Los Angeles, California brings to mind a myriad of images: film stars, sandy beaches, extravagant shopping, congested highways, and millions of people. No matter how one imagines L.A., people are usually in the picture. It is the people of L.A., especially international students and their families, with whom Lizzie Fortenberry lives and works.
Lizzie graduated from Mississippi College in 2001, packed her bags, and moved to Waco, Texas to attend George W. Truett Theological Seminary. While in seminary, Lizzie began living and working with students. She was a Resident Chaplain in Baylor University's undergraduate resident halls, and upon graduating in 2004 she became the Residence Hall Director for the Honors College Residential Community.
In addition to working full time as a Hall Director, Lizzie worked bi-vocationally as the Ministry Associate for Small Groups at Calvary Baptist Church in Waco. For the five years Lizzie lived in Waco, she devoted her life to those that were living around her. Now, as she works as an Advocate for International Women and Children at the University of Southern California, she uses what she learned in Waco to holistically minister to people in every situation.
As a Global Service Corp field personnel with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Lizzie is spending two years in L.A. She says that she was drawn to CBF's GSC program because of the commitment of the organization to minister to the most neglected people of the world. She admits that L.A. was a surprise destination, but the job description fit her passions as well as the opportunity to work alongside Aaron and Stephanie Glenn, who are also Truett alumni.
Breaking into a broad smile, Lizzie leans in and begins describing her job. She spends her days connecting and building relationships with the wives and families of international students at USC. Her purpose is to connect with the women through cooking classes, conversational English classes, or any way that helps them transition into their new lives in California. Assisting their transition takes the shape of touring local grocery stores, helping women learn to drive and apply for a driver's license, and proof reading forms for jobs. She also connects the women with each other and helps them build meaningful friendships and relationships while they live in the U.S.
Through the normalcies and the crises of life Lizzie is journeying with the women. She shares that after time, the why question surfaces. Why would you help me? Why do you care? Why are you doing this? She replies that her motivation is her love for Jesus and the truth that God loves people deeply. She says, "we want them to know that we want them to feel welcome, to be our neighbor and be our friend, and be that for us- mutual sharing."
She says that "many people live a very lonely life and most have no concept of hope" and that "so many people in the world don't have people that care for them or listen to their stories." For Lizzie, living, caring, listening, and being the vessel of hope to people is part of her calling. Sitting with a woman in the vulnerable places in her life, being present despite the difference in culture and language, having a connection, and meeting God in those experiences is her reason for being there.
Lizzie honestly states that above all, the realities of the everyday stuff are the most challenging and most rewarding part of her ministry. "You have to do it to get to the places where God affirms what it means to be a minister," she says. The deeply meaningful opportunities illuminate the everyday paperwork and allow it to be ministry.
As Lizzie finishes her second year in L.A., she looks forward to a future journeying with people, loving them radically, and sharing with them the hope found in Jesus Christ.