Meet Kristen Harris

By LORETTA FULTON

When she was just 10 years old, Kristen Harris had a thought during a church service that eventually would lead to a calling and career.

She was sitting in a service at First Christian Church in Stephenville with her family and quietly observing everything the minister, “Pastor Paul”, was doing. And he was literally doing everything–preaching the adult and children’s sermons, singing, leading prayers, and presiding over the Communion service.

“I could do that,” Kristen thought to herself.

Fast forward 26 years and Kristen is doing ministry, although not exactly like “Pastor Paul” did it. Kristen was ordained Nov. 20, 2022, as a Minister of Word and Sacrament at First Central Presbyterian Church. She served in numerous positions at the church before her ordination and now is embarking on quite an adventure to fulfill  her calling. She is leaving Wednesday, Jan. 18, for Romania, where she will serve as mission co-worker at NOROC (New Opportunities for Romanian Orphaned Children). She will return March 31 and will repeat that three-month rotation indefinitely. When she is back in Abilene, Kristen will work with the Palo Duro Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA). While in Romania, her primary job will be learning and telling NOROC’s story.

“To put it simply,” she said, “I will serve as the bridge between the Romanian staff and the American donors.”

NOROC, which celebrated 25 years in 2022, was started by First Central Presbyterian Church members Fred and Carolyn White in 1997. Kristen visited Romania in October to get a headstart on her new job. A major task that lies ahead is mastering the language,

“This is a relationship-driven role, and learning the language quickly is a must,” she said. “The good news is that personal need serves as a motivating factor.”

Photos from Kristen Harris’ ordination Nov. 20, 2022, from left, Harris, a gift from NOROC orphanage in Romania where she will serve, Carolyn White and Elizabeth Miller, who was adopted from Romania as a child and is the daughter of Judy and Duane Miller. Photo by Loretta Fulton

BIO
Name: Kristen Harris
Age: 36
Current position: Mission co-worker at NOROC (New Opportunities for Romanian Orphaned Children)
Family: 
Mother – Pat Harris – retired educator (high school calculus teacher)
Father – Mitchell Harris – retired farm and land banker (AgTexas)
Sister – Heather Smith (41) – middle school choir teacher in Stephenville ISD
Sister – Lauren Harris (41) – small business owner in Corpus Christi, Texas – Mosquito Hunters
Education: 
High school – Shallowater High School – 2005
College – Hardin-Simmons University – B.B.S. in communication and a minor in leadership studies – 2009
Graduate school – Hardin-Simmons University – Logsdon Seminary – M.Div. – 2013
Work experience:
Various on-campus jobs at HSU – student video production assistant, in the maintenance department mowing lawns and paining university owned homes, and as a graduate assistant in Logsdon Seminary and School of theology helping create content for the seminary online presence and printed materials.
Freelance videographer and photographer 2005-2015
Coordinator of social and visual media – Hardin-Simmons University 2013-2015
Monks Coffee Shop Barista – 2012
Church Work
Saint Paul UMC – media intern 2007-2009 –  I served in several roles within their TV ministry: producer, director, camera operator, and graphic generation.
Interim youth pastor – First Baptist Church Jayton, Texas – 2009-2010
Crosspoint Fellowship – Ministry Intern 2009-2011 – College and Post-College Pastor 2011-2013 – Teaching Pastor 2013-2015
First Central Presbyterian Church – Director of Youth Ministry from 2015-2019, Emerging Adult Ministry Director 2016-2020, Director of Christian Education 2019-2022.

Q At what age did you begin to feel a pull toward ordained ministry?

A When I was about 10 years old, I remember a moment during a worship service at my home church, First Christian Church Stephenville, Texas. This was a healthy but small congregation with around 100 people in attendance each Sunday. Pastor Paul, a gentle man that is about 6’5”, was our head pastor at the time. He did everything in the service. He prayed most of the prayers, led the children’s sermon with his trusted frog puppet, Hoppy, sang in the choir for the offertory, preached the sermon, presided over communion, and gave the benediction. That Sunday was the first time I really noticed Pastor Paul and all he did during a worship service. I have a distinct memory of thinking, “I could do that.” I didn’t pursue the thought beyond that moment. I found other passions like basketball, volleyball, video editing, theater, and reading. In fact, I was about to take a job at a video production agency in Victoria, Texas, when I was reminded of it by one of my father’s clients at a work lunch he invited me to go to. With just a few weeks left until undergraduate graduation ceremony, this man, who’s name I do not recall, asked me what my favorite classes were over my time at HSU. Rather than listing my video editing classes, I talked about Old and New Testament, Christian Ethics for Leaders, Critical Thinking for Leaders, and Sociology of Religion. After listening carefully to why I enjoyed studying those things, he asked, “Have you ever considered becoming a minister?” My mind was rushed back to that Sunday in the pew watching my pastor express his many passions in creative ways with integrity, gentleness, and talent and thinking secretly in my heart that I could do that for a living. Instead of taking the job in Victoria, I called one of my professors from my Logsdon courses and asked about how to apply for seminary. 

