Missionary to Asia Ellen Hestevold wanted to believe in God, but thought that it was too old-fashioned for someone like her. It turned out that she was completely wrong.
After having walked around at the Baker Hansen café at St. Hanshaugen for a few minutes and asked a handful of ladies if they happened to be called Ellen, I saw her come through the door with an open-hearted smile. Immediately, I know it’s her.
With Jesus on the shelf
We settle down and when Ellen starts to tell her story, she leaps back to the day of her confirmation.
– I remember feeling remorseful that that my confirmation year had come to an end. “Now it’s over”, I thought. “That’s it.”
She had attended Sunday School as a child, but faith in Jesus had not played a big part in everyday life at home. So now she realized that an epoch of her life was over.
– I am sure that if someone had asked me if I had wanted to receive Jesus and keep up the faith I would have answered with a resounding yes – but nobody did.
So I put Jesus on the shelf for many years. With close friends, a good family and a fulfilling job, Ellen had enjoyed a good life. She was strong in herself and she was often the one others came to when they were in difficulties.
A newly-saved friend
– When I was 22 years old, a friend of mine found faith and the first time I met him after he had received Jesus, I could tell that something was different. “He has found something I am longing for”, I thought – but I was too proud to admit it, says Ellen, and laughs.
The newly-saved friend and Ellen both lived a short distance outside Oslo and drove together into the city every day for their work and studies. They had many an interesting chat in the car and gradually they started listening to cassettes with Bible teachings. After a few months Ellen came along to church.
– I had an idea that Christians were very boring – a little bit old fashioned – so that was what I was expecting. But to my big surprise a lot of smart-looking young people trooped into the church that summer’s evening. They were well-informed, forthcoming and friendly.
Today, Ellen can’t remember what was said at the meeting, but she describes how the sermon pulled at her heartstrings and that the praise and worship and the warm atmosphere made an impression. She found it all very alluring.
– The following week while I was alone in my car, listening to a sermon, I suddenly realised: “I believe in this! I believe!” I was filled with such a joy, while at the same time being so dazed that I twice managed to lock my keys in my car. I had to call the rescue car, but it didn’t matter.
A few days later Ellen ended up at a seminar intended for people who had been Christians for a while – but luckily she wasn’t aware of this. For the first time she learnt about prophesies, words of wisdom, healing, speaking in tongues and the rest of what the Bible calls gifts of grace.
– I was sitting on the edge of my seat, notebook in hand, thinking: “If this is what it’s like being a Christian, then I’m in!”
At church Ellen received a book entitled “Welcome to the family”. The book explained that God would bestow the Holy Spirit upon those who ask Him for it. “Is it that simple?” I thought, and decided that I would at least give it a try. So I said: “God, now I will stop speaking Norwegian, and the rest will be up to You.” Then I felt a presence and I started to speak out loud. I felt God to be very close.
Group for newly-saved at Anne’s
A few weeks later, Ellen was baptised in water and soon she adjusted her priorities and got involved at her church several days a week.
The first thing she did was to join a group for newly-saved people. And the leader of the group – yes, it was Anne Kobberdal, who as Anne Christiansen would later found JesusWomen.
– I was so happy in Anne’s group. It was wonderful to get a chance to learn the basic elements of faith from the very beginning. Anne gave lessons and we conversed and prayed. In the group I received a word of wisdom from God for one of the other women that proved to be spot on. It changed everything for her and it truly changed me too.
Ellen also got involved in a Bible study group at a rehabilitation centre that wanted people from the outside to join in order to be a positive influence, and she was regularly part of a team that prayed for people and told people on the street about Jesus.
– I found it wonderful to be able to pass on what I had experienced. People were saved and healed. I was so geared up and I received a proper kick-start to my life as a Christian.
Man and wife
Ellen has a lot to share with me, and the bun on her plate remains untouched. Suddenly David arrives at the café with a coat that Ellen had left behind in the car. Some time has already passed since he dropped his wife off outside the café and he smiles knowingly when he realises that she hasn’t got any further with her story than her time as a newly born-again Christian.
– Ellen covers all the details – she’s very good at that, David confirms with a smile.
When they were both in their early twenties, Ellen and David moved among the same set of people. They became good friends and enjoyed each other’s company. Ellen thought: “I’d like a man like David”, while David was intent upon following Paul’s example and living alone.
– I respected him and prayed for God’s help not to fall in love with him if he was meant to live alone.
Gradually, the pieces fell into place also for David and after a while they said “yes” to one another.
