When TEAM missionary Jennifer Hylton shares how God called her to France, she gets straight to the point, with no effort to impress: “I felt God speak right to my heart, ‘You have a future in missions.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t even know what that means.’”
As a first-generation Christian in her 20s, Hylton didn’t know a single missionary, much less how God would call one. She had been praying for peace about her future, thinking she might go to medical school or relocate, but mission work was nowhere on her list.
When she sensed God speaking to her during a conference worship service, “I looked at the guy next to me, and I was like, ‘I’m pretty sure God just told me I’m gonna be a missionary. Is that a thing?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a thing.’”
Even though Hylton knew little about becoming a missionary, she had long nurtured an impulse to give others hope. As a research associate at a children’s cancer clinic, she often served as a support to patients’ families, helping them understand research and giving encouragement.
“I need to give people hope,” she said. “I feel like I’m so stuffed up and stifled when I’m not giving hope, it’s hard to explain.”
Hylton also had a lifelong love for everything France-related, so when she began to research opportunities and learned of the country’s spiritual neglect, it seemed like a perfect fit. She took a vision trip to France in 2009 and applied to TEAM upon her return.
In May 2010, she was officially appointed by TEAM to serve in France.
Realistically, Hylton thought she could have 90 percent of her support by October 2011, but she had significant obstacles ahead. Not only was Hylton a first-generation Christian, but her young church had no experience in sending one of its own to the field.
“They were figuring out this journey along with me,” Hylton said. “We are nine years old and constantly growing and growing and growing, … but I’m the first missionary they’ve ever sent from within their body.”
Hylton began setting up meetings, building relationships and writing a blog about her journey. Her church created videos to share the vision and hosted fundraising events, while her missions pastor met with her every week.
Still, years went by, and Hylton’s calling to France remained desperately out of reach. Hylton wondered if she should take work promotions and what she should tell her boss. At church, people began asking how her “trip” to France had gone and “Didn’t God call you to be a missionary?”
“Seeing the lack of faith in other people’s eyes can shake you,” Hylton said. “But God didn’t call me to see faith in other people’s eyes. God called me to have faith in him and to act on it.”
Hylton said God confirmed her calling hundreds of times over the years, so she pressed forward, learning to trust him, learning to find the beauty in waiting. Although Hylton never had a break-through moment, she eventually gathered her support through slow persistence.
On July 23, 2014, after four years of fundraising, Hylton experienced the victory of a one-way flight to France. Since then, she has finished language school and is now starting an internship to prepare her for lifelong ministry. Challenges abound in this new country, but Hylton is taking with her every lesson she’s learned since God first spoke missions to her heart.
“It went great!” Hylton told her supporters in March, after teaching her first Sunday school class in French. “Of course it went great, because you prayed, and God is so faithful.”
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