Wildcat Tracks: Melissa Knappenberger Shehan ’12
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). This is a Bible verse we may have grown up hearing regularly, but acting on it is another story. And yet, for some Christians, this verse is a directive for how they choose to live. Melissa Shehan and her husband, John, have served as missionaries in Africa for the past four years. “I felt the Lord call me to missions after college,” Melissa said. “I became involved with Iris Global Ministries, which serves all over the world. They have a strong presence in Mozambique, Africa, which is where my husband and I live and serve most of the year. We have lived there for four years and served through natural disasters and the pandemic, even the ongoing terrorism in the North. It really taught us to trust God living in the middle of a war zone, reaching out to refugees while seeing terrible suffering in every direction.”
After graduating from Westminster in 2012, Melissa attended Murray State University, where she majored in Psychology. She credits her time in high school with the beginning of mastering skills that would become invaluable to her later mission work.
“Mrs. Lewis really had an impact on me. Her Latin class helped me build a good foundation for how to study other languages, which has been very useful during my time overseas learning Portuguese and other tribal languages.”
While serving in Mozambique, the Shehans lived in a city called Pemba. For most of their time there, this region was in the middle of a war that continues today. “We just moved to a safer city called Nacala, further South, and are helping to pioneer a new location in a very Muslim area, where most people do not believe in Jesus. Our job looks like: sharing the gospel, discipling new believers, and building new churches, among many other things,” Melissa said. “Keep in mind this is a predominately Muslim area. We are working with the Makua Nahara, a tribe that is only about 1% reached at this point. We pass out audio bibles recorded in the local language. Often people will call us later asking to learn more and start churches of their own!”
Immersing themselves in another culture brings joy and challenges for the couple. “One of my favorite, but also sometimes frustrating, aspects about Mozambique and the culture here is how relationship-oriented the people are. They value talking with others and spending time together much more than whatever work they have to do, even at the cost of productivity,” Melissa said. “While this means we don’t always accomplish as much as we would like to each day, it does make our time rich and full of wonderful connections to the people around us.”
Melissa says they would welcome support from the Westminster alumni community. “We do outreach, discipleship, church building, and more. Ongoing language and cultural learning also take a lot of our time. Plus, we are working on creating a space dedicated specifically for missionaries from all over to come rest and recharge. However, the cost of living in Nacala is higher than where we were before, and to continue our mission, we are praying for additional financial support as well as people committed to praying for the Makua Nahara tribe to know Jesus.”
Follow the Shehans mission: @Irisnacala