When Ricky Melendez and Brooke Lietzke first saw each other in the fall of 2014, neither of them had any idea they were meeting their future spouse. Melendez was a recent graduate of Union College and had begun working for the Dakota Conference, first as an interim pastor at the Jamestown Adventist Church and then as the only Dakota pastor in public campus ministries. He happened to live next to University of Jamestown’s interim chaplain and while visiting together was told he should meet the only religion major currently attending the University. The chaplain explained that Melendez should attend a certain upcoming meeting on campus. Unbeknownst to either man, Lietzke, the only religion major, happened to be helping assist with this meeting.
After the meeting, Melendez felt God impressing him to go talk to one of the facilitators. Lietzke saw “this dude” from the back of the room walking directly toward her in his skinny jeans, strange haircut, and sweater with a button down shirt. “Who is this guy?” she thought, “He’s definitely not from around here.” As they began talking she remembers thinking he was kind of crazy because he was an Adventist pastor and wanted to sit down with her and talk about ministry on campus. Lietzke did not want to meet with him but Melendez ended up convincing her.
From this sit-down meeting, she realized he wasn’t crazy. They started to become good friends and partnered together to form the first branch of what is now Just Jesus. Adventist Campus Ministries at Lietzke’s apartment, inviting students and acquaintances to join them every week. Through studying and learning more about Jesus, Lietzke was baptized into the Adventist church in February. As they spent more time together, Lietzke began to look at Melendez differently. “This guy…” she thought, “he is pretty cool, even though he dresses strange. But he is really something, and he loves Jesus.” Shortly after this, Lietzke bared her heart and told him how she felt. Melendez felt awful about this confession because he never saw her in a romantic way. They both prayed about it and came up with different answers. Melendez felt Jesus telling him no. Lietzke felt Jesus was telling her yes, but she needed to be patient. God was preparing Melendez.
During this time, Lietzke went to Northern Ireland to do ministry for a month. She was offered a position to move there indefinitely and direct a youth center. Lietzke called her friend Melendez and asked him to pray with her so she could make a good decision. He said that at the beginning of the phone call he was talking to his friend, but by the time they hung up he was in love with her and knew she was the one he was supposed to marry. He felt this was unfair of him to ask her to stay, but he prayed, and put out a fleece. He asked God to have the Dakota Conference not only offer her a job, but offer a job with Just Jesus. ACM, which was a crazy request because she had basically just come into the church.
When Lietzke returned home, Melendez told her of his new-found feelings. This discovery frustrated Lietzke. She had prayed about him for months, had decided to leave, and now he was telling her she was everything he was looking for in a wife and more. She prayed more about the situation and felt God wasn’t leading her to move to Ireland. But if she was going to stay, she needed a source of income. Lietzke met with Elder Neil Biloff, President of the Dakota Conference, to see if he would give her a job, even a part-time job so she could still afford to volunteer her time with Just Jesus. ACM. The Dakota Executive Committee met that Sunday and voted to offer Lietzke a job as a full-time pastor working with Adventist Campus Ministries. With this answer to prayer, and permission received from his boss, the following day Pastor Melendez asked Pastor Lietzke to be his girlfriend.
Almost two years after the couple met, they were married. The time spent together before dating solidified their friendship, their ability to work well together, and their capacity to pray as a couple.
The Melendezes admit that being married to a ministry partner has its highs and lows. As two pastors working in the same ministry, they don’t get to go home and talk about unrelated things. Any downtime spent together involves ministry and thinking about ministry. However, “the blessings really do obliterate the negatives,” according to Lietzke-Melendez, “It is miraculous how God brought us together to lead us to being in ministry together so that we can strengthen each other.” The Melendezes are able to support, encourage, and understand each other better than anyone else can. They seek God together for the same job-related needs.
Melendez says, “There is so much love in our hearts for Jesus and each other that it spills over and falls upon the people we minister to everyday.”
Jodi Dossenko is administrative secretary, conference clerk and education secretary for the Dakota Conference.
Photo Credit: Susie Kahler