Jenna Michel (Submitted photo)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Jenna Michel won’t be home for the holidays. Currently serving as a missionary in Arizona, the Grantsburg native will have, in her words, “a joy-filled Christmas focused more on giving than receiving.”

“Although every year Jesus has always been the center of Christmas, the reason for the season in my life, this year I really want to be very intentional about keeping Christ in Christmas,” she added.

A 2013 graduate of Grantsburg High School, Michel is the daughter of Tim and Jennifer Michel. She is the oldest of three children; she has a 16-year-old sister, Jami, and a 10-year-old brother, Marcus. They are members of Immaculate Conception Parish, Grantsburg.

Michel, 22, studied at St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota, for one semester before opting to move closer to home. She transferred to Pine Technical and Community College in Pine City, Minnesota, and graduated with an associate’s degree in early childhood development.

There, her path diverged from the ordinary twenty-something lifestyle. Instead of job-hunting or job-jumping, Michel was discerning God’s call to become a missionary.

“I once heard a person explain that the reason they entered the mission field was to live a life of significance rather than spend life chasing success,” she said. “This resonated with me.”

Going on an international mission trip had always been Michel’s dream, one she fulfilled three times on weeklong mission trips to Haiti. But the opportunity to spend a year at Maggie’s Place, a home for pregnant women in Phoenix, Arizona, “was a little more difficult for me to discern,” she admitted.

“Arizona was not a place on my bucket list to visit, much less a place I saw myself living,” she added. “Further, it is a one-year commitment. That means a year away from my family and a year far out of my comfort zone.”

Maggie’s Place is a refuge for pregnant woman in need. Opened in 2000, the shelter was founded by five young women who were inspired by the Catholic Worker movement to live out their faith.

Expectant mothers, some of whom are struggling with addiction, abusive relationships and other difficulties, are invited to live in community until their baby is six months old. There, they have access to nutritious food, counseling, baby and maternity supplies and more.

Among their other contributions, missionaries who live at the shelter provide support, childcare and a healthy family environment. They help women and babies through a vulnerable time, but they also aim to break the cycle of poverty by giving mothers the chance to pursue jobs or education, and to save money.

Serving others has been Michel’s profession. She’s worked as a certified nursing assistant, teaching assistant, tutor and early childhood teacher. She credits her mom, Jennifer, with inspiring a love of babies and a passion for helping those in need.

“In my community, growing up, my mom would willingly and selflessly care for the babies and children of single moms and families going through challenging times, and I would be right by her side every step of the way, loving those children,” Michel explained. “As I think about it now, that was really probably the foundation of my interest in serving others.”

Although Michel is not actively discerning a religious vocation – for now, she feels strongly called to marriage and family life — she said being a missionary has spurred her personal and spiritual growth.

“My faith has strengthened as I continually learn to rely on God, knowing that he has a purpose and a plan and that he will provide,” she said. “There are also many opportunities to practice patience — patience with yourself, with those you serve and those you serve with, as well as patience in God’s perfect timing.”

She added, “The greatest blessing has been learning how to love. Love can be messy and challenging, but it is oh so beautiful!”

Although Michel will not be in Grantsburg for Christmas, she did have the opportunity to visit her family for Thanksgiving, and is eager to share the holidays with her Maggie’s Place community in Arizona.

“This Christmas, I will be giving my heart and my time to the moms and babies I am serving,” she said. “Another beautiful perspective is that I am spending the Christmas season with pregnant women and newborn babies. It makes the season extra special and meaningful. There is so much to reflect on, relating where I am at in life with Mary’s journey and Jesus’ birth.”