My name is Heather Hageness, and I am taking free bible and ministry courses online at the Christian Leaders Institute (Learn more about free Bible and ministry courses, Click Here). I am a married mother to three beautiful little girls (aged 8, 7, and 5). Our family currently lives in Southern Wisconsin, where my husband and I grew up.
In our adolescence, we both attended Lutheran churches. I was active in my local church mainly due to my grandparents’ influence. I attended church regularly, was in the youth group, volunteered in summer VBS programs, and participated in several mission trips within the USA.
My middle school and early high school years were marked mainly with church participation for the community but not any connection to the Lord. I believed in God’s existence. However, it was only in a “pray when I need You – please, don’t punish me” kind of way. I knew nothing of the Holy Spirit or having a relationship with Christ. As I entered my high school years, I became the subject of a significant amount of bullying. Severe anxiety and depression marked my freshman and sophomore years. I prayed consistently to a God who I wasn’t sure was seeing or hearing me. I often considered ending my life.
Fearing and Disbelieving
Enter the summer following my sophomore year of high school. I was 16 and loved being outdoors. Nature was always my safe space. To this day, it is where I meet with Jesus most often; although, this was stolen from me for some time. One sunny summer day, I rode my bike to the gas station not a mile from our home. On my ride back, I met a man waiting outside his truck parked alongside the road. He smiled at me, and I smiled back. At that moment, the trajectory of my life forever changed. He knocked me off my bike as I rode by. Threatened by knife-point, he dragged me across the road, over a hill, through a field, to a wooded area near a creek. There, he proceeded to rape me.
I kept my rape a secret for 14 years, not releasing myself from memory until several years after finding Christ. After my rape, I went into a severe depression. It was so noticeable that my parents had me change schools, thinking it was due to bullying. However, I was an avid student and lost myself in the sciences. It eventually led to me identifying as an atheist for the next 12 years.
To attend a different high school, I lived part-time with my aunt and uncle to claim residency in their city. My aunt and uncle were the second set of parents to me. My uncle battled cancer on and off for 14 years, and within two months of me moving in with them, he finally succumbed to his battle. It was in this season I decided there was no possible way God could exist. How could He allow such terrible things to happen?
Alcohol, Abuse, and Atheism
From my junior year on, I actively pursued disproving God’s existence. I wrote papers and poetry denouncing Him. I sneered at Christians and viewed them as ignorant. Also, I dove into the teachings of Richard Dawkins. I was adamant. God was not real. Through my walk with Christ, I have realized that this period was marked with anger at God rather than disbelief. I proceeded to enter college, seeking a degree in the sciences. However, my depression persisted. This led to me dropping out of college and re-attending on several occasions. I was determined yet incredibly lost. I made unhealthy life choices involving alcohol and abusive relationships and sought my worth in all the wrong places.
God’s Saving Grace
I believe the Lord brought my husband into my life to save it. He was the first man who treated me with respect. He was kind, loving, hardworking, and above all – steadfast. I still adamantly did not want to believe in God and voiced this loudly and with pride. We dated for eight months before becoming engaged. With some bumps in the road, we were married with zero mention of God in our vows by a county clerk at my request. We immediately started a family. There was no honeymoon period! I was five weeks pregnant when we married. As is apparent from the ages of our children, we continued to grow our family rather quickly. There are three years, almost exactly between the day our oldest and our youngest were born.
Through the early years of marriage, pregnancy, and child-rearing, I often suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. I was haunted by my past yet unwilling to be freed. I was 21 when my husband and I began dating, 23 when we married, and 24 when our first daughter was born. The next several years were tumultuous for us. I suffered various forms of chronic pain throughout my life due to what we would eventually discover were endometriosis and PCOS. In addition, I dealt with intense migraines for weeks out of each month.
The depression and anxiety persisted, coupled with crippling insomnia. Soon, I was on a multitude of medications. Prone to most side effects due to my liver functions, by the age of 28, I was taking nine different medications. The drugs eventually took their toll on my body. I experienced a minor stroke. I was in a wheelchair, unable to walk, and in constant pain, being tested for nearly every autoimmune disease out there.
