I met Jessica Naylor-Tatterson in South Korea, where we both taught English. I didn’t get to know Jess all that well in Korea, but she moved to Melbourne and we reconnected. Since then, we’ve become great friends.
Jess is an incredible woman with a big heart and a deep love for people. She is truly a joy to know, and I am blessed to have her in my life. She’s warm and welcoming; Jess makes you feel comfortable from the moment you meet her. And it’s obvious that she genuinely cares about people.
She is strong and passionate. Jess has a resilient spirit and a fight. She believes in justice, equality and valuing all people. And she is strong in her faith, developing her beliefs through her understanding of Jesus. But she isn’t preachy or pushy with her faith; it’s just been such a great thing that has shaped her life in incredible ways, that she can’t help but want others to experience the same profound impact.
Jess is: compassionate, benevolent, family-oriented
Jess, 28, is a third culture kid and has a transient lifestyle. She was born in Hong Kong and grew up in parts of Asia, Australia and the USA. Jess has a picture of her as an infant sitting with her father and mother on an elephant in Sri Lanka. “At that point it should have been clear that I was going to have a weird life,” she said.
Her family moved to Perth, Australia when she was 6 months old. About two years later, they moved to Jakarta, Indonesia. They lived in Indonesia for a year and a half, and then returned to Perth. Though they remained in Perth for several years, the family still moved around a few times to different suburbs. Jess attended four different primary schools and had a stint of homeschooling as well.
When Jess was 13, her family moved to the United States of America. Her father, Ross, accepted a job at Vineyard Church in Holland, Michigan, which is about one hour away from where her mother, Barbara, was raised. They initially lived with Jess’s grandparents, but found a home soon after. Her family has lived there ever since.
Jess’s family is incredibly important to her. She has four younger siblings, Hannah, Adam, Bonnie and Abby. Jess said everyone in her family enjoys spending time together, and their friend groups and social circles mix easily. “We just get along freakishly well,” she said.
But more than that, community is essential for Jess. Since she was young, her home has been an inclusive and accepting place for anyone. There were several occasions when her family invited people who were going through tough times to stay in their home. But Jess said her parents always made the kids their top priority. “I think my parents were really intentional in how they raised us,” she said. “I know they did the best they could at each stage.”
Jess has a bachelor’s degree in international development, but true to form, she didn’t attend just one university. She started her higher education at a community college for one year, then attended a state university for a year and a half and finished at Calvin College, a private university where she studied for another year and a half. And she spent her final semester in Ghana on a study abroad program. “In true Jess style: nothing planned and nothing normal,” she said. “I try and be routine and have things work out normally, but they just don’t.”
She hasn’t lived at home since 2011, living in various parts of the world. Jess said her family misses her, but they accept her being abroad as her normal way of living. She said they would never deter her from traveling or living abroad, but of course they would love to have her closer and be able to spend more time with her in person.
After university, Jess did some traveling around the USA for about a year before moving to South Korea in January 2012. She lived in Korea for nearly four years and took a few holiday trips around Southeast Asia and visited friends and family in Australia. Then she moved to Melbourne in September of last year. “I don’t think of myself as a traveler,” she said. “Maybe I think of myself more as an expat.”
Jess said living as an expat feels more normal, because she doesn’t feel like she really fits in to any one culture or country. She enjoys living among people from various cultures and backgrounds, seeing the variety of life experiences. “I’ve always liked having friends that are really different than each other,” Jess said.
And it is comforting to meet other people who are outside of their comfort zones and immersed in a culture that is not their own. “I honestly just like having friends that don’t fit in with the culture that we’re in,” Jess said. “It makes me feel normal.”
But the tricky thing is developing and maintaining relationships, because it’s a lot of work. She said it’s taxing to find a balance between meeting new people and investing in those relationship while also keeping in contact with people who are no longer in the same area. Jess said she has a constant list of people she should catch up with and worries that they are feeling neglected. “I should be investing more into these past friendships, and I should be investing more into the ones I’m in now,” she said. “It’s hard.”
Jess said she doesn’t often make solid plans when moving to a new country. “I just kind of wait for things to unfold,” she said. Jess moved to Melbourne to see what would happen, and now she is working at a café and studying theology at Ridley College. Jess said she decided to study theology to be more valuable in church ministry. She hasn’t decided what her role in church ministry will be, but she is certain that she wants to help people. “Communicating to people that they are loved and valuable is really important to me,” she said.
She strongly believes that all people should be treated with respect and valued in all aspects of life, including politically, socially and in the church. She said it gets under her skin when people are oppressed because of their gender or race or sexual orientation, etc. Jess said her understanding of God’s love for the world has been the key factor in shaping her beliefs and values. “I really feel like a lot of the convictions I have are because of my understanding of God and Jesus,” she said. “I think it breaks God’s heart that there’s injustice and oppression.”
She said that feeling oppressed because of religion is never something God would want. It isn’t His character. “I don’t want to be involved in giving people more rules to follow or more shame in their life,” Jess said. But she also isn’t saying that you are free to do everything your own way. Jess said it is a lot of sacrifice and not getting to do things your own way when you have a relationship with God. But in that you gain freedom and joy, because you know you are loved. Jess said the more she knows about God, the more she has become free from shame, guilt and fear in her life, and the more convinced she’s become that God cares more about each of us than we ever could care about each other.
Jess grew up in the church. Both of her parents were missionaries and her father is a pastor. She said religion was never pushed on her, but she still felt like she didn’t really have a choice in it for most of her life. From her late teens to mid-20s, she was very critical of the church and took a step back from God. She focused more on social justice and didn’t want Christianity to define her.
But during that time, she lived burdened with shame, guilt and fear. Until one day, she didn’t like who she had become and needed a change. So she started attending church again and slowly became more involved. She surrounded herself with people who invested in her and took time to help her identify what was distancing her from God. She thought she was too bad to be acceptable to Him. “It was an intense year of just realizing that God sees me and He sees everything, and He’s already forgiven it all,” she said.
Jess said her life has changed significantly and continues to change as she develops a stronger relationship with God and a deeper understanding of who He is. She said there is still a lot wrong with the church, and God isn’t a simple being that can be defined in a few short words. But with that acknowledgement, she is striving to get to know Jesus better. Because of that, she is living a fuller life with Him.
She encourages others to give God a chance. “You should try facing God, because he can handle you,” she said.
Finally, Jess describes herself in three words: communal, bleeding heart.