Students connected with MEA partner schools graduate from seminary


written by Annette Brill Bergstresser for Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Twenty-two graduates were honored during the 2024 Commencement Service of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), Elkhart, Indiana. The service was held April 27 in the seminary’s Chapel of the Sermon on the Mount and livestreamed. Nelson Okanya, DIS, President of World Serving Leaders, the nonprofit division of the Center for Serving Leadership in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, gave the commencement address.

Five members of the Class of 2024 are alumni of Mennonite Church USA-connected colleges and universities:

Deborah Coates, photo provided

Deborah J. Coates of Albany, Oregon. Coates earned a Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies. She completed most of her coursework from a distance. Coates previously earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Psychology from the University of Oregon in Eugene and an Associate of Arts from Hesston (Kansas) College. She is married to Donald L. Coates, and her home congregation is Portland (Oregon) Mennonite Church, a congregation of Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA.

Isaiah Friesen, photo credit: Jason Bryant/ AMBS

Isaiah Friesen of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Friesen anticipates completing his Master of Divinity with a major in Theological Studies: Peace Studies in August 2024. He also was selected to receive this year’s Award for Excellence in Theological Studies from the seminary’s History, Theology and Ethics Department. He plans to seek work in Minnesota in ministry, higher education or the nonprofit sector.

Friesen previously earned a Bachelor of Arts with majors in Spanish and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies from Goshen (Indiana) College. His home congregations are First Mennonite Church of Beatrice (Nebraska), a congregation of Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA; and Paoli (Indiana) Mennonite Fellowship, a congregation of Central District Conference (CDC) of Mennonite Church USA. While studying at AMBS, he served as an intern at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana — also a CDC congregation. Prior to his AMBS studies, he attended and interned at Belmont Mennonite Church in Elkhart, a congregation of Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA. Friesen is married to Andrea Moya, and his parents are Rita Friesen and Merlin Friesen, both of Stillwater, Minnesota.

During his studies, he experienced being part of the AMBS learning community both at a distance and as a residential student on campus.

“I loved my experience as an MDiv Connect student; it was very lifegiving to me,” he reflected. “For a few years this distance option allowed me to stay in meaningful dialogue with others — thinking about what it means to live and minister in the world as Anabaptists — while following my own path as married life led me to Latin America. AMBS professors did a magnificent job including me and other distance students in their blended classes. Karl Stutzman, Kajsa Herrstrom and others in the library also provided excellent services as I needed access to resources for research at a distance. 

“The distance format made possible my favorite course from seminary, Earthkeeping, where Malinda [Berry] facilitated really amazing learning opportunities among an incredibly international and intercultural group of both online and in-person students. Discussing creation care in such a diverse community was an unparalleled experience.

“During my undergrad years I had been exposed just enough to the AMBS campus community to know that there was a kind of formation and ecclesial vision that could come only from being in everyday relationship and practice with faculty and students based in Elkhart — even if only for one year,” he continued. “Since Andrea and I moved to Elkhart, campus life has been very good to us. It is currently a small campus community, but it has vast international and intercultural diversity, which is quite a gift. I love having relatively easy access to my professors on a more casual basis as we cross paths on campus. It is also a gift to be able to join special breaks and events when guests come to AMBS from across the continent and world.”

William Funk, photo credit: Jason Bryant/AMBS

William David Funk of Elkhart, Indiana. Funk earned a Master of Divinity with a major in Theological Studies: History, Theology and Ethics. He looks forward to continuing in pastoral ministry at Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship in Goshen, Indiana — a congregation of Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA.

Funk previously earned a Bachelor of Arts with majors in History and Theater from Goshen (Indiana) College. He is married to Alita Yoder, and they have one child. His parents are Thomas Funk and Susan Weaver of Gallup, New Mexico.

“My time at AMBS has been a wonderful, challenging and sometimes painful journey of growth and discovery,” he reflected. “I have learned to embrace my partialness. I am just one part of a bigger story, church, tradition, faith and creation — but I am a part. I am part of this dance with God and with others, and that realization of Grace provides me bewildering hope and joy.”

Carrie Mast, photo credit: Jason Bryant/AMBS

Carrie A. Mast of Bluffton, Ohio. Mast, who has taken most of her courses from a distance, anticipates completing her Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies in August 2024. She plans to continue serving as Associate Pastor of First Mennonite Church in Bluffton — a congregation of Central District Conference of Mennonite Church USA.

Mast previously earned a Master of Arts in Organizational Management and a Bachelor of Arts in English Education from Bluffton (Ohio) University. She is married to Gerald Mast, and they have three children. Her mother is Sally Roth of Bluffton.

“The Graduate Certificate was the perfect program for me,” Mast reflected. “Choosing courses that supported my work in the church meant that I was able to immediately apply what I was learning in my studies to my church work. Projects for my classes came to fruition in the contexts of worship and my work with children and youth. Research and thinking I completed for course papers emerged in my sermons and teaching. 

