A Journey of Faith and Family
By the Rev. Tessa Moon Leiseth ’92, campus pastor, as told to Gia Rassier
I used to believe that there was a perfect job. Somehow you arrive at this perfect place, and there you are, and there you stay. I now believe that theory is naive. Instead, what I’ve discovered from my own life is that I keep unfolding. I keep developing. I keep finding myself being shaped by people and experiences, and by connecting with parts of myself that are buried deep.
This continual unfolding is one of the reasons my husband, Jon Leiseth '92, and I are moving with our two children to South Africa. Like other moments of discernment in my life, there is a concrete beginning to this story. But now I can recognize that the openness to move halfway around the world actually began much earlier.
The concrete beginning for this story occurred when I was on Facebook one day and saw that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had posted a status update about new global mission opportunities. While I had been curious before, I had never imagined an actual call for me in global mission. But the seeds for this vocation were buried deep within me.
As I scrolled through the list of opportunities, I noticed a posting for a country coordinator for Young Adults in Global Mission. It called for work in faith formation with young adults – while engaging in a global context. This convergence intrigued me and resonated with my interest in social justice.
Before we even put together our applications, Jon and I spent a lot of time discerning. We knew this needed to be a good fit for the whole family, not just for me. And we knew that a lot was at stake. We’d be moving our whole family to another part of the globe, leaving family, friends and familiarity behind.
Early on, Jon and I decided to embody a discernment philosophy recommended by the work of Parker Palmer. In his book, “Let Your Life Speak,” Palmer writes about “way open,” a Quaker practice of paying close attention to opening opportunities. We decided the only way we could make sense of this opportunity was to walk forward. We talked to people who knew more about the position and more about the role of a country coordinator. We discussed what it would mean to work with the YAGM program, as well as to live abroad.
In the midst of these conversations, we interviewed with Global Mission (of the ELCA). During this process, Jon and I experienced a sense of call. As the Lutheran church acknowledges and affirms, though, call has both individual and communal dimensions. We sought and listened to the perceptions of others. These people encouraged us to see what God might be up to. I honestly don’t know if we could have moved into this next chapter without the supporting voice of community.
But then came the hardest part of the discernment – that moment when we had to decide whether or not to accept the call. It’s all interesting and fun to talk about the opportunities, but suddenly it’s real.
We tried to make our decision rational. We talked about it in all kinds of ways, from a career perspective and by making lists of benefits. But what it came down to was, it wasn’t a rational decision at all. It was a clear and compelling call. There was no question that we were called.
At one point during this discernment, I was walking around campus and saw a bulletin board filled with posters about Exploration Seminars and May Seminars and study abroad opportunities. I had this moment of thinking, “Could I say no to this opportunity and continue to live here and walk by these posters and know that I walked away from my global opportunity?”
In some ways, I think it is faith that this is a call – because it could be coincidence. It could be a fluke, but the alignment is so strong. There is an internal pull for me, a pull of excitement and energy. Of course, there’s fear too. I once had an assistant to the bishop explain a call to me this way: “If you’re feeling fear, I’m not worried because that’s part of call. If you’re feeling nothing, I’m concerned.” Being called doesn’t mean that one isn’t afraid.
As Concordia’s campus pastor, it has been a joy and delight to accompany young adults in journeys of faith, identity, purpose and vocation. In South Africa, I will be exploring those same themes in a new context.
But as I enter this next chapter, there’s also a part of me that I’m rediscovering: the person who loves new things, new opportunities, new places, new cultures. Now I get to live in that and see what it means. I get to explore who I’m being called to be – and learn even more in the midst of the unfolding.
Photo: Sheldon Green