Kristen’s journey and story is one that I have admired from day one.
As you read today, you will see that it is full of so many hidden treasures in seasons of darkness, but as she would tell you, she is walking today in one of her greatest dreams! I know you will love getting to know Kristen.
Born and raised in Birmingham, AL, Kristen enjoyed a great childhood with her younger brother and sister. Growing up their family was always close, enjoying vacations, playing games and being intentional about quality time together. From an early age Kristen began to enjoy singing and playing the piano at church while attending with her friends, especially enjoying her youth ministry. When asked who one of the most influential people was in her youth, she described her youth ministry leaders that helped create a fun and safe place for kids to go while teaching them about Jesus. A place where she realized she wanted a relationship with Jesus and knew some things in her life needed to change.
After attending a year of college, Kristen met her husband. While dating, Marc and Kristen both discovered they had a dream of being missionaries in Africa, helping pastor churches and pour into the lives of people. After their first year of marriage they moved to TX for Marc to attend Bible college. Some unfortunate events occurred which drew Marc away from the church and to alcohol, which began a seven-year struggle with alcohol addiction.
Kristen shared with me, “This is not what I had signed up for… we were supposed to be in ministry together. I was angry and hurt. I was asking the Lord why I had to go through this and telling Him it wasn’t fair and that I wanted to get out of themarriage.” Kristen joined the staff at Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, AL where she attended and served in the church, most of the time alone.
“I remember God clearly telling me that this wasn’t His plan for me, that if I would stick through it, He was going to do something great. With this promise from the Lord, I decided to change my attitude and that this was all worth it if I could help someone in the future. I had my bad days where I struggled to have a positive outlook. With counsel from some of the leaders in our church, I decided to start praying for Marc and trying to love him the way Jesus would. It was hard, I was hurt and I didn’t always succeed, but I realized, the battle wasn’t against Marc, it was against Satan. He wanted to destroy our marriage and I wasn’t going to stand by and let him. Marc finally decided to get help and started meeting with a guy walking the same thing. Together they prayed and went through the Bible. Marc ultimately found freedom from his addiction.”
Towards the end of that season a family member, who had been struggling with drug addiction became pregnant. The baby girl, Addison, was born healthy and with no withdrawals, but after only a few weeks of being under the care of the mom, Kristen and Marc assumed custody. Kristen smiled, “The situation with Addison was not how I had pictured I would have kids but I realized that the Lord really used her to change Marc and to help heal our relationship. It wasn’t an easy situation to see my family member lose her daughter and struggling, but the Lord had brought good out of a difficult situation.” (Rom. 8:28)
After 10 years of marriage and still unable to conceive their own children, Kristen found out this family member was again pregnant in a similar situation. They welcomed another beautiful baby girl into the world, healthy and again with no withdrawals from drug use. Five months later Kristen and Marc gained full custody of Presley. Addison and Presley were adopted into the Pannell family in 2013 & 2014.
Marc and Kristen did enter back into full-time vocational ministry together in 2015 at Celebration Church in Austin, TX. As campus pastors they ministered to countless couples and invested greatly in local leadership development. The dream of Africa never left. In 2016 they were invited to travel to Xai Xai, Africa where Celebration Church has seven campuses. That trip was a defining point that confirmed they still were called to Africa. A few months later, details and plans were set in motion for the family of four to relocate to Xai Xai in early 2017.
Today Kristen and her family are celebrating two years in Africa. Her love for the people, the country, and culture is so great. Her connections and friendships already have become such a joy to her and yet, the possibility for more abounds. Aside from her family, Kristen’s greatest desire is to be more involved in the every day lives of the women there. You see, what Kristen and Marc have come to learn is that men and women there have some prominent challenges. Many men in Mozambique struggle with alcoholism and the women that are unable to conceive feel useless and not valued. The struggles that they both experienced, first hand, God is now using in the minstiry, for His glory.
“Through all of this, I didn’t see what the end would be. I was afraid my marriage would fail. I was afraid that the girls would be damaged by what their mom had done while pregnant. I thought we had missed His plan for us, but He didn’t waste anything. What he spoke to us 16 years ago happened this year. We moved to Africa and we know we are in the center of His will here. We are thankful for His goodness and excited for the future, but I know we couldn’t have made it to the best part if we hadn’t walked through some tough times.”
Kristen as a Catalyst Woman:
- She chose to be obedient to God, trust His promises and love her husband through a dark and uncertain season
- She sought wise counsel from trusted sources and brought solutions to her home
- In circumstances that could have created bitterness with pregnancy, she chose to release the desire of how and embrace what was in front of her through Addison & Presley
- She held on to her dream of Africa one day and continued sharing it with others, without knowing how, when or if it would happen
- She surrounded herself with life-giving friends that challenged and encouraged her
- She chose to walk her path out for the hope that it would impact someone down the road, offering help and hope
If you are walking through a challenging season, a marriage that is not what you signed up for or in a situation where you turn to substances instead of solutions, my hope is that you know this God can and wants to redeem your story. Life isn’t over, your story isn’t done and now that you are on this path, you get to decide what you are going to do with it. I encourage you to seek wise and Godly counsel from people who will love you, encourage you and challenge you to grow through it! Stick out the season. Good is on the other side. If you don’t know where to go next, we would love to help connect you to some resources. You’ve got this!
You are a Catalyst Woman.