“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’”
— Isaiah 6:8, English Standard Version
Small town. Middle of nowhere. That’s how Kat De Penning ’11 describes her hometown of Sully, Iowa. And not without cause: The quaint town, coined “little Pella” for its large collection of Dutch descendants and its close proximity to its sister city, has a population of 962 and just a few — mostly small — businesses making up all of its industry.
De Penning was intimately familiar with her hometown’s sister city as her mother, Darlys De Penning, worked at Central College for 18 years.
“I pretty much grew up on campus,” De Penning recalls. “Mom was a custodian in the music building, so I was always there meeting college students and things like that. Central has always felt like a second family.”
De Penning assumed she would attend Central, and it was the former study abroad program — now known as off-campus experiences — that caught her attention.
“I remember growing up, being at my grandparents’ house and having coffee with them. They had international students and missionaries come to their house, and I would sit there wondering, ‘Why did they choose to live in this country?’ or ‘Why do they believe what they believe?’” she reminisces. “It sparked an interest in getting to know people from other cultures.”
Here as in Heaven
When De Penning was a junior communication studies major at Central, she studied abroad in the Netherlands and had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world while attending an international church in Leiden.
“I remember worshipping there. There were people from all over, and I thought, ‘This is amazing,’” she breathes. “It was like Heaven.”
While in the Netherlands, De Penning hosted a small-group Bible study for university students in her less-than-roomy dorm room. It was then, she believes, her walk with God really began. In fact, a prayer meeting changed everything for her when a leader spoke up and said, “Kat, I see a picture of God with His arms wide open saying, ‘Come back. I forgive you. I love you.’”
“I was just like, ‘Holy Spirit, how did you know?’ I’d never experienced something like that,” she says. “I became a true follower of Jesus.”
Upon her arrival to the Netherlands, De Penning was surprised by the lack of Christianity in her Dutch counterparts.
“I gave my life to Christ in the Netherlands, and I also saw the need for the gospel there,” she remembers. “It was eye-opening.”
And just like that, the girl who had always been involved with InterVarsity at Central immersed herself in that ministry in her final year. She knew ministering to the nations was what she wanted to do — more than that, she felt called to work with international university students and to be a missionary in Europe. But … what came next?
Going to Africa
As a communication studies major, practicums and internships were required. De Penning interned with a church in Pella doing youth ministry to see if that was the best fit for her future. The youth pastor was leading a mission trip to Tanzania, East Africa. And De Penning wanted to go.
“Two days after I graduated from Central, I was on a plane to Tanzania,” she says. “We did outreach all over.
“One day we were sitting in a grass hut with some Muslim men drinking tiny cups of coffee and they asked, ‘Why would you come halfway across the world to tell us about a guy named Jesus?’ Growing up in a place where people identify as Christians, I never had to justify or explain my faith before.
“It made me think, ‘Okay, I want to be a missionary and work in ministry. I need to be able to have conversations like this.’”
Since De Penning had known most of her life that she would attend Central, there was no college search to take part in. After her experience in East Africa, she determined attending a seminary or Bible college would be the wisest choice — even if she dreaded prolonging her academic career.
“I didn’t want to pick up another book and study ever again,” she shares. Then De Penning remembered a young woman who had lived across the street from her grandparents: She had gone on a mission trip to Greece, fell in love with the country and went back as a missionary. So, De Penning met with her, and she encouraged De Penning to attend Greek Bible College in Pikermi, Greece.
From September 2012 to September 2013, she was a student at Greek Bible College. During that time, De Penning was required to do ministry. She opted for a sailing ministry, which boated to many of Greece’s 227 inhabited islands to encourage believers or bring the gospel. (Thankfully, De Penning didn’t experience seasickness on those voyages, despite growing up in a landlocked state.) She also worked with The Hope Center, a nonprofit ministry that exists to promote healing and be a safe space for women to find shelter, support and care in a family environment during an unexpected pregnancy.
A Foot in the Door
Once her program concluded, De Penning unhappily headed back to Iowa.
“I came back to the states kicking and screaming,” she says. “I was living with my parents again as a 25-year-old woman trying to find a job, but I just wasn’t finding anything.”
Out of the blue, her mom’s former boss at Central called her up. After establishing she’d heard De Penning was looking for a job, she offered her a position on her custodial staff — an offer De Penning was thrilled to accept. Then, on a random Sunday in July 2014, De Penning was checking her email and found one addressed directly to her.
“On the custodial team, you’re not usually called or written personally,” she explains. “This email said, ‘Hey, Kat, you know nothing about me, but I’ve heard a lot about you. We have a position to work with international students opening up. Would you want to come into my office on Monday to talk about it?’ I called my mom like, ‘Is this real life?!’”
The email was from Lyn Isaacson, now-retired associate dean for global education, who ended up hiring De Penning just two weeks before international students arrived on Central’s campus in Fall 2014.
“I knew nothing, but I saw it as a way of God bringing the nations to me before I could go to the nations,” De Penning shares. “I loved it. I learned a lot of hard lessons, but I wouldn’t trade that.”
John Roslien, associate professor of kinesiology, always hosted Central’s international students in two cabins on the Mississippi River for a long weekend. “We loaded them up on minibuses and brought them there,” De Penning says. “We’d usually try to find a Central game to go cheer at, which resulted in dressing in Central attire, lessons about American football and great memories.”
She’s a Gem
By April 2017, De Penning had paid off her loans from her off-campus study experience, which financially freed her up to pursue her mission goals. She researched different mission organizations to see what resonated with her. The Greek Bible College had been founded by Great Europe Mission missionaries in the early 1970s, so De Penning applied there and became a G.E.M. partner. (It didn’t escape her notice that she grew up in Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior (GEMS) classes.)
