“Learning how to say no was difficult…”
with Gabriella De Jesus
Tell me about your family life growing up?
I grew up in a Christian home. I went to church my whole life. I grew up with three older siblings and we are a tight-knit family. I’m Italian and in Italian roots, we know everything about each other and do everything together. That’s how I grew up. My parents are still together and it’s cool having that dynamic of your parents still being together. To this day, we’re still a tight-knit family.
Were there any major impactful moments that affected your life at that time?
I grew up having two disabilities. That somewhat shaped who I was as a person because nothing came easy to me. I had to work hard for a lot of things because I was forced to. My parents raised me to never feel sorry for myself because people have it harder than I do. Having my parents give me that mindset shaped who I was because I learned that even if I have to work harder, I’m still going to work as hard as I can to reach what I want to reach. I’m not going to let anyone think that I can’t reach that just because of the disabilities that I do have.
I also lost a cousin when I was five years old. He was eighteen years old when it happened, and it made me learn and realize that life is really short. It shaped our family as a whole because we learned that family is everything. I think that really shaped who I was and also made us so close. There’s no reason to have problems with each other because we’re family.
Who was your role model/mentor in that season of your life, and how did they help you?
One role model is my mom, which I think is the answer for most people. My mom and I are so similar. She knows how I work and how I think. She instilled the mindset of nothing being unachievable in me. She taught me to work hard to get where I want to be. I learned it’s not going to be easy, but I can achieve anything that I set my mind to. She also helped me through a lot of the things that I went through in life.
Another role model would be my kids’ pastor from my home church. He was the one that made me realize how much I have a heart for kids’ ministry and kids in general. He’s opened my eyes to that and gave me a position where I could teach kids. It ultimately led me to want to teach kids for a career.
How did you come to Christ?
Growing up in the church my whole life, I think I accepted Christ first when I was five years old. I was in junior high when I knew that I wanted a relationship with the Lord. That was when I first spoke in tongues. Realizing that I wanted a deeper relationship with God and then learning to speak in tongues, pushed me more into developing that relationship. It made me want to have a deeper and stronger relationship with him. In junior high, when I had that realization, I rededicated my life and became more serious about that relationship and its importance
Was there a specific moment that you can remember where you realized the call God has on your life?
I taught a class called Foundations of Faith for fifth and sixth graders. I taught this class with another teacher and the basis was setting the foundations for these students on different aspects of Christianity. We taught them who Jesus is, what it is to speak in tongues and the basics of the Bible. Teaching these students things that they didn’t know grew my heart for teaching. Being able to see their eyes widen because they’re learning something new, and understanding that was what gave me a heart for teaching.
Can you tell me about any struggles you had with your calling during that period?
When I was in high school, I was trying to figure out what I wanted. This could sound bad, but I understood teachers do not get paid a lot. I was struggling with that. I realized that I would have to depend on myself and that it would not be easy. Those aspects and other factors made me wonder if I wanted to do this. I had a point where I didn’t want to teach it at all. I thought I would go into foster care or something else with kids completely different from teaching. Later, I had a moment with my old kids’ pastor where he reminded me of my calling. He encouraged me to not let the worldly things affect my calling.
How did your story bring you to OSL?
I was not in OSL until my senior year. During my freshman year, I got involved with serving in Oaks Kids, and that’s where I got my start. I volunteered so many hours with them that I was somewhat considered a volunteer intern. I did a lot of what the interns did, even though I wasn’t an intern. I was getting my degree in Education at SAGU, and OSL didn’t have an Education track at the time. I was in Oaks Kids for the longest time and then I transitioned into serving in Powerhouse. I became a site chapel leader and got involved in that, as well as being put in charge of other volunteers. Right before my senior year, OSL brought in the Education track. I was already so involved with the Oaks and Powerhouse that it was an easy transition when OSL brought in that Education track. I was able to transfer and dive right into the Education track, while also still being a part of Powerhouse. That’s how I went into it and it was odd.
Can you tell me more about what you did while in the Education Internship?
