Looking back on the trajectory of Viki Rife’s life, one can see the pieces God was putting into place to ultimately lead her into the role of executive director for Charis Women. From her early language-learning years to the women who impacted her life, God was preparing her for her future ministry.
When Viki was just eighteen months old, her father enrolled in Grace Seminary and later became a planting pastor of Community Grace Brethren Church in Warsaw, Ind. She recalls watching him serve in that capacity and being fascinated by ministry and the church. “I’ve always been interested in the role of women in the church, ever since I was a little girl,” she said. “It started when, at four years old, I heard other kids say they wanted to be a doctor or teacher or athlete when they grew up. I loved going with my dad to visit church people and watching how he opened the Bible and shared comfort and truth, so I said I wanted to be a pastor. However, I was quickly and rather angrily told that women couldn’t be pastors. It left me with a haunting question: what can women do in the church?”
When Viki was four, their family moved to Costa Rica to study Spanish. It was there that she realized her need for saving grace. “We were talking about the crucifixion, and I asked my dad how the men could be so evil to kill Jesus. He explained to me that in our hearts we are all just as sinful as them, and I repented of my sin and asked Jesus into my heart.”
The following year Viki’s family moved to Argentina and her dad pastored a church until he was asked to open a Christian literature bookstore. He also started a version of the Brethren Missionary Herald in Spanish. Eventually her father began serving as the director of the Bible Institute for several years before they returned to the States.
Viki’s parents taught her to read English before she started school in Spanish as a first-grader in Argentina. The similarities and contrasts between the two languages fascinated Viki. An avid reader in either language, she soon found herself writing her own stories. By the time she was in sixth grade, her father would take her to his office and let her translate articles from the English version of the Herald for the Spanish version. She found that translation was also something she loved doing.
While back in the US on home ministries as a fifth grader, Viki had the opportunity to participate in a girls’ ministry called Serving My Master (SMM). The program focused on instructing young girls in the Bible through teaching, memorization, hands-on learning activities, and service projects. The women who led this ministry left such an impact on Viki that it would shape her career choices decades later.
Viki attended Grace College, where she earned a degree in English and Journalism. After graduating she held various teaching roles in both English and Spanish at Lakeland Christian Academy and Grace College. She then began working with SMM, the very ministry that helped shape her as a young girl. “It made such a difference for me at a crucial age where I needed extra attention from Godly women,” Viki recalled. “I knew I wanted to do that for others.”
At the time, SMM was under the umbrella of Momentum Ministry Partners (formerly CE National). She served as a district coordinator of SMM while moving into a communications role with Momentum, eventually also becoming the director of SMM. During this time, SMM transitioned to be a ministry under Charis Women (formerly Women of Grace) and Viki began serving on the board for Charis Women, another ministry that had impacted her family.
Charis Women was founded in 1939 as Women’s Missionary Council. For decades the focus was on supporting and encouraging missionaries in the field. Viki remembers not only receiving packages from the group while her family was serving abroad, but also attending a “barrel packing party” where women helped her mother use every bit of space in the barrel for things they would need on the field. The ladies also rolled bandages, wrote cards, and prayed for missionaries in the field.
While serving on the board, Viki caught the vision of the direction Charis Women needed to go as society changed. The focus of the ministry was transitioning from just supporting missions to training women to serve in whatever way God called them. “We knew if we wanted young girls to get what they needed, we were going to have to train women to disciple them,” she said. Viki’s passion for ministering to girls blended with her desire to train and equip women for ministry.
“During my time on the board, I had the privilege of working alongside and learning from Janet Minnix,” Viki said. “She did so much to help clarify what the Fellowship needed for women, and I couldn’t have done this job without her guidance.”
“Her passion to help women and girls know and walk in truth and to be equipped for service has been a guiding force in her vision for Charis Women, both English and Spanish speakers, and also for the many women she mentors and counsels on a one-to-one basis,” said Janet Minix, Charis Women president emeritus. “Many women in the Charis Fellowship are better prepared for ministry because of Viki’s leadership.”
Cassie Rayl, who started as an intern has worked closely with Viki for the last ten years, is one such person who has benefitted from Viki’s leadership. She said, “Working with Viki has been one of the greatest privileges of my career as a writer and editor. Viki thrives in seeking out the individual strengths of her team, and always sought to go above and beyond to help perfect those skills in her team.”
Viki has made a deep impact in the culture and ministry of Charis women as a board member and as executive director. During her time with the organization, she has helped bring to fruition training courses such as Ignite Leadership Classes, ministry groups such as Thrive Pastor’s Wives’ Network, and publication outlets such as the Charis Women magazine. Liz Cutler Gates, former executive director of the Brethren Missionary Herald Company, has served with Viki in ministry and prayer for the past fifteen years. She said, “At Charis Women she has been on the cutting edge of helping women in the Fellowship find their stride in ministry. The organization had already taken a monumental turn when she inherited the reins, but that didn’t stop her from exploring ways to help women learn to become better leaders in their own congregations and ministries.”
“Viki is a humble leader who has a deep and intimate relationship with the Lord. Prayer is an essential part of her life and ministry as she seeks the Lord’s wisdom and guidance for direction and decision-making,” Janet said. This thought was echoed by Liz, who added, “For as long as I’ve known her, prayer has been central in Viki’s life. It’s not unusual for her to stop in the middle of a conversation and say, ‘Let’s pray about this.’ Often, she’ll take a few hours, a day, or a weekend, to converse with our Lord and to wait on His answers.”
“Viki led with a humble understanding that Charis Women is the Lord’s,” Cassie added. “Such an attitude in any ministry’s executive director sets everyone up for success and joy because Christ is the foundation of our unity as a team. Viki has not only been a gift to learn from and grow with, but she put the time and effort into cultivating a deep relationship with me, and I regard her as one of my dearest friends.”
One of the things Viki is most pleased with from her time with Charis Women is beginning the discussion on what it could look like to offer credentialing to women with the Charis Fellowship. Viki sees this as a way of vetting women and ensuring they are qualified and prepared for teaching, training, and discipling other women. “I’ve been praying for 30 years for the Fellowship to have good discussions and clarify how women fit into the Fellowship,” Viki said. “I have wanted to have open dialogue and search the Scriptures to see the theological teaching on women’s roles. I’ve been praying we can work through this with open hearts and minds to let the Spirit lead the discussion.” As this ongoing discussion continues to develop and take shape across the Charis Fellowship, Viki is perhaps one of its biggest advocates.
Walking alongside Viki through her ministry journey has been her husband of almost 46 years, John. Although they met in the church nursery as babies and their paths crossed at different points in life, they didn’t truly connect on a personal level until college. Their three children live in California, Nevada, and Maine, and they have eight grandchildren.
Although Viki’s formal role with Charis Women concluded in July 2022, she has no plans to slow down in ministry. “I believe there will be plenty of opportunities to come alongside a new believer, a not-yet believer, or a seasoned believer to mentor and disciple,” she said.
“I’m looking forward to having time for writing the things I’ve always dreamed of writing,” she added. She also has a keen interest in Charis history and where it overlaps with her own genealogy, as her ancestors arrived in America with the first Brethren three centuries ago.
“My time serving with Charis Women has been a highlight of my life,” Viki observes. “It has been a privilege to meet wonderful people, and many relationships have deepened into rich friendships. My prayer as I retire is that God will continue to use the Biblical training and character of our women to influence others throughout the world for Him.”