For pastor, future nurse, it's all about caring

Greg Oppenhuizen, who is a pastor, is finishing his nursing degree at Grand Canyon University's Banner Boswell Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing site in Sun City. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article spotlights a nursing student in recognition of National Nurses Month. Here’s another feature from earlier this month about one of GCU’s nursing faculty. Story

Greg Oppenhuizen ignites his congregation at worship services.

He can punch up a sermon.

And share a comforting word as he guides a churchgoer.

The lead pastor at Cornerstone Covenant Church in Turlock, California – and dad to five children – leads this living, breathing, beautiful organism that is his church.

Yet Oppenhuizen dares to take on more.

Pastor and nursing student Greg Oppenhuizen (left) is a pastor in Turlock, California. (Contributed photo)

He decided a little more than a year ago that he would move to Buckeye, Arizona, in the westernmost outskirts of Phoenix, so he could enroll in Grand Canyon University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing site in Sun City, one of six such sites in Arizona, Utah and Nevada with three more on track to open in 2024-25.

He has always been drawn to science and majored in math and engineering 20 years before: “I LOVE problem-solving,” he said.

Entering the medical field was something he thought about all through his years as a pastor, so he returned to school and started taking prerequisites in 2019, though he said, “I didn’t know exactly what area I would be pursuing.”

Then the global pandemic hit.

“All that changed everything,” Oppenhuizen said.

But it wasn’t the only dark cloud that settled over his family.

In the first month of the pandemic, doctors diagnosed his wife, Amanda, with stage 3 cancer, and in the same week, his daughter with Type 1 diabetes.

“Amanda had a constant fever,” he said of his wife, and because the world, disrupted by COVID-19, threw its attention on COVID, it was hard for Oppenhuizen’s family to also find its way through her cancer treatment.

“It was a crazy journey,” he said, but then the light broke through those dark clouds. “I drove a couple of hours to go to Stanford in California, and they just gave us AMAZING care.”

Working with those nurses and others who cared for his daughter – Oppenhuizen said just one carbohydrate will raise his daughter’s blood sugar level by 10 – he told his wife, “You know, I really love the nurses we work with. I can really see myself doing that.”

A trip to visit a former congregation member a year later opened the doors to nursing becoming a reality.

While he's in Arizona finishing his nursing degree, Greg Oppenhuizen's wife, Amanda, is leading his church's team. (Contributed photo)

“Three years ago, we were road-tripping through the country,” he said, “and we had stopped in Arizona to stay with some friends who were like family who used to go to our church in Turlock. My wife was like,’ I wonder what the nursing programs are like out here?’”

That’s when they found GCU.

“They made it really easy for me to know what I needed to get done to start the program.”

Oppenhuizen made the bold move to Buckeye so he could enroll in the ABSN program, an accelerated option for students like him, who already have some college credits and want to re-career. Students can rotate through in as little as 16 months.

GCU sees the hybrid ABSN program, which combines didactic learning online with hands-on learning at a physical site, as a way to alleviate the national nursing shortage. Plans are to expand the program to include 40 sites across the United States in the next five years.

For Oppenhuizen, the accelerated program meant he could be away from his family for the least amount of time possible.

“We kind of do this dance where, obviously, I have to be here most of the time, but I go back and visit as much as I can, or they come visit me.

“We just make it work.”

While he’s on leave from his pastoral duties, his wife is leading the team at their church. After a stem cell transplant, she is in remission.

Greg Oppenhuizen (center) performs a wedding as part of his pastoral duties. (Contributed photo)

“She’s pretty much amazing,” he said. “I’m in nursing school, but I tell her, ‘You’re working so much harder than me. You’re really the hero of our story.’”

Oppenhuizen sees other heroes in his story, too.

“There are students in the program who have jobs. Two in the cohort have had babies in the last year. I literally don’t know how they do it,” he said. “In level 3 (the third semester of nursing school), you’re so busy. You have to manage all of your time. You have to make your schedules. There’s not a lot of wiggle room in your life.”

Not that there was a lot of wiggle room for Oppenhuizen as a pastor, which he’ll continue to do even after nursing school. Becoming a nurse isn’t a carer change for him, but an addendum.

“I’m adding to my current career. I’ve been a pastor for 17 years … I’m basically going to become a nurse and serve as a nurse and pastor concurrently,” he said.

It’s part of an approach in churches called bivocational ministry, in which a pastor holds a full- or part-time job along with a ministry position. The model gives ministers another source of income, since it’s difficult for some churches, particularly smaller churches, to provide ministers with a full-time salary. It also can enhance the kind of support a pastor can give to their church and congregation, bringing in vocational skills outside of the ministry.

“I’ve been a lead pastor for a long time. My wife came on staff, and she’s been co-pastoring with me for the last seven years. We just had a sense that our church was going to be moving toward a bivocational model so we could have more staff doing different things,” Oppenhuizen said.

Level 4 nursing student Greg Oppenhuizen, who is also a pastor, practices starting an IV at GCU's Banner Boswell ABSN site in Sun City. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

For him, nursing and ministry are intertwined.

Oppenhuizen would like to serve as a critical care nurse while also continuing to serve his church as a pastor.

He hopes to complete the ABSN program in August.

“I’ve always really enjoyed going to the hospital, seeing patients, thinking through their physical illnesses and spiritual care,” he said. “… So this has been a huge intersection of spiritual care, critical thinking and doing something that would go hand-in-hand with ministry.”

Oppenhuizen is addressing his congregation’s spiritual needs as a pastor but also their physical and health needs as a nurse.

The best of both worlds.

Manager of Internal Communications Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

Related content:

GCU News: Nurse who made the move to the U.S. finds passion in teaching

GCU NewsGCU opens new ABSN site in Chandler, addresses nursing shortage

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GCU NewsNursing graduate to mom: 'I know she sees me and is proud of me'


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May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

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