God Uses All Things for the Good of Those Who Love Him
During this time, my husband remained a believer in God, though not a follower of Christ. Shortly after having our second daughter, someone gifted us a substantial amount of money that allowed us to move into our current home. I’m taking a step back in this story to show how God was always working toward bringing His prodigal daughter home. Through this monetary gift, we were able to finance a home. We wound up across the street from a strong Christian woman. She would persistently invite me to church with her for three years. I found every excuse I could to turn her down, though I continued to build a relationship with her.
God worked through her to begin the softening of my heart. My first two pregnancies were two weeks overdue and both induced. During my third pregnancy, we had scheduled an induction date on our daughter’s due date. My beautiful neighbor came over to our home the night prior and prayed over me, anointing my head with oil. I thought it was the strangest thing. But within hours, I went into labor on my own and delivered our final daughter within hours. It happened in August of 2016.
It took two more years of her hospitality, love, care, and urging to get me to church. Finally, in August of 2018, after having my stroke and finding no medical answers to my pain, I decided to accompany her one Sunday morning. That morning, I heard the testimony of a woman who would become a dear friend and mentor. I was wheeled up to the front to receive prayer and gained partial healing in my body that day. I began making connections with Godly women through a discipleship program. Thus my journey with the Lord began.
I have always been a “go big or go home!” – “all or nothing” type of person. Once the Lord had captivated my heart, there was no stopping His call on my life. I slowly entered into Children’s Ministry, volunteering in both the elementary and preschool programs. We were a multi-location church, and I eventually became the Children’s Director of one of our campuses. Still, I felt called to something even more. I knew my testimony could and would be powerful within the right ministry. So, the Lord called me to begin serving in Youth Ministry, as well. Here, I found my niche. I found purpose in my identity in Christ. I continued to serve as the Children’s Director while serving as a youth leader.
Our church was eventually “adopted” by a much larger church. My husband and I began to feel called away. We recently started attending a new church, where we feel at home. We remain in community and fellowship with our friends from our previous church as God’s kingdom does not reside in the four walls of a singular church. I have grieved the surrender of my earlier ministry, but I am determined to remain obedient to God’s leading. My husband and I both believe we are called to ministry in some fashion.
Further, the Regional Children’s Pastor I previously served under for three years became one of my closest friends and mentors. As a result, we have dreamed of beginning a ministry outside of the church. One that would come alongside churches, helping those struggling to find themselves and their God through Christ.
Free Bible and Ministry Courses at CLI
My main goal in taking courses is to dig deeper. I am called to minister to youth, particularly young women who have suffered trauma and have lost sight of their Lord and Savior. As I began listening to what Christian Leaders Institute offered and how they viewed training disciples, I quickly realized CLI was the perfect fit for me with their free Bible and ministry courses. With my three children attending school, I can begin a career after staying home for the last eight years.
I look forward to becoming a better leader through the free Bible and ministry courses at CLI. I am discovering how exactly my testimony fits into my calling. The accessibility and flexibility of the courses offered answer many prayers regarding equipping myself for ministry. It will allow me to remain present in my home, maintain a job, and be an active member serving in ministry. All the while, I can gain wisdom through knowledge and mentorship. I truly appreciate the opportunity CLI offers and look forward to where God is leading my family and me!
Steps to Sign Up At Christian Leaders Institute
Step 1 – Register for a free study account that automatically enrolls you in the Christian Leaders Getting Started Course Part 1 &2.
After you register, you will automatically be enrolled in the “getting started” course. You will locate the course at your “home” button when you are logged in. Scroll down to find the Christian Leaders Getting Started Course Part 1 &2 Link. Click the link and open the course.
Step 2 – Complete Part 1 of this course, and then you are allowed to enroll in mini-courses or regular courses.
The Christian Leaders Getting Started Class Part 1 shows you how to enroll in courses and mini-courses. Part 2 of the course connects your calling into ministry with programs offered through Christian Leaders Institute. Part 2 will offer some ministry training and introduce you to the other programs offered through Christian Leaders Institute.