Jill wanted to study journalism at Indiana University, not intercultural studies at Johnson.
“I wanted to do, through journalism, what we now call public theology,” she says. “Since women weren’t allowed to be preachers, writing was to be my platform. I realized in my first year at IU that I couldn’t hold my own in defending my faith to the political science majors. I hadn’t had enough exposure to people with different beliefs. I decided to attend Johnson for just one year, and ended up making wonderful friends while also realizing the need for more study. I completed my degree in missions in 1984.”
Soon after graduation, Jill moved to Zimbabwe to teach in high schools. She planned to stay for three years. She actually stayed for thirteen.
“The initial experience was like a three-year internship,” she says. “The wonderful headmaster guided me well. After that, I worked with more than 30 churches teaching, discipling, and leading youth Bible studies and retreats in and around Mashoko Christian Mission and at Zimbabwe Christian College in Harare.”
Jill lived in Zimbabwe during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s as well as the devastating famines that hit Africa during that time.
“I never learned how to coordinate famine relief at Johnson!” she says. “But through the hospital, a network of schools, and even the help of a local radio personality, we managed to feed 16,000 children for six months.”
Jill completed a graduate degree at Cincinnati Christian University in 1995 and attempted to return to her home in Zimbabwe, but the country had stopped approving work permits for internationals.
“I’d never gotten residency, but I had planned to spend the rest of my life there,” she says. “When I wasn’t allowed to return, it was like my heart had been ripped out of me.”
In 1999, Jill moved to Auckland, New Zealand, to support church planting and discipleship with Jeff and Robin Vines, friends from Johnson and her time in Africa. In an environment where 97% of the population had no previous connection to church, her assignment was discipleship.
“Raising support to serve in New Zealand was more difficult, because it was about poverty of the soul instead of poverty of the pantry,” she says. “Some of our work in Zimbabwe had immediate results and could be communicated with a picture, but spiritual formation takes longer and can’t be photographed.”
Jill is now in her twenty-second year as a “Kiwi,” continuing to disciple and to do public theology.
“My ministry is three-pronged: church, campus, and community,” she says. “I work with Shore Community Church in Auckland and mentor church planting teams. I am a chaplain at Massey University and Laidlaw College. I volunteer with refugee young people. Every person I meet reminds me how creative God is and how he expresses himself through our differences. Every new person I disciple reminds me just how good the good news is, and it excites me all over again.”