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By Maddie Godfredsen

I spent this summer on an SOS in Kasei, Ghana. Every morning, before the clinic day started, devotions were held for patients and staff. For the first couple of weeks, the same woman and her baby attended. I never knew her name, but her faith in God and the way she worshipped him through singing and dancing was something special. 

On the Friday of our second week working the clinic, I went to the pediatric unit to meet the nurses. Unsurprisingly, the woman and her baby were still there. On that sacred day, I learned this woman’s story is filled with hope and spontaneous acts of grace. 

The woman was working as a trader at the market one day when a young teenager approached her with a newborn baby in hand. The young girl asked the woman to watch her newborn son while she got what she needed from the market. The woman gladly agreed to help out. What she didn’t expect, though, was how her life would change that day. 

The young girl never came back. Rather than contacting social services (the laws on adoption and guardianship are much different there), the trader took this baby home to her husband and two children. She put aside her personal need and interest and decided to care for the baby as her own. She did everything she could to give him what he needed, but it just wasn’t enough. Formula is a luxury in Ghana and money isn’t something this woman had in excess. She began to ration the baby boy’s formula, which led to severe malnutrition by the time he was eight months old. He was hospitalized for two weeks before being discharged back into this woman’s home. A couple weeks after discharge, she returned with him for a follow-up appointment and he was thriving. I saw the most raw, genuine joy in this sweet woman’s eyes. Even in the hardest moments, when she could have given this baby up to make life easier, I witnessed her worship the only God she knew and give this perfect child of God hope. How amazing is that? Had she not made the sacrifice or shown the young girl grace, this little boy would never have survived. 

Heading into my SOS, I was so ready to be the hands and feet of Jesus through nursing. I expected the need for healthcare to be great and my presence to be beneficial. I had a plan. However, God showed me that none of it was up to me and that was okay because he was working anyway. God opened my eyes to see the lives of those living in the village. God opened my heart to love a little more like he loves. God opened my hands to receive more of his gentle and incredible grace in the midst of one of the most amazing experiences of my life. 

God spoke to me so clearly through the woman and her life of sacrifice. He showed me what it means to sacrifice nearly everything for those we don’t even know. He showed me what unconditional, never-ending grace is through a woman I never even got to know beyond a smile, a story, and wave. On this trip, where I had expectations of what I would experience, God showed up; I saw God in the face of a stranger. 

 


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By Josh Dahl 

As we, the 2018 Summer of Service team, prepared to head out and do God’s work, I was feeling pretty confident. I grew up in a Christian home, had relatively strong convictions and I thought I would have all the answers. After all, this wasn’t my first rodeo. Don’t get me wrong, our team leaders had done an incredible job of preparing us, but they couldn’t do much with stupidity and arrogance- which I was full of.  

While working at Dublin Christian Mission in the heart of Ireland’s capital city, our days as interns/grunt workers for the mission consisted of gathering food donations, peeling roughly thirty pounds of potatoes per day, and submerging ourselves in the lives of Dublin’s homeless. I quickly learned that I was not in my element. I had never really dealt with such poverty and hopelessness.    

The mission I worked with focused on building relationships through the mess of humanity and sharing the Good News from there. I learned to sit and listen. Truly listen. But I’ll be honest, at times it was difficult to understand them through slurred Irish accents and full mouths. Were these small distractions preventing me from doing what I was called to do? As I’d listen, I couldn’t help but wonder – How often do I listen to respond rather than listen to understand? Many of the guests who would come to the Lighthouse (our “soup kitchen” branch of the mission) only wanted to be heard and to know that their story mattered to someone. Sitting and listening wasn’t much but it was all they needed. 

I’m not gonna lie, it was really hard listening to certain stories. There was so much hurt and emptiness in these people. Several times, I wrestled with the idea that most of them had grown up similarly to how I did – as I heard person after person allude to having a good family where God at least being acknowledged in their lives. I realize I haven’t lived nearly as long as they have but what made me so different?  

I wanted so badly to help them. To point them to the Gospel and say, “Hey, Jesus, can help you!” Often, I was shut down. Too many of them had been hurt by Christians before and didn’t want anything to do with religion. They were just there for the free meal. It was when I came to the realization that I couldn’t force my own religion on someone that my arrogance dissolved. I couldn’t change people if they themselves didn’t want to change. Who was I to think I had all the answers? All I could do was scatter little seeds – seeds that could one day take root and grow into something spectacular. 

The sad part about short-term missions is that you rarely see any results. Though I prayed to be used by God, I have no idea if that one conversation with that one guy made a difference in his life or if that cup of tea served with a smile really brightened someone’s day. Nonetheless, I was called to go out, and I obeyed.  So I don’t know if I really even made a difference or scattered seeds in a faithful way that would produce life and maturation in Christ.  My obedience isn’t filled with certainty as much as trust. All I can do now is pray.    

