Beth Riley and her son, Garrett, became part of StoneBridge in early 2017. Since then, they’ve experienced radical, remarkable transformation in their life.
A Nebraska native, Beth found herself across the country in Washington, D.C., in early 2016. She’d accepted the position of Manager of Institutional Giving with the American Forest Foundation, a nationwide conservation nonprofit. While she and Garrett (now 13) were living there, they attended National Christian Church.
A year later, in January 2017, Beth accepted a role with AFF that allowed her to move back to Nebraska. She and Garrett settled temporarily in North Bend.
One of Beth’s high school classmates recommended they visit StoneBridge’s Fremont campus.
“Megan works with a lot of Latino teens and she’s a teacher,” Beth says. “She knows that I’ve done a lot of social justice work in my career. We have a lot of the same heart for that type of work. She felt, if StoneBridge was a good place for her, it might speak to me.”
Beth and Garrett visited the Fremont campus on its initial grand opening day. Until then, it had been challenging for them to settle on a church home.
“He tends to like more traditional music, and I love more contemporary music. The soundtrack of my life is K-Love,” she says. “But Garrett cares most about the sermon.”
They attended the Fremont campus until the summer, when they moved into Omaha. They visited the Millard location; then, they began attending Sunday night services at the Commons. That fall, they participated in a Discovering StoneBridge session with Pastor Mark.
Next, Beth and Garrett joined a small group.
“Honestly, that was probably the biggest step for us,” she says. “For me, it was the first time I had ever done Bible study. I kept thinking, ‘These people are going to figure out I don’t know anything about the Bible!’ I felt nervous, but I wanted to learn more.”
The small group made Beth and Garrett feel welcomed and loved. According to Beth, it was exactly what they needed.
Near the holidays, a member of the small group mentioned a mission trip to Mexico coming up in February 2018. Beth’s interest was piqued, but she wasn’t sure camping and home construction were a good fit for her. When she asked Garrett about it, he initially declined. But, they decided to pray together before making a final decision.
About two weeks later, in December, Garrett began shouting for Beth from his bedroom. They’d already wound down for the night, so Beth rushed to check on him.
“I went running across the house, thinking something was wrong,” she says. “He said, ‘Mom, tonight there are people in the world who don’t have a warm place to sleep, and they definitely, probably don’t have a bed. They could be scared, and we have to help them. We have to go on that mission trip.’ It really struck him.”
Garrett believes that night, God intervened in his life.
“He was skeptical about God and whether God exists,” Beth says.
Beth and Garrett set off for Mexico in February. Every night, after a hard day’s work building houses, they would curl up in their tent and share “intense conversations about faith and what it meant to belong to a church. We talked about what it meant to step out in faith and be grateful for all we have. Garrett was just on fire for God.
“That trip changed our lives forever,” Beth says. “It changed our life as a mom and a son, and it definitely changed our experience in belonging to a church.”
During the mission trip, Beth started to experience some alarming symptoms. That was the beginning of several months of testing. Ultimately, she received a devastating diagnosis: endometrial cancer.
“It was a very emotional experience to feel scared and to know that I had cancer and could die. It could spread--we didn’t know everything that could happen.
“But I truly had real peace; I never let my mind go too far,” she says. “I felt supported by a lot of people in my life. The biggest thing I felt was this peace that I had never felt before from this relationship we had built with God.”
After the diagnosis, Garrett told Beth that he felt they should both be baptized. On the Sunday before Beth’s surgery, that’s exactly what they did. Not only was their entire small group in attendance; Beth’s family--including her parents, her grandmother, two of her brothers, and their children--also came.
The next week, Beth underwent a successful surgery to remove her cancer.
Since then, Beth and Garrett have continued to root more deeply at StoneBridge. They’re active in their small group, and they’re biweekly ambassadors in the Connections Center. Beth joined a women’s study group, and Garrett is now an enthusiastic participant StoneBridge’s student ministry.
Mother and son feel a strong sense of community and belonging at StoneBridge.
“It’s a great place to put down some roots, get engaged, and get involved. Nobody pretends to have it all figured out,” she says
“We don’t feel like people are pretentious or judgmental. Everybody is super helpful, and they’re helping us learn how we can walk a better walk.”
Garrett’s transformation since joining StoneBridge has also been profound. “Now that I’m excited about God and in times that I question things now, I feel like there are a lot of people in our lives who can help us,” he says. “There are a lot of people that I’m excited to have in our lives.”
Each step outside their comfort zone--into a study group, a youth camp, and each new activity--has been a step of faith for Beth and Garrett.
“Sometimes churches can feel scary and unapproachable,” Beth says. “It’s important for those of us who start feeling comfortable in a church to remember that there are a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable.”
Beth says she felt scared and broken when she first came to StoneBridge. For her, it’s a priority to make visitors feel welcome and help church feel approachable. She’s also passionate about encouraging fellow Christians and showing appreciation for their gifts.
“We have to continue to encourage one another along our walks because it’s a tough world out there,” she says. “The evil one is always waiting for us to have insecurities and doubts.”
Beth and Garrett are growing and thriving here at StoneBridge. As time passes, each becomes more enthusiastic about the community we’ve built together here.
“I can’t say enough about the people within StoneBridge and the way we’re doing life together,” Beth says. “That makes all the difference.”
Garrett agrees. He recently told his mom, “Whatever happens, you have to promise me that we’ll always go to StoneBridge.”