Home of Wheaton Bible Church's Quarterly Magazine
Jeff and Jill Walser have been running on parallel (and then intersecting) paths since they were born—just seven months apart—at Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, Indiana.
They didn’t meet until the age of sixteen, but the same kinds of childhood turmoil set each of them up for a wild ride through their high school years.
Jeff, the oldest of four boys, had what he calls a “perfect little family,” until he was 13. That year, his youngest brother, Jack, was born with down syndrome. Three months later, his dad admitted to being unfaithful and left Jeff’s mom after seventeen years of marriage.
Jill was the youngest in a blended family of six kids and two unhappily married parents—including an abusive father.
At the time Jeff and Jill started dating—during their junior year at Muncie North high School—Jeff describes himself as “in trouble, a lot, with drugs and the police.” Jill was, in her own words, “off the charts in rebellion and promiscuity.”
“We were two completely wild sixteen-year-olds,” Jill says. “We were a crazy mess, and I think we were attracted to each other because our lives were so messed up.” Jeff adds, “There were no boundaries in our relationship.”
“We fought a lot,” Jill says. “So we’d break up, then get back together—over and over again. we knew each other’s secrets, and we had a twisted sort of bond because of that.”
When high school ended, Jill and Jeff went their separate ways, Jeff heading off to Oberlin College in Ohio, and Jill to nearby Ball State University—but first she traveled for a year with an international singing group called “Up with People.”
During that time, Jill was befriended by three young Christians who were also part of the group. “They were my best friends,” Jill says. “The three of them just loved on me.”
In 1980, a year after the tour ended, Jill and her friends planned a reunion in California. Jill arrived a day early and went to church with Kim, one of the three friends. There was an altar call that day, and Jill went forward. When the other two friends arrived, Jill had big news to share—she was now a Christian too!
Miraculously, in the years since his parents’ divorce, and through a variety of amazing circumstances, all of Jeff’s family—including his brothers, his mom and stepmom, and his dad—had become followers of Jesus.
“Then,” Jeff says, “they all came after me!”
At first, he admits, he “didn’t want to hear all that Jesus stuff.” But eventually a friend in college gave him Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. “That book was huge for me,” Jeff says.
“One weekend I came home from college,” he recounts.“I was lying on my bed with all the stuff I’d been reading—Mere Christianity and some passages from the Bible that were really speaking to me—swirling in my head.
“I remember that the window was open and a cool breeze was blowing in, and I just said, ‘This is true. This is true.’ I accepted Christ right there, on my own.”
It was a month later, Jeff recalls, when Jill called and said, “I have something to tell you.”
“And I have something to tell you,” he responded.
During that call, they shared the life change that had occurred when each of them had responded to God’s offer of salvation through Jesus, His Son.
“We weren’t sure where to go with all that,” Jill says, “and Jeff was heading off for a semester in France.” Jeff, too, was wondering about the future, and concerned about his new faith. He wondered, Is God in France?
The answer, he soon learned, was a resounding yes. At the Institute of Language in Tours, he met a missionary couple headed to Burundi. They spent time with Jeff, teaching him the importance of getting into God’s Word every day and spending time in prayer. They took him to church and walked alongside him in those early days of his spiritual journey.
Jill, back in the States, was living in New York City and taking theater classes when she received a call from France. Jeff, standing under the Eiffel Tower, was calling to tell her that he loved her and that when he got home, they would work things out. Jill agreed. “I definitely felt like I could not move on with my life until I settled things with Jeff,” she says.
When Jeff got home, the first thing they talked about was that there would be no more physical intimacy. They wanted to remain pure. “We didn’t know a lot about Christianity,” Jill says, “but we were pretty sure physical stuff was off the table.”
They did great in June, July, and August; then, Jill says, “We caved in one time, and I got pregnant.”
Jill wished and prayed that it wasn’t so. “I thought that if you prayed hard enough you should be able to make it go away.” But soon the truth was inescapable.