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By Jason VanDyke

If I wasn’t dating someone I would be wishing I was. Through middle and high school, I found a lot of my identity in my relationships. If I were to describe my high school life with one word, that word would be the one – “relationships.” At this time in my life, my faith was not very personal and in many ways I was going through the motions of a Christian life. I went to church because that’s what my parents did, and the idea that Jesus might be interested in how I was feeling was completely foreign to me. 

Without that realization that I could have as personal a relationship with God as with anyone else, I was trying to fulfill my desire for intimacy through the people I was with. Looking back, it’s pretty easy to see that this was a bit misguided and my desire was never fully satisfied. This wasn’t because the people I was with were bad people, it’s simply because my friend or girlfriend could never fully and perfectly satisfy the desires I had, such as the desires to be loved, to be accepted, and to be seen as good enough. 

This truth continues to become more evident to me today.  As I continue to do life at college and grow closer to God in this season of singleness, one verse I’ve held in my heart since high school is Psalm 73:26 which states, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” This verse has helped me recognize this flesh I live in is not perfect; I have desires and feelings, both good and bad, but they should not be what I build my life on. Feelings come and go, meaning if I try to build my life on them, things will fall apart very quickly. A good example would be my supposed “need” for some amazing shoes or a new video game; over time my shoes show signs of wear or that game starts to get boring, leaving me with something I no longer desire. My feelings are so prone to change from year to year, day to day, and even minute to minute, but the one thing that will never change is my God.  He will always be present and will always be able to fulfill the desires I have, which is obvious when I consider it is him who gives me these desires in the first place. He is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.   

When my desire for intimacy gets strong, sometimes to the point of overwhelming me, I look to God for love and peace. It is not an easy thing to do, coming from where I’ve been, as I always had someone else around that I’ve allowed to be the one to fulfill that God-sized desire.  But when I begin to taste the goodness that God is the only fountain that can satisfy my thirst for intimacy – this God-given, God-sized desire – it just becomes a natural thing to seek him out to fill my cup more often and more fully so that I overflow.  In light of where I am at this point in my life, I know God can be intimately trusted to be the one thing in my life that remains constant because he has promisedin Psalm 73:26that he is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

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By Emelie Swonger

I am a planner. A connoisseur of organization. That girl who is (almost) always prepared. 
But if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s this: my plans will never be as bold and beautiful as God’s plans for my life.   

A North Dakota native, I wanted a college experience that would take me beyond the rolling prairies of my youth. I imagined myself moving to a big city where I could earn a degree in dance performance and pursue a lifelong career as a dance studio owner.  

I had amazing (if not overly ambitious) plans for my future. But thank goodness, our Lord knew better. 

During my senior year of high school, my life took an unexpected turn that changed my future plans dramatically. I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, a condition characterized by abdominal pain, fatigue, and severe anxiety. Suddenly, my days of dancing at the studio were replaced with long nights at home, struggling with frequent panic attacks and nearly constant pain. 

As I looked toward college, it became clear I needed to find a place where I could heal. By this time, I was beginning to have doubts about my dance studio dream. With my health picture crumbling, I didn’t know if a dance career was even possible.  

The moment I stepped foot on Northwestern’s campus, I knew I had found the place where I could begin my life again. Northwestern did not have a dance program, but I appreciated its faith-based community, strong academic reputation, and incredible theatre opportunities. Knowing that God had gifted me with a teacher’s heart, I decided to pursue education as an alternative to dance. Becoming a traditional classroom teacher seemed like a much more practical path than teaching dance full-time. 

Despite making the shift to an education major, however, I somehow ended up in an introductory public relations course during fall semester of my freshman year. Some people might say it was an accident, but looking back on it now, it is very clear that God wanted me to take that class. 

 Over the next few weeks, I fell in love with the public relations field and the powerful ways it can be used to tell stories for God’s Kingdom. Where I had previously dismissed the Lord’s call to become a dance studio owner, I was suddenly blessed with a degree that would prepare me to build a small business and communicate with prospective dance parents. As my health began to improve and my passions for dance and public relations started to collide, God’s plan became much clearer.  

Although I do not know where this new plan will lead me or whether my dream of opening my own studio is even plausible, I’m gradually learning that it’s OK to lean into the uncertainty, to trust that God will work all things together for the good. I can plan, I can organize, I can make elaborate flow charts all I want, but ultimately it is my Heavenly Father who is preparing the pathway. For “my thoughts” are not “His thoughts,” nor are “[my] ways, His ways” (Isaiah 55:8-9). It is my deepest prayer that I will surrender myself to that truth every day, fully embracing the plans God has in store for my life. 

Adoramus majorem Dei gloriam – for the greater glory of God!