By Celine Klosterman
When ValLimar Jansen tells the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, she moves across the stage in colorful robes, gesturing and weaving song into the tale. You’ve heard the story before. But something about the presenter still captivates you, say some people who’ve listened to her speak.
“She’s just mesmerizing,” said Crystal DeNeve. She is youth minister at St. Mary Parish in Grinnell and has seen Jansen at national conferences. “She has a presence about her that brings you in and makes you want to listen to know what’s going to happen next. Even though it may be a Bible story you’ve heard over and over, she makes you see it in a different way.”
Hundreds of youths will see Jansen’s theatrical interpretation of biblical tales Oct. 4 when the singer and storyteller speaks at the Davenport Diocese’s high school youth rally, whose theme is “Jesus Christ: King of Heart & Soul.” Parishes are encouraged to start promoting the rally now, said Pat Finan, diocesan youth ministry coordinator.
At the event, Jansen aims to encourage the youths’ own storytelling ability, she told The Catholic Messenger. “Each of us is a storyteller, just as Jesus was. I want youths to understand that with their lives, they’re telling their own faith story.”
Sharing that story’s not hard, she said. “When you think of people being witnesses, you might think of people in suits going door-to-door, but what I’m asking youths to do is take advantage of the opportunities they have each day. Every day is an opportunity to tell a little bit of your faith story.”
Jansen got hooked on stories while growing up with her Baptist family in Louisiana. “It’s my mother’s fault,” joked Jansen, who converted to Catholicism in 1991 out of love for liturgy and the Eucharist. Each night, Jansen’s mother told Bible stories. “She’d do all the voices and sing. I loved that. She made the Bible seem like so much fun.”
Later, Jansen studied theater and music at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and California State University. She dabbled in Broadway fare, but wasn’t satisfied. So she studied teaching in graduate school and then began teaching theater to college students and taking acting gigs on the side. Still, something more called her.
Finally, Jansen decided to tour full-time as a Catholic performing artist. Now, at events, “I can still operate as a teacher, but with thousands of students at once. The ripple effect is exponential.” A thousand youths at one rally can go out and touch another 1,000 youths, the California-based married mother of three said.
Brenda Bertram, youth minister at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton, said she always enjoys seeing how youths focus on Jansen’s presentations. “Val has a way of capturing you from the moment she enters the stage,” thanks in part to her warm smile, Bertram said. “She mixes her ability to act, tell stories and sing to bring the Scriptures alive… she has a way of making you feel like you are with her on the journey of the story.”
The diocesan high school youth rally will take place Oct. 4 at the Coralville Marriott. Cost is $38. For registration details, visit www.davenportyouth.org.