Previously published in Envoy Magazine, 2008
Diplomatic Corps Erin Broestl
Sometimes God puts you in a storm, so that you can be a storm. This analogy perfectly describes the dynamic and engaging Stephanie Wood. Her radio show, NextWave Live will celebrate its fifth anniversary on New Year’s Day, 2009. And it is safe to say that both she and the show have weathered some enormous challenges.
Hurricane Charley unleashed itself on Charlotte County, Florida in August of 2004. Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda suffered more than 8 billion dollars in damages, which included the offices and radio studio of the NextWave Faithful ministry. Stephanie Wood’s condo, car, and her parents’ home were all harmed in the wind and waves, and the aftermath of the storm brought unforeseen difficulties. Stephanie described it as, “when life goes haywire,” for an article she wrote on her website. The hurricane damage was so extensive that relocation of the ministry was inevitable. As more storms continued to hit the Gulf Coast, NextWave Faithful moved to Greenville, South Carolina.
Thankfully, Stephanie Wood is now calming the turbulence of youth instead of battling storm surges. But she is no stranger to other tempests, having grown up in the pro-life movement. Her parents have been active Christians and life advocates for as long as she can remember. The oldest of eight, Stephanie has five sisters and two brothers, all of whom are involved in ministry or outreach of some sort. One sister works in admissions at Ave Maria University, and her brother-in-law is the Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students.
Stephanie’s family bonds run deep, and she describes herself as the typical PK, or Pastor’s Kid. Many of her cousins and friends were baptized by her dad, Steve Wood, then a Presbyterian senior pastor. Her mom played the piano in church, and provided lots of Christian influences which gave Stephanie “a safe and beautiful environment to grow up in.” Having a mom who believes that homeschooling offers truth, beauty, and quality time with family made Stephanie appreciate her education at home. Her mom is still homeschooling her youngest three siblings, currently in the high school levels.
Many pastors have a hard time making good memories with their family, because their life is their church, and they are always “at work.” Stephanie is grateful for the family time she experienced, different from other pastors’ kids. “My dad was very good at creating a home life separate from church life. We did get to spend time alone as a family, and eat dinner together without having people over every single night.” Her family was atypical in other ways, too, as her earliest memory of the pro-life movement is standing outside an abortion clinic when she was six or seven years old. She held up signs, and began learning what it means, in her words, to “persevere in the service of Life.”
“Pro-Life gave me a battle to fight, a place to learn courage, and this is where my heart is most deeply ingrained. This is the most influential thing in my life, and my Christian path leading to my current ministry was, and is, defined by the pro-life movement. In our modern world, few things are as clear as the good versus evil fight to end abortion, and there are few places where spiritual warfare is so abundant and necessary.” Stephanie encourages all Catholics, especially the young to remember that even in an election year, the fight wages on. “Do not put down your weapons, and do not be discouraged. God is faithful in this fight. He is always there.” She enumerates the tools we have at hand, the most important being the Bible, prayer, the Sacraments, and using your voice to be a positive force for life.
And Stephanie Wood’s voice has the potential to reach millions. Her radio show, NextWave Live, is unique in that it was the first worldwide Catholic talk show specifically geared toward youth. There was no previous model for this kind of show, and at first, kids were afraid to call in. But Stephanie’s sunny reassurance gave them a chance to speak their minds, and soon kids and adults were participating in the pioneering spirit. Stephanie moderates the show with a guest speaker, and says, “The most important thing is that we stay faithful. Young people call in from New York, South Africa, Washington State, and get a chance to encourage each other in the faith. This is so exciting for them, and for me.” People that listen to the show get a healthy dose of Scripture, direction, and ways to get involved with their faith and engage others with questions that delineate the borders of the culture war. “Where do we draw the line?” is a popular theme of many of the questions Stephanie is asked. She answers the callers with both poise and fervor, and her enthusiasm for the faith is undeniable. “This is radio for the next generation,” proclaims the tagline of the show, introduced with upbeat Christian music.
So, how did she get there from here? Her journey to the NextWave Faithful ministry began when her parents brought the entire family into the Catholic Church. Stephanie was ten years old at the time, and she trusted her parents to lead her family in the way of truth. She describes the situation as her parents “getting flack from lots of people,” since her father was well-respected in the Presbyterian church. His conversion was a big shock to many. He gave up everything important in his career, including health insurance to become Catholic and to seek God’s will at that point in his life. Many of Stephanie’s teenage friends thought badly of converting, and questioned whether she was even still Christian. This is when she began learning about the fullness of the truth, and experienced her own personal conversion to Catholicism at the tender age of thirteen. She cites Proverbs 3:5-6 with speaking to her heart at this difficult time.
Stephanie and her family faced the challenges of conversion, homeschooling, and the criticism that followed, but they never wavered in their commitment to their new faith. Stephanie makes it clear that loving Jesus is not easy at first, but says, “Any sacrifice that you make, Jesus will reward abundantly, beyond our wildest dreams.” And often those dreams unfold before us in ways that we couldn’t even imagine, just as Stephanie found out when she turned seventeen.
