by TLC Nielsen
A coworker surprised all of us in her department recently when we discovered she had graduated with a Masters degree in counseling. When asked about it, Colleen shrugged and mentioned that she still had to pass exams and then put in many hours of practicum before she was finished. Her effort in going to school while working, planning an annual summer mission trip, and putting in many free hours of counseling makes her an extraordinary ordinary counselor on so many levels.
Welcome Colleen Ryan!
Q) So how on earth did you juggle your masters program while working and doing all that you do?
A) Very carefully!! My program allowed for a lot of flexibility, which was essential. Each class lasted for 4 weeks, and it was up to me if I wanted to take classes back to back, or take a 4 week break between classes. Obviously, taking time off between classes slowed down my progress, yet oftentimes it was necessary to keep a balance to my life as well.
Q) What drew you to study counseling?
A) Since I was in high school, I’ve always enjoyed listening to people’s problems and trying to help them navigate solutions to their problems. I had several people say that I was really good at it and, since I enjoyed it, I thought it would be a good fit for me.
Q) How did you juggle an overseas mission trip while finishing your graduate classes?
A) Since I’m the team leader for our annual mission trips to Honduras, it wasn’t possible for me to take any classes during June, July and August. It slowed down my pace but was essential to maintain balance to my life and also protect my own physical and emotional health.
Q) When did you know you wanted to become involved with missions?
A) I took my first mission trip when I was 17. I spent the summer in England with Teen Missions International on an evangelistic team and I loved every minute of it. The 2 week training in Florida was really rough and challenging, but God used that time to grow me in my faith. Ever since then I’ve had a heart to do whatever was necessary to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Q) Where did you go overseas and why?
A) When I was 17, I went to England. Then when I was 19, I went with the same organization to Ireland, and then I was in the role as an assistant leader.
Q) Who encouraged you to go into mission work?
A) My parents had some really good friends who were involved in missions. The husband was an orthopedic surgeon and they had 9 kids. They were very intentional about using his medical skill to help people around the world. So he would take a couple of his kids with him to China, Africa, wherever it was and while he was doing surgeries, his kids would participate in whatever ministry was going on. Then one year they took all 9 kids to Africa for a whole year to serve and work there while he did surgeries. I was always fascinated about how they were intentional with using whatever skills they had to bring Christ to hurting people. That had a profound impact on my life. My son is named after this family.
Q) How does your counseling degree help you with missions?
A) Missionaries are just like us, except they typically have more stress in their lives. Living in a foreign land, getting use to their customs, being far away from family and missing weddings, funerals, babies being born, etc. is very difficult. My counseling helps me understand and know how to be a good listener, provide encouragement, perspective, be a sounding board, and also help them navigate challenging relationships in life. They have struggles and disappointments just like we do.
Q) What’s next for you, as a counselor and short-term missionary?
A) Well, I just completed my certification as a Biblical Counselor so I’m just launching my own practice. I hope God will continue to use me to help people deal with the various stresses and challenges in life. And I’ll continue leading short-term mission trips until God leads otherwise. It’s a passion of my heart to give people the opportunity to step out of their comfort zones and see what God is doing in another land.
Q) Will you share one surprising thing about yourself and/or counseling?
A) The older I get, the more I enjoy being home. This might not be surprising for some but for me it is. When I was younger, I always thrived on a full schedule and being out and about with people. Now I’m very content to be home, especially at night.
One surprising thing about counseling is that it takes a lot of time to prep for each counseling session. I don’t ‘wing it’ but put thought and care into each session: How can I help them gain a different perspective? Is there an example from scripture that I can use to make my point? What homework would be beneficial for them? It’s amazing how much God’s word has to say about stress, anxiety, betrayal, relationships, and so much more.
Thanks for reading the Extraordinary Ordinary blog where ordinary folks and their extraordinary adventures come to light!