Crystall Williams-Bonner was in the insurance business for more than 20 years when she realized that she was destined for a different calling. Her journey to becoming a chaplain is not only inspiring but also a testimony to how God can work in your life.
She decided she was better suited to working for a nonprofit organization and took a position as a sales representative for Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Ashland. It’s the camping conference and retreat ministry of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — a place set apart for people of all ages to grow in Christ.
“I would enter the different Lutheran churches as a salesperson and had noticeable experiences. The Holy Spirit in me would jump for joy, but when I left the churches my spirit felt weak. I knew that God was speaking to me,” Bonner said.
She experienced these feelings over a two-year period. She knew in order to act on these feelings she would need more education than her bachelor of arts degree in journalism from Creighton University.
She finally decided to pursue a master of arts in ministry at Creighton. When taking ministry classes, she said, she could feel the deepening of God’s calling her to the spiritual arena. During her third and fourth year working on her master’s degree, the then-director of the Masters in Ministry program, Eileen Burke-Sullivan, recommended she take an internship with the CHI clinical pastoral education program.
Burke-Sullivan told her that an internship-trained chaplain can go into clinical health care, working with sick and dying people.
“Dr. Burke-Sullivan is an amazing person. I knew the Holy Spirit was working through her, helping me to make a decision even though I had reservations about being successful working with very ill and dying people. But because of my respect, admiration, and faith in her advice, I took an internship,” Crystall said.
Two weeks into her clinical pastoral education internship at Bergan Mercy Medical Center, Crystall said, she felt as if God had her just where He wanted her to be. Patients, she said, responded to her care in a positive way.
In 2016 she graduated from Creighton with her master of arts in ministry and she is now employed at Methodist Hospital as a chaplain. The president of the Omaha Chaplain Association is not aware of any other African-American female chaplain in the area.
Crystall is involved in palliative care, which is given to people who are facing illnesses that are life-limiting. It is care that is focused on pain and symptom management no matter where patients are on their health care journey.
“I feel so blessed as a chaplain at Methodist,” Crystall said. “I feel really integrated into the medical team. The doctors and nurses work tirelessly to heal their patients. I take care of the spiritual part of patients, helping those who are distraught, scared, needing strength or comfort.”
She started as a part-time chaplain, and now is full time.
Crystall is married to Cort Bonner. They have three children, daughters Milan and Ava and son Evan.
Dr. Burke-Sullivan, now the vice provost for mission ministry at Creighton, said: “I am very proud of Crystall’s effort put forth to obtain a substantial degree. It was challenging for her with work and family, but she was a superb student. She added so much to our class by sharing different Christian traditions with her classmates. They looked forward to her input.”
Crystall says she loves sharing the gift that God has given her. “I have never felt so fulfilled professionally and valued as a human being, other than the birth of my children, as I do when I spiritually help the sick, elderly, dying, and their families,” Crystall said.
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Correction: An earlier version of this column had an incorrect title for Eileen Burke-Sullivan.