Aren Rennacker is currently the youth and college pastor at the Calimesa Seventh-day Adventist Church. After graduating in 2007 from Sacramento Adventist Academy, Aren went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in PR and journalism from PUC in 2011, then his master’s in theological studies from La Sierra University in 2017.
One of four kids, Aren has myriad stories from his childhood, during which he dreamed of winning a spot on an NBA team.
He will be speaking during PUC’s Winter Revival, Jan. 22-25, and his theme is “Authentic.” We caught up with Aren so we could all get to know him a little better (how did he go from basketball star to youth pastor?) as we prepare to receive his insights on authenticity and God next week.
Why did you choose “Authentic” as your theme?
It’s such a unique time to be alive right now, and particularly to be in college. Students are forming their identities in the midst of a lot of distrust, competition, pressure, and confusion. These can all contribute to misunderstandings about oneself and what it means to be human. My hope is for one week, we can practically examine the journey of growing as a child of God, and how that actually is meant to allow for more authenticity in our lives, not less. I truly hope our time together is engaging, practical, and genuine to the students’ experiences.
What was your experience with church and worship as a college student, and how has that affected your life today?
Friday night vespers at PUC were always a highlight. I spent most Sabbaths with Kidz Reach, a group that mentored at-risk youth in Napa. Also, the religion classes were outstanding. Truly, the entire spiritual environment at PUC helped me grow in a lot of ways and led me into pursuing ministry. I remain grateful to this day for the teachers and leaders I had as guides during those years.
What’s something that challenged you as a young adult, and how did you handle it?
At the end of my freshman year, I was asked to take a year off to serve as the youth leader at a local church. At that time I still wanted to be a sports journalist and had no desire to be a pastor; however, I felt saying “no” would upset God.
I met with a mentor of mine to process the decision, and he helped me see God was not for me or against me based on my decision, but both “yes” and “no” could be the right or wrong answer based upon how I chose to spend the next year. That took a lot of the pressure off and helped me see God in a healthier way.
I decided to return to PUC that year recommitted to serving God on campus. And, what do you know, by the end of that year I decided I wanted to pursue a career as a youth pastor instead of as a journalist.
What were you like as a kid?
I was the youngest of four and I’m sure I acted like it. Fortunately, my mom and siblings were patient and helped create a great childhood for me. Sports were my passion, and I always wanted to be watching, playing, or reading about them. Reading the sports page in the newspaper every day helped cultivate my love for writing, and obsessing over the Sacramento Kings helped me acclimate to taking losses. Despite that, I was a generally happy kid who enjoyed school and loved my family.
What is your favorite food to eat?
My favorite food category is ice cream. (Is that a category?) Seriously, though, if I were to have one plate of anything, it would be my mom’s French toast. She’s the only one in the world who can make it her way.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I still enjoy playing basketball, and I’m hoping to play some while I’m up at PUC. I’m currently in the middle of several good books, including Under the Overpass, an account of two guys who chose to become homeless for five months to better understand what others experience. But my favorite free time activity is spending time with my girlfriend, Paige, which usually means a game of Uno, an episode of The Office, or a bowl of acai. Better yet: all three.
What are some items on your bucket list?
This is a timely question because I turn 30 this summer, meaning I should probably do some life reflecting. Some of the things I’ve done are travel the U.S., work at a job I love, and see the Giants win the World Series (three times). I’d still love to run a half marathon, write a book, and star on Broadway. Dream big.
What would you say is your main goal for Winter Revival?
My ultimate goal for the week would be for those listening to be willing to process or wrestle with at least one new idea or perspective they hear. Living within a faith community can often numb us to yet another message (myself included), so if any student or staff actually feel something they hear is worth consuming and thinking over, perhaps even discussing with a friend, I’d be honored and grateful. I simply long to be a small part in the journey of growth for anybody who will allow me to be.
If, in the course of said discussions or ponderings, a student has questions or just wants to connect with you about things, how can they reach you?
