A decade of doing the hard work

by | Jul 7, 2023 | Feature

A decade of doing the hard work:
Wilshire celebrates 10 years with Heather Mustain

Associate Pastor Heather Mustain will be recognized during worship on Sunday, July 9, for her 10-year anniversary on Wilshire’s staff. A reception will be held for Heather in James Gallery after worship.

Senior Pastor Timothy Peoples says, “As a resident and still today, I have looked up to Heather Mustain. Not only is she a dynamic pastor, but she is a genuine and authentic friend. We at Wilshire are lucky and truly grateful for her leadership and love.”

Heather began as minister of missions on July 1, 2013, shortly after earning a dual master’s degree from Truett Seminary and the Diana Garland School of Social Work, both at Baylor University. In 2020 Heather was promoted to associate pastor, adding supervisory duties in pastoral care, congregational life and communications.

During Heather’s tenure, Wilshire’s commitment to missions has been deepened by an increased focus on justice and advocacy — as Heather puts it, “feeding the hungry, but also asking ourselves what causes hunger in a world of plenty.”

Richard Luttrell, Missions Committee chair, says “justice” is the word he most associates with Heather: “As a new Wilshire member, I was impressed with how many times Heather mentioned the word ‘justice’ during worship. It made a big impression on me, as it was not a word I heard very often growing up in church.”

Wilshire staffer Abbey Adcox, who works closely with Heather as a ministry assistant, says, “Heather is an authentic and creative leader and nurtures our growth individually and collectively. She empowers this faith community to serve our neighbors not only with our hands and feet but with our hearts and minds as we work to remove systemic barriers.”

Heather was born in Colorado but moved at age 3 to upstate New York, where she grew up on a dairy farm. Her family was not religious, and she didn’t come to faith until her freshman year at the University of Colorado in Boulder. After earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology, Heather spent two years working for an international missions organization based in Atlanta. It was there she met her husband, Chad. After marrying, Heather and Chad both enrolled at Baylor for grad school, drawn there by the dual-degree option for Heather.

While in seminary, Heather envisioned a career working with vulnerable children overseas. After an internship with Buckner International didn’t materialize, Heather wound up interning at Waco’s First Baptist Church. With a new appreciation for congregational work, she applied and interviewed for Wilshire’s missions position while finishing up school.

“Wilshire was already known for its outreach and engagement, and to be able to walk into that situation was such a blessing,” Heather recalls. “One thing I have loved about Wilshire is its focus on local impact and philosophy of partnership, wanting to make sure we’re cultivating and nurturing partnerships instead of trying to forge our own path. That collaborative process is something I’ve tried to continue to nurture.”

While maintaining ties with longtime Wilshire mission partners like Cornerstone Baptist and the Wilkinson Center, Heather has connected the church with newer nonprofits: “One of the most exciting things we get to do is Missions Plus funding, when we have extra funds to grant to nonprofits that are just getting started, or that need funds for a particular project. There have been so many good seeds planted around the world and in the community from that generosity on Wilshire’s behalf.”

Heather has led Wilshire mission trips to the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Tanzania and Puerto Rico. “The thing I love about trips isn’t so much the destination, but what happens to the group of people — the team bonding and watching that dynamic happen,” she says. “Our trip to Puerto Rico this year was probably one of my favorites in that respect.” Heather also cites spring break trips to the Mississippi Delta as treasured experiences. “I love the long-term friendships we’ve created through ministry with the folks there. Those trips are usually family oriented, and I love watching the kids serve and play together.”

When Heather arrived, Wilshire had begun getting its feet wet in the area of Christian advocacy, at the time a new concept to many in the pew. From 2014 to 2017, the church employed Katie Murray as an advocacy specialist, a three-year position partially funded by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. When that term ended, advocacy moved over to Heather.

“A lot of our advocacy work has centered around educating our congregation about the complexity of societal ills when it comes to issues like housing, payday lending, public education and hunger. We’ve come a long way in understanding our own privilege as white, affluent people. When we started this work, we said the term ‘white privilege,’ and it was tough. But now, we can talk about that as a congregation. It’s been pretty brave of folks to investigate themselves and to be curious about that.”

Heather and Chad, a hospital chaplain, have become parents since coming to Wilshire. Daughter Jimmie was born in 2015, and Bly, a son, followed in 2019. “We’re just learning, like all parents, how to raise our children in this world,” Heather says. “We’re glad to be doing it at a church where whatever they end up becoming, they will be loved no matter what.”

With the pandemic, staff transitions and growing into a new role, Heather says the last three years “feel like a blur.” She also says the challenges have made her a better pastor. “We’ve made it out of the pandemic fairly well. And so I feel proud of that. And we’ve got a really great staff that I get to work alongside and collaborate with and watch blossom. I’m excited to see where we go and what new things Timothy brings with his passions and his giftedness, and how that all kind of meshes together and creates a new chapter of our story together.”

Asked about her goals for the future of missions and advocacy at Wilshire, Heather says, “I think it’s time for us to dig a little bit deeper. How do we take advocacy to the next level? That could mean forming advocacy cohorts that will really take on an issue and be a champion for that issue long-term. Because advocacy isn’t a sprint — it’s really a marathon. I really want Wilshire to not be afraid to be in proximity to people’s pain. Because I think that’s what’s needed right now — good-hearted people who are willing to be close to pain, someone else’s pain, in order for there to be healing in the world. Ultimately, the transforming work of mission is when we can be transformed by the people we’re giving to. It’s not just about giving. It’s also about receiving.”