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More than She Could Imagine

Hilary's story by Steve Mitchell

“Thank you for calling Dave’s Garage Doors. This is Hilary. How can I help you?” The words flowed automatically. It was a familiar cadence she spoke dozens of times daily. “Why am I doing this?” she wondered. “How did I end up here?” The road she’d taken had more than a few switchbacks.

Hilary Szabo grew up a short walk from Beaverton Foursquare. Though the massive church bordered their neighborhood, her family chose instead to attend a small Bible church that’s since closed. Their choice hinted at things to come in Hilary’s life. A desire to know and to be known. Even better, a passion to connect people with one another.

Her upbringing was solidly Christian. Not perfect, but steady and solid.

Like many who were reared in the faith, Hilary wondered what lay beyond the bounds of being a “good” Christian. During her teenage years, she explored that territory, and though the friends she made were loyal and fun the trajectory of her life wasn’t what she wanted. An important crossroads came after she graduated from high school.

Hilary decided on a move to California and enrolled in Calvary Chapel’s Bible College (CCBC). Housed in the former Murrieta Hot Springs Resort, it was founded in 1975 as a short, intensive Bible study program. Though it’s expanded beyond its original mission, the school is still designed to equip Christians with a solid grasp of the Bible and a passion for ministry. Hilary’s two-year course of study did just that. She fell in love with the golden sunshine and towering palms of the Temecula Valley. Her heart was warmed even more by her study of God's Word and the people with whom she shared that journey.

“The community was so captivating. All these people loving each other, getting into God’s Word, and sharing their lives with one another.”

It was one of the most formative times in her life and it led Hilary to dream of what life after college could look like. “I had always wanted to be a part of planting a church and school, so when I heard about an opportunity to do so with CCBC in Wilmington, North Carolina, it seemed ideal.” Hilary worked, saved, and prayed. Before long she began a five-month stint in Wilmington as part of the new church plant.

Hilary traded the soft sway of desert palms for the rough surf of the Atlantic coast where Wilmington lay, straddling the Cape Fear River and the barrier islands of North Carolina. Adjacent to the famed Research Triangle, the coastal city boasted a younger population than is typical of sleepy beachside towns, with many working in healthcare, education and big pharma. Though it sits within the Bible belt, less than half of Wilmington's residents claim any religious affiliation. It seemed the ideal place for a group of idealistic bible school graduates to plant a church.

“I taught the Word, counseled students, and loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, the financial support the school anticipated didn’t materialize and after running through my savings, I decided to move back home.”

Never given to bitterness, Hilary considers her time in Wilmington a gift. Even so, the experience led to disappointment and a host of significant questions. “God, what’s happening? Why didn’t it work out the way I thought? I felt like you led me there. What am I doing back here in Beaverton?” Her return felt like a huge step backward—but she was determined to move forward. She knew she didn’t want to go back to old friends and old ways that weren't in line with her future desires.

Still convinced that God had called her to ministry, Hilary began to apply for work at churches and other ministries. The job market was still pretty tight during her search, but when she received no response at all, she wondered again what God was up to. Her older sister, Sarah, suggested she apply for other jobs and consider what ministry might look like beyond a paid church staff position. Encouraged by the advice, Hilary decided to apply for any employment that might be suitable. One of her first interviews was with Dave’s Garage Door Company.

When she arrived for the meeting, she noticed the background music in the office was tuned to a local Christian station. Small, personalized decorations at a few desks featured Scripture. Hilary thought, “Hmmm, isn’t that interesting." The interview went well and a couple days later the general manager called and offered her the job.

She began training and getting to know her co-workers. She noticed right away that not all of them shared her faith in Jesus, despite the notes and radio station. But one woman did and before long they began to pray together—for their colleagues, the business, and the needs in one another’s lives. A shared passion for Jesus blossomed into a deep friendship. Hilary’s new friend, Anita, began inviting her to Beaverton Foursquare, and to a young adult Life Group that she co-led with her husband.

Anita was persistent, so Hilary decided to accept despite her hesitancy. The church didn’t seem like a good fit at first. The teaching and the worship were encouraging, but it was mostly a family church without a noticeable population of single adults her age.

Throughout it all, Hilary kept asking, “God, what am I doing here? Where is all this going?”

Anita also invited her to something called Rooted, a 10-week small group experience designed to help people connect. It seemed like it might help resolve some of her questions, so when Anita mentioned she would be co-leading a group, Hilary signed up. At the first meeting, Hilary found herself in a room with people who were all at least 30 years older than her. Regardless, she was excited and open to the possibility that God had something in mind for her that she just couldn’t see yet.

“I would have been happy to stay in that group. There were a lot of wise people there, but when Anita suggested I at least meet the young adults in another Rooted group, I was open to that. She walked me to the other group and introduced me to the leaders and group members.” Week two found Hilary settled into the young adult Rooted group, making new friends, and experiencing community much like that which marked her time at CCBC.

“Right away others began inviting me to do things with them outside of our group time. They also told me about the Gathering, a mid-week service for young adults.”

Hilary’s experience with Rooted continued beyond that first group. As she got more connected at the church, she found opportunities to serve. She co-led her first Rooted group within a few months. She also began serving in the Gathering, where her gifts for mercy, teaching, and intercessory prayer naturally began to express. It was a heady time of new friends, new volunteer opportunities, and even new roommates. But one question still lingered, “I kept wondering why I was still at the garage door company—I kept getting a feeling that God was up to something new." 

The answer to her last pondering unfolded much like the others. Her Rooted co-leader, Kale, suggested she apply for the church’s residency program. Sixth months into the program himself, he was in a position to give her an unvarnished look. Again, this path didn't appear to Hilary like a next step she expected. The program was designed as a gap year, helping recent graduates bridge academic training to real vocational ministry. It offered a stipend, housing, and the chance to learn a lot about different aspects of a large church. In addition, there were mature leaders in the program who focused on mentoring and spiritual formation.

But Hillary felt like she’d already bridged that gap in North Carolina and wondered if the program was a good fit. Even so, Kale was relentless, introducing her to the residency director, Alex Lessler, and recommending her as a candidate. As Alex got to know her better, he asked her if she might consider a residency in the Connections ministry. When Alex described how Connections worked, something clicked. Hilary realized that God has always been using her to help connect people with Him, each other, and the Church.

Now a resident graduate and full-time staff member at B4, Hilary continues to work as a pastor in Connections. And she marvels that the most interesting connection of all is the one God orchestrated between her and her dreams. When asked about that, she held her hands in her lap, palms up. Gazing into them, she saw what others couldn’t and said, “The Lord gave me more than I could have thought or imagined.”

If you want to experience Rooted as Hilary did, you can check it out here.

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