Jim (’75) and Caranita (Kesterson ’75) Wolsieffer received the Distinguished Service Award from the Johnson University Tennessee Alumni Association during 2014 Homecoming in February. The JUTN alumni recognized the Wolsieffers for extraordinary service to the Kingdom of God over an extended period of time.
Jim and Caranita were the first Distinguished Service Award recipients to receive the award while in two countries simultaneously. Jim, unable to travel to the States due to ill health, joined the presentation via Skype from their home in Italy. Caranita, in the U.S. on mission business, came to the campus. Jim Wolsieffer and Caranita Kesterson enrolled in Johnson as freshman students in 1969. They married in 1971 and immediately left Johnson to spend two years in Italy.
While there, Jim and Caranita learned how difficult it is to herald the faith in Italy. In fact, they learned mission work in Italy can become ineffectual if done without an understanding of the hidden inner workings of culture. Unspoken rules, tacit assumptions, and cultural values can work against any missionary effort. Convinced of God’s direction and blessing, these two twentysomethings returned to Johnson to complete their bachelor’s degrees and graduated in 1975. That same year Jim and Caranita moved intentionally into an environment of organized anarchy and spiritual adversity and have served faithfully and victoriously in Italy for nearly 44 years. Jim and Caranita view issues of ill health, spiritual adversity, cultural norms, social need, and other challenges as opportunities for new or expanded ministry.
In 2006 Jim and Caranita were joined by their daughter and son-in-law, Stephany (’05, ’08) and Gianni (’05,’14) Bruno. They began their service in Italy with preaching and teaching. Health issues caused them to shift their focus. They saw evangelistic opportunity in radio broadcasting and began the first Christian radio station in Southern Italy. Declining health once again required a shift of focus, and great social need, along with personal and professional interests, resulted in managing a professional counseling and spiritual retreat center. Today the Italy for Christ mission exists, “To identify the obstacles unique to the Italian culture that hinder mature Christian living and to help Italians remove those obstacles.”
The Wolsieffers, Brunos, and national leaders believe that Italy is a shame-based, fear-oriented culture that needs servant leaders who can provide this generation a grace-filled and love-motivated environment. Christian counseling, leadership training, culturally relevant teaching, and evangelism are some of the instruments that Italy for Christ uses from the shared attitudes of mistrust and dishonesty.
Now, in addition to Jim and Gianni’s church planting, preaching, teaching, and church leadership ministries, Caranita, Stephany, and some Christian Italian nationals have established the only legally recognized nonprofit organization in the Italian brotherhood. This nonprofit combines professional counseling and spiritual training to equip Christian church leaders while simultaneously offering those services to the Italian population at large, without discrimination of creed or denomination.
Kevin O'Brien, Director of Alumni & Public Relations
Read more from Jim & Caranita Wolsieffer's story in Johnson Magazine