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I spent my summer living in Amsterdam, and working with Shelter Youth Hostel Ministries. Going into my SOS trip this summer, I had heard a lot of different things from people who had been to Amsterdam working with this ministry. Everyone I talked with could only rave about the staff, the ministry opportunities, and the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit, but the first thing they would always mention was the amazing community and love that exists between the staff member and is shown to the guests. Going into the shelter, with the knowledge of the beauty of this community, still did not prepare me for what I was going to experience.

After hearing and experiencing the community at Northwestern, I couldn’t imagine a place that could be better at community living, but my first day in the community house I was floored. I entered a loving and committed community where no gossiping took place, there was no judgement, and everyone felt comfortable being completely open and vulnerable about their struggles. I was in absolute shock that such a community could exist, and let me tell you, I can’t think of any other time or place in my life that I have felt so loved, cared about, and respected. It was in this community that I experienced the Holy Spirit moving freely and convicting people’s hearts. I experienced what it was like to be justly called out in sin, and what it meant to lovingly call out brothers and sisters. The passage in Matthew 7:5 “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (NKJV), begun to actually make sense and I got to watch this type of love and care happen right before my very eyes.

Toward the end of my trip, I began to think and pray about what I would experience coming back to Northwestern and honestly, I was terrified. In this community in Amsterdam, I was challenged to break old habits of gossiping and judging others. I began reflecting on my previous three years and was crushed to relive all the times that I had acted on these frivolous and unnecessary sins. The idea of returning to NW where these temptations seemed to be running rampant around me, made me truly worried that I would not be able to abstain from these old habits. I remembered that this type of community I had experienced in Amsterdam was not going to be what I was entering back into at NWC – and that left me heartbroken and not entirely wanting to return.

After returning to campus, I am still left trying to reconcile these thoughts and feelings. I know that God is here and is present, but what will it take for the Holy Spirit to truly move freely in the midst of this community? I wonder if it’s through the little things – like being vulnerable with someone, asking someone how they are truly doing, praying for people hurting in the moment, abstaining from gossip, keeping judgmental thoughts at bay, and sharing with others how I am seeing God work in my life and others around me. What if I was willing to stop speaking hurtful and slanderous talk, what if we were committed to uplift and encourage one another (even if it means calling each other out in love), what if we replace anger and wrath with grace and forgiveness, what if NWC became known for its genuine kindness and love towards each other? I know that craving the type of community I experienced in Amsterdam will be something that I

will always be searching for, but I am confident that God is working in mighty ways to bring this type of community to all places – even Northwestern. This type of transformation will take a personal and communal effort to really make a change. I have been challenging myself to be this change, to start making personal adjustments, in hopes that others would notice and start walking alongside me.

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By Suresh Portillo

I – a San Franciscan who was born into a loving Mexican family, who left for the mid-west to go to college a little over a year ago, and who recently got back from a Summer of Service (SOS) in France – sat at the Pioneer ministry headquarters in Florida as people shared about their summer experience, knowing that they were all going home after this time of debrief.

I, however, didn’t get to go home; I actually came back to Northwestern, to school.

What’s taken me a few months to identify within my own heart, through my own personal debriefing, has been something of great importance – Home. I’ve come to understand that home is not just where you live, where you come from, or where you spend your time. But if this is true, where or what is home?

The very first week I was in France this last summer, our team met a missionary kid who grew up in the Czech Republic, but went back to the US for college. His name was Rich. As the team was getting to know a little more about him, Rich shared something that affected the rest of my time in France and has affected my life since I’ve been back. He said that after going to college and going around to different parts of the US, he would live in the US for a time, but not for the rest of his life. His reason? Simply because “it’s not home.” Europe had been home to him, and it will continue to be his home.

One of the reasons I ended up in the mid-west was that, when I was applying to colleges, I was looking at places both outside of San Francisco and outside of California. Why? I had the same feeling as Rich: I didn’t feel that California was home.