Even before the pregnancy was a factor, Jeff had decided to stay back from that semester of college, so he was there in New York when Jill’s pregnancy was confirmed.
His response to the news? “You’re getting an abortion. That’s how we’re going to handle this.” Jeff adds, “My default setting as a human being is to take care of myself. After all, it was my senior year of college.” So an abortion was scheduled.
Back in June, Jeff had received an envelope from Fred and Sammy Sorrel, the missionaries who mentored him in France. Inside was a check for two thousand dollars, and with the check was a note, “Jeff, we think you have a future in ministry. This is to pay for tuition to start your seminary studies.” So that’s what he did.
“I enrolled in a class on basic theology and was attending classes when this whole thing happened with Jill,” he said.
The abortion was scheduled for a Thursday—the last possible day in Jill’s pregnancy that an abortion could legally be performed.
“I went to class on the Wednesday night before,” Jeff said, “and the professor was teaching about God the Creator. And as soon as he started, I was feeling a conviction: Oh, we’re making a mistake. This is terrible. I can’t do this. I cannot do this. The class ended, and everyone exited except me. “The teacher asked, ‘What’s going on?’ and Jeff used the age-old classic, ‘I have a friend who’s in trouble.’”
The conversation quickly got down to the truth. “Why did God let this happen?” Jeff asked. “One time. really?” His instructor’s confident response was “God is going to be with you in this.”
“He prayed for me—for us,” Jeff remembers.
Jeff left that class, found Jill, and asked her to marry him. “God used that man to save our son Joey’s life.”
Wedding plans were quickly in the works. Over the next ten days, Jill made her dress, family came to New York and pitched in, and Jeff and Jill’s wedding took place at the New Hyde Park Baptist Church in Queens. “Followed,” Jeff says, “by a wedding-night stay at one of the ugliest hotels in Queens!”
A few months later, Jeff followed his father and his grandfather into the food business. After three moves to three different states and the birth of Joey and their other two children, Dan and Katie, they eventually wound up in Chicago, with Jeff as the Vice President of Sales at Vienna Beef. They chose Wheaton as the place where they would live.
“It was late fall,” Jeff remembers, “the day we came to finalize the details on our new house. In our new front yard we found long-time Wheaton Bible Church members Gary and Christy Bollier, along with their kids, raking leaves. They were our new next-door neighbors.”
“Over the next year, Christy would invite me to women’s events at Wheaton Bible Church or to visit a service with them,” Jill says, “and eventually we went.”
Shortly after that visit, Rob Bugh became the new Senior Pastor at Wheaton Bible Church, the contemporary service was started, and the church began a drama ministry. As a theater major, Jill was intrigued and quickly became one of the principle actors.
“Five years later,” Jill said, “I interviewed to become Rob Bugh’s Administrative Assistant because I’d done executive secretary work in the past. I got the job, and when the drama ministry leader moved to Florida, I was asked to step in to help lead that ministry. Now—fourteen years later—I’m part of the Worship & Creative Arts team and feel blessed to still work at Wheaton Bible Church.”
Jeff’s involvement at WBC began with teaching sixth-grade students in Children’s Ministry, when their son Dan was in that grade. His next assignment was serving as department leader—a position he held for ten years—during which he introduced a unique gift when birthdays were celebrated. “Since I was with Vienna,” Jeff said, “when the kids had a birthday, I’d bring them a bagel dog! Kids now in their mid-to-late twenties still bring it up when they see me!”
Later, Jeff became an Elder, and in that role attended a conference in May of 2005 with several other Elders and staff members. At the end of the last session, Jeff remarked to the team how important all they had learned was going to be as the church worked to fill a pastoral position that was vacant at the time.
One of the WBC pastors in the group said, “Jeff, why don’t you think about doing that?” That comment started a process of prayer for Jeff and Jill, as well as numerous conversations and meetings with leadership at the church. God was clearly expanding their vision. Then in August, Jeff resigned from Vienna and officially started as Adult Discipleship Pastor in October of that same year.
