Pursuing Open Doors: David Benzel Reflects on Walking with God - Grace Theological Seminary Skip to content

June 17, 2024

Pursuing Open Doors: David Benzel Reflects on Walking with God

Written By Grace Theological Seminary

What leads a man from snowy Alaska to move to sunny California, then to small-town Indiana? And what is it that brings the same man to spend a large portion of his life in Far-East Russia and Ukraine?

The answer is simple: David Benzel spent time walking with God and ran to the place in most need to spread the love of Jesus. 

“Unless God closes a door, we should all be trying to serve in the places with the most need,” said Benzel.

This past year, Grace College named Benzel the 2024 Seminary Alumni of the Year. As a graduate from Grace Theological Seminary, he embodies what taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth is all about. 

Benzel’s journey to GTS is a story of its own. 

Benzel grew up in Southern California, more than 2,000 miles away from Grace Seminary. “The church I grew up in was very missions-minded,” reflected Benzel. 

During his formative years, he worshiped with a body of believers who were walking with God, praying consistently, and supporting those in mission work. Their passion encouraged his spiritual growth, planting seeds in his heart to care for others.

Benzel eventually followed in his parents’ footsteps and earned his pre-theological degree from Los Angeles Baptist College (now The Master’s University) in 1984.

Following commencement, God continued to grow his heart for missions when a missionary family in his church invited him to live with them in West Africa. Benzel knew this was an extraordinary opportunity, so he walked through the open door. 

While overseas, Benzel met two families. Both couples had just finished their seminary degrees and had four kids. According to Benzel, the defining difference was that one of the fathers went to GTS, while the other did not. Benzel was drawn to the way the family from Grace approached the Bible, and it inspired him to consider attending GTS himself.

“Seeing the way they took Scripture seriously and lived a godly life was important in my college decision,” said Benzel.

Benzel was also allured by the prospect of a rural experience. Upon his return to the U.S., he rode a bus across the country to arrive at Winona Lake, Indiana, during a frigid January.

While the weather was an adjustment, it didn’t take long for Benzel to fall in love with his classes and professors. As he earned his M.Div., he was especially intrigued by their enriching lectures that were founded on Scripture and initiated spiritual growth.

“There is not a class I didn’t enjoy while at Grace Theological Seminary,” said Benzel.

In Dr. Larry Crabb’s class, Benzel had a life-changing revelation.

“He talked about change from the inside,” said Benzel. “I hadn’t heard that aspect of applying truth to our lives.”

Benzel realized he could plant the truth of what God said into his life and reap a bountiful harvest from the inside out. Benzel took this and applied it to his own life.

He was also mentored under prominent figures at Grace, such as Dr. John Whitcomb and Dr. Charles Smith.

A seminary degree was not the only gift Benzel’s time at Grace gave him. Benzel also met his sweetheart, Sharon Llewellen, who was a Grace College graduate. The two met at Pleasant View Bible Church in Warsaw, Indiana, and were married in 1987. 

The Lord had greater things in store for them and the Church than they could have ever imagined.

One day, a Grace alumnus and missionary in Ukraine came to Pleasant View to share his testimony about walking with God. The Benzels were amazed at how the Lord provided for him. 

Rooted in their love for mission work, the couple decided to join SEND International, a global-missions organization. Through the program, they moved to Ukraine and participated in a one-year Russian language learning program. 

Shortly after this, the USSR broke up into several independent countries. These countries gained their freedom when the Soviet Union was dissolved in December of 1991.

As the year was drawing to a close, the Benzels trusted God to either open or shut the door. If someone asked them back to Russia, they would return; if not, they would seek another opportunity. Their prayers were answered when a friend asked them to return to Far-East Russia. The Benzels and another couple from Grace headed to the city of Khabarovsk, where they served at a Bible college.

For the next 14 years, the Benzels put their Grace training into practice and taught at the Far East Russia Bible College while spreading the Gospel and walking with God. These years were full of adventure, spiritual growth, and God’s goodness.

“It was a joy to teach believers who were hungry for God’s Word and had not had access to many teachings for several generations,” Benzel said.

The couple was eventually forced to migrate due to a law that restricted foreigners. 

The Benzels kept their heads up, and looked for another place with great need. This search led them to the capital city of Ukraine, Kyiv. Benzel taught many Bible classes at Kyiv Theological Seminary, such as Old and New Testament Survey, How to Study the Bible, Hermeneutics, and Music and Worship. The students in these classes were spiritually hungry and committed to sharing the Gospel with the world.

The Benzels also helped facilitate a sending organization called Missions Alliance, an organization consisting of five Ukrainian denominations that aims to spread the Gospel in unreached places.

Early winter of 2022, the couple decided to take a vacation to the U.S. What appeared to be an inconsequential decision turned out to be the Lord’s protection. While the Benzels were in the States, Russia invaded Ukraine. Because of the invasion, travel in and out of the country became a challenge. The war accelerated their intended retirement date at the school year’s end, and the couple settled down in the U.S.

Now that Benzel is retired in America, he has time to immerse himself in the Word of God as much as possible. He sees reading the Bible as a gift and not an obligation, practicing the habit he learned at Grace of applying truth to his life.

“I want to be saturated with the Word all of the time, so I try to read the Bible every 40 days,” said Benzel. 

Benzel continues walking with God, teaching Sunday school at Pleasant View – the same church where he and Sharon Llewellen met. He has also served as a professor for Exploring the Bible, a core class at Grace College.

We don’t know if they are really ‘open doors’ until we try to go through them,” says Benzel as he reflects on his story. 

But of this he is sure. “If God closes a door, it is only to direct us to the door He wants us to go through.”

Interested in walking with God through the doors he opens for you? Apply to Grace Theological Seminary here!