Had it not been for two months on a different continent, with team members from different parts of the US and surrounded by people from all around the globe, I wouldn’t have been able to figure out this part of my life and truly reflect and realize, as Rich came to understand, that the US (not only California) had not been home. As a result, I was stuck asking myself, where will this longing be satisfied? This caused some unsettlement in me since, apart from this summer, the US had been the only place where I had lived and that I had experienced. I thought that’s what made a home, home – the familiar; the comfortable; the knowledge of.

With my family being originally from Mexico, I always knew I was living life in the middle of two cultures, I just didn’t know where. What’s more is that for some reason unbeknownst to me, I always told my parents growing up that I wish I had grown up in Mexico. Perhaps because Mexico is where I first learned to speak and to communicate with others. Though, because I have very little memory of Mexico due to only ever being there about six months when I was four, I don’t really know what life in Mexico is like. However, it’s a place that God continues to put on my heart, and, even so, given that I’ve mostly experienced Mexico through family and friends, I still cannot be 100% sure that Mexico will be the place I have always longed for.

What I can be sure of is that God has used family and friends (in California, at NWC, and in different parts of the world) to show me glimpses of home. For that reason, I’ve learned to find home in relationships rather than in commonality.

I know I will never truly feel home until God takes us up to his holy presence, but for now I cherish the little pieces of home he’s showing me through family, friends and those around me.

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By Krista Hovland

“If you don’t tell the story, God doesn’t get the glory.”

This past summer, over the course of just a few weeks I heard this phrase spoken by three different individuals on three separate occasions. The first time I paid attention because it was catchy and rhymed. The third time I said, “Okay God; point made.”

Growing up in a Christian household, knowing and loving Jesus since a young age, I felt like it should have been easy and natural for me to share with other the ways in which He has worked and is continuing to be present in my life. But throughout my childhood and teenage years I found myself coming up with excuses to shy away from talking about the God who means so much to me.

So, one day, I prayed for an opportunity to tell someone about the ways God has been shaping me lately. My opportunity came sooner than I expected; just a few hours later an older couple from church who had invited me to their home for Sunday dinner. While sitting around the dinner table, this couple asked me how I had decided to student teach in Papua New Guinea this fall.

It was the perfect opportunity tell a story of how God closed and opened unexpected doors and definitely answered prayers. I felt God had been leading me to student teach abroad for a while, and I had put down several countries in Europe as my first choices. The summer before I handed in my application to go abroad I had a life-changing experience at camp where I discovered so much about the heart of God and my purpose as a Christian.

In the fall, I was in a crisis mode when my application was due in a few days and I now felt certain God did not want me to go to Europe. But I also had no clue where I should go instead. I turned in the paperwork with a desperate prayer that God would open or close the doors he wanted me to walk through. A few days later I received a rejection letter saying that the schools in Europe were not accepting student teachers at that time. I have never been so happy to receive a “no”. After a few more weeks of praying and seeking advice from others, I applied to a school in PNG and was accepted. I’ve been in awe of the number of connections I’ve found to this little island and the people living there since then!

Back to the dinner table this past summer: my answer could have recounted this amazing story pointing to the intervention of our personal and all-knowing God. Instead I responded with a general, “Well it sounded like a great experience, and I figured if I was going to go somewhere different it might as well be really different…” I had the chance to share a testimony of God’s work in my life with believers who would have celebrated with me, and even then, I let my doubt and fear dominate my actions. This was obviously an opportunity I had prayed for just hours earlier, but I was too afraid to take it.

By keeping stories of God’s work in our lives to ourselves, we are robbing him of His deserved glory and acknowledgment. It becomes too easy for us to persuade ourselves we did it on our own, or that a couple chance happenings led to the perfect coincidence. God is ever faithful and he will provide opportunities. Remembering who orchestrates our lives and sharing stories about answered prayers changes us in two ways: God gets the glory he is due, and our hearts remain thankful rather than prideful. This year I want to better proclaim the stories God has written in my life, in order that others see his glory in their own life as well.