Yes! I was in charge of writing the curriculum for all of the Powerhouse campuses. I had to make several sets of curriculum for different age groups. That was an amazing experience because it gave me an idea of what teaching would look like. I chose to do this internship with Powerhouse because I loved the heart for it. It’s an after school program for kids and some of them don’t know Jesus at all or only know a little bit about Him. That stretched my heart to want to be a part of Powerhouse and what they represent, which is just reaching the lost kids who don’t know anything about Jesus. Especially for after school care, I thought that it was amazing that they did that. I loved that I got to write the curriculum because I got to put my little spin on it and ask questions that touched the hearts of students. It helped them to think in-depth about their relationship with Jesus, which was an awesome experience for me even though I wasn’t the one presenting it to them. I was able to be a vessel that provided for the teachers to provide for the kids.
Were there any difficulties you went through while in OSL?
Learning how to say no was difficult for me. I am very much a yes person. I love to say yes to everything. I know the difficult thing for me was that I wanted to say yes to everything because I wanted to be available for everything. Looking back there were times I was not available for certain tasks, but I still said yes because in my head I wanted to do it. I didn’t know how to say no and had to learn how to not be afraid to say no to your mentor or leader. Also, during my time in OSL, I had a good friend from home pass away. It was difficult for me because I don’t usually grieve very well and most times push all my feelings under the rug. Because of that, it was a difficult time for me.
How did you get through this time?
I got through it all by leaning on my leadership. When I was learning how to say no, I was sat down one day by Micaiah Skelton and he helped me learn that it’s okay to say no. He explained to me that it was not a bad thing and was not disrespectful. I got through the death of my friend through a combination of things. I was able to go to Pastor Connie’s office one day to break down. I felt like I couldn’t reach my potential because of everything that was going on. She counseled me through the whole situation, which I was very grateful for. She helped me process my feelings and helped me understand that it was okay to grieve. I think just being on this team was how I got through it all. They all banded together and helped me to get through the times that I didn’t think I could get through at all.
Down the line, during your time in OSL, where did you see yourself after graduation?
Before my senior year, I saw myself getting a decent teaching job in Texas. I thought I’d be living in Texas for the rest of my life. I thought I would be teaching first or second grade, while still volunteering with Oaks Kids. That’s where I saw myself after graduation, but it’s very different now.
Going off the last question, what have you been up to since graduating from OSL?
I got my Texas certification and I’m fully certified to teach in Texas. It was not as easy as I thought it would be. Now I’m working on getting certified in Iowa because I’m moving back home permanently and staying in Iowa, which was not the plan at all. I’m back in my hometown, volunteering with my home church’s kids’ ministry. I work with the kids’ ministry every Sunday, and I will start teaching Foundations of Faith again in the next couple of months. I’m going back to my roots, which I love, and working on getting my teaching certification over here.
Was the experience what you had imagined it to be? Did it meet your expectations?
I think it exceeded my expectations for sure. My brother was in the program when it was just a two-year program. That was all I knew and it’s so different now. The program very much integrated with all of these other things that make it so much better than what it used to be. I just didn’t expect it to be as great as it is now. My expectations were very much exceeded because I didn’t realize how much of a family it was. I also didn’t realize how much they integrate other people that are outside of the realm of ministry. They have tracks for Education and Business, and they keep adding to it. It met my expectations and I love OSL. I’m such a big supporter of OSL.
Lastly, do you have any advice for students currently going through OSL and those looking into it?
Cherish the moments you have in OSL because it’s very short. Even though I was only in OSL during my senior year, I was still part of the Oaks. I would encourage students to cherish the moments here. Take in every moment as a whole and don’t take any of it for granted. It does go by so fast and you build so many wonderful relationships. Take the time to cherish it all.
The Oaks School of Leadership (OSL) at Oaks Church was founded in 2009 and since then more than 600 students have gone through OSL. Many serve in high-caliber leadership positions throughout our nation and around the world. OSL exists to position students for effective leadership in a variety of capacities, including ministry, non-profit and business leadership, by providing students with hands-on leadership training combined with a degree from an accredited university.