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Jemima's joy comes from keeping it simple

Jemima Heppner drives a used limousine so she can bring carloads of neighbors and others to food pantries. Special to Forum News Service1 / 2
Roxane Salonen, columnist2 / 2

FARGO — Jemima Heppner finds herself drawn to the simple, whether in food choices, parenting focus, or prayer approach.

"My faith is not complicated," the 38-year-old says. "It's something a child could understand, and we'd all do best keeping it at that level, in my opinion."

God is real, she says, and made us for a purpose. Though others may let us down, God won't.

"I've always felt like he's watching — you can't hide anything from him — and I think you live a different life when you realize this," she says, adding, "That's a good thing."

Pursuing God's will has brought Heppner to 27 different countries, starting from when she was a teen speaking publicly for her parents' home-schooling ministry.

It's also formed her heart for the vulnerable. Using her graphic arts skills, Heppner created a community-resources flyer for the Fargo-Moorhead area, listing varied organizations — from food and clothing pantries to trafficking hotlines — that offer what they promise and give back to the community.

Recently, the flyer has been picked up by the Fargo Police Department as a connecting tool, widening its usage. But the whole thing started from Heppner seeing an unmet need in her former apartment building.

"There was a fight about one child eating another child's last bowl of cereal, to the point that someone went through the window and the cops were called," Heppner recounts.

Upset by the morning interruption, she says, she brought the family a list of food shelves in the area, and told them, "This is not going to happen anymore!"

The family was grateful, she says, and the flyer "just blossomed from there."

Many of the services listed she's needed herself. A single mother of two, Heppner has experienced both partner abandonment and homelessness, and she understands the fear of being stigmatized that keeps some from seeking help.

To that end, she drives a used limousine, which has allowed her to bring full carloads of neighbors and others to food pantries, creating what she calls "positive peer pressure."

"I even put a ball pit in the limo so the kids could play along the way," she says.

Heppner grew up in Warroad, Minn., the oldest of 17 children — her family was once featured on TLC's "Kids by the Dozen" reality show — so she understands how to live on little.

"My parents instilled in me that we should work for what we have. They've never relied on handouts — other than that people put zucchini in our car every zucchini season," she chuckles. "And clothes. 'Give it to the Heppners — it'll fit someone.' "

She believes children need to be raised by their parents, and she considers herself pro-life, recalling a time years ago when her pregnant mother was stopped by a stranger, who commented on her cute toddler. "(Mom) said, "Well, what's the difference between the baby in my stroller and this one in my belly? Time — that's it.' "

As a birth doula, Heppner has attended "numerous births," calling each "a miracle."

Heppner, a thrift-store shopper, once attended a ritzy public social event, and when someone complimented her on her excellent taste in clothes, she was "proud to loudly say, 'I got this at St. Vincent de Paul.' "

The way she sees it, she's "making the next person feel more comfortable."

Michelle Shereck met Heppner initially through work in the printing business, and later, became a close friend.

"Jemima is just amazing, all the things she gets done in a day," Shereck says, noting that Heppner once came to her asking for extra blankets for a family who'd lost everything. "She has a very large network of people that shares information of who's in need of what, and she tries to fulfill that need."

And she acts from the heart of a mother, Shereck notes, wanting to "keep the towns clean," and eliminate the sad realities of trafficking, missing persons and drugs.

She also admires Heppner's deep faith, she says, especially in her relentless trust in God's provisions and direction. "A lot of us, even if we feel that, we don't always follow it; she does," Shereck says.

Yoke-Sim Gunaratne, executive director of Cultural Diversity Resources, appreciates Heppner's ability to forge connections. "She's not paid to do this," she says, calling Heppner a bridge-builder between traditional and smaller organizations. "You need a person like that going around who cares for the good of the community, not just for the short term."

Heppner believes in our connectedness as humans, viewing total self-sufficiency as a deception, saying we were "meant to have more in certain areas, so we could help others, and, in turn, others could help us."

She also recognizes she's just one person. "I'm not even saying I have a plan," she says, "but I feel like God is opening doors where I — we — can make a difference."

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email