LeeShonel Ayala – From B.A. in Youth Development to M.A. in Christian Ministry

LeeShonel performing liturgical dance

Ayala is a liturgical dancer, musician and now future minister/theologian.

鶹ԭ is the only educational institution in the region with an undergraduate program that prepares professional youth workers. Ultimately, youth workers are trained to lead.

As one of the first graduates of the program, LeeShonel Ayala earned a B.A. degree in youth development, with a minor in music in 2017.

“I chose a youth development major because it listed youth ministry as a possible field you could go into,” she says. “Christian ministry is a huge passion of mine.”

Since the age of 14, Ayala has been a part of the dance ministry at her church. What she performs (as seen in photo above) is called liturgical dance – this is a form of prayer through movement often seen in Black and Hispanic churches.

She is also a part of the music ministry. A multi-instrumentalist, Ayala sings, plays piano, guitar, drums and is learning violin. A former Sunday School teacher, the 29-year-old is also an active member of the young adult group at her church.

In retrospect, Ayala has been indirectly ministering to youth since high school.


LeeShonel performing liturgical dance

“In high school, I was known as the Bible girl, because I’d always carry a Bible in my bookbag to read when I needed encouragement,” she says. “For me, it was all about seeking God. There were students going through difficulties and I’d tell them I’d pray for them. I wanted to keep pointing people to Christ because that’s where my hope came from.”

Through the youth development program at 鶹ԭ, Ayala strengthened her leadership skills and was provided the needed foundation to work with youth. She learned how to actively listen, how to provide support and how to direct youth to community resources, all of which are critical to youth ministry.

“Our youth development program prepares our graduates for leadership in a wide range of youth-based work,” says Professor and Director of the Youth Development B.A. Program Lesley Bogad. “I am so happy to see LeeShonel using her degree to further her passion for youth.”

However, in 2020, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ayala’s faith was challenged. The specter of death was everywhere. Estimates suggest that the total number of global deaths due to COVID in 2020 is at least three million.


LeeShonel performing liturgical dance

“During COVID, I think a lot of us were reflecting on our lives and what we were doing with our lives,” she says. “We saw a lot of despair during COVID. The death rate caused a lot of people to become paralyzed with fear and to question a lot of the things they believed in.”

“I, too, was asking hard questions,” she says, “like, ‘If God is there, why does He allow this to happen?’ Ultimately, I was after truth. Great philosophers have asked the same questions. I think it’s important to know why we believe what we believe.”

COVID became a catalyst for her enrollment in the seminary – a college of theology where one studies the nature of God and religious beliefs. Offered a scholarship by Grand Canyon University in Arizona, Ayala began an online master’s degree program in Christian ministry. 


LeeShonel performing liturgical dance

“I had always had a desire to go to the seminary,” she says. “It not only fulfilled my goal of providing pastoral guidance and care to members of my community, it also gave me a better foundation for my faith. I gained intellectual and spiritual clarity.”

Ayala completed her degree in 2022 and is now ready for the next chapter of her life – becoming a co-pastor of a church and/or teacher of theology.


LeeShonel performing liturgical dance

Ayala notes that the skills she learned in 鶹ԭ’s youth development program have prepared her well for this work.

“A minister helps people find their way in the world and grow in their faith. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” she says.

For more information on 鶹ԭ’s youth development program, see Youth Development B.A.

Also see “God in Motion: The Sacred Art of Liturgical Dance.”