Ron Hesser is my father, a dentist in small town Poteau, Oklahoma. Quietly but surely, over the last 12 years, he has dedicated his time and resources to build the local church in Africa to reach the underresourced and war-torn communities. It began when he and his wife, Janice, took a trip to Africa and saw the opportunity to bring a solution to the injustice and oppression of the families and communities in Africa. And what has been developing behind the scenes? Well, it is amazing and worth inviting other people in to experience.
I've watched my dad work in the shadows behind a dental chair, ignorant of fears and reservations, no one ever the wiser at what truly amazing things he has been dreaming and the great justice and hope that he is initiating. He touches each community he is a part of...leaving close friendships, churches, schools, and businesses behind. Yet he continues to press to demonstrate Christ to the uttermost parts of the earth. He has partnered and developed relationship with local leaders in Africa to transform communities and change lives.
And I have watched as my three girls now list their Poppa among their heroes. His story is one of sacrifice and obedience to follow Christ and to demonstrate what Jesus looks like for those around him. Poppa and Nana have invited us into a story that has changed my family's life. It's now our story.
I recently had the opportunity to share Crio’s story for the first time to a group of insanely talented leaders in Atlanta.
I called a close friend and asked if I could come present a desperate situation to his group of friends. He and his Southern Bell wife welcomed me with open arms and hosted a party at their home complete with homemade…everything.
I shared about the Pygmies in Africa and how they are a despised people group that had been kicked out of their home in the forest in order to preserve the tourism in that region. My proposal was that they share their community and friendships with this beautiful group of people. Funding would be necessary to rebuild their community, but more than that…they needed to be fathered, mothered, mentored, loved, befriended. This displaced community in Africa needed them to do what they do for each other. Their response was incredibly gracious and hard to wrap my mind around.
Now to fully understand my passion for the power of friendship, you have to understand a little about my experience. As a licensed counselor and believer in the strength of community, I have seen the importance of relationship in a person’s life. Outside of safe relationships, we simply aren’t healthy.
Relationship gives us what we can’t get on our own—which is the definition of grace. I can’t feel the impact of acceptance, truly understand the relief of being forgiven, or be transformed by the paradox of unconditional love unless I risk the sometimes messiness of being in relationship.
You also have to understand my friendship with our hosts in Atlanta. It was surreal to be in their home and to be reminded of the significance of friendship. I couldn’t help but remember the greatest point of pain in my life, the moment I was told that my sweet mom, my best friend, had not survived a tragic car accident. I was in the emergency room when my brother, covered in blood and barely able to speak, told me “mom didn’t make it.” I was immediately led into a cinderblock room, closed off from all natural light and very, very alone. The aloneness was suffocating. And at that moment…the moment when I lost the ability to stand…my friend Reggie entered into the room, broke through the isolation, and just held me while I cried. My questions, my pain…they were all still very real and larger than life. But I wasn’t alone.
You see, friendships have the power to heal. There is something about our relating with each other that makes things okay, that pulls us up and allows us to be strong when we are at our weakest.
I am thankful to be a part of building relationships with the people of Africa and bringing lasting change to the regions that have been devastated by war, poverty, and disease.
But let it be known that it is the people of Africa that have been a friend to me. They email me to say that they are praying for me to have courage. They challenge me with their openness and willingness to allow the Gospel to challenge their traditions. The orphans I sponsor call me mom and their love…it’s changed me. Thank you Africa for your friendship and for modeling what the church looks like when it best reflects Christ. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your amazing story. I am honored to be an extension of you and your communities. May our friendship have a greater return.
Two are better than one, for they have a greater return for their work. Ecclesiastes 4:9