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Worrying about Ministry: Hannah's Story

My name is Hannah Varberg, and I’m the communications coordinator at North Heights.

I’ve been a self-proclaimed Christian my entire life, but my faith didn’t truly become alive until I attended University of Northwestern – St. Paul. There, God lit a fire in my heart for Him, and my life goals, purposes, and mindset were completely altered. I wanted to serve Him, tell others about Him, and be active in my faith. At first, I pursued these goals with the motivator of love. I loved God completely, and this fired my ministry and service to Him.

However, as I’m someone who has struggled with anxiety almost my whole life, it wasn’t long until the devil saw this pure motive of love and tried to tarnish it with anxiety. My mind would convince me I wasn’t doing enough to serve God, and this would result in guilt, anxiety, and restlessness. 

Soon, without me even comprehending it, anxiety was the motive behind me doing ministry. I would participate in ministry opportunities because if I didn’t, I would be overwhelmed in guilt and negative self-talk. In this season in my life with anxiety as a motivator, I did a lot of cool things for God. I gave a witch a Bible. I invited non-believing friends to church. I led a small group of international students. What I was doing was exciting and great, but why I was doing it was missing the mark.

Anxiety continued to rule my ministry when my husband and I moved to Granada, Spain to volunteer with a church and cultural center. We were in a foreign country in the middle of a pandemic, and it was difficult for all the reasons that I didn’t expect. The language barrier wasn’t as much of a problem as being anxious about every grammatical mistake was. The pandemic wasn’t the main problem; being inundated with guilt about sitting on my couch during the pandemic was the greater dilemma. 

I found that it was incredibly difficult to relax when we were living in Spain. We had moved across the world following God’s call to make a difference, so whenever we had down time to rest, I just couldn’t do it. My guilt nagged at me to do something. My anxiety constantly questioned “am I making enough Spanish friends here? Am I saying enough? Am I doing enough?”

We spent 9 months in Spain, and of course, they were a beautiful, impactful 9 months. We made many Spanish friends and learned so much, and it was truly a wonderful experience that I would trade for nothing. But unfortunately, anxiety was present behind my church involvement, spiritual conversations, and volunteering the entire time.

We returned home in July of 2021. After a long day of traveling, Micah and I were finally in the car with his parents, and they were taking us to temporarily stay with them. On that ride home, I looked around at my home of Minnesota for the first time in 9 months. I took in the familiar streets, stores, and restaurants, and instead of feeling peaceful about finally being home, anxiety gripped me in a new way. My first thoughts in America were that of worry; we had no jobs, no cars, no place to live. What we were going to do? What was next?

Those thoughts plagued me for the first few weeks back in America. One day I was taking a walk in the warm summer green and worrying about ministry. I was chatting to God in my head and saying, “okay, now what, Lord? Now what? What ministry can I do? Should I jump back into international ministry? Should I start another small group? What’s next?” 

The response stilled my soul. I felt God say, “your ministry right now is to trust me.”

This response blew my mind. I felt like God was asking me to do nothing but spend time with Him and trust Him. All I could do in this moment was say, “All right, God. I’m in.” After this moment with God on the sidewalk of Como Avenue, my guilt and anxiety about doing ceased while I meditated on trusting.

Trusting Him threw me down an unconventional, confusing path at first, but I remained confident in my trustworthy Savior. Although human nature betrayed me a few times and pushed me into worry, I quickly corrected my mindset and returned to trust. I had never been so relaxed with instability than I was in this past season. Without a job, without a car, without a home, and without ministry, I was content. Then 4 months after returning from Spain, fully trusting God led me to North Heights.

Now I’m getting settled into a season of ministry again, working at a church, volunteering with international students, and leading a small group. However, my heart still has not forgotten the lesson He taught me during one sunny walk last summer. Sometimes, God does want us intimately involved in the doing. Other times, the next step of faith could be sitting with the presence of Jesus, without guilt and anxiety, and simply trusting. 

North Heights Karate: Origin Story

North Heights Karate started in Mexico.

Molly Nielsen and her family had been missionaries in Mexico for 9 years when they started looking for an activity to do together. With 4 children in multiple sports and activities, the Nielsen family chose martial arts as a unified activity. Molly, who had initially thought to try martial arts solely for fitness and self-defense, developed an instant passion after the first couple of lessons. It wasn’t long before the instructor pegged her as something special. “He told me ‘you could do this, you could instruct’ but I would just nod and smile,” Molly said.

But deep down, Molly knew that she was entering into something that was bigger than herself. Although she didn’t know at the time, she was on the cusp of a trying season where the fortitude she learned from martial arts would be crucial. God had been behind the scenes all along: equipping, preparing, and arranging the pieces to fall into place.

As Molly battled physically in the lessons of martial arts, she was empowered spiritually. As she became disciplined physically, spiritual discipline followed. Chains were being broken as spiritual muscles formed alongside the physical ones. She spent the next 5 years moving through the belt system, loving every minute of it as she advanced. Then two months before the black belt test, she encountered her moment of truth: she got a word from God saying, “you’re going to do this.”

Molly knew it was true.

In 2017, as a now 40-year-old mom of 4, Molly succeeded in getting her black belt in mixed martial arts. Through this, God was unveiling his wonderful truth in her life: martial arts is a lifestyle where God Himself is present and leading His people to Himself. Martial artists aren’t just the young, the athletic, the unreligious; they come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. All have the opportunity to invest in the discipline of the mind and body. Everyone has the opportunity to break chains and experience God in the beauty of karate.

Now on the journey of martial arts that God was unmistakably taking her, Molly returned to Minnesota in the summer of 2018 with a second-degree black belt in both karate and mixed martial arts. After landing on the ground, Molly eventually started teaching karate classes in her garage. Twice a week, 8 students would lay down the mats, train, then pick them back up and go home.

These humble beginnings made way for what was next: ABKA karate in North Heights. Molly presented the idea to North Heights, and the ministry officially started in October of 2019. Covid-19 did not play well into the timing of the karate ministry getting underway, but God’s plan prevailed even though closures, sickness, and quarantines. Today, the ministry has about 50 students that are rolling, striking, jarring, kicking, tumbling, and board breaking. “It’s been an absolute dream,” Molly says.

Now every Monday and Thursday, these 50 students have the unique opportunity to grow closer to God through deeper spiritual discipline and training. All classes participate in Bible memorization, and some of the older students are required to know certain scriptures to obtain their belts. To Molly, her students aren’t just little fighters improving their kicks, blocking, and katas. They’re individuals cherished and valued by God on their spiritual walks towards Him. 

God is continuing to make karate into something bigger than the theory, movement, training, and practice: he’s using it to cultivate breakthrough, faith, and discipline; to expand His kingdom; and to bring glory to Himself.

If you want to be part of how God is moving through karate, email to join a class. 

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Arden Hills Campus

1700 West Highway 96
Arden Hills, MN

55112

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2701 North Rice Street
Roseville, MN

55113

(651) 797-7800