After a challenging period of indecision on where in the world to go, De Penning received a wise word: “God doesn’t make decisions hard — people do.” A significant amount of time was spent in prayer before she decided God was calling her back to Greece to pour into and mobilize university students.
In her role, De Penning helped plan a lot of trips for their international program; taught student body leaders about leadership (and other topics); went to a church plant in Kypseli — an area with more migrants than Greeks; assisted with Bible studies; did outreach on the plateia (square) for children; assisted with food programs during the COVID-19 lockdown to ensure people were getting the food they needed; and more.
One of De Penning’s favorite places to take students was the island of Patmos, where Apostle John received the visions found in the biblical book of Revelation after he was exiled by the Roman Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus in 95 A.D. It’s the only book in the New Testament where the location is given.
“We were able to go to the prison where John was held and sit; we could see the seven churches that John’s letter was written to; and we read through Revelation, imagining walking around in that time,” she shares.
In November 2021, De Penning’s visa expired. “It’s difficult to get a visa in Greece if you’re not Orthodox — it raises red flags for them,” she explains. “I had been on a student visa for three and a half years, and I had been looking for something a little bit more than that, but I felt like God was telling me my time in Greece was going to be done.
“When I moved back to Greece, I was thinking I could be there for the rest of my life. So, when I had to come back to the States, I was trying to figure out the next step.”
Here I Am! Send Me.
De Penning was in Greece saying her goodbyes when the war in Ukraine broke out. Her heart was gripped for the Ukrainian people, which caused her to question what her involvement should be.
“At that time, I was having conversations with field leaders up in the U.K. to help out with a church plant there with a majority of university students, but nothing was gaining traction,” she says. “A friend and colleague of mine called me a couple of weeks after the war began and explained that she was asked to move from Germany to Prague, Czech Republic, to open a center for displaced Ukrainians. She asked if it was something I wanted to be part of.”
De Penning was distracted by her work and the notion that she knew nothing about the Czech Republic but committed to praying about it. She had a video call with Czech leaders after she arrived back in the States in May 2022. They explained they do hospitality ministry, discipleship and house church plants — and they were looking for someone to work with university students in Brno, Czech Republic. Confirmation of the call on her life pinged in De Penning’s spirit and she asked the hard question: “Can I work with displaced Ukrainians and university students?”
The short answer: Of course! She was given the flexibility to be based in Brno, working with university students, while traveling to Prague once or twice per month to work with Ukrainian refugees. De Penning will soon begin her next journey of walking by faith to reach the outermost parts of the word with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
To learn more about De Penning’s ministry call, visit gemission.org/kat-de-penning.
Victory in Jesus
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
— Ephesians 2:10, English Standard Version
Thirty-six years separate Diana Vollmar ’85 and Liam Mock ’21. It was Victory Bible Camp, a nonprofit, Christian camp in Glacier View, Alaska — an impressive 3,344 miles from Pella, Iowa — that brought them together.
Vollmar was a legacy student who was naturally connected to Central through the Reformed Church in Illinois. She graduated with a degree in elementary education with reading and special education endorsements.
“I started teaching special ed right after graduation and then I moved into first grade,” Vollmar says. “I taught in Manning, Iowa, for 10 years. I began really seeking the Lord more.”
An acquaintance was a nurse at VBC. On furlough in 1992, she spoke at Vollmar’s home church about the camp. Her parents called Vollmar afterward to suggest she investigate it.
“People thought I was crazy,” she chuckles. “I was going up there during the summer and working for nothing; I had my teacher salary, so I didn’t ask for any money. People thought, ‘You’re giving up your whole summer and you’re not getting paid. That’s ridiculous.’ But when I came home, they saw I had changed. The Lord really worked on me that summer.”
Vollmar taught in Anchorage for 24 years before her retirement. She now lives near VBC, where she volunteers as a cook.
Mock grew up in Pella, going to a Reformed Church in town, until his family moved to Alaska when he was 14, where he was first introduced to VBC.
“My parents started to take their walk with Jesus Christ really seriously when I was about 11,” Mock remembers. “They had friends who had moved to a camp in Alaska to do ministry there, and it was something my parents wanted to do as well.”
Mock grew up in ministry and somewhere along the way, it became the cry of his heart. “I wanted to go to seminary to be able to preach and teach the Word of God — the Bible — and I needed an undergraduate degree to do that.”
He began at a community college then transferred to Central for his last two years. He landed on a combination of utility and intrigue and chose a business management major and philosophy minor — all with the goal of going into full-time ministry. Mock remembers explaining the book of Ephesians to campers in summer 2022 and having their hearts be transformed as they were “washing of water with the word,” as expressed in Ephesians 5.
“The whole reason I’m at seminary — or doing any ministry at all — is because of the experiences I’ve had at Victory,” Mock explains. “Seeing other kids hear the gospel for the first time, realizing they were sinners saved by the grace of Christ and then responding to it and seeking their counselor in tears of joy because they know they’re forgiven … it’s amazing. It fires me up!” Vollmar, who originally crossed paths with Mock at VBC nearly 10 years ago, agrees wholeheartedly. “The work the Lord has done in campers and volunteers brings healing, encouragement and allows them to build lives worth living. Their lives are changed by what the Lord does in and through them at Victory.”
The camp, which exists with the purpose of “seeing people come to Christ and others dedicating their lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ,” recently celebrated its 75th anniversary — a testament to how the Lord continues to impact lives through VBC. It hosted more than 800 campers over the course of seven weeks during summer 2022.
To learn more about Victory Bible Camp, visit vbcalaska.org.