Discovering God’s provision, purpose
Listening to Jill Oschwald’s journey is much like watching a master artist place pottery pieces and ceramic shards into an intricate mosaic. The first few pieces were cemented in childhood. She grew up in a Christian family in which service to the church was of paramount importance.
“God has a lot of surprises for us along the way,” Jill says. “As I grew up, I often would pray, ‘God, please choose me to be a missionary,’ not realizing, of course, what that fully meant.”
More of the mosaic emerged when she was a teen, during confirmation. “There was a big reception afterward,” Jill recalls. “Having taught us for many years, our pastor went around the room, telling all in attendance what he thought each of us would become. When he got to me, he said I would work for the church. Surprised, I tucked that away in my memory.”
While in high school, she joined European Youth Encounter, a group from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) that traveled to Norway, Sweden and Denmark to witness for Christ. “At that time, I knew that I wanted to serve God in whatever capacity He could use me,” she recalls.
She graduated as a parish worker from St. John’s College in Winfield, Kan., and was about to receive her first placement.As she contemplated her future, Jeff Oschwald, whom she was dating, proposed marriage. He was completing his bachelor’s degree at Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Mich., in preparation for seminary and wanted Jill by his side.
“I told Jeff that I wanted to go where God wanted me,” Jill says, “even if it meant some place other than Ann Arbor. In God’s time, we would marry.”
As it turned out, she was hired to be secretary to the superintendent of Lutheran schools for the LCMS Michigan District. Jeff and Jill were married, excited about their future together. Years later, as the couple considered seminary plans, a position opened up for Jill at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. As a result of that and other factors, Jeff began his Master of Divinity studies there as she continued to fulfill her calling.
“There is great joy … knowing Who you serve. He lightens our burdens and directs our paths if we open our hearts to His will for our lives.”
— Jill Oschwald
After seminary and graduate school, Jeff took his first call, serving a parish for three and a half years. Demands of parish life made completing a Ph.D. dissertation difficult, so a year away was needed to complete the degree requirements. As graduation neared, waiting for another call became disheartening.
“He was serving as a vacancy pastor,” Jill says. “When it was time for the prayers, he prayed silently, ‘God, I’m willing and I’m able. We’re willing to go wherever you want us. Just call us.'”
The very next day, Jeff — while working at the seminary library in Fort Wayne — received a phone call from a retired professor who had just returned from Taiwan. He wanted to know whether Jeff had finished his dissertation, and, if so, whether he had already accepted another call back into ministry. Having received the hoped-for responses, the professor inquired further, “Would you consider going to Taiwan?” Jeff immediately put him on hold, ran over to Jill’s office and asked if she would go to Taiwan. Ironically, that same morning, she had received two newly-translated Chinese books for the library.
“It was a pretty amazing set of circumstances,” Jill says. “Without hesitation I replied, ‘Of course! Would you?'”
More mosaic tiles.
“With three young children at the time, we had a lot to consider,” Jill says. “They had never sent a family of our size. We were a bit of an experiment.”
As they prepared to go, they were told that they were all missionaries, even the children. “We used that to our benefit to train our kids that being a witness is not just going and knocking on a door,” Jill says. “It’s the life you lead and how you speak to people — how you welcome them into your home and how you interact with them. These are all forms of witness.” Jill was unsure of what her role would be in Taiwan. Yet again, the Lord provided. Jill stepped into the role of business manager for the LCMS missionary community, replacing a missionary who was leaving.
Later, Jill also served at Morrison Academy, where her children attended school, as the middle school library circulation assistant. After moving to Hsinchu, she assisted the seminary librarian there with the English collection.
“Although I was met with challenges of language, culture and my own shortcomings, I would never trade our time in Asia,” Jill says. “There is great joy to be had in knowing Who you serve. He lightens our burdens and directs our paths if we open our hearts to His will for our lives.”
The Oschwalds spent nine years in Taiwan before returning to the United States. Today, Jill serves as the library acquisitions assistant at the Seminary’s Kristine Kay Hasse Memorial Library. Her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Oschwald, is the chairman of the Department of Exegetical Theology. Their children are now grown with eight children between them.
“It’s really wonderful to see our patrons enjoying our newest acquisitions as well as their continual return to books that have lasted through the ages,” Jill says. “The library is a happening place.”
The mosaic of Jill’s life continues to take shape, and as it does, she often reflects on her time on the mission field and the many things God has taught her along the way.
“I hope that, as a result of my experience, I am more interested in loving people regardless of how different they may be from me and in finding ways to be of service to them rather than striving after earthly wealth or prestige,” Jill says. “I remind myself of the many times God has provided for me and my family, protected us and nurtured us, despite some very difficult situations. When I remember to give things up to God’s care, life becomes more manageable and joyful.”
Sarah Maney is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.