New cadets Ben and Jesse Willis speak to Firezone about how their experiences growing up and travelling on Teen Missions led them to pursue full-time ministry.
After travelling across the globe on Teen Missions trips and developing a shared passion for serving others, the next stop in Ben and Jesse Willis’s ministry journey is Booth College of Mission.
Both Ben and Jesse were raised in Christian homes. Jesse initially attended the Napier Corps, until her parents commenced officer training and their family moved to Upper Hutt. Ben, meanwhile, grew up in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, where his family attended an Open Brethren church.
They met when Ben led a Teen Missions trip in Nepal, which Jesse had signed up for as a team member. Following the six-week trip, they kept in contact, started a long-distance relationship and, in 2017, Ben moved across the Tasman to join Jesse at the Upper Hutt Corps. He connected with the ethos of the Army straight away, and soon took on a role as the corps youth coordinator.
‘Seeing these young people grow close to the Lord and seeing a couple of first-time decisions … it just makes it all worth it,’ he says. ‘Being able to journey with people when they go through tough times and then you’re able to comfort them and mourn with them, and when they go through happy times, you’re there to celebrate...’
Meanwhile, Jesse was working as a nurse at Rimutaka Prison, where God often created opportunities for her to gently share her faith with others. ‘It was just seeds that are planted,’ she says. ‘Being able to have a conversation with people who are interested and asking questions, and praying it will eventuate into something else [was a highlight].’
Ben and Jesse were married in 2019, but each felt separately called to ministry during their time on Teen Missions. Together they have now enrolled at Booth College.
Jesse’s first Teen Missions trip was to Nepal, where she met Ben. Later the same year, she travelled to Cambodia and Vietnam as a team leader. Ben visited Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and the Navajo Nation in the United States over four different trips.
‘Going on Teen Missions definitely was a life-changer,’ says Ben, ‘just to be put in situations where God shows up in such a real, very tangible way.’
For Jesse, this occurred when she needed to organise her team’s accommodation and transport into Vietnam from Cambodia.
‘We didn’t know where the bus ended, so I was like, “we need to pray that it’s close to our accommodation”, because we were going to a big city—Ho Chi Minh—and it could have been anywhere. I was just praying through the whole trip that we’d be able to safely get from where the bus ended, to our accommodation,’ Jesse remembers. ‘We pulled up and got off the bus, and our backpackers was like one block away.’
Ben experienced a similar response to prayer during his trip to Myanmar when their team ran out of cement with a day’s work remaining on their project.
‘We all gathered together and prayed and asked God to send some cement,’ he says. ‘A couple of hours later, this little truck comes in and drops off all these bags of cement, which was just enough for a day’s work.
‘I looked at my leader at the time and I said, “Where’d this come from?” and he just looked at me and shrugged his shoulders … no one ever paid for it, or anything. It was a real God moment.’
Open Doors to Ministry
Individually they each bring their own strengths.
Ben believes Jesse has an inherent heart for others. ‘[She has] a natural care for people and just wants to see people grow—and she’s also very good at admin,’ he adds. ‘I think that’s a real blessing.’
On the other hand, Jesse calls Ben a natural-born teacher. ‘He’s very, very good at explaining things to people at different levels and abilities,’ she says. ‘[He] also loves public speaking—anything up the front he loves and he’s super confident.’
In addition to their clear passion for serving abroad, Ben and Jesse have invested their time in working with youth programmes. ‘There’s so much potential for growth there; not just in The Salvation Army, but I think in the whole church we can really harness the potential of youth and young adults,’ Ben says. This is an area they are hoping to have an impact in, wherever their journey as cadets takes them.
‘Whenever we talked about what we would do in the future—like being missionaries, working for Teen Missions or being Salvation Army officers—this was just something that naturally came up in conversation, and over the past year or so, we’ve been talking about it a lot more, praying about it and talking to other people,’ Jesse says. ‘If a door shut, then we’d be like, “Okay, not the right way to go”. But we just felt like everything lined up really well.’
Ben says, ‘We’re really excited to see where it takes us. ‘We’ve both got a heart for mission overseas, so we just trust that with God.’
Ben’s favourite Bible verse is Philippians 4:11: ‘I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’
Because it’s about … ‘Learning to be content, no matter what or where you are, how stressed or not stressed, or happy or sad … just a level of contentedness with who you are in Christ.’
Jesse’s favourite Bible verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: ‘Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.’
Because it’s about … ‘Being thankful to God for everything I have and praying always, because we sometimes miss the power of prayer, I think.'
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