Staff Members Share Their Stories:
When we were young children and asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, our answers seemed magical – there was potential in our dreams and we believed in the idea of work being deeply fulfilling. Somehow along the way, many of us end up settling – whether we’re scraping by or amassing considerable wealth – and we work for bills and student loans or status and vacations. But sometimes God is calling us to step aside from that track and do things differently.
Pictured here are Kristine Mannino and J. Lucarelli discussing the routes for their upcoming trip to Kenya where they regularly check in on our NoChild sponsorship program which is giving vulnerable and orphaned children a loving home, a competitive education, and so much more.
They all have different stories...
We interviewed six current staff members at Kensington who have left the corporate world and successful careers to serve God here in various roles. They all have different stories, different skills, and different passions, but one thing they have in common? They all said they would do it again.
Kristine Mannino, our NoChild Sponsorship Administrator, left the fashion and entertainment industry in New York City and followed her heart for the children all the way back to Michigan and Kensington’s Global Department. Now, she’s changing the lives of children in Kenya, India, and Nepal. When asked if she’d do it all again, she said, “One-hundred percent! I get more joy from what I’m doing now; I’m making an impact and I have people making an impact on my life.”
Erin Brissette wants others to realize that God is leading them too, “He calls us into His plan for us…we want to hold onto what is safe or known but it’s not the plan…make space to be available so that you can be obedient…”
Erin Brissette spent over 20 years in business left her job overseeing solutions for Fortune 500 companies. She worked 80 hour weeks when her twins were young, and says that her job was directly tied to her sense of identity. But then she started going on short-term trips with Kensington, and by the fourth one she felt compelled to start a new chapter, “I have to do something that is for the one. Something that can impact a single person’s heart…” she shared with the team in Nairobi.
The very next day, Erin heard about a job opening in Kensington’s Global Department. She was afraid of the financial sacrifice, but applied with the conviction that God was doing something new in her life. She got the job as Short-Term Trips Coordinator, but Covid soon made her role all but obsolete; at first, she was frustrated. Why would she take a leap of obedience only to be in this helpless situation? “God used that time to unwind me from my corporate identity and try to figure out who I actually am. I had time to figure out how to use my skills in this completely different environment.” Erin moved on to oversee Hope Water Project, and is now Campus Director at Birmingham campus.
When asked if she wakes up looking forward to the day ahead, she said, “I do. I love it. At my corporate job, I would get up at 5am in the morning so that I could get six hours of work in before the west coast was up and the calls would start. Now I wake up and think about what I’m grateful for. My job change impacted everything about my life and my family.”
Susan Welsh, Campus Director at Orion campus, was a successful Regional Manager for a large pharmaceutical company, but always felt unfulfilled, “More. I wanted more. More meaning, more fun and more joy in my work,” she remembers, “The work wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t awesome either.”
Susan decided she needed to do something new, so she signed up to volunteer on weekends at Kensington. “I probably should have asked more questions!” she laughs. She didn’t realize she had agreed to communicate to a large group of kids from stage, complete with props, skits, singing, and sometimes even dancing! “I had never taught a day in my life! It was terrifying (yes, terrifying!) the first few times, but turned out to be the most meaningful, fun, and joyful work I had ever done! So, I eventually left my “big” job and joined the Kensington movement. I have since had the opportunity to experience many different roles and each one has been fantastic. I found the meaning, fun and joy that I longed for…”
Chris Cook, Director of Care Initiatives, remembers that he prayed a ‘dangerous prayer’: God, whatever you want for my life I want to be a part of it. And do whatever you have to do to make it happen. “I don’t recommend you pray that prayer unless you’re strapped in. My 12-year career imploded six weeks later…” Chris sought the wisdom of friends and mentors and prayed about what God had for his future. Soon, it seemed clear that his life trajectory was pointing in the direction of ministry instead – a complete 180 degree shift from his engineering career.
When asked why his current job at Kensington is so fulfilling, Chris says, “I get a front row seat to watch life change! There is nothing more exciting and energizing than that. The team here is a bunch of messed up people trying to follow God, and that creates a camaraderie of common purpose that is unlike any other organization I’ve been a part of.”
What would you say to someone who has that internal wrestling about leaving their job to pursue something they feel called to do?
“Do it. Take that step of faith.” – J. Lucarelli
“Jump! Go! In a heartbeat! He calls us into His plan for us.” – Erin Brissette
“…the pursuit of God’s calling is worth whatever adjustments that need to be made.” – Chris Cook
J. Lucarelli, Global Partners Director, shares his story: “I was CFO for a real estate development and construction company for ten years but there was something missing…I got an unsettled feeling that there was more.” J. did a courageous – or reckless, to some – thing in quitting his job before he knew what was next. “I couldn’t think because of all the white noise, so I quit without a plan and decided to just seek God about what was next.” J. felt called to missions, and admitted one of the hardest parts was going from being financially independent to raising support. “It scared the crap out of me!”
Someone asked, “Why are you walking away from a six-figure salary to beg people for money? But I learned to rely on God for everything.”
J. never thought he would work at a church, but his original job of Country Director seemed perfect for him. “It utilized my skills – MBA and intercultural studies, and experience on the mission field.” He’s since moved on to be the Global Partners Director and isn’t shy about announcing that he has the best job at Kensington! “I can see how God has directed my path – I am so much more fulfilled in this job. It feels kingdom-minded and will impact generations. It’s beautiful to be around a community of people…with a common vision and purpose.”
When J. thinks about the path to where he is now, he knows God led and provided along the way. “I never lacked anything. I didn’t have everything I wanted but I had everything I needed.”
Mervat Denno, Campus Director at Troy campus, shares this wisdom, “After years of trying to be wise and doing what is right, I realized that following God often looks foolish and always involves depending on God: Noah building the ark? Moses going to Pharaoh to free the Israelites? Peter walking on water?”
Mervat, remembers her life as chapters – each chapter a decade. In her 20s, she was battling to realize her dreams of becoming an architect “in a male-dominated field, and coming out of a male-dominated middle-eastern culture”; her 30s were filled with caring for her three young daughters and ill mother-in-law, and investing hours in volunteering and leading Bible Studies. Then, at 40, Mervat says, “I kept being prompted to apply for an internship at Kensington even though I had no interest in doing an internship with people half my age nor did I have any aspirations to work in ministry.”
But the year of interning was transformative,”God met me every day of my internship and rebuilt my identity in Him…He reframed my view of my past and future, giving me an opportunity to dream and open my mind to possibilities. His challenge to me was to ‘say yes when I call.'”
Mervat moved from her internship to work in Guest Services and then into her current role of Campus Director. She wants to encourage others to respond with obedience. “I was challenged that if I claim to be a follower of Jesus, I should follow and trust that He knows better…. and stop telling God what I can and can’t do!”