Meet Our Staff


Mark Johnston

Lead Pastor

As the founder and lead pastor of The Journey, Pastor Mark preaches about Jesus and life in a real way—with honesty, humility, and humor. Pastor Mark lives in Newark with his wife, Susan, their two kids, Madeline and Conner, and their dog Peggy. In his spare time, he enjoys watching movies in which things explode, exploring new places, and reading books about how to be better at everything.

Favorite food: Zuppa Tuscana soup made by my wife (Eat your heart out Olive Garden!)

Favorite book: Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald

Life motto/quote: I am nothing… Jesus is everything… I can do anything through Jesus

Favorite sport: Walking fast

Favorite movie and/or TV show: The Truman Show

Fun fact: I was born in Canada




Mel Johnson

Executive Assistant to Pastor Mark

As Executive Assistant to the Lead Pastor, Mel Johnson “takes the noise away” for Pastor Mark — managing his calendar, getting him ready for meetings, organizing his travel, and approximately one million other little things. (Okay, not quite, but close!) She also works on The Journey’s Creative Team, helping to create innovative worship and gathering experiences so more people come to find Jesus and follow Him fully! Married to her high school sweetheart, Josh, she lives in Elkton, Md., where she runs her own “circus”—raising her four kids Matthew, Sami, Rachi and Becca. Mel loves Michigan football, music and drawing on any surface that will take ink or lead.

Favorite Food: Sushi (Philly Roll)

Favorite Book: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Life Motto/quote: “All our dreams can come true – if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

Favorite sport:
Football - University of Michigan

Favorite Movie: Pride & Prejudice (the A&E Version)

Fun Fact: I was classically trained in violin for eight years... but my favorite type of music is slightly harder than that.



Rob Bender

Executive Director

Rob leads as Executive Director at The Journey, bringing a wealth of strategic planning, finance, and operational experience to the team. Prior to his role at The Journey, he served as Business Manager at Savannah Christian Church in Savannah, GA, and as Executive Pastor at Harvester Church in St. Louis, MO. He is married to his wife Kathy and has three sons - Lucas, Aiden, and Austin.

Favorite Food: Blue Claw Crabs w/ Old Bay

Favorite Book: Good to Great by Jim Collins

Favorite sport: Soccer

Favorite TV Series: Suits

Fun Fact: Played soccer in Germany and Ireland.



Dave Jackson

Gathering Director

As Gathering Director, Dave oversees everything that happens here on the weekend. A DC native who recently made the move to Newark from Orlando, FL, Dave has 13+ years of high-level ministry leadership experience, previously serving as the Connections Pastor at Access Church in Lakeland, FL, and as Executive Pastor/COO at One Church in Orlando, FL. He has been married to his wife Cari for six years, and they're excited for their new adventure here at The Journey.

Favorite Food: Honey mustard with a side of chicken

Favorite Book: A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards

Favorite quote: “A negative mind will never give you a positive life.”

Favorite sport: Football – HTTR!

Favorite Movie: Gladiator  


Connect & Serve


Abby Ecker

Serving Director

As the Serving Director, Abby helps Journeyers grow spiritually through using their gifts to serve on the J-Team. Passionate about learning and leading, Abby loves motivating and encouraging her leaders to discover and chase after God’s calling for their lives. She first came to Newark as a University of Delaware freshman in 2008 and quickly fell in love with the First State. A few years later, she proudly calls Newark home (even though she actually lives across the state line in Maryland -- but shhh, don't tell anyone!) She loves hanging out with her husband Andy and their crazy dog Dempsey as well as running, cooking, writing, and drinking copious amounts of iced coffee.

Favorite Food: Does peanut butter count as a food? I’m going with peanut butter.

Favorite Book: Crazy Love by Francis Chan & Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Life Motto/quote: “Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.”

Favorite sport: Running

Favorite Movie: The Parent Trap

Favorite TV shows: Gilmore Girls, The Office, Parenthood

Fun fact: My life dream is for my handwriting to become a font. (If you’ve seen my printing, you’d understand.)



