Growing Pains and Gains

01 October, 2023

by Audrey Gotcher

“Did I not say the right things? I really felt like I did everything I was supposed to—so why did she still choose the wrong thing?”

As one of the discipleship coordinators at Word of Life Bible Institute, Michaela Cheek ’22 was the one to call when a situation grew serious with a student. Walking with young women through issues of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, trauma, and the growing pains of transferring into adulthood, Michaela learned to listen and disciple her girls in a way that pointed them back to Christ. But after walking closely with a struggling student for months, this girl made a series of choices that meant she needed to leave Word of Life—forcing Michaela to wrestle with these questions.

Graduating in May 2022 as a Communications major, Michaela had transferred to Moody from Word of Life. The intensive Bible education and ministry training she received at the one-year collegiate-level program had deeply changed her and nurtured a love for ministry and discipleship. At Moody, she gained the skills to give back to the school that had given her so much. She was able to serve at Word of Life this past school year as the discipleship coordinator.

“I truly was just so burdened with giving back to that school,” she says about Word of Life. “The time that I was there, my freshman year of college, just made such a difference in my life.”

Fully prepared for a challenging role

Though Michaela transferred to Moody in the midst of COVID-19, the friendships that started the first week of school stayed with her all three years and into her ministry at Word of Life. Isabel Kate ’22, a friend from Moody, worked alongside her in the discipleship coordinator role.

Michaela and Isabel

“There is no way I could have done this job without Moody,” Michaela notes.

The instructors Michaela studied under at Moody also “truly made a difference in who I am today.” Professors like Dr. Steven Sanchez, Dr. Rosalie de Rosset, and Dr. Marcus Johnson strengthened her faith and changed the way she communicated that faith to others. In showing her the importance of vulnerability and the power of the gospel, she felt equipped to serve in the capacity she did at Word of Life.

Selecting resident advisers

Word of Life’s school year starts with the vigorous process of training and choosing resident advisers. “I only have 72 hours of interactions to pick my RAs for the year,” Michaela says, “which is a lot to pray over.”

Michaela worked with the dean of women and a second discipleship coordinator to choose and pair RAs with the 80-plus girls attending Word of Life. “What’s really special is that we get to observe a lot of personalities,” Michaela says. “A lot of girls open up about things they’ve gone through or that they’re working through, and we can pair them with an RA who might be a good fit for that.”

Once RAs were vetted and selected, Michaela led weekly discipleship meetings with five RAs while being available to the other female students.

“Many of them are learning how to be independent for the first time,” she says. “So I can be talking to them about some sort of trauma that they’ve walked through and also at the same time be teaching them how to do their laundry. I feel like a mom to 80 girls!”

‘Jesus is enough’

Michaela admits that she dealt with situations that left her feeling inadequate to counsel students through the issues they were facing. “But even though I may not be the correct counselor for everybody, I can disciple everybody through something,” she says, “because what everyone is ultimately craving is the gospel and how it applies to the heart of their issue. I don’t have to be enough because Jesus is enough.”

For her communications capstone at Moody, Michaela wrote Equipped, a workbook centered around discipling young women through relevant and difficult topics. These include homosexuality, eating disorders, masturbation, anxiety, depression, and gender dysphoria. Though she is grateful for the opportunity to research these topics during her time as a student, she knew that she needed genuine ministry experience in discipling girls through these struggles before the book would be ready to publish.

“That’s a huge reason why I wanted to take this job,” she explains. “I really envision adding on to (the book) in the years to come. I wanted to grow in real-life convictions and experience. And honestly, a lot of my convictions in the book changed this year. I knew it was not something that I wanted to publish as a 22-year-old because I just knew that something was going to happen that would change my mind. I knew there was a level of ignorance in my book.”

Michaela also wants to add topics to the workbook from her experience this past year, including modesty, self-harm, and addiction. Her desire is to use her experience in these areas to equip others discipling girls through similar struggles.

“I just have always craved wisdom and learning how to deal with really heavy situations,” she says. “And I knew truly the weight of growing with the girls, and that I would need to fall face first into a lot of heavy issues and work with them.”

‘I felt that I had failed’

That’s exactly what Michaela did. When her training and best efforts weren’t enough to keep one student at the school, she felt it was all for nothing. A family member was also battling similar struggles at home, and Michaela described the discouragement that gnawed at her.

“I felt that I had failed—in my personal life and now my ministry,” she says. “And I felt broken.”

But through the support and encouragement of those around her, Michaela learned that her job in discipleship isn’t to save anyone. Sarah Dever, dean of women at Word of Life, often told Michaela, “Discipleship is just showing the other beggars where the food is.”

“That’s my job,” Michaela says. “As a discipleship coordinator, I’m just showing these girls where the food is.”

‘I’m entering into the sin for these girls’

Thanks to Moody’s tuition scholarship support provided by donors, Michaela graduated with no debt and jumped straight into ministry, for which she is grateful. That lack of debt, combined with the quality of her education and the expertise of her mentors, enabled her to work in full-time ministry right after earning her bachelor’s degree. “I’ve just studied the gospel for three years,” she says. “Having such a good understanding of who Jesus is and why He matters to me has helped me be ready to have these hard conversations.”

Group of women smiling

Michaela is returning to Word of Life in the fall of 2023 to continue in her role as discipleship coordinator.

“I’m still processing so much about what this year has taught me,” she says. “But what it really comes down to is that I’m so thankful that Jesus entered into my sin for me. It feels sometimes like I just see a lot of sin every day, and I’m entering into the sin for these girls . . . just like Christ did for me.”