At that time her father, Steve Wood was hired by EWTN to do the radio show, Faith & Family. He needed a radio producer, so he hired Stephanie to work in media with him, and she became interested in radio as a career. After she graduated from Ave Maria College with a degree in Theology, she had a job offer elsewhere, but her father and the Family Life Center board gave her a chance to start the youth division from the ground up. In order to take this job, she had to let go of her other plans, move back to her hometown, and deal with the fact that dating potential among Florida’s older folks was next to zero. Her hometown is a retirement community with more octogenarians than people her own age, especially young men.
This seemed like a setback at the time, but now Stephanie realizes that God was handing her all of her dreams, in youth ministry and in radio. She only needed to let Him do it. Her father, Steve then sent her the most important email of her life, which read, “You can’t out-give God. You’ll see. Love, Dad.” So she moved back to Port Charlotte, Florida to work for the Family Life Center, and continued to work on the Faith & Family show. They just celebrated their 10th anniversary of this show in September of 2008, and she appreciates the chance to co-host with Dad. While she was working on Faith & Family, EWTN gave her the chance to pitch a new idea in June of 2003. NextWave Live was born, and has helped EWTN grow from a few affiliate stations to over 120 at last count. Stephanie mentions that it is very odd to think of her voice being broadcast on airplanes, satellite radio, and anywhere that the digital age continues to spread. She hopes NextWave will help jump-start future programming, because there are so many ways for young Catholics to get involved, both in media and encouraging one another in the faith. One way is to include more youth in the ministry of NextWave, who will then train others.
Stephanie’s time preparing for the show includes researching guests, books, and current events. Here, she describes a typical week:
“I do all of my own production and programming, which is a lot of extra work but also keeps me very much ingrained in all aspects of the show. I also pull a lot of material from working with young people at the local level – the struggles they face, the questions they have – I pull a lot from their needs and translate it into shows and topics that can reach out to others like them. Prep time in the studio is mostly spent preparing the music and production spots for the show. I write an outline of how I expect the flow of the show to go, and email it to all the young adults who will be in the studio with me that night, so they can be prepared to discuss the topic. I usually have at least half a dozen or more young people watch and/or participate in the show each week.”
NextWave Live draws young Catholic listeners by promoting a focus on God while stimulating the ears with the sounds of modern music. “I love all kinds of music, and want to reach many people, so we regularly introduce Catholic bands on the show.” Some of the most recent bands and musicians include, “Third Day,” “Janelle,” and “Matt Maher.” Maher has set a high standard in lyrics and production, and shaped many other Catholic bands, according to Stephanie. An amazing selection can be found on nextwavefaithful.com, under the heading “Positive Music List.” The music is organized into sections that read, “if you like this band, try this.” You can find almost any current band of the last ten years. Stephanie’s influences also include a list of “great authors” like C.S. Lewis, and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, her favorite saint. Another is her friend, Joseph Pearce, a famous biographer of Tolkien, Shakespeare and many others. Mr. Pearce also resides in Greenville, South Carolina. Each of these authors represent appealing literature that help Catholic youth wrestling with the questions of today on NextWave Live.
Stephanie has made appearances on EWTN television, and participates in speaking engagements. Her primary focus, however, is radio. In the future, she feels that God may call her to finish her Master’s degree in Theology. She is content to wait on His perfect timing, and also feels called to the vocation of marriage. This brings up the important point of how vocations mesh; every college woman struggles with this, and Stephanie has some advice for the road ahead:
“Don’t give up your vocation for a career. Wait on God’s timing and be faithful. Build your work around your vocation, first, so that if opportunity knocks, you won’t pass it by.”
Stephanie doesn’t see herself as a career woman. She acknowledges that God has given her an opportunity to be single and serve others, and His plans could change at any time. In fact, as this issue was going to press, His plans did change. Stephanie is happy to announce that she has just become engaged! Everyone at Envoy wishes her and her fiancé many blessings in their marriage.
Her goals for the next few years also include teaching young students in high school and college about the sacrament of Confirmation. “Young people are so under attack by Satan, and often college students don’t even know how to explain Confirmation, even though many of them have been confirmed. I would like to pull together resources and a curriculum for confirmation-age teens.” She considers this a major battlefront in understanding the Catholic faith, and what sets it apart from today’s secular society.
Certainly, her radio show carries this battle to youth and adults, and challenges them to research their faith, ask questions, and be involved in the world but not of the world. Stephanie Wood helps listeners weather the storms that come, and one hopes that her radio legacy will continue to inspire the next generation.
NextWave Live can be heard on EWTN, Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST, and Saturdays at 10 p.m. for an encore presentation. For more information about her ministry, check out www.nextwavefaithful.com and www.familylifecenter.net. To contact Stephanie’s speaker coordinator, call Mrs. Lucy Allen at 1-800-705-6131.