“That leap of faith—from the corporate world to serving as a full-time pastor—was the beginning of even greater adventures,” Jill says. “From that point on I started to realize that nothing was strange or off-limits or unusual anymore.”
Jeff agrees. “God met us and supported us, and His faithfulness was so obvious in so many ways. All of a sudden we were in the midst of a more day-to-day faith. It totally changed how we looked at things.”
So it wasn’t too surprising to Jill when Jeff came home one day after a staff meeting and told her about a comment by Pastor Rob. “Wouldn’t it be cool,” Rob had said, “if somebody on staff moved into the apartments where our Puente del Pueblo ministry is located.” Jill’s immediate response was, “I think God is leading us to move there”
Jeff said, “What are you talking about?”
“I think God wants us to move there,” she said again.
Although Jill was the one who first embraced the idea of moving—again (this would be Jeff and Jill’s fifth move since they first relocated to the Wheaton area)—they both quickly recognized that God had been preparing their hearts. A short-term mission trip to Kenya had exposed them to Josephine (a Kenyan Heart for AIDS ministry partner). Jeff recalls, “She reflected Christ in such a huge way that even prior to the Timber Lake idea, we were asking the question ‘God, how would You have us be like Josephine? How can we be more involved in our local community, which our church is calling us to do?’
“God also prepared us through Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love. “The way he described how crazy God’s love was for us and how he has called us to demonstrate that in the world was overwhelming to us.”
“The third thing,” Jeff says, “was that during that time four guys in their forties in our church family died. Through those deaths we felt that God was showing us that we just don’t know how much time we have left. We started seeing things from the eternal perspective and made the decision to move to Timber Lake; it definitely was a God thing.”
A little more than a year after their move, life as apartment dwellers at Timber Lake feels normal— “whatever that means,” they say with a laugh.
First-year Memories? Moving in the week of the 2011 blizzard, adjusting to life without a garage was a challenge. “On the other hand,” Jill said, “once everybody’s cars are covered with snow, there’s this amazing community thing that happens, and everybody comes out to dig their cars out. Everybody’s dealing with it, and everybody’s helping each other.”
Transitioning from a three-bedroom home with a two-and-a-half-car garage and three-fourths of an acre of land to a two-bedroom, 800-square foot, third-floor apartment requires, Jeff says, “some retooling.”
Surprises? “Before we moved,” Jill says, “I was afraid I would not be able to deal with the noise of living so close to others in an apartment. But the truth is, I’ve come to love the sounds of the apartment, with the kids laughing and playing and people coming in and out. There’s just life all around you.”
Other Insights? Everybody, Jeff and Jill agree, works like crazy! “People are out of there by five-thirty or six in the morning,” Jeff said, “and many of them aren’t home till eleven at night.” Jill adds, “If you came over at 5:30 in the morning, you’d see a mass exodus. People are getting ready, some are carpooling, and taxis are picking people up in the dark. The work ethic is incredible.”
A Memory That Stands Out? “One of our most special times since moving to Timber Lake happened this past December,” Jeff says. “An out-of-town friend and I were coming home from a conference on disciple making and were greeted at our apartment door by three seven-to-ten-year-olds I’ve become good friends with over the last year. As my friend introduced himself, he set me up with the perfect opportunity to share about myself and what I believe.
“With that opening, I began to talk about my faith story and then to share the Gospel. Along the way, one of their moms joined us too, right there in the hallway, as we had this incredible spiritual conversation. As I finished talking about Jesus, I asked if anyone wanted to trust Jesus for salvation and begin a relationship with their heavenly Father. Everyone raised their hand, and we prayed right there outside our door! It was an awesome moment.”
“We’ve been so blessed as the conversations have continued,” Jeff says, “we’ve had a chance to study the Bible regularly with the kids and two of our other neighbors as well.”
Jill adds, “We’re also grateful that we have neighbors who have accepted our invitation to come to church on Sundays and other special events.”
Through these opportunities and many other situations, God has continually reminded Jeff and Jill of his will for them at Timber Lake and of His love for the people of their community!