Melissa Maestri

Code Red Director

As the Code Red Director, Melissa oversees our outreach ministries and helps Journeyers get connected by serving those in need. She is passionate about mobilizing Journeyers to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community, Melissa is a native of Syracuse, New York, and came to Delaware to pursue a Ph.D. in History at the University of Delaware. Now that she is here, she never wants to leave. In her spare time, Melissa enjoys running and training for half marathons, listening to and watching Broadway Musicals, and reading articles/books on topics she knows nothing about.

Favorite Food: Fruit, sushi

Favorite Book: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, anything by Christine Caine

Favorite quote: “Real love begins where nothing is expected in return.” -Antoine De Sainte-Exupery

Favorite sport: To participate in: running and soccer. To watch: baseball (Go Yankees!), hockey, and football.

Favorite Movie: I don’t watch much TV or movies. But I love musicals! Les Miserables? Miss Saigon?

Fun fact: I am very accident prone, but I often turn these disasters into comical situations.



Andrea Beemler

Journey Kidz Director

As Journey Kidz Director, Andrea oversees our kidz environments to help them know God, love God, and live like he says! Married to her favorite singing partner Greg, she serves as "bio mom" to Antonella and Ryan and "bonus mom" to Dan, Geoff, and Jon. In her spare time, she enjoys singing, cooking, eating, reading, leading her Journey Group, and spending time with friends and family.

Favorite Food: Italian or Filet (But really, I'm a mom, so anything warm!)

Favorite Book: The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst

Favorite quote: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” - Victor Hugo

Favorite sport: Yoga? Cheeleading? I'm not athletic, so this is the best I've got.

Favorite Movie: Serendipity, Pay It Forward, and Pursuit of Happiness

Favorite TV Show: Reruns of Seinfeld and Fridays

Fun fact: I sing in an acoustic band, Now + Then Acoustic


Brad Dreibelbis

Journey Students Director

As Journey Students Director, Brad is dedicated to helping students in grades 6-12 reach their God-potential. In addition to his role at The Journey, Brad has worked as an intramural supervisor, high school basketball official, carpenter, salesman, and he even ran his own lawn care business in high school. While Brad graduated from University of Delaware this past winter, he is still a college student at heart -- Chipotle and Netflix are two of his true loves.

Favorite Food: Cheeseburger & fries (with a peanut butter milkshake on the side)

Favorite Book: When I actually do read -- A Praying Life by Paul Miller

Favorite sport: To play: basketball. To watch: football.

Favorite Movie: Saving Private Ryan

Fun fact: I grew up in a town of less than 100 people and a county of only 4 red lights.



Susan Johnston

Office Manager

As the Office Manager, Susan keeps the place running. From overseeing all of the behind-the-scenes administrative functions of The Journey to keeping the electric on, Susan does a little bit of everything.(Oh, and she’s Pastor Mark’s wife, and she’s pretty great at that, too.) When she’s not at work, she spends her time chasing after their son Conner, keeping up (and doing lots of shopping at Ulta) with her teenage daughter Madeline, and catching up with her husband. Susan loves channeling her inner Martha Stewart to entertain guests on the patio and make her most recent Pinterest creation come to life.

Favorite Food: Filet Oscar – filet with crabmeat

Favorite Book: Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

Favorite Quote: The days are long but the years are short.

Favorite Sport: Football – It’s a great sport to throw a party around

Favorite TV Show: The Middle, The Goldbergs and Pioneer Woman

Fun Fact: I was the Valedictorian…of a class of four.




Dana Bird

Executive Assistant to Susan

As Executive Assistant to the Office Manager, Dana works with Susan to keep everything in the office afloat. In addition to her role at The Journey, Dana is in the MBA program at Wilmington University...and just in case you thought that was enough, she is also the mommy of four boys all under 9 years old. In her "free" time, she loves taking photos, traveling with her family, and exploring new places.

Favorite Food: Filet mignon

Favorite Book: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Favorite quote: “If evolution really exists, why do mothers only have two hands?” - Milton Berle

Favorite sport: Football! Go Eagles!

Favorite Movie: French Kiss

Fun fact: I was a member of the Diamond State Roller Girls