Wayland senior defines future, call with semester in Africa

Release Date: February 4, 2009    

PLAINVIEW – Jessica Riemersma has known since she was a young girl that she would one day visit Africa. She just didn’t know exactly when that would be.

So when her college years at Wayland Baptist University afforded her the opportunity to spend a semester there doing mission work, she knew it was meant to be.

A senior biology major from Glendale, Ariz., Riemersma recently returned from West Africa as a fall semester missionary through a partnership of Go Now Missions of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the International Mission Board. While the application process took only a few months, God’s preparation for Riemersma’s Africa experience covered several years.

Jessica said she was about 10 when she first felt the call to minister to Africa.

“We had missionaries from Mozambique visit our church, and they would come back often to tell us what God was doing there,” she said, adding that over the years, several other encounters with African culture kept the dream alive of traveling there one day.

While at Wayland, she began looking into missions opportunities and considered applying for the summer of 2007. With her parents lacking a peace about overseas travel then, she chose not to apply. But she started praying then for the people group she might have been working with.

When applications for summer 2008 came out, she again started researching available assignments. When her mother suggested semester missions, she looked even further and found the Hands on Africa program that hit nearly every country on the continent.

“It really jumped out to me,” she said. “I don’t know why but I had this feeling I had to go there.”

Go Now and IMB joined hands to get the details worked out for Riemersma to make the trip and she chose the assignment that involved relational evangelism. In short, missionaries become immersed in the culture, learn the language and build relationships with native citizens in order to open doors to presenting the gospel.

Riemersma said while in Africa, this often involved Bible storying, or using a storytelling technique to share events from the Bible with those unfamiliar with the gospel message. The curiosity of the natives – both of the stories and of the white women telling them – opened doors to further sharing, often well outside cultural norms.

“One day, I got to share the gospel with 15 men at one time, and that is just unheard of in African culture,” she said.

Riemersma and her partner, University of Kansas student Heather Williams, often used New Testament passages to share, mostly because they had another resource for those curious about hearing more. The village had a radio device called a Proclaimer, and it played the New Testament in the peoples’ native tongue.

One major part of their assignment was continuing to disciple an older man they referred to as their “Dad,” a patriarchal figure in the village. The girls read to him from Galatians and other passages and walked him through the journey of growing in his faith.

A special part of the semester was getting to participate in the wedding of one of Dad’s daughters, which involved much African tradition and community participation. But some African traditions were a little harder to get used to.

“People would sometimes come to our door at all hours, screaming our names and wanting us to come outside,” she said. “They were so fascinated with white people, and sometimes we had to lock our doors just to have some personal time alone and with God.”

Despite the cultural differences, Riemersma said she felt at home in the country and learned many lessons about herself and about ministry.

“I think I automatically loved the people and embraced them because I had been praying for them for so long. But I don’t know that I really knew how to love them at first,” she said. “I had to learn to be completely selfless and give of myself to them, everything that First Corinthians 13 said to do. I couldn’t be rude to them since I was there to serve them. I had to understand what real unconditional love entails.

“It takes every ounce of your being to love someone, and I couldn’t do it without God’s help. I learned a lot about being available for people and not having my own agenda.”

Another lesson was in honing her career plans to fit a call to ministry, whether that takes her overseas again or elsewhere. Before the semester, she was leaning toward physical therapy, but now nursing seems a more appropriate fit since it would require less schooling and would open doors on the mission field.

“I just realized there that my sole purpose in life is to tell people about Jesus; that’s what brings me the most joy,” she said. “It scares me to say that I’d do full-time missions, because it’s a huge sacrifice. But I know if I’m not doing what God called me to do, I’ll never be happy.”