By Laura McKillip Wood
As a young girl in Illinois, Janeece England dreamed of marrying a preacher and moving to Africa to work as a missionary. When she went to college at Kentucky Christian University and married a fellow student, Steve, who was a pastor, her dreams of missionary work faded into the background of ministry and family life.
After many years in local ministry in the United States, Janeece and Steve agreed to fill in for some missionary friends in Africa while the friends went on a five-month furlough in 2002. Janeece’s dream of working in Africa finally came true at the age of 51! Shortly before they returned to the States from that assignment, another missionary contacted them, asking if they would come and fill their shoes when they left for the States on furlough. With that second call, Missionary Relief Services (MRS) was born.
Continuing the Work
“MRS is a mission to the missionary,” Janeece stated. “MRS’s main goal is to relieve the missionary not only of the physical duties on the field, but to perform those duties so thoroughly as to relieve him from worrying about the mission or the security of his house, car, or possessions during his absence.”
Janeece hopes her ministry will relieve some of the worry missionaries experience leaving their work to go on furlough. Perhaps they will be able to concentrate on their tasks at hand rather than to continually be back on the field in their mind. Since it began, Janeece has served in many different locations in various capacities, including interim instructor at a Bible institute, teacher, special speaker, counselor, and financial office personnel, among many other roles.
Janeece and Steve had been married 39 years when Steve passed away. At that point they had three assignments booked for the future. Janeece prayed that God would direct her to make it clear whether she should continue the work. Within a short period she received emails from all three missionaries, asking her to consider coming on her own. She saw this as God leading her to continue the work she and Steve had begun, and she agreed.
Not long after Steve’s passing, Janeece visited a location where she and her husband had previously been. After an evening with some students Janeece and Steve had worked with together, a group of those boys walked her back to the compound where she was staying. One young man reached out and held her hand on the way. She felt uncomfortable at first, but then another one of the boys told her, “Uncle Steve always held your hand. We don’t know why Uncle Steve held your hand, but now we will hold your hand.” They proceeded to take turns holding her hand all the way back to the girls’ compound, caring for her in the absence of her husband.
June 2017 will mark the seventh year of continuing the ministry without Steve. Janeece plans to continue MRS until God makes it clear that he wants her to stop.
Where in the World Am I?
One of the biggest challenges Janeece faces is typical for missionaries. She sometimes has the feeling that she doesn’t belong overseas or in the States. “Thankfully in all the beds, in all the countries of all the people in which I have slept, I have never awakened overseas wondering where I am. However I come home, fall asleep in my own chair, and wake up wondering where in the world am I?” she jokes. “I take consolation in the fact my citizenship is neither here nor there but in Heaven.”
To Janeece, the most rewarding part of her ministry is the people with whom she works. Many times she works with people who speak different languages and have different cultures, but their hearts understand one another.
After a lifetime of ministry, Janeece offers a few suggestions to those who feel God leading them to cross-cultural work. First, she suggests that they remember they are there to evangelize, not Americanize. Second, she suggests that they keep in mind their ways of doing things, either inside the American church or out, are not always the best ways overseas. Last, she suggests that they see and listen with their hearts. “I often feel [those I minister to] teach me more than I teach them.”
Janeece welcomes anyone to contact her who wants to know more about her work or any cross-cultural workers interested in her assistance while they’re on furlough (firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 52, Staunton, Indiana 47881).
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works in the academic office of Nebraska Christian College. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).