The Resilience of Kathy Jingling
Washington pastor doesn’t allow the turmoil of time in prison to deter her from ministering.Kathy S. Jingling grew up with a rich spiritual heritage and sensed a call to missions as a child. But she postponed full-time ministry plans upon graduating from Eastern Washington University and instead became a third-grade public schoolteacher for a decade in Ephrata, a small town situated at the gateway to the Columbia River basin.
During her summer breaks, she typically ventured out on short-term overseas missions trips. That sparked a 22-year career with Assemblies of God World Missions, living five years in Costa Rica and the bulk of the rest as director of AGWM Resource and Development Ministries in Springfield, Missouri. She had a stellar record of impacting lives, both in the U.S. and in Latin America.
Life took a bizarre turn in 2010 when an octogenarian, childless, widowed aunt dying of cancer asked Jingling and a second cousin to serve as her power of attorney in Oregon. The aunt’s physician predicted she had three months to live (it turned out to be four years) and suggested Jingling sell her aunt’s Portland-area house and get her affairs wrapped up. Jingling consulted an attorney, who didn’t file paperwork correctly.
“I was just trying to help my aunt, so she wouldn’t have to deal with things,” Jingling says. The aunt, however, lived a hoarder’s life. Dead animals, rotten food, and animal feces had ruined many possessions in the residence. Jingling arranged for their removal, paid her aunt’s overdue taxes, and took care of her aunt’s medical bills.
Meanwhile, the daughter of an acquaintance of the aunt visited her in a hospital and convinced the confused and distraught aunt that Jingling had stolen her assets and pocketed the money. With further poor advice from a lawyer, the naïve Jingling found herself embroiled in legal problems trying to sort out estate issues. Despite good intentions, Jingling made unwise financial decisions and soon faced 35 criminal charges for disposing of the belongings. Media in the area portrayed it as a case of a greedy Jingling abusing her elder relative.
A judge gave her an ultimatum: enter a plea agreement for a reduced term or potentially face the rest of her life in prison. Jingling pleaded no contest to criminal mistreatment and theft, and received a yearlong sentence, at the age of 51.
In being processed, she endured strip searches, mug shots, fingerprinting, being transported in shackles, and humiliating taunts. She lost all rights about what to wear, what to eat, personal hygiene, and privacy.
In addition to losing her freedom, the affable and kindly Jingling lost her ministerial credentials, her good name, and the profession to which she had been so devoted.
But she didn’t become resentful, depressed, or angry. She didn’t quit the faith.
“My constant prayer was not to survive, not to be released, but rather to not let the tiniest seed of bitterness grow in my heart,” Jingling says. She not only didn’t inherit anything from her aunt, she also ended up owing $110,000 for “stolen” furnishings. She finally repaid the final installment last fall.
KEEPING THE FAITH
When sentenced, Jingling viewed federal prison in Oregon as a new mission field, an opportunity to connect with a segment of society she never would have otherwise. Jingling tutored 13 women who obtained their General Educational Development diplomas. Prisoners saw her reading her Bible daily. Her influence led to three prisoners being baptized.
“I often walked around inside the yard and others would approach me,” Jingling says. “They would pour out their hearts, I heard their confessions, and they learned about Jesus.”
Throughout her ordeal, Jingling says Northwest Ministry Network and national AG leaders supported her. That includes Jerry R. Beebe, who has been lead pastor at Wenatchee First Assembly of God since 1986. The church financially contributed to Jingling during her entire missionary experience.
Beebe, a Northwest Ministry Network executive presbyter, often wrote to his incarcerated friend.
“I didn’t fully understand her legal problems — why she ended up where she did — but these were really secondary,” says Beebe, 67. “I just knew she was my sister in the Lord, and I didn’t want to abandon a friend going through hard times.”
Beebe says Jingling’s plight reminded her of Joseph in the Book of Genesis, a faithful Hebrew unjustly imprisoned.
“She had much the same positive attitude, that God allowed her to be imprisoned for a reason, to help people find true freedom in Christ,” Beebe says. “I hope I would have responded as well.”
BACK TO WORK
After her release, the Northwest Ministry Network reinstated Jingling’s ministerial ordination and she went on staff at Moses Lake Assembly of God, now Generations Church.
Ryan R. Simmons, who served as lead pastor at the time, said, despite Jingling’s past, the church needed someone with her writing, teaching, preaching, and organizational skills to lead children’s ministry. Jingling grew up in the church and still had immediate family attending. Her father, Robert, had been a founding member in 1934.
“It wasn’t a hard decision to hire her,” remembers Simmons, 53, now a ministry network presbyter and pastor of Northshore Church in Moses Lake. “Her decision to not let her time in prison stop her from what she felt God called her to do spoke volumes to the church, where most people knew her.”
In 2019, at the age of 63, the never-married Jingling became the senior pastor of Quincy First Assembly of God in a town of 8,000, about 30 miles northwest of Moses Lake, where she still resides. Beebe says it’s a good fit for Jingling because nearly 80% of Quincy residents are Hispanic — and Jingling speaks Spanish fluently.
Jingling took over at the small church, which had gone 18 months without a pastor. As a first-time lead pastor just before the onset of COVID-19 restrictions, Jingling had to learn how to preach via live stream. She leads a Wednesday morning Bible study in Moses Lake every week that regularly attracts 40 people from eight churches — as well as the unchurched.
At Quincy First Assembly, Jingling has managed to implement some stability that had been missing, including establishing an annual budget and compiling a procedures manual.
“At my age, I’m thinking about what legacy I will leave behind,” says Jingling, who became a Northwest Ministry Network presbyter three years ago. “I don’t want it to be that I’m single and female. I want it to be that I’m leaving the church in a healthier position than when I got there.”
“Kathy has done such a great job in that church, building relationships, meeting community leaders, connecting with new families,” Beebe says. “It’s great to see her finish strong.”
When elected pastor, Jingling only had one no vote against her. The person who cast that vote, an elderly man named Leroy, came to her three months later. Leroy, who has since died, explained that he voted against her because of tradition, a belief that women shouldn’t be pastors. But he said the Lord later told him he needed to ask Jingling for forgiveness.
Quincy First churchgoers, of course, know of Jingling’s criminal past. So now does the Quincy police chief, who recently asked Jingling to serve as a community representative in reviewing any officer-involved shootings. When Jingling revealed her felony conviction, the chief thought her even more qualified, saying she could objectively assess both sides.
“When God calls women, He makes a way,” Jingling says.
“Kathy has been an encouragement and inspiration to me through the years,” Beebe says. “She’s always remained joyful, peaceful, and positive, knowing if she kept a right attitude, God would use her.”