Josue Hernandez is in the middle of his third year of ministry as associate pastor at the Modesto Central Seventh-day Adventist Church. He graduated from Pacific Union College in 2015 with a degree in theology and will begin MDiv classes in January. “I wanted to be a pastor to ensure the voices of young people are heard in the life of the church,” Josue says.
Beginning Oct. 8, Pastor Josue will be sharing some spiritual insights and food for thought during Fall Revival at PUC. Join us every evening Oct. 8-12 at 8:00 in Dauphinee Chapel in Winning Hall, and at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11, in the PUC sanctuary for Colloquy, to hear him speak on PUC’s Student Association’s theme of “Beyond.” Pastor Josue adds, “This theme really resonates with what I believe to be part of life’s most rewarding elements: Our ability to grow, step out of our comfort zone, and embrace the stress and tension that growth thrives on.”
We chatted a bit with Josue to get an idea of the kind of guy he is, and the verdict is he’s pretty great. We look forward to hearing what he has to say for Fall Revival.
You’re still experiencing the “new” of your career; what has surprised you about being a pastor?
In my experience, churches can be very open to new ideas when they line up with a fresh, well-communicated vision of what the church could be. For example, instead of having an extended evangelistic series we offered a one-weekend presentation on the power of hope to our community, wrapped up by a Sunday morning project where we partnered with Rise Against Hunger to package thousands of meals for families who needed them in the Philippines. Seeing the full spectrum of ages, including a few non-Adventist community members, working together toward the same goal was inspiring.
I’ve also led out in a 2-month sermon series called “Messy Church” while preaching in jeans and a t-shirt, purchased a drum set for our church, redesigned our youth room, and launched a teen leadership program. All new projects our church has fully embraced as part of our new identity. This has been a refreshing revelation because it shows churches are willing to step out of their comfort zone to share the Good News.
Tell us about your college years. What was your experience as a PUC student?
I thoroughly enjoyed the three years I spent at PUC. I was involved with SOL Club, joined the soccer team my senior year, and loved being a part of intramurals. My favorite class was beginning Greek (shoutout to Dr. Winkle for making that class such a positive learning experience) because I’ve always been drawn to different languages. I changed my major once from mechanical engineering to theology when I transferred to PUC, but If I had spent a little more time at PUC I would’ve picked up a second major in communications or business.
I had several roommates at PUC. Each one of them very different. I never really had any issue getting used to having a roommate but for some reason, they never stayed the whole year, not sure if it was them or me, except for Timmy Baze who I roomed with my first year—what a brave soul. PUC embraced me as family, so being away from home was probably tougher on my parents than on me. I missed the homemade food the most. My favorite meal in the cafeteria is still Friday morning bliss—biscuits and gravy! To get away from campus, I’d take trips down the hill to In-N-Out, Giugni’s, Sherpa … my mouth waters just thinking about those places! And of course, the back 40! Great place for a hike or a run to Inspiration Point with friends to burn off the calories from the cafeteria food.
What job did you have in college?
My first and only job at PUC (aside from Religious VP for the Student Association) was working for the alumni and advancement office as a student caller to our alumni, keeping them in touch with the latest on life at PUC and assisting with any other projects the office had, including the Maxwell Golf Tournament and Homecoming events.
Life didn’t start in college, though. Where did you grow up, and what were you like as a kid?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I played a lot of sports; soccer and basketball were my favorites. I also took a couple of years of piano lessons and began playing guitar.
How many siblings do you have?
Many people are surprised when I mention I have a sister, Dalia, who was at PUC during my last two years there. She graduated from PUC with a degree in biology this summer and I’m super proud of her!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I honestly don’t really remember! But I enjoyed playing with fire trucks and legos, so maybe a firefighter or architect.
What was your experience with church and worship as a kid?
I rarely missed a weekend at church growing up. My parents were intentional about ensuring we had a positive experience getting involved with a variety of church activities such as camping trips, family events, social gatherings, etc. Church is actually where I began to develop a joy for service and fellowship. Worship has been a source of great inspiration for me through all these years and has helped me tap into a clearer picture of God’s vision for my life.
