Leaps of Faith

Following Jesus, following your heart

In 2008, marketing graduate Jason Kichline ’99 was a partner at Andculture, a successful marketing and website design firm he’d launched with a friend right out of college. That’s when he got some unexpected advice—from above.
Drop your nets and follow me’ was the word from the Lord that hit me,” said Kichline, who was getting more involved in his church and less enchanted by longer work weeks with no clear vision for the future.
“When I heard that,” he said, “as a Web developer, it meant, ‘Stop doing Web development and start doing mobile development.’ But the other interpretation was, if I’m getting tangled up in the business, then I’m not going to be free to follow Jesus where he wants me to go.” 
As Christians, following Jesus is always the goal. But making the leap to do so can seem daunting when we don’t know how and where we’ll land. Thankfully, God does know – and plenty of Messiah graduates have found that out firsthand. 
Kichline took God at his word, sitting down with his Andculture partners. He told them he wanted to keep working there but would give up his stake in the company. 
“They were pretty understanding, shocked a little bit,” he said, which mirrored his own feelings. He didn’t know what God had planned, just that this felt right. “When God calls, he doesn’t really give you the entire picture. It’s more ‘put yourself in a position to follow me – I’ve got something coming.’” 
That “something” was a challenge to get organized. During a meeting at church, the worship leader had told Kichline, who is a musician, to make  paper copies of music and file them in binders.
“I blurted out, ‘We need to make an app for that,’” said Kichline. “She looked at me and said, ‘You can’t do that.’”
That’s when Kichline created OnSong, an application that helps worship leaders and other musicians organize and streamline their music filing system. Today, OnSong gets more than 100 downloads a day. It also spurred The OnSong Project, through which part of the proceeds from the app sales are used to buy musical instruments and sound equipment for churches in need.
“It’s a ministry that’s funded by a business,” explained Kichline.
That  worship leader who told him to get organized? She’s now OnSong’s marketing director.
His wife Jaime (McCarty) ’99 also has supported his venture, personally and professionally, managing their employees  and the financial side of the operation. 

Dream takes flight

That kind of spousal support is what it took for Stephanie (Fenton) Perry ’99 to realize her dream. The graphic designer was working in Messiah’s Office of Marketing and Communications five years ago when she started daydreaming about opening her own café. After two years of talking to her husband Ammon ’09 about it, he finally spoke up. 
“My husband looked at me one day and said ‘Do you really want to do this? Because we can do this,’” Perry said, giggling at the memory. “I’m not a huge risk taker, so this was a ginormous risk for me.”
But she instinctively felt her heart leap and ultimately she followed it. 
“I quit a steady job, a steady income, gave up my health insurance,” she said, “and I just jumped.”
The couple, who had virtually no professional culinary experience, researched spaces, came up with a menu, rented a building in midtown Harrisburg and renovated what is now Yellow Bird Café. 
Though Ammon is an avid baker and both liked to entertain, running their own restaurant had a steep learning curve. Perry says when you take a leap of faith you have to be open to the way it unfolds – and be prepared to bobble the landing a little bit. 
“I never had classes that told me how to order things, and I remember getting my first order. After I got all the lettuce in the fridge, it was just a wall of green. It was awful,” she laughed. “I probably go through 16 heads of lettuce a week, and that first time I had ordered 48 heads just of red leaf lettuce, plus spinach, arugula and romaine.” 
The Perrys opened Yellow Bird in February 2013 to overwhelming success, with lines out the door its first three days. Perry says what she didn’t realize then but understands now is that her gifts for hospitality have turned the business venture into a ministry — which she believes is exactly what God had in mind. 
“God opened doors and shut doors,” she said. “I can see it all now. It was like this maze that took us to where we are. I like acting faith out in my daily life. This is who I am. This is how I want to embrace you, get to know you and be your friend.” 

Ventures into doubt

Connecting with people authentically is what Phil Wilmot ’12, who majored in peace and conflict studies and cross-cultural ministries, has sought continually. As a student, he took time off from his studies at Messiah to live among the homeless in Harrisburg. Later, he and his wife Suzan moved from Pennsylvania to her home village in Uganda to put down roots and build up others there. 
“While I’m confident the decision to permanently move to East Africa was the right one, it hasn’t been without its challenges,” said Wilmot, who has been arrested and regularly threatened by Uganda’s government. He also has spent time demanding for the release of kidnapped and tortured friends, rushed to scrape together funds to hire lawyers and implemented activities to further the cause of his nonprofit, Solidarity Uganda, which empowers communities through education to work toward social change. 
“When I consider what I’ve lost most,” he said, “it’s people. My transatlantic relationships are pretty starved at this point.” Though he misses friends and family back home, Wilmot says the decision to go was an easy one. 
“I think a commitment to something greater than one’s self is required to sustain one’s faith. This manifests itself – or fails to manifest itself – in the decisions we make, many of which likely require risk or sacrifice,” Wilmot said. “Those who maintain their worldviews and uphold the status quo without the sense of urgency in stretching their worlds beyond that actually believe in nothing at all, so yes, ‘leaps of faith’ – or maybe more accurately, ‘ventures into doubt’ – are probably required for us to grow.”

Not afraid to jump

Growth also can come when following your heart means staying still, silent and patient, says Dawnique Shury ’12. 
“A leap of faith doesn’t have to be a leap. It can also be about being OK being where you didn’t think you wanted to be,” said Shury, whose faith and patience were stretched when she came to Messiah from her home country of Guyana.
Embracing a culture, a people and a lifestyle so different from her own was difficult at times, but the young idealist grew stronger in her faith and in her passion. 
In her short career since graduating in youth ministries from Messiah, Shury has worked alongside Guyanese diplomats, interned at the United Nations and served as a global youth ambassador in Washington D.C. She now lives in New York City contributing to education development for Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative, the goal of which is to educate the 62 million girls around the world who are not in school.  
“I’m not afraid to jump,” Shury said of her many moves. “I’m not afraid of hearing ‘no’ either. Even though I’m initially like, ‘Oh, I hope it comes true,’ I can make it work. If it’s meant to be, it will be. If it’s not, I’ll move on to Plan B, because Plan B is going to be so much better.”
Whether it’s toward a lifelong dream or a venture into doubt, a leap of faith is one that is compelled by compassion, powered by prayer and led by God. 

“God wants us to stretch ourselves and reach out to others,” said Kichline. “I think what it comes down to is a whole lot of compassion usually makes you move. When you start realizing the love Jesus has for you in the world, you start feeling that compassion and it compels you. You have to do something. I think God sees that and puts the stepping stones under your feet.”

After listening to some unexpected advice, Jason Kichline ’99 gave up stake in his company and created something new: the mobile application Onsong, which organizes music for worship leaders.
For Ammon ’09 and Stephanie (Fenton) Perry ’99, Yellow Bird Cafe is a business and a ministry.
Phil Wilmot ’12 lives in Uganda and started the nonprofit Solidarity Uganda, which empowers communities to work toward social change.
Aftern interning at the United Nations, Dawnique Shurey ’12 now contributes to the educational development for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn Initiative and serves as a youth ambassador in New York City.