For the past ten years at Corban University, young men in recently-purchased flannel shirts have participated in wood splitting, log pulls, and tractor tire races. For twice that long, young men have launched pumpkins off the roof of their residence hall, stripped down, and wrestled in the ensuing pumpkin innards on a tarp on the lawn. And for the witty, the ones with dance moves, the annual Mr. VG competition has, year after year, tested young men’s skills, eliminating them one by one until someone walks home with the Golden Hammer (and someone shuffles home with the Pink Plunger).

What do the young women on campus do? Some have vague memories of pageant-esque competitions, events with runways and outfits and talents. But nothing has stuck for more than a couple of years.  Nothing has been as active, or as memorable, as the men’s competitions. Nothing outdoors, adventurous, or loud. Until now.

Fire

What many saw as the status quo, Mikaela Hines saw as an opportunity for change. And as a Resident Assistant in one of the women’s residence halls, she had the power to initiate a new women’s event on campus, an event that young women could get excited about, an event that just might stick: Miss Aagard Survivor.

Miss Aagard Survivor is not a pageant, and it’s not indoors. But neither does it try to be masculine. Women fight for dominance on a balance beam, not on a tarp slippery with smashed pumpkins. They don’t wear flannel shirts; they smear war paint on their faces. They don’t try to flip tractor tires; instead, they make fire.

Creating a space for women to be exactly what they want to be—in this case, active, skilled survivors—is what Mikaela will be remembered for as an RA. But dorm events aren’t the only way she seeks to challenge the status quo and empower women.

Mikaela Hines women's ministry student
Image by Joel Grimes

Growing up, Mikaela never saw women speak in front of her small, conservative Baptist church. “Not even announcements. Nothing.” But the more she interacted with young women, whether as a friend, mentor, or RA, the more she saw the need for women leaders, teachers, and mentors in the church. Who better to coach, counsel, and empower younger women through their various hardships, uncertainties, and traumas?

“Everyone has trauma,” she says, speaking not only from the knowledge she’s gained from her Trauma Therapy class, but also from her experience as an RA. She explains that trauma isn’t always the result of a horrific event; it can also result from small, even unintentional patterns or expectations. In her hall, she saw women like herself, who had been damaged by their assumptions about what is normal.  Some had assumed it was normal for women not to give announcements in church; some believed it was normal for their mothers to be controlling or their fathers to be distant, normal to be hurt by the boys who claimed to love them.

She watched these women as they became exposed to communities on Corban’s campus that valued and listened to them in a new way. “They’re finally away from family and away from home. When you’re away from that, you’re able to evaluate everything—all the good, the hard things, maybe things you thought were normal for so long, but now you’re realizing, oh, that wasn’t right.” Whether seemingly small, like the overwhelming expectation of a parent, or as serious as an abusive relationship, the anxieties and traumas Mikaela has observed in her hall in Aagard have helped shape her call to women’s ministry, specifically becoming a women’s pastor.

Wonder

Just as Miss Aagard Survivor gave the women in Mikaela’s dorm the chance to be exactly who they wanted to be, the ministry department at Corban has allowed Mikaela to be who she wants to be, as she discovers what exactly she believes about women’s role in ministry. She remembers sitting in her theology professor’s office for hours comparing different denominations, discussing charismatic versus conservative approaches, and, of course, exploring what Scripture really says about the role of women. Courses like Feminism and the Bible, Growing in the Lord, and Theology have equipped Mikaela to wrestle with her questions rather than simply feeding her answers.

Mikaela tries to model this approach for the young women in her hall as she gives them permission to ask questions. She was even inspired to choose the theme “Wonder” for her hall. “I want this to be a space where you can ask any question,” Mikaela told them.

Perhaps Mikaela’s true legacy at Corban is that she is a creator of spaces: spaces for young women to ask questions; spaces for women to be competitive and active; spaces for women to teach and mentor one another. Whether they’re fighting for dominance on a balance beam, asking tough questions about women and the Bible, or making fire, the young women in Mikaela’s hall seem to fill and bring to life the spaces she creates for them.