We all have defining moments in our lives—moments we can’t forget and have shaped in a significant way the person we are today. What are two of your defining moments?
The first was definitely transferring to PUC from UC Davis. A lot was happening during my freshman year at UC Davis I had to deal with personally. I was beginning to grapple with who I really wanted to be in life, questioning whether or not I belonged at UC Davis, and dealing with high school relationship baggage. There were times where I felt I didn’t have what it would take to be a successful person on such a competitive campus. If you’ve heard of Impostor Syndrome you understand there are times when we second-guess our accomplishments. We feel if we accomplished something it was because the bar was set lower for us or for any other reason other than our own effort, especially as a Latino.
Transferring to PUC was a breath of fresh air. It reminded me I did belong. My achievements were meaningful and the community on this campus helped cement my identity. I ran for and served as RVP from 2014-15 which turned out to be one of the most positive learning experiences I’ve had in life. I am the first in my family to graduate with a college degree here in the United States and PUC will always have a special place in my heart for helping me get there.
And the second: Accepting the call to be a pastor in Modesto. Taking the next step after college is never an easy thing to do. After spending three years at PUC I fell in love with Northern California. I really wanted to stay close to campus because of all the friends that still remained there. It was a Friday evening before Vespers that I accepted the offer to serve as the associate pastor at Modesto Central. I thought I’d be at peace but I wasn’t. A couple weeks later the leadership team of the Southeastern California Conference reached out to me for a second round of interviews to meet the rest of the team. I began to wonder if I had made the right decision. Fast-forward three years, and looking back I am glad I made the choice to come to Modesto.
The fall after I graduated from PUC was the toughest because I missed the PUC community, friends, Vespers, classes—everything but the homework, ha!—and everyone seemed to be posting about moving back in for the start of the new year while I was in a new place with only a couple of people I knew well, I was thankful to be doing meaningful work with lots of potential. I spent one year out of the three I’ve worked here serving as the interim lead pastor when our senior pastor at the time took a call to a different church. I’ve been challenged to grow in so many areas and the people in this community have been so supportive and generous with me. I’ve made many meaningful relationships with the young people here including several who are now PUC students. I’ve discovered God works out all things for good. Learning to trust the process has given me a new awareness about my own boundaries God wants me to go beyond.
Being a pastor is a 24/7 job, essentially, but when you do find a few moments of free time, what do you enjoy doing?
I put a team together to play in a community co-ed soccer league that plays all year ‘round, and it’s been a blast! I also enjoy a good workout in the gym while listening to podcasts ranging from Revisionist History to the Bible Project, and reading anything by Malcolm Gladwell. And let’s be honest: Netflix after a long day is just icing on the cake.
Where is your favorite place in the world and why?
Anywhere with friends. This year I’ve spent some time in Spain, France, Bolivia, Israel, and Mexico. On all these trips, I’ve gone with different groups of friends and family. Each of these trips has had their challenges but the time spent being present and savoring the moment in front of us while sharing it with people we care about has been priceless. No matter where you go, you are surrounded by extraordinary people. Sometimes it just takes a readjusting of our attitude toward the world to see the opportunities to make meaningful memories around us. Then we pause to realize we are only just scratching the surface and dive deeper into the present.
If you could dream up the best possible outcome of this year’s Fall Revival at PUC, what would it be?
My goal is to remind the students of truths they know deep inside, truths they may have lost sight of along the way, and to challenge us all to go beyond surface level living into the depths of life that await us. The best possible outcome, from my perspective, would be for students to walk away with a better understanding of what it means to be human.
Why do you think events like this are important for college campuses?
I think they really help to recalibrate our purpose and vision in life. They inspire us to be the best version of ourselves and remind us of truths about ourselves and our relationship with the Divine we often forget with all the things vying for our attention.
If you’re interested in chatting with Pastor Josue about his talks or just about life in general, feel free to catch him after the Revival meetings or even stop him along the sidewalk. He’s on-campus all week and happy to chat with anyone who’s interested.
