Rachel and Daniel Heitshusen’s story is one that is filled with the faithfulness of parents, pastors and teachers. It’s a story that began with Baptism — Rachel before she was 1 month old; Daniel at 2 months. The Heitshusens cannot recall a day when they didn’t know about Jesus’ love for them.
This fall, the young couple began their latest chapter at the Seminary with Rachel starting the Deaconess Studies Program, and Daniel, the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) Program.
Rachel grew up in Carl Junction, Mo. She attended a Lutheran day school where her mom taught. “I had my mom as my teacher for two of those years, so that was fun,” Rachel says. “I also come from a family of engineers. My older brother is the newest of many engineers in my family, including my dad, uncle and grandpa.”
“Every single thing that they said in the video about what a deaconess does, I wanted to do.”
– Rachel Heitshusen
As a teenager, Rachel’s heart was set on ministry — she wanted to become a Lutheran school teacher, just like her mom. It was during a youth retreat as a sophomore in high school that she first heard about the role of deaconess during a brief conversation. After returning home, she hopped onto her computer to learn more, and came across a video from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) about being a deaconess. “I felt like my whole life plan was crashing around me. I thought, that looks really cool. Every single thing that they said in the video about what a deaconess does, I wanted to do,” Rachel says.
Most recently, the onset of the pandemic has strengthened her desire to serve as a deaconess. She is especially moved and concerned for the elderly who have been cut off from their loved ones during the pandemic. “I want to be there for them, to serve them, to pray with them,” she says.
Daniel was born in Florida, along with his younger brother, Ben. “Ben has Down syndrome. He’s been a wonderful brother throughout my life; he’s very loving and caring,” Daniel says.
The boys’ family moved to Georgia, and then to Houston, when Daniel was in elementary school. There he continued to grow in the faith, but it wasn’t without its growing pains. “Having your dad as your confirmation teacher is a unique experience,” Daniel says. “I just wanted to get through confirmation and go on with my life.”
The year 2013 would prove to be a turning point for Daniel. He was skeptical when his parents signed him up for the LCMS Youth Gathering, but he was glad he went.
“I met some people that I’m still friends with today,” Daniel says. The gathering also inspired him to dig deep into Scripture, prompting him to ask his dad, Rev. Scott Heitshusen (’96), a lot of theological questions.
“I kept hearing that salvation is a gift from God. You can’t earn it. But I kept trying to turn it into a work. I wanted to know what I needed to do to know that I was saved,” Daniel says. “My dad and the other pastors in my church, Rev. Andrew Roettjer (’12), and Rev. Timothy Duerr (’09), were patient with me. They were very influential in my formation as a Christian young man and my desire to go into the ministry.”
In 2014, Daniel attended Missional Youth Retreat through Concordia University Texas, Austin. As part of the retreat, young people participated with LINC Austin to serve street youth and the homeless with bags of food, water and other necessities.
“Everything that pastors did, I wanted to do — preaching, administering Communion, baptizing, making home visits and hospital visits.”
– Daniel Heitshusen
Afterward, they reflected on the service event. “Someone who worked with the street youth talked about how it’s sad that some people feel so unloved — even if they have all sorts of material goods — that they feel the need to cut themselves,” Daniel says. “That struck me and pushed me to consider becoming either a director of Christian education (DCE) or a pastor. I wanted to be able to help people like this.”
A few years later, after he had met Rachel and was studying at Concordia University Nebraska, Seward, the pull to become a pastor strengthened.
“Everything that pastors did, I wanted to do — preaching, administering Communion, baptizing, making home visits and hospital visits — I wanted to do it all,” Daniel says.
Moving ahead, together
“Most people choose one life-changing event at a time.
We decided to go for three,” Rachel says.
Indeed they did. After graduating from Concordia University Nebraska in May of 2020, they married over the summer before moving to Concordia Seminary in the fall, all in the middle of a pandemic.
The guaranteed-tuition financial aid package for those enrolling in residential ministry formation programs helped make the transition to Seminary possible. “That was very helpful. The biggest thing that got me here though, honestly, was him,” Rachel says, nodding at Daniel, “because otherwise I don’t know how I would possibly make this work right now.”
They’re learning about their study preferences along the way. “I prefer exegetical theology and he prefers systematic,” Rachel says. Balancing married life, work and homework is key. But being intentional about their relationship with one another and their Savior is paramount.
As they look to the future, the Heitshusens know that God is still writing His story. He holds the past, present and future in His hands. Knowing this in their hearts and minds, Rachel and Daniel take the Seminary’s academic year theme, based on Heb. 13:8, to heart: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”