Redeeming the Later Years

February 25, 2016

jenanna

It’s hard to really understand what drove Jenanna to get up that Sunday morning.  It had been 39 years since she last darkened the door of a church building, save that one Easter her friend dragged her to church and a Princess Diana Memorial years earlier.  She had felt the tug for months.  It had been a long season of reflection on the life she had lived to this point.  She just hoped this one-time visit would get it out of her system.

At 55 years old, Jenanna had assumed the story of her life was mostly written.  Somewhere between her booming career and four failed marriages, it seemed the time to reinvent herself had long passed.  Her fierce independence masked the lonely heart still beating inside.

“I was a loner but desperate for purpose,” she remembers.  “I was assessing my life for any positive impact I’d had on others.  I realized there was nothing significant to find.  I just wanted to make a lasting difference for someone else.”

Feeling empty as she looked in life’s rear-view mirror, she finally reached a tipping point in November 2005.  Jenanna bravely walked into the 7,000 seat worship center at Prestonwood Baptist Church in the Dallas suburb of Plano.  She quietly made herself as comfortable as possible in the front, hoping to lose herself in the giant crowd.  But that was soon sabotaged by the woman who immediately sat down next to her.

Like a detective, she nagged her with one question after another until it was clear to the woman that Jenanna was single, alone, and way out of her element.  Then, before she could slip out the back after the service, the woman grabbed her by the arm and whisked her into a Bible Study.  It was a fateful decision that would change the course of Jenanna’s life.

The class was taught by a man named Don Dixon, a former IMB missionary who had worked in Brazil for over 14 years.  At the end of the day, it wasn’t the sermon or the worship experiences that excited Jenanna as she left.  It was Don’s invitation to join him on an e3 Medical expedition to the Amazon.

As a former EMT, Jenanna saw an opportunity to matter in another person’s life.  Since she could simply perform medical tasks, she didn’t need to know anything about the Bible.  She stayed connected to the church in the months that followed until she finally boarded the plane with 14 complete strangers, bound for another continent.

Jenanna recalls, “I was going to make a difference if it killed me – and it did.  That trip marked the end of my old life.”

But as she arrived on Brazilian soil, not even Don knew Jenanna’s secret, that she wasn’t even a Christian. She felt like an imposter, serving with a team carrying a message she didn’t truly believe or understand.  For once, she just wanted her life to count for something and she was willing to join with anybody to do it.

That week, Jenanna got her wish.  As it wore on, she served people who didn’t just lack healthcare, but running water and basic sanitation as well.  She met families living in huts on stilts without mosquito netting that would prevent Malaria.  Yet, in the midst of such poverty, she saw pure joy.

“When they saw us, they came running and smiling with joy as if we were something special.  It just broke me.”

Life change can take years to progress.  But the tipping point just takes a matter of moments.  Eventually, the feelings of worthlessness collide with the simple truth that God has never created a wasted life.  It took crossing a hemisphere to truly get it, but Jenanna’s heart was changed in that dense Amazon jungle

The Saturday evening after landing in Dallas, she sped back to the church as fast as possible.  She couldn’t control the tears streaming down her face as she reached complete brokenness.  After an entire week of serving alongside other believers, she finally heard the Gospel in her heart for the first time.  When Don and the team learned the news of Jenanna’s new faith in Christ, he smiled.  “You all thought you were saving someone off the boat,” he told them.  “You didn’t know you were really saving someone on the boat.”

Over the next few months, Jenanna poured into the Bible.  She read it late at night, listened to it on the way to work, and committed it to memory.  While doing this, she noticed a theme.

“Nowhere does God say to retire or stay where it’s comfortable.  But everywhere, it says ‘go!’”

Three years and numerous mission trips later, God opened a job for Jenanna to serve as the Human Resources Director for e3 Partners, empowering and recruiting new staff to spread the Gospel overseas.  She worked long hours, investing all of her time and energy into her work, knowing full well its eternal impact.  But while she relished this new sense of purpose, she still felt something was still missing.

“While I loved my job, I burned for missions deep in my heart,” she recalls.  “I would come back, finding it harder and harder to be here instead of there.”

In 2014, Jenanna heard the call and obeyed, choosing to leave the security of her salaried position to join the e3 Oral Strategies team with e3 Partners.  Today, she spreads the Gospel on multiple continents through oral storytelling among unreached people groups.  Through her ministry, cultures without access to written Scriptures are still able to translate and share biblical stories by memory.

Jenanna’s pastor likes to remind their church, “If you’re not saved by the time you’re 18, you’re a walking miracle because most Christians come to know Jesus as a child.”  At 55, her own life change is profoundly miraculous.  She went from feeling insignificant and resistant to Christ to globally embracing his mission.  Now, in the later years of life, Jenanna is deeply touching others struggling with the same sense of insignificance that once crushed her.

“You’re never too old, too damaged, or too far from God for Him to draw and redeem the years you thought were wasted,” she marvels.  “I am about missions because I know they work.  God used a mission trip to open my heart to the Gospel!”

 

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