Pacific Union College held its annual student week of prayer the week of April 10. Student week of prayer is a special time for the students, giving them the opportunity to experience the power of God’s work in the lives of their peers. “It is more personable, more real,” said Jason Bajwa, a senior biology major.
This year’s student week of prayer took place in Dauphinee Chapel, a more confined and intimate worship space, giving students a feel of comfort and closeness with each other. Students spoke of God’s ability to work in the life of a sinner. The personal testimonies had a powerful impact on listeners. Inspirational and uplifting words were used—transformative, change, willing to use you—to give listeners a glimpse into how God works. The speaker series consisted of Lulu Kabanje, Randy Ramos, Daniel Grigore, Giselle Garcia, Milka Saint-vil, Laurant Panggabean, Nic Miller, Jamal Armstrong, Alex Chang, and Andy Palomares. There were morning and evening meetings each day.
One of the week’s highlights was the talk by Andy Palomares, future religious vice president of the Student Association. He ended the evening talking about God as our ultimate defender. His demeanor and style made it easy for students to relate with him. In addition to bringing astounding energy, he owned the stage pacing back and forth with confidence and authority. Palomares touched on a more personal issue. After disappointing his father by doing something he should not have done, he felt guilty and ashamed. At times, he could hardly look himself in the mirror. He felt disconnected and distanced from God and his father. But upon reading the Word, Palomares realized it wasn’t God who was doing the distancing, it was himself. “There’s nothing I could do to fix what was wrong, because Jesus was the problem fixer. He is the one interceding for us,” he said. Palomares realized there was nothing in his power, nothing he could do to right his wrong. However, he realized the importance of accepting forgiveness, which his father provided.
With the acceptance of grace and forgiveness, Palomares realized God was on his side the entire time. He used a profound quote saying, “God is already wanting you to be saved, and Jesus is your defense attorney. Not only do you have the judge on your side but you have the best defense attorney on your side you can get,” he continued, “And the only thing against you is Satan, and Satan isn’t going to win.” Palomares paralleled his own struggles with that of Jesus, quoting Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one that has been tempted in every way just the way we are, yet He did not sin.” Ending his speech with this, Palomares made it clear we sinners are not to bask in our own mistakes, “You see, Jesus is for us and He’s never going to leave us.”
After a successful week of student testimonials, many students felt a need to reassess their lives and re-accept God as their Lord and savior. By mentioning their past problems, student speakers made it known no one is perfect. Each student’s sermon emphasized perfectness is not a prerequisite to be used by God. Student testimonials were a great reminder of how God can use any life for His glory and purpose of furthering His kingdom here on earth.
There are a lot of things we’re looking forward to this year at PUC, but here are a few events in particular we’re really excited about!
Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
January 16-19, 2015
Tri-Campus Retreat is an annual tradition where students from PUC, La Sierra University, and Loma Linda University get together for a weekend full of nature and worship at Camp Wawona in Yosemite.
PUC students served in Fiji this past summer.
Spring Break Mission Trips
March 20-29, 2015
This spring break, PUC students will be serving at health clinics in Nicaragua and Brazil, and volunteering at a Navajo reservation in Arizona. Interested in going on one of these trips, or making a donation towards them? Visit the links below.
Melabi Amponsah shared her message with PUC for Student Week of Prayer 2014.
Student Week of Prayer
April 20-24, 2015
Each quarter, students are blessed with a wonderful Week of Prayer with an inspiring guest speaker but for the spring, students hear from their peers about how God has worked in their lives by sharing personal testimonies.
PUC students at the REVO rummage sale last year.
Short for revolution, this student-led ministry raises money each year for a specific cause through a variety of events, like a Color Run, fashion show, and rummage sale. Since 2008, PUC has raised close to $50,000 for causes such as Love146, Project Pueblo, ADRA, and the Napa Valley Food Bank.
Natalie Robles is all smiles at graduation.
June 12-14, 2015
Of course we’re always sad to see our seniors leave, but we’re excited to see what plans God has in store for each and every one of our graduates!