By Laura McKillip Wood
Jody Hesler was in Poland helping with a day of pampering and self-care for refugees from Afghanistan when she felt her phone vibrating persistently in her pocket. Absorbed in helping those she was serving, she opted not to answer. When she finally took a moment to read her texts, she saw a string of messages from several Ukrainian friends. They were all reaching out for help getting themselves or their children across the border.
It was February 2022. The invasion by Russia had begun, and her friends needed help getting to safety. Jody and another worker at the camp quickly hopped into a car and headed toward the border. They waited there for several days, meeting with friends or the children of friends who were crossing the border to safety.
They also met people like Katya*, a college-age girl from Ukraine who had been on vacation near the border with Poland when Russia invaded. Katya heard air raid sirens, so she grabbed her bag and ran to the street. She loaded into a car filled with strangers and drove to Poland with them. Jody happened to meet Katya at the border, so—fearful of human traffickers—she offered Katya a safe place to stay while the young woman decided her next steps.
Jody ended up with a house full of guests. They included two teenage daughters of her Ukrainian friends, a middle-aged woman with her two daughters, and the children of those two daughters! From time to time, she hosted other people who were traveling through. Aside from Katya, “everyone who stayed with me was somehow known to me—I had worked with them or their parents over the years,” Jody says.
Eventually Jody’s landlady became nervous because so many people were living in the home; she asked Jody to find them somewhere else to stay. Jody, through the help of her supporters—whose generosity expanded during this time—secured living space for them in a nearby city. She helped with a dozen surgeries, humanitarian aid, housing, and transportation.
“I had funds to do that because of the generosity of donors,” Jody explains. “The fact that I had the experience in Ukraine, speak Russian, have the resources, and happened to be in Poland at the time all this started—I am blown away.”
Jody knows a lot of people.
“It’s not seven degrees of separation; it’s more like two degrees!” she laughs when she talks about how many people she knows around the world.
Jody has spent her career working abroad. She lived in Ukraine from 1993 to 2004, first working as a church planter and later starting a ministry called Project Sasha (now known as Mulberry International). Project Sasha began helping at-risk children—orphans or those who had little parental involvement—in Simferopol, Ukraine. Project Sasha began as a day center where street children or other at-risk children could get hot meals, clean clothes, medical and dental treatment, and help with homework. The ministry even had connections with lawyers who could help the children obtain what they were legally owed.
After some time, the mission operation began organizing family-style children’s homes and partnered with Christian Children’s Home of Ohio to train houseparents. CCHO purchased an old school and renovated it for the families.
By July 2002, Jody was helping facilitate short-term medical and dental mission trips to Ukraine and later to Central Asia.
In 2004, Jody moved to the United States and completed training to be a community development specialist. By 2009, she had moved to Central Asia to be part of a long-term development team there.
A NEW BEGINNING
Over the next several years, she lived in Central Asia, the United States, and then Poland, before finally settling in Ohio where her aging parents live.
She has studied and served in various ways—first in long-term development in Central Asia, then with Alongside (a Michigan organization focused on counseling people in ministry). She earned a degree in clinical psychology through Wheaton College’s graduate school, then she worked full-time with Alongside, and finally she began working with The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM).
Jody is now the regional member care coordinator for TEAM, serving teams of global workers in Central Asia, the Middle East, and sometimes Europe. She travels to visit each of five teams yearly, focusing on member care, counseling, and team building.
“If there’s a team member who is struggling or if a team is having communication issues, I advise the leaders on what to do,” Jody says. “I’m a coach, mentor, and counselor at times. I do team building, debriefing, critical incident debriefing, and psycho-education on compassion fatigue, anxiety, depression, [and] burnout.”
TEAM provides care to those working on the field so they have tools to live healthy, godly lives and to prevent the need for crisis intervention in the future.
Jody has served in many countries in many roles over the years, so she has a wealth of experience to draw from in her work.
“All of my other roles prepared me in such a unique way for this one,” she says. “I feel blessed that God doesn’t waste anything.” She hopes to continue with TEAM for as long as possible.
“I have never loved what I do as much as I love what I do now!”