Ben Kimball is shown above, fishing on the banks of a river at a young age. His mother, Jennifer Kimball-Olson, shared that it was one of Ben's favorite things to do. Because of that, the family started the Ben Kimball Memorial Bass Fishing Tournament in 2007, now called the “Livin' the Dream Memorial Fishing Tournament.” to honor the child she lost in a motorcycle accident in 2006.
Ben Kimball is shown above, fishing on the banks of a river at a young age. His mother, Jennifer Kimball-Olson, shared that it was one of Ben's favorite things to do. Because of that, the family started the Ben Kimball Memorial Bass Fishing Tournament in 2007, now called the “Livin' the Dream Memorial Fishing Tournament.” to honor the child she lost in a motorcycle accident in 2006.
" . . . I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me . . ." - Acts 20:24, NIV

Jennifer Kimball-Olson's mission statement comes straight out of the Bible. The verse from the Book of Acts of the Apostles continues and clarifies the required task. However, knowing what the task is won't help unless the first part of the verse is faithfully followed.

This is what Jennifer realized before she gave birth to the fourth of her five children. She understood this verse when their family moved to Fountain from Missouri. She understood it through the death of her son, Ben, and she understood it when she started the Ben Kimball Memorial Bass Fishing Tournament in 2007.

Jennifer has aimed to live what the Apostle Paul taught in that verse. By her own account, however, Jennifer's increased understanding of the relevancy of the second part of the verse has made the difference.

That understanding of her purpose has motivated changes in her approach to Christian ministry and also in the memorial fishing tournament, which will take place on June 15 in Lanesboro. The name was changed to the "Livin' the Dream Memorial Fishing Tournament" because Jennifer wanted the event to focus on remembering all deceased loved ones. She also wanted it to help people develop and strengthen relationships.

Each aspect of Jennifer's multi-pronged ministry plan, which includes the tournament, centers on relationships: those with each other and with Jesus Christ. It's a mission whose seed was planted in her heart even when she was little.

Finding the path

Jennifer, 50, grew up in Lanesboro and attended the Methodist Church in town. She recalled, when she was younger, hearing the testimonies of several traveling missionaries who would visit the church and stay in member's homes.

"My parents would open their home to these people and I always got excited," she shared.

When the missionaries would leave, Jennifer said a certain feeling she couldn't explain would leave as well. Later in her life, she realized this was the Holy Spirit she had learned about in church.

Her upbringing and faith served Jennifer through her early adult life. Not knowing what she should focus on in college, she graduated with her associate's degree from Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC). She became engaged and married following school and started a family after moving to Texas.

From Texas, the family moved to Kansas City and then finally settled down in Liberty, Mo. While raising a family of five, it was in Liberty that Jennifer said she experienced a turning point in her understanding of what she was supposed to be doing.

In 1994, Jennifer decided to go back to school. "That's when my purpose in life started evolving," she recalled. She became involved with the Liberty Christian Fellowship, which is a non-denominational church that was started in 1986.

"Our church family was very close," she said describing the path she was taking to become more involved with Christian ministry work and how her church helped her.

However, Jennifer still didn't know where her ministry would occur. The family had considered going overseas on a short-term mission trip. Then, in 1999, she was asked to consider managing, with the option to purchase, a family-owned greenhouse in southern Minnesota, which was close to her childhood home. The opportunity was there, but Jennifer said the decision was not easy.

Using her faith in prayer, she began to pray about whether or not it was God's will for her family to move back to Minnesota. She would end up praying for two years before receiving her answer. Jennifer explained that the answer she got said, "You're not going home; you're going to your mission field."

Although the answer was clear to Jennifer, the move meant sacrificing the church community and everything that had provided a great upbringing for the kids.

"Our oldest, Gabriel, wasn't really eager about moving," Jennifer laughed. Samantha, Ben, Caleb and Rachel each had differing opinions as well. Becoming emotional, Jennifer recalled how the child who was most excited to move was Ben. Whenever the family visited their grandparents, Ben always looked forward to going fishing on the streams. Living there meant he would get to do a lot of fishing.

Jennifer said when they finally made the decision to move, they knew 100 percent that it was the right decision. "We were excited about starting in a new business and working together," she said.

They moved in 2001 and the kids attended Lanesboro Public Schools.