“I have enjoyed being part of a learning community, and though I am finishing my certificate, I continue to be excited about learning and plan to engage with more learning opportunities through AMBS, like the online short courses. After my children are out of school, I may even consider rolling my Graduate Certificate hours into a master’s program at AMBS.”

Talashia Keim Yoder, photo credit: Jason Bryant/AMBS

Talashia Keim Yoder of Goshen, Indiana. Yoder earned a Master of Arts in Christian Formation. She also was selected to receive this year’s Award for Excellence in Christian Formation from the seminary’s Church and Ministry Department. 

Yoder plans to continue as Pastor of Christian Formation and Worship at College Mennonite Church in Goshen, where she is in her 16th year, and as Theater Director at Bethany Christian Schools in Goshen, where she is in her 20th year. She also creates intergenerational seasonal resources for Mennonite Church USA and writes for Building Faith, a website ministry of Mennonite Early Childhood Network.

Yoder previously earned a Bachelor of Arts in Bible/Ministry and Theater Communications from Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas, and an Associate of Applied Arts and Sciences from Hesston (Kansas) College. Her home congregation, College Mennonite, is part of Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA. She is married to Daniel Yoder, and they have two children. Her parents are Howard and Tami Keim of Hesston. 

“I attended seminary while being a pastor, parent and theater director,” Yoder reflected. “While at times this made my life ridiculously full, I found that overall, these various parts of my life enriched each other. AMBS profs welcomed my connections between work life, home life and seminary life. I was encouraged to incorporate my theater and dance background into my seminary work. And my pastoral work deepened and expanded through each class I took.”

Two graduates are current employees of MEA-related schools:

Colleen Geier, photo provided

Colleen Avilla Geier is originally from upstate New York and now calls South Bend, Indiana, home. She anticipates completing her Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies in August 2024. Geier, who did most of her coursework at a distance, plans to continue teaching Sign Language Interpreting at Goshen (Indiana) College. She also serves on the board of and as a volunteer for Luvability Ministries — an organization in Niles, Michigan, that provides spiritual and social opportunities for adults living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Geier previously earned a Doctor of Education with a concentration in Adult Education from Walden University in Minneapolis, Minnesota; a Master of Science in Education in Elementary Education with concentrations in Special Education and Deaf Education from the State University of New York (SUNY) Brockport; and a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and American History with a minor in Mental Health, also from SUNY Brockport. Her home congregation is St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in South Bend. 

Geier said that during COVID-19, she started taking classes in Bible and Religion at Goshen College, where she teaches, and then learned she could also take courses at AMBS through a partnership between the two schools.

“I have fallen in love with learning all over again!” she reflected. “AMBS has challenged me to think about new things and has reinforced my belief that God is all good, accepting and loving. AMBS is feeding my mind and my spirit, so I plan to continue my studies in a master’s program.”

Talashia Keim Yoder of Goshen, Indiana (see above).

The 2024 graduating class

The graduating class comprised 13 women and nine men from four countries — Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania and the United States — and seven U.S. states. Sixteen of the graduates completed part or all of their seminary studies at a distance.

Four graduates earned a Master of Arts in Christian Formation; six earned a Master of Arts: Theology and Global Anabaptism; one earned a Master of Arts: Theology and Peace Studies; six earned a Master of Divinity; and four earned a Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies. One graduate was the first to earn a Graduate Certificate in Spiritual Direction; the program began in 2022. Five of the graduates who received the MA: Theology and Global Anabaptism made up the second cohort of Ethiopian students to complete the program entirely from Ethiopia through a partnership between AMBS and Meserete Kristos Seminary in Bishoftu/Debre Zeit that began in 2019.

Nine of the graduates are serving in pastoral ministry roles; five are pursuing or seeking to pursue further graduate studies; four are serving in a church organization or institution; four are serving in mission or evangelism; three are serving in education; two are offering spiritual direction; and two are seeking work in a ministry, education or nonprofit setting. One each is seeking chaplaincy certification; creating resources for worship and faith formation; serving in an Optional Practical Training assignment; working with anti-racism organizing and education; working in farming and land trust management; or working in the medical field.

Eleven of the graduates are affiliated with Mennonite Church USA; six with the Meserete Kristos Church (Ethiopian Mennonite Church); and one each with the Baptist Church, Brethren in Christ U.S., Christian Reformed Church, Evana Network, LMC – A Fellowship of Anabaptist Churches, Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo, United Church of Christ and a nondenominational church. (Some graduates are connected with multiple denominations.) AMBS serves Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada as a binational seminary.

Anabaptist-Mennonite colleges and universities with graduates in AMBS’s Class of 2024 include Bluffton (Ohio) University; Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Goshen (Indiana) College; Hesston (Kansas) College; Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas; and Meserete Kristos Seminary.

A recording of the Commencement Service is available at

Located in Elkhart, Indiana, on ancestral land of the Potawatomi and Miami peoples, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary is a learning community with an Anabaptist vision, offering theological education for learners both on campus and at a distance as well as a wide array of lifelong learning programs — all with the goal of educating followers of Jesus Christ to be leaders for God’s reconciling mission in the world.


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