Far from her home in southern Saskatchewan, Jean Barsness wondered if the shattered pieces of her life could ever be put back together after the death of her husband.
“We were serving as missionaries in Panama and we thought it to be a safe place,” Barsness, doctor of missiology and board of director member with SEND International of Canada, said.
“My children were eight and 10 at the time and our hearts and lives where shattered when my husband Gil was kidnapped and stabbed to death. I wondered once I had been broken could I ever be whole again.”
Yet wholeness was something Barsness would find again through her faith in God. A journey that is now described in her book Anytime, Anywhere, Any Cost: Can I Trust God with my Zip Code? The book is set to be released during Briercrest College and Seminary’s 2819 missions conference this September.
“My first purpose in writing this book was the fact that I wanted my grandchildren to know who their grandpa Gil was and to describe the miracles of God,” Barsness explained.
“There are several scriptures in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, that encourage us ‘to tell the miracles and powers of God to the next generation,’ so I really wanted to do that. To share with my grandchildren what God had done in my life as a Christ follower and tell the miracles I have seen.”
Barsness said the content of her book began when at age 15 she became a believer and enrolled at Caronport High School.
“I was only six weeks old in Jesus when I enrolled in the high school,” she explained. “I grappled with being pleased to have my salvation and my eternal destiny secured, but not really wanting God to mess up my life and my plans. I knew He said if I was going to be a disciple I had to give up everything.”
However, her grappling came to an end at the age of 19 when she enrolled in Briercrest’s three year Bible diploma program.
During her time at Briercrest Barsness attended a missions conference and heard Dr. T.J. Back from TEAM urge students to begin living a life of radical abandonment. He asked students to cross the line from being a 'believer' to a 'follower,' and offered them the opportunity to sign a card declaring "Anywhere, Anytime, Any Cost.”
“I can remember exactly where I was standing when I stood to my feet and offered to sign the card. Until this point I had my hands closed, my heart closed and my will and emotions closed to having God take over, but that night I stood to my feet and said ‘yes God.’”
In that moment Barsness said she crossed the line from simply being a follower of Christ to being His disciple, a decision and commitment that would completely change the course of her life.
“I went from trying to be in control to taking my hands off and being obedient to His will for me.”
The year following her graduation from Briercrest, Barsness became the youngest missionary to serve with AVANT and eventually found herself sharing Christ in Panama. A direction she had never planned on going.
“I didn’t really want to be a missionary. It was the last thing I wanted to be,” she explained. “But serving has actually been quite wonderful because I am learning to know God better and what it means to walk in obedience.”
Many years later Barsness has journeyed to four continents speaking and serving the Lord and still loves what she is doing, although the decision to say ‘yes’ to God came with a higher price tag than anticipated.
“Truly there was never a bitter moment against God or question of ‘how could He possibly do this to us?’” she said. “We know He does all things well, even when it hurts. It was trusting God is love. That is what Lordship is all about.”
Barsness paused and then spoke about the love and support Briercrest College offered her and her family back in 1974 after her husband was murdered.
“When Gil was kidnapped and went missing I notified the home office in Kansas City and Briercrest was notified. Within hours I had a telegram from Dr. Hildebrand saying everyone at Briercrest was praying,” she explained.
“I thought, ‘I graduated, I walked that platform and got my diploma 20 years before and now 20 years later, the leadership at Briercrest were the first to respond and pray.’ That is not the norm and it showed me Briercrest has an interest beyond academics.”
Barsness said as she continued to reminisce upon her journey, she began to realize her book was not only going to be for her grandchildren, but that God had something much bigger planned.
She knew she was to share her journey with a much wider audience in hopes of awakening others to the notion of living a life of radical abandonment for Jesus Christ.
“We live in an era where everyone is entitled. I wanted to look at what radical abandonment looks like to God in an age of entitlement,” she explained. “If only one person says yes to living a life of radical abandonment for Jesus all this was worth it.”
Barsness also hopes her book will inspire others to be reminded that God has proven Himself over and over again, and He has asked Christians to live a life of obedience and faith.
“Today I see many young people not being followers, but leaders. They are telling God ‘Okay God, I will go to Timbuktu for two years and then I am coming home or I am going to the Philippines for three months and then I am coming home,’” she said.
“That is not our business. We are not the leader. Yet we keep asking God to bless something that He didn’t even have a part in the decision making. We need to learn to live in radical abandonment instead and in obedience to God’s leading not ours.”
A lesson Barsness has learned many times in her walk with Christ.
“Because I was followed as much as my husband was by the communists, I had to leave Panama with my children. We went to Ecuador, planning on living there the rest of our lives,” she said.
However, God had different plans for Barsness and her family.
It was during her three-month furlough that she was asked by Dr. Hildebrand to consider staying in Canada a little longer than she had planned.
Barsness prayed that option would not be God’s will for her.
“When they asked me to stay in Canada I didn’t want to. I walked the streets at night here in Briercrest and said ‘Lord I don’t want to stay in Saskatchewan, I want to go back to Latin America,’” she explained.
“Then God just had to tell me I am not the leader and all my responsibility was to just follow.”
In a step of faith Barsness listened to God’s prompting and agreed to come back for a year. It was a decision that would eventually lead her to work in the library and then dedicate another 24 years to teaching at Briercrest.
“My life is full of surprises,” she laughed. “I would have never dreamt in a hundred years I’d end up teaching at Briercrest for 24 years, but loved being there and I loved being in the classroom.”
Barsness said while launching her book at Briercrest’s 2819 missions conference was not her idea, she is thrilled at the opportunity to do so because Briercrest has been involved in so much of her story.
“It was a total surprise to me, it blew me out of the water,” she said of being asked to come and launch her book at the school.
“I have spent a lot of time at Briercrest and it has always been a wonderful experience and I am very excited about Briercrest being a part of this when they have been so much a part of my life.”