Jess Campbell: Just Stay
By Sarah Morris
Everything within cries out to leave – what is the purpose, why is this happening, how is this going to turn out? These thoughts and many more have run through the mind of a young woman, Jessica Campbell, thousands of times within her life. From fighting illnesses to seeking the calling of God, this young woman has been knocked over with wave after crashing wave of obstacles. Only by the grace of God has she been able to keep her head above the rushing current and swim to shore. Only by the strength of Jesus has she been able to live and not drown.
Jess grew up in a Christian home in Pennsylvania. Her family attended an Episcopal church, which was very active in youth ministry. All of a sudden life took a hard swing while Jess was in sixth grade. She was diagnosed with ITP, an autoimmune disease.
She had to struggle with this disease and diagnosis for three years. At youth group, she would see others get healed and touched by God, but she didn’t believe it was for her; in eighth grade life threw her yet another curveball. She was going to have an operation to get her spleen taken out. Blood tests were needed before the operation and the night before was a moment that Jess will never forget.
“I remember going up into my room and laying on my bed, and just having this very frank discussion with God, of like ‘you know what Bro, I’m a good kid, I don’t do anything bad ever, I go to youth group, I believed in you my whole life, this is the point where You show up or I’m out. Either You make this go away or I’m done with You,” she said to God, crying as she drifted to sleep. Giving God an ultimatum is not the best thing to do and it isn’t mature, she now says. But in that situation, something happened that forever changed her life.
The next day she went into the doctor’s office to do pre-op blood work, and they checked her levels. She had completely normal levels, and they even checked them again—still normal. She was in remission and didn’t need to have surgery. The doctors were floored. The next year was a hard transition for this young woman; as she was going into ninth grade she had to figure out who she really was. Being sick had become her identity; the only other aspect that helped define her was her involvement in youth group.
So, what happened next was a key that helped to unlock her journey. In the ninth grade, her best friend from the youth group wanted to go on a mission trip to a reservation in North Dakota. She had gotten used to being off by herself while sick, and now that she was healthy, she didn’t want to be alone. So she went because her friends were going.
“It’s so interesting what God can do. It doesn’t matter how we show up, but when we show up, He uses it.” And use it He did—she became deeply involved during this retreat, and “God broke my heart for native people, God broke my heart for youth and youth ministry and missions through that trip.”
Senior year, she found herself back in North Dakota on a reservation. And through this came one point where she felt God audibly speaking to her. She believed that she should be in youth ministry. But she was in the comparing game, doubting what the Lord could do with her life, because she was shy, hated public speaking and felt insecure.
“He said, ‘Don’t you think I’m enough?’ And I’m like ‘Of course You’re enough, You’re God.’ And He’s like ‘Cool, so if you go and take Me, that’s enough, right?’”
She went back to Pennsylvania with the call of ministry on her heart. She enrolled in school for Youth Ministry, but as soon as she started going to classes and was surrounded by others, the doubts crept back in for “when insecurity is your jam, you shrink,” Jess said. Years past and she enjoyed learning and being where she was, but yet, there was something in her that felt like she wasn’t doing what she was called to do. She went on long internships in North Dakota, one in particular being on the reservation in Solen. She loved it, but she would still compare herself with the people on her team. But she felt like God was saying, “‘you feel like the weakest one, but you are the one who is bringing Me to shine through the most, because you are so weak.’”
Back at home in Pennsylvania, she got an interview with a church that had just started up a small youth ministry. It was everything she wanted—small, close to her family, Bible-based, and she would get to work with missions. And they wanted to hire her. All of it made sense, but she turned it down. At that moment she was praying and felt that God had said, “‘you pick what you want to do, because I’m going to bless you. I’m going to bless you either way, but sometimes you have to decide and you have to walk forward in faith, instead of sitting here, sitting on your hands, waiting for me to give you some trumpet-blowing sign.’”
So she packed up and left for North Dakota. It didn’t make sense; there was no job lined up. But she followed the call, a modern day Abraham. A job came, although it wasn’t what she expected—the elementary school in Fort Yates hired her as a teacher’s aide. The third year of working there, she was still having a tough time, but she felt God didn’t want her to leave. So she stayed. God would just keep saying stay.
“It got to the point where it was like, I feel that my only spiritual gift right now is staying. I’m not doing anything but staying,” she said.
Her spiritual life was taking a hit. Things were dry, her Bible barely being opened. She was also pounded with the diagnoses of lupus, another autoimmune disease. Her family thought that she would now move home, but she kept hearing God say: Just stay. It got to the point of Jess saying, “God, if you say the word stay one more time, I’m going to scream.” After a little while, she traveled back to her family in Pennsylvania to get recharged and was hospitalized for a week with a pericardial effusion. But still, the answer was the same from God—go back to North Dakota and stay.
She went back, and God nudged her to move to Mandan to room with a co-worker. She had a social life once again, but there were negatives to this as well. She would party on Saturday nights, and Sundays she would come to church at Evangel. She felt a tug-a-war with her soul; she was getting closer to God and at the same time pulling away from Him. Then the waves started pelting her again—she stopped volunteering at the school, her uncle died suddenly—and she yearned to find a good Christian community of young adults. That is when she found the UG, also known as United Generation. It took a few weeks to feel like home, but then she got involved with a Bible Study. She went on a mission trip to Chile with the UG, and while there, God worked on her heart. He had reminded her to surrender to Him, but also to remember what He had done. She had to remember the healing she received in middle school even while struggling with lupus.
After Chile one of the largest waves had yet to hit. She got a call that her dad was having liver problems. He had a major stomach bleed, and so she traveled home to see him. Her dad was in a coma for a month, and then he passed away. She stayed for another month with her family, but then it was time to head back to North Dakota.
“Followed up my dad’s death (were) a couple other key deaths. I had a student pass away from suicide with Young Life, and then my Young Life mentor passed away of a heart attack about a month after that. … But it is so interesting to look at and say that the hardest, worst year of your life was also the best year of your life, because the things that happened in getting so involved in the UG and in going to Chile were transformative, and were the only thing that gave me this insight into God’s provision and His goodness and joy in the face of a super rough, rough year.”
But God had a plan. She had started working at the school again, and Young Life asked her to drive vans for them. She said yes. A situation where she was asked to give a talk arose. Again, she said yes. Then they asked her to do another talk, and then another. And something happened within this time.
“I suddenly had something to say,” she said. “I’d never thought I had anything really to say before or a desire to say it, but I wanted it. I had something to say, I had something to talk to them about, because of our shared experience with loss, and it was more than just a shared experience of loss, it was a hope beyond that. … God loosed my tongue.”
She started working there part-time, and now this year, she is working full-time at Young Life. It isn’t always what she expected, and there are many struggles and joys. She was afraid of saying yes to the full-time position, because she had to give up her position at the school.
“It was like ‘God, this is where you were blessing me, this is where you were growing me, and now I have to give that up?’ And He’s like, ‘Yeah, because now it is time to go forward into the thing I have been preparing you, and that the reason that I have had you stay.’”
An anchor is put in place to keep a ship from drifting off when waves are crashing down. Jess has had an anchor of hope placed in her life with the promise of Jesus. Through it all she has gained the strength that only comes through Jesus, by surrendering her every dream, her pains, her joys and struggles to Him. Storms may rage on, pelting her from every side, but now, she is anchored in the faithfulness and promise of God, Who will not let her drown.