OCEAN PARK, Wash. - Travis Ruhter is getting accustomed to new surroundings, decorating his desk and deciding what color to paint the walls. It's different from his prior job as a teacher at Ilwaco High School because it is so quiet.

"It's definitely a very different atmosphere, there's not the rigidity of 'you have to do this at this time,' it's much more flexible," he said of his new job as youth and family pastor at Peninsula Baptist Church, where he has attended the last five years. "It's an environment that is really desiring to see people grow, not just in a particular area, but as people. My pastor really wants to see me continue to grow as a person and in my relationship with God. It's much more of a well-balanced look at things."

The 30-year-old Ruhter was hired in May, replacing associate pastor David Cree, who moved to Canada.

Ruhter said he had always wanted to get into the ministry, that "it was just a matter of how and when."

This is his first job in the church. While attending Idaho State University, he was involved in the Baptist student union, where he was named state president for a year and did missionary work in the Middle East. After college, he joined the staff at IHS, working there six years. In that time he moved up from teaching Spanish and history, to also taking on such classes as government, leadership and contemporary world problems. He also became the social studies department chairman, drama club director and student body advisor.

"I always enjoyed working with young people; there is just so much they have to offer," he said. "I remember what it was like growing up and how difficult it was for me and how just a couple of key adults really helped me through that time, who didn't tell me who I had to be or what to do." Instead, he say, they just listened and gave advice.

In his new job, he's responsible for working with youth, in Wednesday night programs, as well as Sunday school. He'll be developing ways to help families to better understand their children.

"A lot of times people get this image of the parents and the children being adversarial," he said. "We want to work with them to make that situation better."

Ruhter will still see students at the high school, through programs like Friendly Faces, a group of pastors and youth group leaders who welcome and talk to kids at school every day.

"The high school is going through a lot of changes right now, and they need to struggle through those changes," he said. "I would hate to be a person who's on the outside looking in, telling them. I don't feel it's my place."

Ruhter said leaving the school for his new job was hard but worth it.

He does not have a degree in theology, but will be taking a correspondence-type course in order to get the equivalent. It's called the "Shepherding Program," put on by Conservative Baptist Northwest, where he will work with other pastors on the Internet and at conferences.

"It's basically bringing seminary to guys who want to get into ministry without having to move."

To help get the ball rolling, the church is sending Ruhter and his wife to a specialist in North Carolina who mentors pastors, identifying their goals. Ruhter said this will give him a "firm foundation."

In the end, he said that his job is what he wanted: more freedom in his work, plus he'd get to do everything that he loves to do, but on his terms.

"There's just a time where everything in your life kinda comes together to where it's supposed to be," he said.

Damian Mulinix is a Chinook Observer staff writer.

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