People of Willmar – Winner Jacobson

A farm boy from Burma, who took a trip through the jungle to get to the American dream. God has the plans.

Winner was born in a small village in Burma which is now known as Myanmar. His parents were farmers, and his childhood began on their family farm. Growing up, there was much conflict between the government and ethnic groups in the country. When the government wanted land, they took it, and they killed to get it.

One night, asleep in his bed, Winner’s father grabbed his arm and desperately dragged him out of the house. They ran to the jungle for safety, but his father would not make it. His father was killed.

His mother was now faced with keeping her seven children safe, and sent Winner to live with his aunt who lived about a day’s travel away. Since his father had been killed, the military had continued searching for them. His mother decided they needed to go to a refugee camp in nearby Thailand. From the refugee camp, Winner and his brother went to an Orphanage. It was run by Christian Freedom International. A group that builds schools and orphanages. There, Winner met a man named Mr. Jacobson from the United States.

Just eight years old when he entered the orphanage, the bullying was relentless. He learned to fight back and stand up for himself. At age 13, he was transferred to the boarding school portion of the orphanage. It was at age 13 that Winner was saved as a Christian. That experience marked a new chapter in his life. A friend had given him a bible and he found a pivotal verse. The verse was Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

In 2008, when Winner was 16, his family immigrated to the United States. It was rough. He didn’t speak English, and found himself in a small town in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Going into school was like entering another world. He had no friends, there were no familiar faces, he couldn’t understand what people were saying, and nothing felt familiar. Motivated by the bible verse, he felt he was there for a reason, and that he could do it. After a year in the public school, he decided to enroll in a homeschool program and get caught up. He did, and went on to earn a degree from Pensacola Christian College. At the age of 17, Mr. Jacobson officially adopted Winner.

With his family farm in his heart, Winner chose to accept a job managing a Michigan dairy farm. While he felt God nudging him to move, he didn’t feel ready. When a company from Willmar, MN called him for an interview, he said no. His life in Michigan was filled with helping other Karen families that he considered family. He didn’t want to leave them.

God kept saying go, and Winner kept saying no. Then, he ran out of excuses. He told them he was having a baby and couldn’t relocate at the time. They waited and called him back five months later. Then, he told them he couldn’t sell his house. They said they would buy it.

Winner and his wife prayed about it. They decided to accept God’s will and move to Minnesota. Winner accepted a position with Life-Science Innovations, working in the Select Genetics Division. Winner serves as a liaison for other Karen community members. He assists with obtaining green cards and with the citizenship process, buying cars and houses, school forms and other paperwork. He believes that mission work doesn’t have to be overseas or far away. We can be missionaries right here at home.

When people ask Winner how he got here, he looks a little dreamy. From a farm in Burma, to running for their lives in the jungle, experiencing a refugee camp, an orphanage, then to the United States and living the American dream with a beloved wife, two cherished children, a great job and home, it is all a staggering journey to consider. Winner doesn’t know how each step could have all worked together, except that God was in control. God had a plan, and brought each chapter in his journey together according to His plan.

With a sparkle in his eye and anticipatory joy in his voice, Winner says with a smile, “I can’t wait to see what God has planned for me next.”

– Marn Steinwand