teach history classes. “Teaching is my favorite part of my job, especially when I can do it with students in the classroom. This year has been really hard. I’m about to start a Military History class and I will have no in-person students— so that will be a real challenge for me.”

Alongside teaching, Bitner has also been involved in many different student activities. Two of his daughters attended Calvary and have been involved in the theatre department’s productions ever since. Because of this, Bitner has gotten “sucked in” for many years. Bitner also used to travel often with Calvary’s music ensemble on campus.

When thinking over the time Bitner has spent at Calvary, one memory stood out to him. Bitner recounted a time where the campus family mourned the sudden passing of a student. He gathered with students who had paired up in small groups to pray. “His memorial service was held in the chapel. His family wanted to do it down here because this was home for him. His dad, a pastor, spoke at the memorial and it was incredible.” For Bitner, the situation was was both challenging and inspiring at the same time. “It was really amazing to see God work through this situation.”

Keeping his eyes fixed on God is central for Bitner. “That’s what has gotten me through life.” To the students, Bitner encourages them to stay focused on God, no matter what else is going on. “Everything comes into perspective when you do that. And you don’t get bogged down in the minutia of things you have to deal with everyday.”

Alumna Alisha Joyce provides holistic education

Alumna Alisha Joyce provides holistic education

“Every day I’m thankful for the biblical education I received at Calvary 

Alisha Joyce graduated from Calvary University in 2017 with a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education before getting her Master’s in Special Education from Bethel University. For the last four years, she has been teaching at Providence School of Art in Kansas City.

Providence incorporates all kinds of different learning styles in all their classes. “The reason that we do that,” Joyce explained, “is because we really believe that it’s important to equip students with a varied experience in education. We really want to reach the whole child and give them not only academics, but also the arts because we believe that all the skills that they learn in their art classes help form the skills that they learn later in life— it equips them for whatever God has for them in the future. The arts provide a lot of experience in problem-solving, learning how to work with other people, and communication skills. All of those things are really important for people to learn in general, so we made a point of including that in our school.”

Another thing which makes Providence unique is the demographic of their students. “Our school is specifically designed to reach students from a variety of different educational backgrounds,” Joyce said. “So that’s why I ended up with a lot of students in my class whose needs might be a little different than what might be considered a typical learner.”

Even in the non-arts classes, the teachers at Providence try to incorporate creativity in their lessons. “I teach the advanced class,” Joyce said, “I have the fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade students. I’m not an arts teacher, I’m just a regular classroom teacher. I do math, science, and all those things. But we do try to incorporate as much as we can of creativity and movement a lot. If you look around, it’s not a very typical classroom. It has a trampoline— that is an actual seat that students sit in. We’ve got all kinds of different seating options just because we believe in meeting children where they’re at and then helping them learn what they need to learn.”

Joyce said that she is thankful for what she learned at CU. “We teach Bible classes here, and I feel like every day I’m thankful for the biblical education I received at Calvary because the kids will ask me the craziest questions, and I feel like if I didn’t go to a college that had those Bible classes I feel like I would be like, ‘Uhh, you should really talk to your parents about that,’ because I would have no idea how to answer it… But I have been able to discuss those things with them because of the truths that I learned while I was at Calvary.”

Joyce then talked about how she sometimes questions whether she’s where she is meant to be. “I think that once you graduate and you start a career there’s this tendency to question, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Am I on the right path? Is this really what God has for me?’” She then continued, saying, “Because everything can seem so mundane after a while. I’ve been working at this school for four years now— I mean a lot has changed, they do keep me on my toes here— but, when you’re getting up every morning to go to work, it’s like, ‘Is this really what God has for me? I thought it would be more exciting than this.'”

But in the middle of the mundane, she is able to take joy in how she sees God working in the kids’ lives. “I’ve gotten to do so many cool things, gotten to walk with these kids through so many big things in their lives… I’ve been with the same kids all along.” Joyce says that every year there’s at least one moment where she thinks, “This is it. This is why I’m here.” Whether it’s a conversation with one of the kids, providing the students with the support they need, or helping to provide a safe space, like Providence, where they can learn and grow. “Because I’m here, I can provide that for them.”

Kathryn Phillips: a music department graduate assistant

Kathryn Phillips: a music department graduate assistant

Phillips presented a fingerstyle guitar piece in General Recital.

“Seeing students progress is the biggest joy.”

Kathryn Phillips is a 2020 Calvary alumna who has served as a graduate assistant for the music department, teaching multiple students. “I do private guitar lessons. Right now I have four students, and then I do a group guitar lesson and that has three students in it.” Phillips is also working alongside Brittany Hill in teaching an online praise band class. In the past, the online praise band class had been very similar to the in-person praise band. Phillips explained, “Dr. An asked us if we could do something with the class, and involve the students. So they changed it to separate people teaching it— me and Brittany. We can’t play together online, but everyone gets Pro Tools, a recording software, and records songs together and then mixes them together.”

Alongside being a graduate assistant and pursuing her master’s, Phillips has worked at PT’s (a local coffee shop), managed the Warrior Cafe on campus, and played in a band called Safari. Phillips said that after college she would like to pursue “something in the realm of teaching” but if that doesn’t work out “I have my band in Lawrence— Safari.” 

Phillips says that her favorite thing about being a graduate assistant has been “teaching the individual lessons. It’s really fun to see students progress. So I really like teaching intermediate students because there’s so much to learn, and seeing them learn new things and play new things really well.”

Phillips says her advice to undergraduate music students is to “pay attention in classes and do your homework really well, because you’re paying a lot for the classes. I just hear about a lot of students who sleep during this class or whatever and are not really paying attention. Especially for music classes— especially with Dr. An— it can be really engaging, and you can learn a lot. To learn in college, you have to apply yourself because you can go through and get a degree without learning very much. But I think it’s important to actually apply yourself, actually learn, and actually do the work well.”

Phillips performed with lux voces for the Belton Rotary Club.