August 31, 2015
It only takes a few seconds for the trajectory of your life to change. It can happen unexpectedly and dramatically. An ill-advised left turn in the car. A phone call. Or, for Jenna Worrell, a jog through the park with her friend.
The high school junior was enjoying a morning run in 2012 when it happened. Out of nowhere and without warning, Jenna collapsed to the ground and began seizing. After paramedics rushed her to the emergency room, tests revealed that her seizure had been caused by a tumor growing just below her brain. It was the first time doctors had ever seen such a tumor in an adolescent, or in that part of the body. To make matters worse, it couldn’t be removed.
“I was really at an interesting place in my life. After you have a seizure, it’s really hard to trust your body because you have no control,” Jenna explains. “But I can tell that was God’s will for my life.”
Despite the horrible news from her doctor, Jenna was more concerned about something else. In two days, she was scheduled to leave for Colombia on her second mission trip. Her support was raised and she was ready to go. But with a surgery coming up to alleviate the impact of the tumor, her plans were now out of the question.
After some negotiations, her parents finally decided to let her go somewhere else after her recovery – Africa. The continent had always been her passion since becoming a Christian at 13 years old. Within a short time, Jenna found herself on the ground in Malawi. She led worship, shared the Gospel, and left her mark in the country.
“God used the warm heart of Africa to warm my heart back up.”
But it wasn’t just the Malawi people or the beautiful landscape that brought her back to life. She describes Mike Talley, the trip leader, as something of a father figure. She refers to her travel group as family. And while the tumor remains inside, it hasn’t stopped her from averaging three mission trips a year, even visiting Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique two summers ago summer.
This past summer, Jenna’s mission trips to Africa were nearly upended again when tests showed her tumor was growing and would require another operation. When her doctor broke the news, she asked him, “Will I die if I wait one month?”
He simply smiled and replied, “no.”
“Then I have to go.”
Jenna is now recovering from the procedure and has returned to the University of Texas for her junior year as a pre-med neuroscience student. As she looks back on what God has done, she reflects on Hebrews 12:5 – “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.”
Through tears and a hint of joy in her voice, she explains how her medical challenges have been a form of sweet discipline, bringing her closer to the Lord and forcing her to be more intentional about her life.
Crisis may come in an instant but you really have no idea where it will lead. For Jenna, it has only enforced the calling she felt from an early age – to serve the people of Africa and reach them with the Gospel.
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