Q What will ordination allow you to do that you couldn’t before? For example, can you now preside over marriages and other sacraments of the church?

A I was ordained at Crosspoint Fellowship, a Cooperative Baptist Church that used to hold services in Monks Coffee Shop, back in 2014. During that era, I was able to lead communion, administer baptisms, and conduct wedding services. When I realized I wanted to be ordained as a Presbyterian pastor, the best track available to me for the things I needed to learn involved eventually ceasing ordained activities. Now that I am ordained as a PC(USA) Minister of Word and Sacrament, I am again able to preside over the sacraments. I also have access to the benefits within the denomination previously unavailable to me, like an increased vestment in the pension plan, ministerial assistance grants for educational and personal debt, yearly study leave, etc. 

Q What will your primary responsibilities be with NOROC?

A Every mission co-worker NOROC has ever hired has brought their own flair to the role. In the past, our mission co-workers spent their time almost exclusively on programming for the children NOROC serves. In other words, they partnered with the Romanian staff members in planning and running enrichment activities for children being raised by the state in Tulcea County, Romania. The position was built around the co-worker and where their passions lay. My situation is no different in that regard. Though I have programming experience and will participate in these activities while I am in the country, I will also be focusing much of my energy on learning and learning to tell NOROC’s story. To put it simply, I will serve as the bridge between the Romanian staff and the American donors. I will help with the website, social media, digital and print content creation, and give presentations to others about NOROC in person or via Zoom. Another part of my job will be to serve as host for when American groups come to the country so our Romanian staff does not have to pause their normal activities with the children when Americans are in town.

Q What will your schedule be with NOROC and the Palo Duro Presbytery?

A The plan is to have a three month rotating schedule – three months in Romania and then three months in the U.S. My first long Romania trip begins January 18! When I am in Romania, I will help with programming, take many photos and videos, and support the Romanian staff as much as I can. When I am in the states, I will share their story with folks in Palo Duro Presbytery and beyond. 

Q Will you have interactions with the Ukrainian refugees in Tulcea or will your work be strictly with the orphans?

A Because of where our home base of Tulcea City, Romania is located, NOROC’s staff has had the opportunity to assist thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the violence in their own country. The Ukrainian border is less than 10 miles from Tulcea and Tulcea is less than 20 miles from one of the busiest entry points into Romania from Ukraine. NOROC is continuing this work even though there are fewer people crossing at this time. The popular choice for many Ukrainians at the moment is to stay right on the Ukrainian side of the border as close to Romania as possible. NOROC buys and delivers necessary items for people living in these refugee communities including, food, water, clothing, generators, technology needs, etc. There are also Ukrainians that have chosen to stay in Tulcea that need assistance learning the language, getting jobs, finding affordable and safe housing, outfitting their homes with furniture and cooking equipment, and purchasing food. NOROC meets those needs for several individuals and families at this time. I will get to help with this work as needed and likely will be making many runs to the grocery store!

Q What do you foresee as the biggest personal challenge you will face, such as the language barrier, eating different foods, learning where and how to shop, finding a place to live, etc.?

A I have a long way to go with the language, and I know it is critical for my ability to do this role well. Very few of the children we serve and the members of the Romanian staff speak English fluently. This is a relationship-driven role, and learning the language quickly is a must! I am also a highly verbal person. Not being able to have deep conversations with the majority of the people I am around will be challenging for me. The good news is that personal need serves as a motivating factor!

Q What do you hope to achieve while working with the children and staff at NOROC?

A NOROC just celebrated 25 years as an organization in 2022 and I see my role as helping prepare NOROC for another 25 years (at least). In looking back on our past and turning our attention to the future, we know we still have work to do. The children being raised by the state continue to need the love and opportunities NOROC feels called and equipped to give. NOROC is a highly flexible organization. The child protection system has changed a great deal in our tenure. With each change in standard, NOROC has been attentive and responsive so that the children that need our services can continue to receive care.

Many of the people who helped get NOROC off the ground are still heavily involved and excited to share their passion with the next generation. How do we grow our donor base to include multiple generations of givers? How do we support our staff so they can continue to serve children and refugees with energy and excitement? How do we restart programs that paused during the pandemic and recruit new people to run them? How else can we support Ukrainian refugees God has placed in our path? There are many questions to explore and it is a wonderful thing for me to get to be apart of something so wonderful!

The best ways to get to know more about NOROC is to visit our website at www.noroc.org or to invite me to speak at your organization (or just a one on one coffee if you prefer). I can be reached via email at kristen@noroc.org.  

I also would not be doing my job very well if I did not ask for you to consider donating to NOROC! We fill in the gaps the state is unable to fill for abandoned, orphaned, abused, and neglected children living in Tulcea County. Knowing we have gifts in working with people experiencing trauma and crisis response, we have accepted God’s call to serve Ukrainian refugees with emergency needs and long-term support.  We are an established organization with a strong reputation in the community within which we work. Your money will help with providing mental health care, physical health care, tutoring, life-skills training, and enrichment programming that includes horse riding and photography club. If you feel so led, visit www.noroc.org/give.html to give.

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