Pastor and congregation developing new picture for its community

Ben Greene

Pastor & writer

  • Church planting & multiplication


The picture of a church in desperation “hit me right in the heart,” Roxanne Ascheman said. 

She was studying toward a Bible college degree in October 2022 when her pastor, Erik Dykstra, held up the image. This church in What Cheer, Iowa, needs a pastor, he told the students. He said he thought the pastor was someone in that very room.  

‘Not me,’ Ascheman thought. Despite her heart for the church’s hardship, she kicked the idea aside — she was busy with school. Plus, a physically abusive relationship had so severely injured her that she qualified for long-term disability. 


During the same time, the 600 people in the former coal mining town had only one church. When the church’s pastor died, the family of believers needed help maintaining a gospel presence. 


At one point, the pastor’s daughter reached out to Free Grace United, a Converge church in Minnesota. She told Dykstra there was a church and a building if God called a pastor.  


So Dykstra shared the picture one fall day in 2022, a sight that grabbed Ascheman’s attention. 


Two months later, her disability benefits had just ended, forcing her into a struggle to make ends meet and keep her life stable. That photo and the story of What Cheer believers had continued to soften and stir her heart. 


She didn’t know what to do but met with a mentor on January 9, 2023. The next day, her phone rang. An FGU leader said God chose Ascheman to be the pastor for What Cheer.  


“We have a really big family that God gave us and a place to call home,” she said. 


‘You can feel the heaviness’


The town’s income and stability have withered as the coal industry weakened. The median income is less than $50,000. Ascheman said the rural community also has a lot of church hurt. 


“The first time I ever pulled in [to this town], I could feel the oppression,” Ascheman said. “I could feel the heaviness; I could feel the brokenness.” 


A rich sense of community, especially from the town’s deeply rooted mom-and-pop restaurants, has bolstered the community during its challenges. Ascheman said she’s a foodie who gets to eat at a new spot whenever she wants. 


The joy of the Lord has become her strength in her own life, a testimony she has for this town at this time. 


“God has gifted me with a lot of joy even in the trials and tribulations,” she said. 


As she’s built relationships while eating and exploring, she’s come to understand the town’s present and past. She said the community may feel done, but Ascheman said the Lord has also given her a message for them. 


“I feel like God has called me to this town to help bring back that joy,” she said. “No matter what happens, God has good plans.” 


fguwc-baptism-400x400God is leading and multiplying disciple-makers


Christ has already done great things since the church launched in September 2023. Eighty-six people attended the grand opening, and 15 were baptized that day. Seven more people have been baptized since then. 


“I just keep letting God lead me every step of the way,” the Minnesota native said. 


The church worships every Sunday and offers a recovery ministry for people struggling with different addictions.  


Ascheman also teaches a Bible study every week. Lastly, she meets one-on-one with key leaders so they can grow as disciples who make other disciples. 


“I’m trying to raise up more people, so it’s not just me being the one who outpours everything,” she said. 


The oppression is fading as people grasp God’s free grace


She said that the people connecting with the church are learning the difference between truth and lies, overcoming obstacles and finding healing. 


That’s a powerful work of God, she explained. Many from What Cheer and other nearby towns have attended church, yet felt judged or like they didn’t fit in.  


Most importantly, she said people didn’t really gain an understanding of who Jesus is and how he starts a personal relationship with those who trust him as Lord. 


Her authenticity in sharing her story—“I used to be a jacked-up mess” — hits other people in their hearts. Her candor surprises people, but they’re also refreshed as a pastor talks about real-life struggles. 


Plus, Free Grace United is a church meant to give people hope through accepting people as they are while Jesus changes them into his image. 


“Grace is given to us free by God, and to know that and understand that is hard until you walk in the door,” she said. 



A sign for change


She hopes the church’s sign, which reads Free Grace United, sparks interest among the town’s people. She wants them to know that church is not something to fear or a group from which to expect bad things.  


Instead, God is ready to bring a new season of life to the central Iowa town. Their hearts can have hope again because God has good plans. 


“It’s time for a harvest,” she said. 


Converge's 10 districts have committed to deploying 312 church planters before 2026. Read more inspiring church planting stories and learn about the goal to send out 312 church planters in five years.  

Ben Greene, Pastor & writer

Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.

Additional articles by Ben Greene