A strong breeze from Lake Huron blew my hair across my face as I bent to pick up goose droppings. “Really, God,” I muttered, “is this how I am to serve?” It was Spring of 1983, and after earning my master’s degree in counseling psychology from Wheaton College, I found myself working with my husband Marty at Cedar Campus, InterVarsity’s retreat center in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I had envisioned an adventure where my husband’s forestry major and my graduate work in counseling would marry nicely. Being on “goose detail” was not what I had in mind.
It was during this season of questions that Jo Fields came into my life, on a May day when rain was falling steadily, making outdoor camp activities a dismal prospect. Hopping off her bike and rapping on our door, she introduced herself and told me she’d heard I loved to read. Would I loan her some books? Thus began a friendship of nearly three decades and literally hundreds of books.
Jo (right) with a dear friend from church
The next time Jo showed up, she came bearing treats — her delectable French Breakfast Puffs. Light and airy, sweet and cinnamony, these pastries were a treat to the entire camp staff. She knew that food and fellowship went together, and she did not merely drop them off and run, but would stay to visit with the recipients, finding out about their joys and hurts and how she could pray for them.
Several years after I first met her, I learned Jo had earned her master’s degree in personnel and counseling at Indiana University and had taught and served as Assistant Dean of Women at Albion College in Michigan. Jo had never mentioned this until I shared with her my uncertainty about whether I was really using my own counseling degree. She gave ear to my questions and doubts and then shared the impact she continued to have on students through her work with InterVarsity, even though she was no longer officially employed in higher education. It wasn’t just Jo’s own account of the way God continued to use her gifts and strengths outside of academia that sunk into my heart and mind — I witnessed her deep love and skill for mentoring women myself.
Cedar Campus shoreline
The discipline with which Jo followed Christ was evident even in her recreational choices at camp. She was passionate about swimming and loved to swim laps daily. We shared this love for swimming. But I was all about the aerobic benefits, preferring to swim continuous laps; Jo, once again, modeled putting people first during her trips to the pool. She chatted with the lifeguards on duty, asking not just the usual summer camp questions about what college they attended or what majors they studied, but also what worried them, how they came to faith, and how she could be praying for them. She was a woman of prayer who prayed in all places at all times.
Jo entered my life as a mentor in an unassuming way. Before I knew anything of her status or past achievements working in the university world, I knew her goodness. Jo’s friendship to me was a shadow of Christ, prompting me to look toward our Savior — toward his love and gentleness and patience. In her life Jo encouraged and challenged me, regardless of the types of burdens I was carrying, to rest in Jesus. It was through the knowledge of her identity being hidden in Christ that Jo served others wholeheartedly, not only in official dean, advisor, or mentor roles that her master’s degree afforded her, but in every relationship. Now in death, Jo’s example continues to challenge my notions of how to counsel and mentor others — using my master’s degree fully both at the rural K-12 schools I serve in, but also as I rub shoulders with people in daily life.
Three decades after moving from Chicago to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I find myself returning with my husband each July to lead Family Vacation Week at Cedar. We love serving the families, many of them InterVarsity alumni (including Jo’s husband, Don, and their two daughters, along with their husbands and children) who want to share this sacred place with their spouses and children, who “camp” on the shores of Lake Huron for a week of physical, spiritual, and emotional refreshment. When I play "Marco Polo" in the pool, share book titles, or savor breakfast puffs, I think of Jo and how she mentored me. I think of her profound influence on countless women — college students, graduate students, professors, mothers, and daughters.
At some point during the week each year, I help maintain the camp playing field. As I don my rubber gloves and drop goose droppings into a bucket, I am assured that God has me exactly where he wants me.