By Laura McKillip Wood
Jody Hesler joined a search committee at her church in the early ’90s, helping the leadership find a Christian family to live in Ukraine and facilitate a partnership with a church there. Instead she began to hear God whispering that he wanted her to go.
“I absolutely did not trust that I was hearing from the Lord. . . . I think I asked God daily if this was me looking for an ‘adventure’ or him calling me.” She had no Bible college training and wondered if a single woman would be effective in intercultural work.
Eventually it became clear to Jody that God did indeed want her in Ukraine. She moved to Mikolaev, Ukraine, for “just a year” to see how it panned out. Eleven years later, she and her Ukrainian coworkers had a thriving ministry to children who were living on the street or in neglectful conditions in Crimea. Strong female role models in the Ukrainian matriarchal society embraced her, a single woman, as one of their own, bringing her into their lives and ministries.
After a little more than a decade, she became convinced that she should allow Ukrainian nationals to take over the ministry. At that time, Jody visited a Central Asian nation to pray for workers for that country. God’s plan once again emerged when she found herself drawn to moving there, where Christianity and missionaries were prohibited. She lived and worked in Central Asia for 10 years. “I was a community development specialist, working to help communities identify their needs, marshal their resources, and make plans for building or rebuilding their villages.” Of course, while doing that she also provided a Christian witness to the Muslims with whom she worked.
Serving on the mission field for more than two decades, Jody began to see how the psychological health of her fellow missionaries impacted their ministries. She also noticed that she often served as an informal counselor for other missionaries.
“Quite frankly, I’ve been there—weary and wounded—with few who understand the rather unique stressors missionaries are under.” When the last team she worked with “spectacularly imploded in a record short time,” she found herself in counseling to deal with the impact of it. She began to consider going back to college to pursue an M.A. in Clinical Psychology. “I have a heart for missionaries—missionaries who are pouring it out and not getting poured back into, missionaries who are tired, burned out, depressed, struggling in their personal relationships, struggling to hear from God. It is a privilege to walk with them into healing.”
Such a compassionate heart serves God well on the field.
Spiritual & Emotional Support
Many intercultural workers struggle with psychological and interpersonal issues, unable to reach out and find healing so far from home. According to the Narramore Christian Foundation, every year more than 5,000 U.S. missionaries leave their fields of service for preventable reasons involving depression, marriage and family difficulties, unresolved interpersonal conflicts with team members and nationals, and inadequate spiritual and emotional support. Jody desires to provide necessary support to those struggling on the field.
Jody has now finished a degree at Wheaton College and interns at Alongside, Inc. in Kalamazoo, Michigan. This organization ministers to pastors and missionaries. When her internship ends in 2016, she will split her time between the Middle East and Michigan. She still has a heart for Muslims as well as missionaries, so she hopes to spend June through October in Michigan counseling missionaries and ministers and the rest of the year in the Middle East. There she will work as a regional member care coordinator, providing counseling for missionaries in that region. She’ll also be a part of ministering to the local community.
Jody stepped out in faith 20 some years ago, following God to a place where she knew no one. Apparently God did not believe that Jody’s lack of Bible college training or status as a single woman were impediments to the gospel. He has used her administrative abilities and compassionate heart in fantastic ways to advance his kingdom!
If you’d like to receive Jody’s e-newsletter or find out more information about her ministry, drop her a line (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works in the academic office of Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, Nebraska. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).