Sydni Stratman would greet a stranger on the street and want to know their life story.
She’s the definition of a people person, and she credits God for that.
So when God spoke to her last summer, the incoming Helias Catholic High School senior listened.
“God put it on my heart that I needed to start a Bible study, He was like ‘Sydni, you need to do this, girl; you got this.’ I was like ‘alright,’” she said.
But Sydni isn’t Catholic.
She attends First Assembly of God Pentecostal Church in Jefferson City and knew the Bible study needed to be more broadly based in Christianity and not specific to Catholicism in order to reach a wider variety of students.
By welcoming all denominations, she said, there’s more potential to learn and grow in faith and then share those perspectives and God’s love with the broader community.
Also, the new group, Sydni said, would only be for women. That was key: She wanted it to be a place for her and her peers to delve deeper into the female perspective in the Bible and how it relates to their lives.
She was positively giddy sharing the story of the group’s origins and the role her faith played in bringing it to fruition.
But being called by God was only one part of the process; she needed the Catholic high school’s support.
In July, she nervously reached out to a few teachers who backed the idea without hesitation, and by the fall, the women’s Bible study group began meeting biweekly.
“It definitely wasn’t me who did it,” Sydni said. “I know I represent the Bible study, but I wasn’t the one who actually did it. It was all God. I cannot take anything from that; it’s all Him.”
Sydni and a fellow senior student meet with the group’s faculty adviser on the off weeks to plan for each session. They pick topics and Bible verses to discuss and create an outline for the next week’s meeting.
Then at 7:15 a.m. every other Thursday morning, Sydni welcomes the 20 or so members to the Bible study with an opening prayer, spreading the goodness she sees in God with those around her — something she does with immense joy and pride.
She described the group as very welcoming, with members sharing their perspectives and personal experiences to help interpret the chosen Bible passages for the day.
Personal experiences are a big part of why Sydni is so connected with her faith.
“God’s definitely worked a lot in my life,” she said. “I’ve had some health issues, and I shouldn’t be here — but there’s a reason I’m here.”
Sydni had three open heart surgeries by age 3, and while her health is in a much more stable place now, she still requires annual appointments to monitor her heart condition.
“That was all when I was really small, but when I got older, I realized there was a purpose and I’m supposed to be here for something,” she said. “God really wants me to be here and work with people and share the Gospel with them so they understand why they’re here, too.”
Her faith journey took time, though. Sydni said the pandemic played a big role in furthering her closeness with God.
Before 2020, she described herself as someone who went to church with her family each week “just to check the box,” not really listening to what was being preached.
But with extra time on her hands during the stay-at-home orders at the start of the pandemic, Sydni decided to pray more. She listened to worship music and began reading the Bible to “get into the Word and understand God better so He can tell me more things.
“I definitely learned a lot from that.”
Through learning more about her faith and herself, Sydni not only created the Helias Bible study but also decided on her career goals. She plans to become a youth pastor.
Sydni will be attending James River Christian College outside Springfield to study ministry and wants to one day work with high-schoolers to help them deepen their faith.
In the meantime, she keeps busy with church and school functions, spending time with friends and working at a gymnastics studio for toddlers — in addition to reading the Bible, of course.
Her copy is complete with dozens of multi-colored tabs, bookmarks and sticky notes marking important or favorite passages.
Toward the top of that list is 1st Corinthians 10:31, which reads, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Being a leader, Sydni said, is to embody that verse.
“Everything I do and every person I help, I want to bring them closer to God and help them understand His glory.”