Finding Joy in Financial Freedom: An Interview With Chelsea & Ryan Pribyl

Chelsea and Ryan Pribyl at the South Barrington campus of Willow Creek Community Church.
Ryan and Chelsea began dating after they met at Willow Creek.
The Pribyls planned the wedding and honeymoon of their dreams, but soon realized the mountain of debt that came from spending beyond their means.
After a serious commitment to getting their finances under control, the Pribyls attended Financial Peace University where they learned some sound financial practices to get their debt under control.
Chelsea still volunteers some of her time to serve at the Huntley campus for Willow Creek.
Ryan is a audio engineer who helps with some of the weekend programming pieces and regularly volunteers on the production team at Willow Huntley,

From the very beginning, Willow served as the backdrop for Chelsea and Ryan’s love story. As we sat near Dr. B’s, they told me about how they met: he was volunteering as a sound guy at South Barrington’s campus; she was on staff in production. “He was not on my radar!” Chelsea told me. But after some time had passed, a mutual friend told Chelsea that Ryan was serving over in the main auditorium one weekend, and for whatever reason, her interest was piqued. “His name meant something to me that day,” she told me.

After a year of dating, they were engaged—and quickly started planning the wedding of their dreams. But they didn’t consider cost. “We blew the bank,” Chelsea said. “I went into that planning process with a ‘We deserve it’ mindset.” Maxing out one credit card at a time, Chelsea and Ryan continued spending, thinking that they’d be fine in the end. After all was said and done, Ryan and Chelsea came home from their dream wedding and honeymoon feeling the weight of being buried in a massive mountain of debt.

It was after the honeymoon that Ryan really wanted to work down the debt. “I wanted to live off ramen and macaroni,” he said.

“He was really aware of our situation, but I was stubborn and wasn’t willing to do what it took to get from under our debt,” Chelsea chimed in.

Over a period of time, the Pribyls made some payments, but their financial stress ended up being the source of many fights and much tension. They became disconnected and distant from one another.

It was around that time that Willow Huntley announced that they were offering Financial Peace University, a financial stewardship program of Bible-based teachings from author Dave Ramsey.

“I didn’t want to spend the $99 to sign up!” Chelsea said. They’d tried to work a debt-reduction process on their own, but it didn’t work. Chelsea then stumbled across the book Managing God’s Money by Randy Alcorn, which radically changed her view of money, and served as a foundation for her motivation to finally step into FPU.

Financial Peace University ended up being just what Chelsea and Ryan needed. It offered them structure and accountability, and it helped them develop the language they needed to talk about their finances. Additionally, they completed the program in community with others, not on their own, which was crucial to tackling their debt. “For us, FPU was truly a recovery process—and so much of recovery is done in community.”

Their commitment to FPU paid off. In thirteen weeks, Chelsea and Ryan paid off six credit cards. They set an aggressive goal—to pay off their debt by the end of the calendar year—and they did so with two weeks to spare!

That next January, in preparation for Student Impact’s Blast camp, the production team went above and beyond in serving, choosing to sponsor students who couldn’t afford to attend. As soon as Ryan and Chelsea heard the specific need, they both knew they needed to be involved. Chelsea felt prompted to give a specific amount that was ten times larger than Ryan’s initial thought, but he met her right there. This was the Pribyl’s first opportunity to freely give above their tithe—and they ended up providing a scholarship for five students. “I was shaking writing the check; I was so excited!” Chelsea exclaimed. It was out of that opportunity to give that Chelsea discovered she had the spiritual gift of giving.

But their generosity that was birthed from their newfound financial freedom didn’t end there. “Since that Blast experience, Chelsea will usually hear a specific number from God that she feels we should give to certain causes,” Ryan said. But just last year, the Pribyls had an opportunity to pledge to Willow Huntley’s Home Fund building campaign. They prayed for clarity regarding how much to give, but didn’t feel like they’d discerned a clear answer from God. They met with Todd Katter, the campus pastor, and as Ryan was looking down at the pledge form, he felt like he received clear, visual direction from God. “I saw three specific numbers, one for every year of the giving campaign, and each number was bigger than the last,” he said.

He told Chelsea and they agreed to trust God. They made adjustments to their budget and lifestyle, but also left room for God to show up and work in “only God” ways. After looking back on their first year of giving to the building campaign, Ryan was reflective. “There’s such freedom in knowing God’s there and that you’re not in control. You don’t have to worry,” he said.

Chelsea and Ryan’s story isn’t just one of love and lavish living, it’s one of commitment and, now, joy. Commitment to each other and to finding freedom in trusting God’s provision, and experiencing the joy of giving generously on the other side.

At Willow, we seek to inspire financial freedom and faithfulness through classes and workshops that give you the tools to manage your money and resources well. We welcome you to explore offerings at all Willow campuses.

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