Michael and Sarah Doerneman.
Photo: Samantha Worthing

Witness

How friendship can save souls

Michael Doerneman knew a co-worker was in need after that person reached out to him.

“He was depressed and wasn’t finding answers in things of this world,” he said. “He was feeling like he had hit rock bottom. He wanted the peace and joy he saw in others. One day I asked him to breakfast or lunch, along with another mutual friend, and we’ve been meeting weekly ever since.”

Those meetings eventually developed into a Bible study.

Leading people toward an encounter with Jesus is an amazing thing—but it’s just a beginning, said Michael and his wife, Sarah. The Doernemans have learned that firsthand by experience, and especially through their work as lay leaders at St. Isidore Parish in Columbus, where they help lead people to Christ through several programs aimed at both youths and adults.

Disciples need ongoing formation and frequent encounters with Jesus. And they need to be equipped to bring others to God, to make even more disciples, the Doernemans say.

It’s a process that requires sticking with people, they said, loving them, especially in difficult times, with the goal of getting them to heaven; constantly praying for them and relying on the Holy Spirit for help and guidance.

All of that starts with the mindset that everyone is called to be holy and a disciple, not just priests, and not just a handful of people in parishes, Michael said.

The couple, who have been married 13 years and have five children ranging in age from 9 months to 11 years, talked about equipping disciples in a video for ArchOmaha Unite, held June 8 at the CHI Health Center arena in Omaha.

The Doernemans are part of an evangelization team at St. Isidore and are halfway through a two-year archdiocesan mentorship program that is helping them learn to equip others as disciples.

Sarah said that a Christians Encounter Christ weekend or a Steubenville Youth Conference might lead people to a profound, personal experience of God, an encounter where one’s “heart is stirred by the Holy Spirit” and one senses “that Jesus is real … and he loves you.”

But “equipping is then inviting them to more … helping to know ‘where do I go from here?’ after having that encounter.”

Equipping disciples, she said, is helping them to further grow in love with God and “raising them up to be sent on mission and do the work of evangelization.”

Evangelization often requires developing a friendship with just one or two people, modeling prayer and “just living life with Jesus at the center,” she said.

Sarah said she has been evangelized that way by keeping in contact with three women she befriended at a Christians Encounter Christ weekend seven years ago.

For Michael, evangelizing and equipping disciples is as simple as caring about someone and hopefully creating an atmosphere where that person is comfortable and can let his guard down enough for Jesus to meet him in that moment.

He said that when attempting to lead someone closer to God, he sees a “soul hanging in the balance.” He feels compelled to act, praying to the Holy Spirit for courage and guidance, he said.
He eventually asked his coworker with depression: “Where is Jesus in your life?”

The co-worker replied that God was a small part of his life, but that he wanted him to be at the center of it. Michael began helping his co-worker that day to make a deliberate choice for God and by praying with him.

Sarah said prayer is vital in bringing people into discipleship and it also involves sharing one’s own struggles, making oneself vulnerable before others can open themselves up.

The ultimate goal, she said, is to get souls to heaven, and she acknowledges her need as a disciple to have “Jesus by my side every step of the way.”