When children graduate from high school and head off to college, their parents usually send them off with lots of hugs, tears and a few extra dollars in their pocket "for necessities." Sometimes, they accompany their child to the college or university to help them move in.
But when Elaine Pechnik Reller accompanied her daughter Christy to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., in 2000, she ended up staying there. Divorced just a couple of years earlier after 25 years of marriage, Pechnik decided it was time to take her life in a new direction.
"Just before Christy was born, I had three members of my family who died," Reller said. "I started questioning, searching for answers... In everyone's life, hard times come. At that point, you can either get better or bitter."
Reller chose the former, and began to explore her spirituality.
"That's when the Lord became real in my life," she said. Reller became active in her local church, and served there in various capacities.
But it wasn't until Christy headed off to college that Reller, a New Jersey native, decided it was time to make a deeper commitment to her lord. That newfound commitment led her to seek a career as a minister -- and eventually, it brought her to the White Earth Indian Reservation.
While Christy was attending ORU, Reller started taking classes at RHEMA Bible Training Center in Broken Arrow, Okla., and also worked at the prayer and healing center as well as a prayer partner at OSU. After two years at the Bible Training Center, Reller went on to obtain a bachelor's degree in Christian education from ORU. She was ordained in the Faith Christian Fellowship International Church in 2002.
One night, in 2003, Reller noticed an advertisement on eBay that there were two Catholic church buildings for sale in Bejou, Minn., which was located in the heart of the White Earth reservation. The price tag? Just $11,000.
So Reller hopped on a plane and came to take a look at the property. The couple who owned the property at that time, who were both in their 70s, had wanted to start a ministry there until the husband became ill.
"He sold it to me for what he paid at auction," Pechnik said.
That first summer, needing a place to live, Pechnik took a job at Strawberry Lake Christian Retreat, and rented a house there while the Bejou church was being renovated
But the house was sold, to a man named Wayne Reller -- the man who would, in May 2005, become her second husband.
But at that time, needing a place to live once again, Reller bought the old grocery store in Callaway, which had an apartment in back. She also began holding church services in Mahnomen's Shooting Star Event Center -- adjacent to the casino -- which Reller calls a "marketplace ministry."
That first summer in northern Minnesota, she had also begun a volunteer ministry, teaching the children's substance abuse education program, Project Charlie. This program has since been incorporated into the classrooms at the Circle of Life School in Ponsford and Pine Point Elementary School. Reller works with children in grades 3-6 to build self esteem, develop decision making skills and learn alternative choices to peer pressure, drugs, alcohol and suicide, as well as assist them in emotional healing from trauma and conflict (such as the Red Lake school shootings).
She also got some volunteers from the local Mennonite church to assist her with the renovations at the Bejou church. Still, Reller said, the property purchase and renovations "took everything I had in savings."
Now, she's looking for a little help to complete the process. Her eventual goal is to hold regular services at God's Church, which she can't do at the moment because the building isn't ready. After moving back to her former home at Strawberry Lake when she married Wayne, Reller is now hoping to develop the old Callaway store into a community grocery and youth center.
The problem, of course, is funding.
"I can't run all of this myself," she said. But despite having used up much of her nest egg on the church project, Reller added, "I have no regrets."
"I have a heart and a compassion for people, and I want to help wherever I can," she said. "I've been trying to meet with the leaders here, and getting to know the people, build relationships with them."
Anyone interested in learning more about Reller's ministry, and God's Church, can reach her by calling her at 218-375-3750, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail at God's Church, 418 Roosevelt Ave., P.O. Box 2083, Bejou, Minn. 56516. The church also has a web site, dressedinhisglory.com/pechnik. Donations are tax deductible.