When Jessica Sinclair began teaching history classes at Crandall University in 2005, the Moncton, N.B., native thought she had found her life’s calling.
It seemed like the perfect fit. Jessica had graduated from the small liberal arts university before moving on to earn a master’s degree in history from McGill University. And there were family ties, too—her dad, Stephen Dempster, serves on Crandall’s faculty as professor of religious studies.
But just a few months after she began teaching at Crandall, Jessica had a conversation with her friends Bud and Kala Thompson (see the story "Sold Out"), who several years earlier had encouraged her to explore doing Bible translation with Wycliffe.
The exchange unexpectedly led Jessica back to Wycliffe and an entirely different direction for her life.
Nowadays, the 32-year-old dynamo leads Wycliffe Canada’s national recruitment team. It’s a role she’d never thought about when the Thompsons asked her if she would consider hosting a Café Wycliffe event at Crandall, to introduce students to Wycliffe’s work in Bible translation.
“I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a great thing I can do to further the passion in me for helping Bibleless people access God’s Word,’” says Jessica.
As a 15-year-old, Jessica had travelled to Central America with the Thompsons for a summer outreach in Guatemala City. Then after she completed high school, the Thompsons arranged for her to live for two months in a Cameroonian village.
Both experiences left a deep impression in her life.
“In Cameroon, I saw. . . the spiritual issues on the translation side of missions. . . and really believed it would be very worthwhile way to spend my life so that people could be able to understand and know God.”
The experience led her to enrol in a summer course at the Canada Institute of Linguistics (CanIL) in Langley, B.C., with the hope she might find her niche in Bible translation. However, even though she “aced” her linguistic courses, the subject didn’t inspire her as a career choice.
Jessica’s heart connection with Wycliffe was still strong when she began teaching at Crandall, so the idea of hosting a Café Wycliffe event there appealed to the bubbly, outgoing history teacher. The first event she held on campus, which included a meal and a talk by the Thompsons, drew a modest-sized group of interested students.
Not long after, the Thompsons introduced Jessica to Café Wycliffe founders Derryl and Karen Friesen. The Friesens challenged Jessica to consider serving with Wycliffe full time, helping to engage a new generation in the work of Bible translation.
“That I could get really excited about!” says Jessica.
“To me, it was what excited me about teaching at Crandall; seeing people look at themselves and, through the lens of history and faith, understand themselves better . . . and have a deeper faith as a result, and be able to engage the world with a Christian worldview and perspective.”
Since 2007, Jessica and a number of colleagues on the recruitment team have visited numerous college and high school campuses, churches and youth groups. They engage with young people who either are seriously exploring their career options, or just beginning to think about what they should do with their lives.
If she had her way, Jessica would abandon the term “recruitment” to describe her job and replace it with a phrase that reveals her deeper motivation.
“I really just want to see God cultivated in people’s hearts,” she says.
Now married and living in the Toronto area with her husband Alex, Jessica says there is no “typical day” that defines her work. Some days, she may stay home to work on a church or college presentation, while other days may find her meeting with an interested inquirer in a local coffee shop.
Jessica estimates that about 50 per cent of her time is devoted to local recruitment activities in southwestern Ontario, while the other half is devoted to strategic planning for Wycliffe Canada’s recruiting efforts across the country.
“Part of that is recruiting for internships,” says Jessica, “and setting up and leading short-term trips like “InstiGATE” as well.”
Since joining Wycliffe’s staff eight years ago, Jessica has accompanied eight teams on overseas trips. One such journey even included a visit to language projects in South Asia, where Bible translation must be carried out discreetly because of religious and cultural sensitivities.
Jessica says such experiences are invaluable for young people who want to make informed decisions about serving with Wycliffe or any other mission agency.
“Young people are reticent to commit to a 40-year career . . . or even something that involves a five-year commitment. But when they have an experience with something, they have a chance to imagine themselves in that situation.
“So it becomes a way for them to have an educated spiritual experience where they can discern God’s direction in their life; not jumping into something with their eyes closed, but they are well informed because they have an opportunity to see and experience what Wycliffe does.”
Planting and Cultivating
Some who have participated in these cross-cultural adventures have since jumped, eyes-wide-open, into service with Wycliffe Canada. They include past recruiter Sarah Barnes, Word Alive photographer Natasha Schmale, Alberta recruiters Kevin and Melissa Derksen, and newcomers Chris and Lauren Merke, who met during a Wycliffe summer trip to Kenya in 2012.
Other past participants are in various stages of post-secondary education, so Jessica doesn’t expect them to make long-term decisions about their future for some time yet.
“It’s actually going to be seven years down the road where we may actually see the impact of these trips on their lives. So part of our role in recruitment is then cultivating those relationships and their passion through a number of years.”
For Jessica, the task of remotely leading a team of nine recruiters and volunteers based in Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and B.C. can seem overwhelming at times. But every now and then, a stimulating conversation or meeting with someone who’s open to God’s leading lifts her spirits and keeps her motivated.
This past January, for example, Jessica was representing Wycliffe Canada at the Vancouver Missions Fest. A young woman stopped by the Wycliffe booth, explaining that she felt God was leading her to be involved.
“I have a background in linguistics,” the woman told Jessica. “I haven’t felt like it was the right time to join Wycliffe, although it’s been on my mind. But now I feel that God is launching me.”
Jessica broke down in tears.
“To have an individual come and say, ‘This is what I believe God is leading me to do, not because you convinced me, not because I’ve seen a great presentation’—but because this person has heard from God and they want us to help facilitate them serving Him—that’s what gets me up in the morning.”
Jessica adds that her aim is to help such people experience God’s grace in their own lives by being part of His Kingdom work.
“It’s not just about getting the job of Bible translation done around the world. It’s about these wonderful people here in our country who are going to be fulfilled and are going to do what they believe God wants them to do.
“So, to me, it’s not about convincing, or about manipulating people to get involved in Wycliffe. It’s about facilitating other people’s passion for God.”
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