By Gaye Bunderson
Kathie Slusser Carlson enjoys lots of things about her job, including travel, culture, and service. She works for Colorado-based Paraclete Mission Group. “I like them,” she said. “It is about coming alongside ministries and Christian leaders around the world.”
She helps faith-based agencies and churches working to expand the Kingdom of God nationally and internationally, but she is based here in the Treasure Valley, with a passport to travel the planet and go where she is needed. A variety of associates with different life backgrounds – from finance to church planting to soul care and more – comprise a globally dispersed team of the faithful, with a mission to help ministers be fruitful where they’re planted.
Despite an educational background that includes a master’s degree, as well as decades of experience, Kathie can be self-mocking about her credentials. “I have a resume only Jesus would want,” she said smiling.
Count her as yet another believer whose path took turns and twists orchestrated by the Savior for His divine purposes. To her credit, she allowed Him to lead her life and career in unexpected ways.
“I’m surprised to be in full-time counseling,” said the woman who earned a B.A. in English and an M.Ed. in educational technology and whose background includes teaching journalism.
A brief biography about Kathie at www.paraclete.net describes her current calling as bringing emotional, relational and spiritual health to missionaries and ministry leaders. “My best skills,” she said, “are I’m a good listener, a good questioner, and highly empathetic. I didn’t come to ministry and missions until 33 – it was a complete surprise.”
She explained how it all came about and how God used everything she experienced for whatever He was calling her to do. “Just before my eighth year of teaching, I felt the Lord was telling me He had other plans for me; He was giving me different longings, and He began calling me slowly,” she said.
While she loved teaching, she struggled with some of the painful things her students were going through. “I was wrestling with things in their lives I couldn’t do anything about,” she said.
The Lord wanted her to see a bigger calling for her compassionate spirit, to see beyond teaching in a classroom. He told her: “I have something else I want you do to, and I want you to leave this job at the end of the year.”
She gave notice without having a clear sense of where she was going next. “I’d always seen teaching as an act of service,” she said. “It never occurred to me I wouldn’t be teaching for 40 years.”
Her parents supported her serving the Lord but were uncomfortable that she was leaving teaching without having a specific plan in mind. “It was kind of like, ‘It’s good you’re serving the Lord, but you have a mortgage!’” Kathie said.
The principal at her school thought she was crazy and speculated she was only leaving to find a husband and then would be back.
She got a job as director of communications for an international firm, and it was there that God opened up a volunteer opportunity. She signed on to write curriculum for a CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) chapter in Russia. It was no accidental opportunity. “This is where I could see education and ministry coming together in ways I didn’t know existed,” she said. “I started to pray, ‘Could I do something like this for a career?’”
A colleague on the CRU curriculum project worked with Mission Aviation Fellowship, then based in Redlands, Calif., preceding its move to Nampa. It was a pivotal connection for Kathie – she began working for MAF in January of 2003 and would remain there for the next decade.
To date, she’s been to 30 countries, including Kenya, Lebanon, Jordan, and many others. Over the years, she’s brought her own perspective to foreign missions work. The curriculum she creates possesses what she calls “a very strong transformational base.”
“At one point in my life,” she said, “I thought information changed us, that we needed more information. But now I don’t believe that information changes our hearts; information in the context of grace and relationship is what changes our hearts. There is no shortage of information around the world – a lack of information isn’t what ails us. The Gospel is all about connection, and it’s transformational.”
While working at MAF, she started to meet people from other ministries, and that’s when she saw the grief they sometimes experienced, and how they weren’t always able to deal with it. “I saw the pain and ache that missionaries suffer as they try to do their work. The expectation is that these people only give and they never need. It makes it hard for them to say when they’re hurting.
“Life is not a bowl of peaches all the time: there’s beauty and there’s hurt. People think you have to cover up the hurt; but to cover up the hurt, it just gets buried. I don’t think our hearts were meant for that. In the Bible, there is a culture of lament and grief, and God’s at work in that.
“In America, we put Band-Aids over bullet holes and try to move on. We’re supposed to be in control and plan right and fix things. I help bring a culture shift to ministries so they can continue serving and let God actually heal the wounds.”
From 2011-2012, she was in a phase of transition. “The Lord was graciously and lovingly leading me into ministry. He started leading me afresh. He was giving me curiosity and longing. I have always had unsettled longings in times of transition. He’s asking me to pay attention to new things, and I don’t always know what they are – but I keep looking with fresh eyes.”
She ultimately made the transition from MAF to Paraclete in 2013. This is where she began to ‘come alongside’ various ministries, including: Aphesis Group Ministries, aphesisgroup.com; Accessible Hope International, accessiblehope.org; Perspectives on the World Christian Movement (here in the U.S.), perspectives.org; Child Evangelism Fellowship, cefonline.com; and, locally, Launch Pad Ministries, launchministries.org.
Her contributions include working in training, curriculum, teaching, organizational consulting, and mental and spiritual care for leaders. “The Lord continues to use me as needed,” she said.
She has many diverse skills, but humbly stated, “God gleans from it.”
And she matures through every new experience.
“When I minister, it’s not always about my knowledge and experience. It’s about vulnerability, growth, and heart transformation – letting Him change me. I grow while I’m doing it, and whatever comes next, I use what I just learned and experienced.
“I am awed by the privilege God gives me of being with people on holy ground when they tell me their stories. I listen to them intently, and to the Holy Spirit.”
Not by coincidence, “Paraclete” means advocate or helper; and in Christianity, the term most commonly refers to the Holy Spirit. Kathie will continue to take the Holy Spirit with her into the missions field wherever God calls her. Asked if she studies the different cultures she visits, she said, “I may do some reading, but the best things I can take are openness and curiosity. People value the image of God in every country, and I value them and I’m there to serve.”
Having been in full-time ministry for 18 years, she said, “I don’t bring an expectation of how people should be. I create a safe place for people to come as they are, and to invite the Holy Spirit into that place.”
Paraclete Mission Group is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo. Go to paraclete.net for more information.