Processed with VSCO with c1 presetby Stephanie Brethouwer

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.