When Ellen considered the future, she envisaged herself far beyond the borders of Norway, something that suited David, who, at the young age of 11, was clearly called to mission. There was nothing they would rather do than become missionaries.
– We knew that we would go, it was just a question of when. We decided to first get settled in Norway. We had two children, worked, got involved at church and led short mission trips. Only when our boys were three and five years old did we move to the Philippines. After a clear vision from God, they focussed on young people, and helped to inspire a renewed view of youth in the churches all over the district, and many life-changing meetings with God for the young people under their charge.
Through igniting a vision for youth in many people’s hearts their work has continued to bear fruit.
– It is wonderful to see it multiplied!
– How have your children fared in all of this?
– We have included our children in everything we have done and they have loved it. As adults they have both decided to stay in Asia and they are actively part of the congregation we established in Hong Kong. We jokingly say that our boys are like eggs – white on the outside and yellow inside. They feel more Asian than Norwegian and they both feel called to stay. The last also applies to our daughter, who we adopted while we lived in the Philippines.
«Wild – Strong – Free»
After eleven years in the Philippines the family Hestevold moved to Hong Kong.
– David and I are pastors and our main focus is to build the church with all that that involves.
Ellen still has a passion to go out on the streets and tell people about Jesus.
– I am part of a team who visits the brothels in the Red Light district every other Saturday. We can see that it makes a difference. Only in the last year, six brothels have been closed down and the proprietors blame a drop in business. We hand out flowers and chocolate and talk to people and pray for them. Many of the women at the brothels have been saved, healed and been given Bibles, and the team is working on discipleship. The latest addition to the work in Hong Kong is the establishment of JesusWomen. At first, Ellen hadn’t thought of starting a women’s ministry, but over many years the call began to smoulder in her heart. For a long time, she wasn’t sure as to how it would look, but during the spring of last year, the pieces fell into place.
– I was at a gathering where the words “Wild – Strong – Free” were mentioned, and I felt them tug at my heartstrings. This was my dream for women!
JesusWomen Hong Kong
In May last year, the founder of JesusWomen Anne Christiansen, came to visit Ellen in Hong Kong.
– We stayed in touch ever since I had been a part of her group for the newly saved. We spent a couple of wonderful days together when she came to Hong Kong and I shared my dream for women with her. She encouraged me to go ahead.
In November, Ellen and her team organised a JesusWomen gathering as a part of a larger conference, and this April JesusWomen Hong Kong was officially launched with Anne Christiansen as a guest.
– I think that we will witness a JesusWomen movement, a network of girls and women that spreads around Hong Kong and ties us together. I believe in local involvement, where people stand together and are there for each other, and conferences where everybody can meet.
– What is the situation like for most women in Hong Kong?
– They live a free life and have a busy work-life as we do in Norway, but here many people work around the clock. They end up as marionettes, slaves to the system, who just work, work, work. My impression is that many of the women in Hong Kong are weighed down by the gravity and worries of life.
Transforming meetings with Jesus
– Both Bible texts and stories from our own time abound with women whose lives are changed after a meeting with Jesus.
Now Ellen brims with enthusiasm and her stories come one after the other.
– Think, for instance, of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and who sneaked close to Jesus hoping for a miracle. He could easily have ignored her and quickly moved on. By touching the hem of his garment the woman had already received the healing she had sought, and Jesus was, after all, on his way to attend a dying child. But he didn’t only want to heal her of her physical illness, he also wanted to raise her up and give her recognition in the middle of the crowd of people and thus a brand new start and chance in life.
– Jesus is the foremost liberator of women in history. Still, to this day, he can in an instant sort out what we might otherwise have struggled with for years.
Identity in Jesus
– The Bible describes who we are in Jesus – and we girls and women need to know this in order to understand our value, what we have and what God has called us to do.
Ellen emphasises that we not only have a shared, but also an individual identity in Jesus.
– In our family we are all Hestevold – but only I am Ellen. Jesus chose to call Simon Peter in order to identify him as a “firm rock”, and he called Nathanael “a man without deceit”.
– Our identity and our calling are connected, and knowing who we are, at our workplaces, in our families and relationships, in our neighbourhoods, among friends and in our churches, is hugely important.
Vision for growth
Luckily, David and JW’s photographer have struck up a chord on the next table, because when JW Norway meets JW Hong Kong there is a lot to talk about. But eventually we have to draw a line.
– I am ready to start out with the little I’ve got in my own two hands in order to see the big dreams my heart holds become reality, concludes Ellen.
Text/ Mai-Linn Strand
Photos/ Frode Løvbukten/ Privat