Woodland Hills has 232 Heroes Gate volunteers, so we asked two of them, Ashley and Brian Johnson, to answer a few questions about their experience.
What brought you to Woodland Hills?
Ashley: My Mom! I was probably in about 3rd grade when we first started attending Woodland.
Brian: I was raised in a Lutheran Church but hadn’t been attending regular services for years. When we started dating, Ashley never pressured me to come with her, but because she always made it such a priority I was intrigued. The messages at Woodland were not what I was used to getting from church and I felt like I was enjoying church in a new way.
How did you first get connected to Heroes Gate?
Ashley: As far back as I can remember I’ve felt a calling to work with kids in ministry. I started volunteering as a teen in the nursery when they needed extra help. In 2012, I made the commitment to be on the schedule and I signed up to lead with the 2nd graders every week. I stayed with that same group of kids all the way up until they left Heroes Gate and started attending Echo.
Brian: I started volunteering when Ashley was on maternity leave with our youngest daughter. The next year I began volunteering every other weekend and have been doing it ever since.
When you were growing up, what was your childhood church experience like?
Ashley: Before we attended Woodland, my family attended a very small Baptist church in St. Paul. When we started coming to Woodland I was around 8 or 9 years old and never knew Sunday school could be so much fun! I stayed connected with the youth ministry all the way through high school and even went on two missions trips to Jamaica. I was always inviting my friends to come with me on Wednesday nights with the promise of my church being a “fun church” and Woodland never disappointed!
Brian: I grew up with lots of negative feelings about church and always felt like it was something I was forced to do. Nothing I was experiencing there made me want to make the choice to go on my own.
What music is playing in your car these days?
Ashley: 95% of the time our radio is tuned into KTIS! The other 5% is usually dedicated to The Greatest Showman soundtrack! All three of my older kids are obsessed with it at the moment, and it’s great when they can all agree on something! (Our fourth child is only eight months so he is not voicing his musical preferences just yet, LOL)
Brian: My radio usually stays on KTIS, it’s always positive and uplifting.
You’ve been volunteering with Heroes Gate for years now. What keeps you coming back?
Ashley: Since I grew up with the Woodland Hill’s children’s ministry I knew what a difference it can make in the lives of the kids. I always loved coming to church and I know a major part of that was because of the staff and volunteers who invested their time in us. My life has gotten busier with four kiddos, and we have moved farther away from church (Forest Lake), but I continue to sign up not only for the kids, but also to hold myself accountable for showing up on Sundays! Knowing the kids are counting on us helps us make sure we are getting there. Also, with a church the size of Woodland it is easy to feel like it’s a struggle to connect with other members, and volunteering at Heroes Gate is a great way to do that. My husband and I were actually married by Patrick, the Associate Children’s Pastor, in 2017!
Brian: It’s great to know I’m helping the kids connect with God and giving them a church experience that is different than what I grew up with. I also feel like it’s a good refresher for me on stories of the Bible that we might not be hearing much of in adult services. I enjoy really getting kids into the stories and helping them see how they relate to their everyday lives. Volunteering isn’t always easy but there is a special joy you get watching the kids truly make the choice to love God and grow in their faith.