Hearing the Calling Others Cannot
Kristen Wessels grew up the middle child to two deaf parents. For as long as she can remember, sign language has been second nature, and interpreting has been a way of life.
It isn't surprising that Wessels, 20, is transferring to North Central University in Minneapolis this fall to study American Sign Language (ASL).
But Wessels acknowledges that the path that has brought her there has been anything but predictable.
Wessels and her younger sister, Doris, began attending Bethany Community Church in Mendon, Massachusetts, during her eighth-grade year.
Money had always been tight for the family, and the church reached out, offering the sisters free admission into its private school, Bethany Christian Academy. In exchange, the girls worked in the church's thrift store and community outreach center.
Then, on May 30, 2013, tragedy hit. Wessels' father, Edward, died in a kayaking accident.
Those in the church immediately surrounded the family with support. The pastoral staff, led by Phil and Cheri McCutchen, helped with arrangements, and members of the congregation brought food. Wessels also found encouragement from Bethany's administrative pastor, Brandie Lee Gaudet.
"We kept reminding her that God has such a big plan for her life," Gaudet says. "We just continued to remind her of God's love for her and God's plan for her and how her life can be so much more than the circumstances she's in."
That support made a difference.
"There was a moment shortly after my dad died that I thought to myself, 'I'm not going to let the devil have victory over this at all," Wessels says. "I really just decided that I was going to let God be God through this and let Him do a work."
Wessels had planned to attend a Master's Commission in New York to study psychology, anticipating a career fighting human trafficking. But after prayer and consideration, Wessels realized that this soon after the tragedy, she needed to stay near home. She accepted an offer to enroll for free in Bethany's internship program, NXGN.
Wessels interned for two years, also taking classes online through a large Christian university. During the internship, she developed a new passion for interpreting for the deaf. One of her influences was an interpreter and family friend she had talked with at her father's funeral.
"She told me that deaf people are considered an unreached people group," Wessels says. "And so that was something that definitely hit me at home."
After two years with NXGN, Wessels applied to begin the required residency for an ASL degree at the school where she had been taking online courses. But that door closed when she learned the university had shut down fall enrollment due to overbooking. Despite her persistent calls, she couldn't secure a place at the school.
In searching for alternatives, Wessels discovered North Central and its four-year ASL degree. Because of her earlier 4.0 grade point average, Wessels qualified for North Central's maximum academic scholarship for transfer students, the Founder's Scholarship. Through this, she will receive $6,000 per year.
Now, Wessels is preparing to begin her new pursuit in Minnesota. Her goal is to help church leaders reach the deaf in their area without the hefty price tag of an interpreter. That's a need she has experienced firsthand watching her mother, Marie, try to find a long-lasting congregation where language is interpreted for the deaf.
Looking back, Wessels says she can see where God has guided each step of her journey.
"Sometimes we've got to let go of the things we have and our plans -- and even sometimes our own dreams -- and just let God work in us and work through our stories and allow Him to create our stories," she says. "Because it's always a better plan."