I loved the Lord with all my heart and I loved the church, but my culture was missing in the church. When my call to ministry came, it terrified me at first, but now I’m embracing it and living out my love for God and the church as a Latina church planter.
These reflections were initially delivered at a celebration of five decades of women in ordained ministry at the Reformed Church in America’s General Synod in June 2023. Watch Martha address the synod.
I currently serve as the director of intercultural development at Northwestern College. I am also a generation 1.5 DACAmented Latina, first-generation college student, special education teacher by trade, mom to three sweet kids, and a new multicultural/bilingual church planter in Sioux Center, Iowa, called Maria Magdalena Reformed Church.
I was raised with little understanding of what it meant to belong to a denomination. As a student at Northwestern College, I explored the RCA and CRC churches around me, but I didn’t see women reflected in my context within church or in leadership. In my small, Northwest Iowa corner of the world, I especially didn’t see Latina women represented in leadership. I had a narrow view of what it meant to be in ministry.
What I did know well is that I loved the Lord with all my heart and I loved the church, but my culture was missing in the church. Part of who I was needed to be silenced to fit in on Sunday morning.
So when the call to ministry came, it wasn’t pretty or easy, and it wasn’t overnight.
I had a dream when I was in high school, standing in the middle of a multitude with outstretched arms, proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior. When I woke up, I was terrified, so I kept that close to my heart, too scared to ask questions about what that meant.
Fast forward to April 2022, when the call came to start a church. I honestly prayed that mentors and church leaders would tell my co-founder, Jason Lief, and I that we were out of line, that planting a new church was ludicrous and impossible. I prayed to be released from this call.
Instead, I was greeted with incredible support from my sending church, Trinity Reformed, as well as support from my classis and my regional synod. Over the past year I have been like Jonah, stubborn and running the other way. I have also been like Moses, giving the Lord all the excuses I could possibly think of ending with, “Lord, I am not enough.” But the Lord disrupted once again.
I went through a long discernment process, discussing the future of seminary with my family, friends, and mentors. I had incredible support from the many women that have gone before me, encouraging me in the journey ahead.
Looking back at what’s led me to this place, I see the Lord’s hand written all over my story. From living in the shadows as an undocumented immigrant struggling to find purpose and belonging, to working as a special education teacher with the most vulnerable, marginalized people in my community, to a commissioned teaching elder, and to present day living into embodying reconciling work at Northwestern College, my church, my community, and my own multiracial family, the Lord has clearly been sculpting, molding, and transforming me for such a time as this.
I am incredibly thankful for the women in my life who have gone before me to set an example que “si se puede” (yes we can) with the Lord’s help. I am also thankful for the men in my life—including my wonderful husband, Dan, and Pastor Brian Keepers—who validated my call and encouraged me to walk faithfully. And I’m incredibly thankful to the Reformed Church in America who has embraced, affirmed, supported, encouraged and developed my gifts, skills, and calling. This is a place where I have found belonging. I am truly excited to partner in empowering the next generation of female ministry leaders as I start seminary in the fall.
Martha (Pérez) Draayer supports the integration and implementation of Northwestern College's Vision for Diversity through strategic diversity initiatives. She is a certified cultural intelligence (CQ) trainer, holds an Iowa teaching license, serves on a variety of boards, and is a multicultural church planter. Martha received her undergraduate degree from Northwestern College in the areas of Psychology, and K-12 Education, and earned a Master of Arts degree in special education with a specialization in early childhood from the University of South Dakota. She is a generation 1.5 immigrant often speaking on the topic of challenges and barriers undocumented immigrants face in the U.S.