Ministry

Jennifer knew she was back in Fillmore County for a reason. She knew it was here where her ministry was supposed to start, but defining that ministry was what needed figuring out. Having not completed her bachelor's degree yet, she began taking online courses through Liberty University while being a being a stay-at-home mother to her kids.

Jennifer and the family suffered a tragic time in 2006 when Ben was killed in a motorcycle accident. Following his death, and while coming to terms with it, Jennifer said she drew a lot of motivation and strength from her memories of Ben.

"I started building compassion for the lonely and the hurting," she stated.

She also started recognizing the path she should be on for her ministry work. Desiring to help others remember their loved ones, she and her husband at that time, Mike Kimball, started the Ben Kimball Memorial Bass Fishing Tournament in 2007. They also organized a three-on-three basketball tournament in Lanesboro as part of an event inviting kids to get together, build relationships and have an evening of food and fun.

Her ministry ideas at that time had a name, "Livin' the Dream," but what that exactly entailed was still undergoing some evolution.

"Ben had a desire to reach out to others," Jennifer recalled.

Jennifer still found a need for education to help her ministry. She attended Crossroads College in Rochester and completed her Bachelors in Arts degree with a dual major in Bible and Theology and Youth and Family Studies. She also completed a minor in counseling.

After graduating, she found out about RCTC putting together a licensed alcohol and drug counseling program. The first course they offered in the program was Theories in Substance Abuse. Jennifer felt moved to take the class in the fall of 2010 even though the program was new.

"We were the guinea pigs," she said, smiling.

However, that class helped her refine her ministry plan further. Now, she not only wanted to help adolescents, but she wanted to help those with addictions. To gain experience in working with both teens and adults suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, she took an eight-month internship at the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, which she just finished this past February.

She will be taking a licensure and board exam in the near future.

"It's been a grueling number of years," Jennifer said. What has come from this time investment is a more clearly defined plan to help others.

Jennifer has been involved with jail ministry at the Fillmore County Jail for four years now. "I love going in there. It's a no-brainer to do that," she stated.

Since returning from her internship, she has gone back to serving in the jail. She has also been building up her "Livin' the Dream" ministry since scaling it back for several years.

The tournament

The fishing tournament categories this year include: largest small or large mouth bass, largest trout, largest rough fish and largest mixed bag.

The weigh-in post will be located at the Riverview Campground above the dam and be open until 5 p.m. Registration and fees must be turned in by sunrise of June 15 and the tournament follows all Minnesota State fishing and boating regulations. Tournament waters include the North and Middle branches of the Root River, Mississippi River, streams and ponds.

More tournament information can be found on the Facebook page "Livin' the Dream Memorial Fishing Tournament."

"It's a time to build relationships and have healing by talking and sharing stories while fishing," Jennifer said.

After the weigh-in and the traveling trophy has been awarded, she said people will be invited to continue to stay and build relationships with each other. She hopes in future years that there will be a banquet, speaker, band or all three.

Since it is Father's day weekend with Arts-in-the-Park happening the following day, Jennifer said it will be a great weekend for families in Lanesboro.

The three-on-three basketball tournament will be coming back in August with a grill-out afterward.

Jennifer will also be starting a substance abuse and addiction support group that will encourage people to find help. "I want them to know that they aren't alone," she explained. "Through healthy relationships we can learn how to share our lives to help strengthen and encourage one another in difficult times."

She said everyone longs for acceptance. The support group will meet once a week and incorporate faith into some meetings.

Her faith is what is driving Jennifer to move forward on the support group and another project centered on providing a working ranch for at-risk kids, which she calls her "grand dream."

"My motto is: My faith not imposed, but Christ's love poured out," she shared. "It's because of my desire to pour Christ's love out on people that I've been able to touch lives in a positive way."

She said she has questioned and doubted her abilities in being able to do what she has done. Memories of Ben inspire her to continue forward. "My hope is that I can be remembered as he is remembered. He was always there for us when we needed him," she said. In other words, Ben was an example of grace.

" . . . my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace."

Through the eyes of Ben, Jennifer has been able to understand more fully the last half of the verse from Acts 20:24.

"The world would be a better place if we would always give grace to those around us," she said.

Channeling the love Ben had for the people around him, Jennifer has also been able to apply that understanding of grace in her growing ministry. She hopes to help others find the grace and happiness she has found through relationships with other people and with Christ.

Those interested in helping Jennifer in her ministry can call (507) 421-3060 or email msjenniek@gmail.com.