Jasmine Tesdahl (M.Div ’13) is a chaplain and 1st Lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve. She took some time to share her calling to ministry and, more specifically, to chaplaincy in the United States Air Force. Tesdahl describes being inspired and led by a myriad of voices and experiences.
Martin Luther said that everyone – monks, priests, mothers, fathers, farmers, artisans – has a calling, and that we are all called to glorify God, to grow in faith and in love for neighbor through our callings. I read something from Frederick Buechner once that said that our callings are where our deep joy, and the world’s deep needs collide. My dilemma was that I didn’t know what I was called to! So I searched for a long time, and I tried a lot of different things. And in the meantime, I had become very active in my church.
The most unexpected part of her call came through the voice of a Jew.
About the time that I felt like I couldn’t stay another day in my job as a call center manager, I experienced God speaking to me through an Orthodox Rabbi on NPR. The story was part of a series called the Young and the Faithful, and every week there was a new story about a young person in ministry. They had shared a story about a young Christian woman who worked for a non-profit. They had shared a story about a young Imam who was a chaplain in the Army. [T]his day, it was a young Rabbi, the same age as me, with a daughter the same age as mine, who left all he knew to move to Wyoming and help create community for Jews who he was pretty sure were living there.And as I heard his leap-of-faith story, I heard a voice, in my car. And it said, “You could do that.” And I felt galvanized. As soon as I got to work, I called my pastor, and my intern pastor and the deaconness at my church, and said, “I need to talk to you! I need to learn about what you do!”
This is when she found out about Iliff. It just so happened that three Iliff alumni were also pastors at her church.
So I made an appointment to come and visit, and as I walked through the doors, I felt like I was home. And so I headed off to Iliff not quite knowing what I was doing or why I was there, but I figured, I was in the right place, and God had come with me this far…so I was sure that God would be with me in that discernment of ministry.
Tesdahl’s discernment as to the specific nature of her ministry came to her in an Iliff praxis course, led by Larry Graham and Carrie Doehring, called Spiritual Struggles in the Combat Zone.
Through the first two quarters at Iliff, I had discerned that I was called to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament (to be a pastor in the ELCA), and not the Ministry of Word and Service. I told myself, “If I’m a pastor, I’m going to have military families in my congregation, and this could be helpful.”[This] was a pastoral care praxis and we were in small groups led by former and current military chaplains from all the branches of service. We were asked about how our families had been affected by war, and as I told my story, that my grandfather had a purple heart from Hacksaw Ridge in World War II, and that my dad deployed to Operation: Desert Storm when I was ten, I suddenly realized that I had been deeply affected by war, and, unbeknownst to me, I had been carrying around anxiety and sadness surrounding that time for almost 20 years. . . I had never been able to share (with anyone!) the fear that I experienced as a child. Thanks to Larry and Carrie, I was able to work through those emotions, but the whole experience made me mad. No one had ever taught my mother how to talk to her kids about the scariness of war. So we didn’t talk about it. And in 2010, I knew that there were children who were being much more deeply affected by war – whose parents were coming home broken, with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or with PTSD, or who weren’t coming home at all. And I wanted to make a difference to those kids and their parents.And about the time I was feeling pulled in this direction, not knowing how I, with a Master of Divinity, would be able to make a difference to these people – an Air Force Chaplain who was helping lead the small groups in this class said, “You know, the Air Force really needs people like you. We really need female chaplains. We really need liturgical chaplains. And we really need open minded, welcoming chaplains.”And as I considered this, it just really fit.
It was here that Tesdahl learned about the Air Force Chaplain Candidate Program. This program provides an opportunity for students, while they are completing the required graduate course work for ordained leadership in their faith traditions, to commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force. Concurrently, they are able to train and do internships in the summers. The result is that at the completion of their graduate work, they are prepared to reappoint as Chaplains.
I talked with more alumni – Air Force Chaplains Dallas Little and Jim Parrish – who were on assignment at Iliff doing Master’s degrees in Pastoral Care – about what they did as chaplains. And both of them encouraged me to try it out and to see if it was where God might be leading me.I tried it, and it really spoke to me. For me, chaplaincy feels like the place where my deep joy and the world’s deep need collides.
An Iliff influenced education of Air Force chaplains extends beyond Dallas Little (MAPSC, ’10), Jim Parrish (MDiv, ’87; MAPSC, ’12) and Tesdahl. While recently serving on the leadership team for a summer internship training program at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, AL, Tesdahl also ran into classmate and alumni Chaplain, Captain, Joe Breault (MDiv, ’13).
Chaplain Breault is serving as a chaplain at Officer Training School, providing much-needed pastoral care and counseling for the hundreds of professional students (doctors, lawyers, nurses, chaplains, and others) who train at Maxwell before heading out to serve the nation and the world.
Tesdahl’s initial motivation to care for Air Force children and their families has broadened to include an even larger constituency of people in need.
When I got in, I found a deep need for female chaplains, for chaplains trained to care for victims of sexual assault, for chaplains who can care for LGBTQ+ Airmen and their families and for chaplains who are trained and ready and able to work in the pluralistic environment of the Air Force and of the Chaplain Corps. And I give thanks every day that I get to do this important work on behalf of the kingdom.
Tesdahl explains her use of the term “Airmen” to describe all of the military personnel in the Air Force.
Airman is the official Air Force “gender-neutral” term for all people in the Air Force. As you can see, this is problematic.
Tesdahl’s sensitivity to communicating gender-neutral language is one of the significant indicia of an Iliff education. She credits Iliff for having a significant influence on the type of chaplain she is today.
Iliff is uniquely qualified to prepare military chaplains for the pluralistic environment in which they will work. As a candidate, I realized that my education at Iliff had given me the chance, very early on, to learn how to relate to and work with faith leaders of a variety of traditions different from my own, while still grounding me in my own faith identity as a Lutheran pastor. It also prepared me to be at the front of conversations currently facing the military and the chaplain corps regarding LGBTQ+ service members and their families.Unfortunately, not every seminary offers such a broad view. Bottom line: Iliff makes good chaplains. And our military really needs well-trained people, prepared to have the conversations that happen every day at Iliff.