Some people call her a prayer warrior, others say she’s a surrogate mother and yet another group appreciates her ability “to tell it like it is.” Such diverse characteristics all describe one powerful preacher – the Rev. Joyce Reese Kitchens.
Known to many as the pastor of Emmanuel-Henry McNeal Turner AME Church in South Los Angeles, Kitchens has also built a following as a “compassionate, yet tough” physician’s assistant helping families to realize an enhanced quality of life, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Balancing these roles comes easy to Kitchens, who has worked in both fields for many years along with being a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. But, no matter what she does, prayer, patience and unwavering faith in God guide Kitchens.
“I believe that there is nothing that can prevent us from accomplishing God’s purpose for our lives and the road that I’ve traveled has sometimes been wrought with pain, I continued to walk in faith, reminding everyone that ‘we grieve, but not without hope,’” explained Kitchens.
“I am a two-time cancer survivor and both times, my request to God was ‘that I represent Him well on my cancer journey.’ I’ve lived long enough to know that all things may not be good, but they will work together for God’s glory and my good, if I just trust and obey,” she added.
Kitchens’ trust in God directed her to make a career change at the age of 42, leaving a comfortable, high-paying job to pursue a Master’s degree at UCLA. After attaining her Master’s of Social Work, she worked in the Adoption Unit of L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services to “help abused children find families to love and care for them.”
Faith and prayer continued to undergird her when she left the county to become the chief operating officer of the National Family and Life Center. At the nonprofit, she served with her son, the Rev. Charles Lee Johnson, who was the CEO of the agency founded by his father and Kitchens’ late husband, the Rev. Ronald Johnson. Together, they successfully expanded NFLC’s national and international operations and Kitchens’ oversaw Human Resources, employee supervision and direct client services such as transitional housing for emancipated foster youth.
While Kitchens said that she has enjoyed every job, she also readily admitted, “Being a pastor is my dream vocation. I believe God has taken all the skills and experiences in my life and brought them to bear on pastoring.
“I love teaching the Bible in a manner that allows parishioners to put it into practice in their everyday lives. I especially enjoy Christ-centered counseling in the area of marriage and finances and the other thing I love is using liturgy and worship to help others really understand and appreciate the teaching of the Bible,” she said.
Although her schedule is super-busy, Kitchens still devotes time to support female ministers and new pastors. Offering advice that she employs, she recommended, “Always put your personal relationship with God first. His promise is true, if we seek first His kingdom and righteousness He will give us everything we need.”
To women pastors, Kitchens suggested, “Find a female pastor to serve as a mentor. I have matured greatly by mentoring others as well as being mentored. Women are indeed different than men, by God’s design. It is extremely beneficial to learn from someone who is or has been where you are going.”
Technological advancements are another area that Kitchens promotes. Like many ministries operating during the coronavirus, she recognizes the benefits of incorporating digital resources to promote the Word of God.
“With technology, we have increased the number of people we can reach with the Gospel, especially during this season of being ‘safer at home.’ Our attendance on-line has more than doubled that of when we gathered at the physical church and allows those who may work during hours of worship to still enjoy the worship,” she insisted.
“Also, robo-calls save me time and ensures that all members receive the same information important to the life of the church in a timely and efficient manner. And using Zoom for meetings has allowed us to continue to conduct the business of the church, even when we are not all in the same physical space,” said Kitchens.
And it may be a little while longer before churches can worship together, Kitchens encourages believers to follow the instruction of 2 Timothy 1:7 – “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.”
“With that scripture in mind, I tell others what I share with my congregation – practice physical (not social) distancing. Wear a mask and gloves. Wash your hands often. Stay home, eat healthy, stay hydrated, rest well and exercise often,” she stressed.
“But by all means pray, study and speak God’s word and don’t forsake the fellowship of the saints, even when we can only do it electronically!”