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Student Testimonial: Emma Ruby Zannis ’24

I have had the immense privilege of being involved with the work of the Center for Rural Ministry over the course of my college education. During my sophomore year, when the CRM was still the Project on Rural Ministry, I joined the Spring Break Service Trip.  Bolstered by the experiences of friends and the attraction of doing a service trip that was motivated by the people we’ll meet and not the places we’ll go, I signed up. And as we spent our days serving and listening, I met pastors and church leaders with a vision I had never encountered before. 

Zannis (center) serving in Powhatan Point, Ohio, during the 2023 CRM spring-break service trip.

This was a vision that, as it permeated my thinking and reflecting, began to kill the impulse towards Church consumerism that was within me. This vision was one that humbly embodied the Gospel. Just as Jesus condescended into flesh to be born in a filthy manger and to be raised in an unimpressive town that was often mocked and scorned, these pastors took up callings in rural, small-town, seemingly forgotten places, and they stay there even when its hard. Just as Jesus loved beyond betrayal and abandonment and to the very end, these pastors remain steadfast and loving despite facing exhaustion, decades of slow, unapparent growth, and a lack of resources. Just as Jesus died to restore His people to relationship with the Triune God, these pastors die to self so that Christ may be magnified. These pastors chose to be where they would not be known in any impressive ways so that they could make Jesus known to people who are often overlooked and disregarded. 

Far from the glamorous, romanticized view of ministry where you become admired, imitated, and sought after, this was a view where those in ministry sought to decrease so that Christ may increase. These people truly lived out the hope and trust that they could do much for the Kingdom of God even if they impact only a handful of people. What struck me so deeply about this mindset and philosophy was that it truly took and applied the radical nature of the upside-down Gospel. This left an imprint on my sophomore year and a lifelong impact of my thinking.  In the years of following that trip, I did the Spring Break service trip again junior year and had the honor of being the CRM writing intern during this past year: my senior year. And, looking back, I can confidently say that my involvement with the CRM gave me a holistic and formative education on how I can be a faithful layperson to my church.  

What I learned through interacting with the churches and pastors partnered with the CRM, was a lesson of distinct, pervasive hope and blessing.  We can trust that our little lives lived in little places yet carried out in faithful obedience and patterned after the Gospel mean much in the Kingdom of God. And yet this hope is also permeated with the call to die to self and to bear one’s cross. When Sunday mornings are boring and the people are frustrating, we must fight the urge to think that Church is for me and about me getting fed. When we’re hurt and overlooked by those who are supposed to be our spiritual family, we must kill the impulse to just leave and go to a new church. 

What I have learned and witnessed these past few years with the work of the CRM is that commitment to a local church is not founded upon compatibility.  Compatibility will always crack and waver, but steadfast love, rooted in the riches of the Gospel, will persevere. There is no compatibility between Christ and the people he died for, and yet He has freed us from the clothes of sin and clothed us with His righteousness, making us into a new creation.

Accordingly, the CRM has shown me what me partnering with my local church requires. Together, we carry out the work of restoration that God is bringing about, and this means commitment to serving instead of seeking to be served. This means continuing to love those who have sinned against you. This means doing the hard, unseen things, even living in unknown places, in order to make much of Jesus. And that is exactly what I got to witness in the hearts and lives of the pastors and leaders I have had the honor of meeting and learning from these past three years.  As I graduate, I am sad to be leaving involvement in the work of the Center for Rural


Emma Ruby, raised in central PA, was a writing intern for the CRM. She graduated in May 2024. During her time at Grove City College, she studied English, Christian ministries, and redemptive entrepreneurship with the hope of spending a lifetime doing vocational ministry.