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By Hannah Lautner


Why do I ignore God? All throughout my life I have been aware that God is up there watching, listening, waiting, and loving on me. Admittedly, it’s often easier for me to acknowledge His presence in the hard times: when my brother was diagnosed with cancer, when I moved for the fifth time, when my best friend found out she had a brain tumor, when I was in a car accident that threatened my life.

But the thing is, the hard times often aren’t constant; they are just seasons. And it’s without question that the hard times put the magnifying glass on God’s presence in our lives. But isn’t God just as actively and powerfully at work in the simple and routine? God miraculously healed my brother from cancer (and that’s amazing), but He also provides ‘little’ miracles in the ordinary and every day. He never stops working. It isn’t like God takes a nap and forgets about life for His children on Earth. He doesn’t take breaks. He extends this crazy type of unconditional love that is difficult to wrap my head around. But how can someone care so much that he literally never stops watching for even a minute, even a second? Lately I have realized that God is so much more prevalent in my everyday life than I dare to acknowledge.

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But how should I respond to such overwhelming love? How do I apply this concept to my life? How can I approach Him even though He knows every little time that I have strayed from Him? How can I open my heart fully to Him when life gets so busy with stuff that distracts me from him? Easy 🙂 (haha, right…), God invites the same amount of intentionality as any earthly relationship in order to prosper. He delights in our effort, love, and time just like anyone else. Oftentimes, if we’re honest, these are the resources of our lives that are the hardest to give up! And guess what?! God knows that! He is perfect and patient because He knows that we are imperfect and will mess up and will forget to give Him even an undivided ten minutes of our day. Regardless of what we – unintentionally or intentionally – do, He is still there. He is always there; patiently blessing us with the small things day by day and working through an immeasurable amount of miniscule ways to invite us to Himself.

So as I look ahead to my last semester here on campus, I pray that I would have the eyes to see just how much Christ is working in me in the daily, miniscule, rhythms of the everyday. And who knows, maybe our whole campus community could join together to look for God in the small things too. We’re never ignored.

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By Dana Van Ostrand


Most athletes know what it’s like to be completely exhausted after a difficult practice, conditioning, or a tough game. However, I wouldn’t know because I play golf. This being said, I do know what it’s like to place my athletics ahead of the ultimacy of following Christ. I know what it’s like to be completely empty after a bad performance because I invested my time, my energy, and even put my identity into my athletic abilities.

I was leading the state tournament my junior year of high school with only six holes to play, leading by three shots. I then proceeded to make four bogies in those last six holes to eventually go into a playoff (golf’s version of overtime) and lose on the second hole. I was absolutely devastated. I’d spent a majority of my time in those last months preparing for that exact day and moment. It had been my goal to win a state championship and I could taste it – not to mention that the championship was on my former home course, in my home city. I attempted to be gracious to the champion and to everyone who was supporting me and my team, but in that moment, I was truly empty. Everything that I had put my heart and effort into was over that year, and I had lost. I choked.

This was a difficult experience for me to deal with. It was through this experience that I learned a few things about my pursuit of excellence in athletics. The first and most important lesson that I learned from this was that all of my achievements, abilities, and accomplishments are only a reflection of the talents that God has given me. God has given me the opportunity to harvest the abilities that He’s endowed me with. Because of Christ, I play for the glory of God and represent Christ in all that I do, including on the golf course. Win or lose, all I can do is continue to play in light of this. As Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for Lord rather than for men.” This means that in every tough practice, every strenuous weight room session, every difficult competition, we must pursue excellence in light of the ability that God has endowed us with.

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Christ calls us to bring every single part of our life to Him as He molds, shapes, and transforms us for His glory. There are a couple things that I do on the golf course that remind me of what is ultimate while I’m competing in golf tournaments. A part of my pre-shot routine is a short prayer that just says, “For God’s glory.” This is a reminder for me that this shot isn’t about my glory, but God’s. The second is that my golf ball is marked with a cross near the Northwestern logo. This is another constant reminder for me on the golf course of the ultimate sacrifice paid by Jesus. Hitting a little white golf ball with a stick into a cup seems a lot less important in light of this. God has called us to be in the world, not of it, and part of this is pursuing excellence in athletics for His glory, not for our own.