There are two integral things that you need to know about Paige Johnson, who graduated from Oklahoma Wesleyan University’s School of Ministry and Christian Thought this May.
First, you need to know that she was a rock star in the department. Jerome Van Kuiken, Dean of the School of Ministry, still talks about the way she handled her New Testament Greek classes. “She ate [it] for breakfast,” he said appreciatively.
Secondly: she loves NASCAR. Loves it. In fact, the factor that clinched her commitment to OKWU was hearing about the NASCAR trip that Dr. Wendel Weaver, Dean of the School of Business, takes with his students each year. “That’s what really sold me,” she said.
Before hearing about that trip, Johnson’s plan had been straightforward. She was going to go to the University of North Carolina to study to be a NASCAR reporter. At OKWU, though, she knew that she could nurture her calling to ministry.
She had felt this calling since high school, when she job-shadowed her pastor. Even before that, she had long been the curator of an online group for Christian NASCAR fans, where she shared testimonies, responded to sermons, and generally sought to encourage the group members. Though the group no longer exists—because the website the group was on no longer exists—Johnson still stays in contact with the members of her group. Her junior year of college, Johnson decided to take a road trip to South Carolina to meet up with Lori, a member of the group that Johnson had been in contact with since high school.
“We keep in touch through email and we talk on the phone,” Johnson said.
Her involvement in this NASCAR ministry strengthened Johnson’s commitment to serve, and there wasn’t a doubt in her mind what her path would be once she stepped foot onto OKWU’s campus.
“I knew exactly what I wanted my major to be,” she said, “and I knew that I wanted to have a marketing minor so that I could go to NASCAR with Dr. Weaver.”
She ended up graduating with a degree in Pastoral Ministry and Biblical and Theological Studies, along with that marketing minor so she could be a part of the NASCAR trip. Since May, when she walked across the graduation stage, Johnson has been interning at Waterline Church, in the Indianapolis area.
This too, she said, came courtesy of OKWU. Waterline’s team of pastors came and spoke in one of Johnson’s classes last winter. When they talked about the numerous chances they get each week to connect with completely unchurched people, Johnson wanted in. She asked them about their internship opportunities, and ended up with a role.
“Don’t give up and keep going. Know that there are people who believe in you, and ultimately God believes in you more than anybody else… Don’t let what other people say define you. Let God define who you are.”
Johnson is conscious of the fact that there is some recent debate amongst the church community about the role of women in ministry, and she’s thankful for the encouragement that her family at OKWU has given to her calling, citing most of the professors she took classes from as being strong guiding forces.
“The School of Ministry was always very supportive of the kind of ministry I wanted to do and the things outside of school that I did as ministry,” she said. “They’ve always been very encouraging to the girls in class.”
Still, she knows that there are sources of outside discouragement for women, and she acknowledged having dealt with some opposition in the past. “To a woman who is in ministry, I would say: don’t give up and keep going,” she said. “Know that there are people who believe in you, and ultimately God believes in you more than anybody else. He called you for a reason, and He wants to do immeasurably more than you could ever ask or think or imagine. So don’t let what other people say define who you are. Let God define who you are.”
She’s already taken her own advice. Paige Johnson defines herself by who God says she is, and it shows in her heart for ministry and service. In five years, she hopes to be doing what she loves: telling people about Jesus and staying involved with NASCAR. She says she hopes to start a brand new NASCAR ministry close to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway so she and her team can be involved on race days throughout the year.
No matter what happens, though, Johnson has already made her OKWU family very proud.