My Seven Year HLI Journey by Willo Bell

My HLI story began in 2011. After going through some ups and downs in ministry, I knew I was in it for the long haul, but wasn’t exactly sure what that meant.  I wanted to serve in the Kingdom, but my arms (and body) were weak and nothing was opening up.


One day I was on my computer and I read an updated from a friend, Jenna Stepp. She and her husband Shawn had been on staff with me a few years earlier and since then they had moved to Maine. The post said something about the Heroic Leadership Institute. HLI what? Immediately, I felt I heard the Lord say “I want you to come alongside”! “Come alongside what”? (spoken in my snarky inner dialogue). I couldn't shake the thought, and finally I caved and e-mailed Jenna, whom I’d not been in contact with for 2 years.


I said to her, “I had heard you’re pioneering a new ministry and felt I heard the Lord say, ‘I want you to come alongside it’!  SO, since I have no idea what you're doing or where you’re doing it, here’s what I can offer: I can use a computer, make mail lists, etc.., I can label envelopes, cook, clean and change diapers (I did know they had a new child)! I hit send and the fun began, about 2 hours later. I got a phone call from Jenna, “Hey, can you move in with my family for the next 9 months”? My response, “what, where, why”? That's when Jenna began to lay out the story behind HLI, and that they could definitely use my help and even had a spare bedroom! My response, full of faith was “how about we date before we get married”? Meaning how about if I come up and see what you're actually doing, as they lived 3 hours away in Maine.

HLI had started the week before I came up to visit and the new class was helping with a Family Fun Festival at Pathway Vineyard. At this point, I had no idea what young adults were attending the program or from where they came. The first student I was introduced to was Connor Reichart. My mouth fell open. I'd not seen Connor since he was 4 or 5, but I knew his parents before they were married, as we went to the same church at the time. Then the next gal I met was Michelle (Mickey) Rojas, whose family our church had been supporting for years. I had even been to Spain on a couple of prayer tours and met her entire family. Coincidence, I think not! As I met the rest of the students, I immediately fell in love with them all.


Unbeknownst to me, Jenna’s parents had been selected to be the new National Director for Vineyard USA, and were possibly moving. Jenna had been praying for a “grandmother” person to help her with their 3 kids, as well as someone to help make meals for these very hungry young adults. From the moment I stepped into the middle of HLI, I knew, this was exactly what God had planned for me. It totally used all my gifts, which caused new life to be breathed back into me. I was beyond excited to hang out for the rest of the year, going back and forth to my family & friends at home as well.

As of  May, 2018, after 7 years of serving HLI, I have received FAR more than I ever gave. The beautiful state of Maine, that I have enjoyed exploring; three amazing children, that are like semi-grands to me; working alongside Jenna, Shawn and some of the most amazing men & women in the Vineyard Movement here & overseas; five mission trips to the DR; meeting over 72 students from around the globe, that have forever changed my life and many that I keep in touch with to this day. The gift of speaking into some of the emerging leaders of our movement; laughing with them; loving them; praying and enjoying life as they pursue the Kingdom of God, has been a blessing.

The story continues to go on and we’ve not yet “seen or heard” all that God has planned for the future, but For me it's been an honor to have had my little part in HLI!

Mary McKellick