God has been calling me into pastoral ministry since … I don’t even know. Since I was born? Or before? It’s just taken me most of my life to accept it.
I’m a missionary kid. My parents, Joe and Linda Liechty, left their home in Goshen, IN, to serve with the Mennonite Board of Missions in Dublin, Ireland. There, they formed a little Christian community that lived and worshiped in a dilapidated house in the inner city. That house was my first home, and that community was my first church.
I grew up in Dublin, trying to make sense of who I was. My parents were Americans. So, did that make me an American? I didn’t feel like one. I’d never lived in the US. I went to school with Irish kids. All of my friends were Irish. If you asked me, I would have said I was Irish too.
And yet, I was aware that there was something different about me. It wasn’t always obvious, but it came out. Like the time the neighborhood kids were playing cops and robbers —hiding behind parked cars, making guns with their index fingers, pretending to shoot at each other. I knew from my parents that Mennonites were pacifists, and that meant I couldn’t shoot anyone, or even pretend to. Reluctantly, I went inside and asked my mother if she would play chess with me.
After graduating from “secondary school” (grades 7–12) in Dublin, I moved to Goshen, IN for college. At that point, I assumed that I would become a missionary like them, probably somewhere in West Africa.
In college, I got the chance to actually visit West Africa for the first time. With a group of 21 other students, I lived and studied in Mali for three months. It was brutally hard. I got malaria, giardia, and a staph infection that left oozing welts on my legs. I became skeletally thin. By the time I returned to the US, I was mentally and spiritually broken, no longer sure who God was or where God might be calling me.
I spent the next decade drifting. I longed to feel close to God again, but I often felt abandoned and alone instead. In my search, I hiked all 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail. I lived in a little cabin in the woods for a year without running water or electricity. I tried my hand at a number of different jobs.
Finally, I landed at a United Church of Christ congregation outside Denver, CO, where I worked as the Office Manager and Director of Communications. It was there that it became obvious—first to everyone else and then to me—that God was calling me into pastoral ministry.
When I told my parents that I was applying to seminaries, they were delighted, but not at all surprised. “Jacob,” my father said, “You could have gone to seminary at any time since you were fourteen years old. But everything you’ve done since then is going to make you such a better pastor.”
I hope he’s right. I often feel that, at the age of 40, I should be deep into a career by now, not just starting one. But, since becoming co-pastors of Ambler Mennonite Church last May, my wife and I have often talked about how right it feels. There are many things about my life that don’t make sense to me, and maybe never will. But I am as sure that God brought us here to Ambler as I am sure of anything else in the world. And I can’t wait to see where God will lead us and our little church next.