Living through daily trials of hatred, fear, oppression and death, the Rev. Kevin Beebe experienced a crisis of faith and endured periods of unanswered prayer and unrelenting circumstances while serving the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Ramallah, Palestine.
“I taught English in a Lutheran school for a year as a global mission volunteer,” he said. “It tore me apart to see so many Palestinians I cared for, Muslim and Christian alike, denied their humanity through a system of oppression and apartheid-like practices. And much of the destruction I witnessed is framed in terms of religion, including Christians turning a blind eye toward a group of people simply because we are afraid of their religion or skin color. To this day, I hear too many Christians afraid of Islam and Muslims out of ignorance or a deep sin we all carry, which causes us to miss the humanity of all people.”
Beebe, who recently accepted the call to serve as pastor of Spirit Alive Lutheran Church, watched his Palestinian friends of all faiths and most Jewish Israelis long for freedom to live, work, attend school and have families without fear or oppression of rights.
“Living there left me very angry at God, who we profess to be powerful and all-loving but seemed to be distant in a place dubbed the ‘Holy Land,’” he said. “I’m not sure I have or will ever overcome my experiences in Israel-Palestine. There are days it still feels crippling and days I am able to distance myself from it.
“If you ask my wife, Kelsey, it is a place I desperately love and am utterly broken by. I continue forward by clinging to the ways God’s love refused to be eliminated.”
‘To exist is to resist’
In the face of military occupation, Beebe danced with Palestinian friends and laughed. In the face of death, he watched babies being born, couples married and a refusal to allow God’s joy to be completely masked. A common Palestinian motto is “To exist is to resist.”
“Simply by refusing to go away or completely surrender to occupation means God’s gospel and the power of God’s love refuses to be silenced,” he explained. “Mary, Jesus’ mother, models this most clearly in scripture that, even when faced with Roman occupation and being a woman with little rights, pregnant in a way unacceptable and unfathomable to her family and people, sang out for joy and prophetically called out how God’s love is greater than any evil humankind can create.”
Turns pain into serving others
Beebe turned his pain into serving others by attending Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of California Lutheran University (PLTS) in Berkeley, Calif., and graduated in August 2018 after completing his internship in Missouri.
Beebe was ordained at Trinity Lutheran Church in Pullman, Wash., on Aug. 17, with Bishop Paul Erickson of the Greater Milwaukee Synod presiding. Spirit Alive is his first call, but he served pulpit supply in the St. Louis area while awaiting his call.
Married six months, Beebe’s wife, Kelsey is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ and the executive pastor of Dancing Pastor Ministries. The couple has a cat named Velcro.
Born in California, you could say ministry is in Beebe’s DNA. He is the son of a retired Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastor. The family moved to Pullman, Wash., when he was a child.
“Even though my dad retired from active pastoral ministry when I was a baby, I found myself in theological conversations and at church events all the time,” he said. “To be honest, I think a lot of other people heard God’s call for me before I did. I owe it to pastor and youth director mentors who pushed me to ask deeper questions, explore my faith and the world more, and to love building relationships with others.”
Walking alongside on faith’s journey
Beebe recalls thinking about ministry while in undergraduate school. He enjoyed walking alongside others in their faith journey and being witness to raw moments in their lives.
“Studying music and theater led me to reflect upon how much I wanted to be part of moving people’s very being into deeper connections with others,” he said. “On the flip side, I also wanted to wrestle with God like Jacob and Job. I wanted to be able to argue with God about oppression and hatred and all the forces that defy God. It seemed logical that to more effectively struggle with the divine that I needed some training.”
Beebe feels very much at home in Kenosha and at Spirit Alive. The members are welcoming, encouraging and supportive to both him and Kelsey.
“We are looking at revitalizing what the mission of Spirit Alive is in the coming years, examining our past and the community’s gifts, Kenosha’s needs and how we can best build deeper and ever-expanding relationships with the greater community,” he said. “We’re hoping to examine our ministry, top-to-bottom.”
“This is exciting work for me because we are actively listening for the Spirit as we look to respond to the gospel in the world,” Beebe said. “Some of this will be in small ways, such as revamping our website and revising job descriptions, and some goals will be larger like creating a new mission statement and examining what is the best space for us to do ministry in. Overall, our new mission and vision from the smallest detail to macro view will be shaped by Christ’s grace for all and God’s call to respond to that grace by proclaiming God’s love for all creation and create a space in which all people can wrestle with faith.”
If you go
What: Meet and greet the Rev. Kevin Beebe
When: Following the 10:45 a.m. Sept. 15 service in Fellowship Hall.
Where: Spirit Alive Lutheran Church shares space with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 8760 37th Ave.