From a young age, Jen Wollner knew that she wanted to have an impact on the lives of children, desiring to be a teacher. Years later she graduated from Marquette University with a degree in Elementary Education and she loved the process of teaching and learning. Her passion extended to care for children not only in this country, but also for others around the world.
When she and her husband, Ben, married, they decided that, God willing, they would adopt a child internationally. As it turned out, due to infertility issues, this was one of the ways God desired to grow Jen’s family.
They now have one biological child (nine-year-old son), and a seven-year-old son and six-year-old daughter from Guatemala. Jen’s heart for orphans has grown to be a major part of her life, leading to her role in Mission: Hope, a ministry centered on serving orphans and their caregivers both locally and internationally. While previously the Adoption Awareness Coordinator, she recently accepted the role of Director and shares more about her journey that led a little orphanage in Latvia to hold a special place in her heart.
JBU: How did your passions for orphans first develop?
JEN: I have always had a heart for children, particularly those in need. When I was a teenager, I decided I really wanted to adopt a child someday. Throughout my life, I can see how God was stirring my heart for orphans and needy children, even before I became a follower of Jesus at the age of 23. After I became a believer, God started to put a strong passion for missions in my heart. I had always been fascinated with other countries and cultures, and now wanted to share Christ with people from other parts of the world. My heart for orphans specifically began to grow exponentially after adopting our children...and it hasn’t stopped!
JBU: How did you first become involved in Mission: Hope?
JEN: A friend, Marci Burkhart, felt God’s calling to start an orphan care ministry at our church. She approached me (and several others) to help launch the ministry because of my interest in adoption. Our team began planning in August of 2008 and launched the ministry to the congregation in January of 2009. We have been trying to keep up with God ever since! He has opened so many hearts and doors in our community and around the world for us to serve these precious children.
JBU: What are your goals when working with Mission: Hope?
JEN: There are four of us on the leadership team for Mission: Hope and we have done strategic planning and goal setting from the beginning. We are always adjusting our goals because we want to stay in line with where we see God working and what we see Him doing. This isn’t our ministry, it’s His, and being in line with him is the most important goal of all. That said, we have set goals in the areas of foster care, adoption, and general orphan care (internationally focused). God has given us many opportunities to serve in all of these areas, but we’ve sensed Him calling us most strongly to international orphan care of children at an orphanage in Jelgava, Latvia.
JBU: How did you become connected to the orphanage in Latvia?
JEN: One of the first goals we set in 2009 was to go on a short-term mission trip with a team from our church. We wanted to serve in an orphanage in another country, particularly a place where not many other groups were going. Marci called Buckner International, a mission organization in Texas, to try to plan a trip for us, and they sent our team to the Jelgava City orphanage in Jelgava, Latvia. This summer we made our fourth short term trip there. Our commitment to these children and the community is very strong. We will keep going back as long as God calls us and will serve in whatever way He desires. In fact, we are in the process of raising funds to build a playground for the children at the orphanage. We just launched our first annual 5K walk/run—Lace Up for Orphans--- held on November 3rd to help raise funds for this project. Anyone who would be interested in making a donation toward the playground can visit our website at www.missionhope.us .
JBU: What were some of the challenges you faced as the Adoption Awareness Coordinator for Mission: Hope?
JEN: I loved being the Adoption Awareness coordinator for Mission: Hope. I had the opportunity to talk with countless families about the Christian view of adoption and the processes for both international and domestic adoption. After going to the orphanage in Jelgava for the first time in 2010, I felt God calling me strongly to be a voice for the children there, specifically those who were available for adoption. As of today, there are eight children from that orphanage who have been adopted into families at our church and five more coming home soon! We are absolutely blown away at how the Lord has opened hearts and homes for these children.
I think the only real challenge in this role is desiring for more children to be adopted and having to wait patiently while God works in His own way and time. I believe God designed each of us to be in a family and that He calls His people to obediently take a step of faith in the way of adoption so that orphans have the opportunity to fulfill God’s potential for them through a loving family. Adoption is really the gospel in action...it’s what God did for us, made a way for us to be part of His family...adopted us through Jesus’ sacrifice...and loving us right where we are at, in spite of our “baggage.”
JBU: Can you tell us a little bit about your experiences at the orphanage? What left an imprint on your heart?
JEN: Serving at the Jelgava City orphanage has changed my life. My eyes were opened to so many realities that I was completely ignorant about. And, although much of what I've learned is heartbreaking, I see how the Lord is right there in the middle of the hurt. And how He desires for us to be His hands and feet to the children at the orphanage and the community of Jelgava. I was so touched by each of the children.
What really left an imprint on my heart was what great potential each one had. They are all wonderfully made in the image of God. They each have gifts to share and dreams they would like to reach. They each have so much value in the eyes of their Creator. But, they need love, care, and a relationship with Christ in order to fulfill that God-given potential. That’s where Christians come in—loving, serving, and sharing Christ with them. We’ve had the privilege of seeing many of the kids receive Jesus as their Savior and have planted and watered countless other seeds that God is graciously growing. Partnering with local Latvian Christians is vital to seeing kids coming to Christ and being discipled. It’s an honor to serve alongside these individuals and encourage them to persevere in the “daily grind” of serving the children. The blessings are abundant!
Favorite Scripture passages: Romans 8:28, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Favorite Books: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Favorite Hobby: Watching a good movie, playing a board game, or sharing a meal with treasured people in my life.
One fun thing she likes to do with her husband: Anything recreational (and somewhat competitive). Going for hikes, bike rides, water parks, sledding, etc. Exploring and trying new things helps keep our bond strong.
Mission Hope website: www.missionhope.us
To contact Jen: