by Ginny Kjer

At the beginning of the semester I was sitting on the rooftop of my school here in Seville, Spain wondering what God had in store for me. The morning air was crisp with the slightest chill, but I couldn’t complain since it was below zero back at Northwestern. I hadn’t yet decided what word I wanted to focus on for the year. After sitting in silence as I looked out over the city, the first line from the song “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack floated into my mind. It goes, “I hope you never lose your sense of wonder.” Wonder, for me, is being in awe of God’s creation. In the past this has been displayed through my friend’s vulnerability, watching children kick a soccer ball in the street, and by enjoying the beautiful sunshine. However, after spending the past three and a half years at the same school, in the same town, with generally the same people, I had almost stopped wondering. The craziest part is that I hadn’t realized that I’d stopped wondering until this semester. For me, it took a completely new culture to realize I had probably missed out on wonder-worthy details at NWC. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time on the field after my last collegiate soccer game or walked across campus a little bit slower, so I could enjoy the beauty.

Naturally, since arriving here in Seville I have had a lot to wonder about, both to question and to be in awe of. Lately, I’ve challenged myself to wonder at my surroundings. This semester I’ve been humbled by how amazing God’s creation is as I’ve seen God’s handiwork all around me. What once was foreign is starting to become normal everyday life after being here for a while. Nonetheless, there is still so much I haven’t seen. Each day, as I walk through familiar (and sometimes not so familiar) streets, I try to look up, down, and around for something new to wonder at. So far, I have wondered how to navigate the curvy streets of Seville, and how to politely tell my host mom I don’t like the juice she packs in my lunch. (That worked out. She was actually glad I told her.) I have also wondered how I can possibly express how amazing my study abroad experience has been, and if my calling is still what I thought it was.

It’s so easy to go through my daily life without thinking much about what’s around me. Many times, I’ve become so accustomed to my surroundings that I’ve become somewhat desensitized to them. The same has been true in my faith journey. I’ve become so set in my routine of daily devotions and weekly church services, that I don’t feel or acknowledge the wonder of God’s love for me. I had become desensitized to the full impact His love had in my life. But, more and more, I have come to realize the God of the universe loves me and that in itself is something to wonder at. Wow. Why would the God of the universe love me? Because in Christ, I am His daughter, His Beloved. I so easily forget this fact when I get caught up in my daily life, but that doesn’t make it any less true. As I finish this semester abroad and come home to start the next phase of life, I hope to continue to witness the wonder of God’s amazing creation.

By Candice Howell

I recently heard the quote by Pricilla Shirer that said, “The devil CANNOT destroy you, but he will find any way in his power to discourage you.” Although I knew this deep down, it wasn’t until after my family started a church two years ago that I realized the influence that he has in this world and how he is very much alive and on the move, especially against God’s will.

My dad was called into the ministry two years ago after my mom had been praying for the past twenty years. My dad originally went to Wheaton College where he was studying to be a pastor. He knew it was what God wanted and called him to do, but he was not obedient to this call due to extreme hardships that occurred due to his freshly fatherless home life. However, my mom and my aunt continued to pray for seven years that God would work in him and lead, guide, and call him. God answered my mom’s prayers by planting a church, Grace Cornerstone Fellowship, in the spring of 2016 where my dad is now the pastor.

Once we started our church, the spiritual warfare became evident. In no way was he wanting our church to succeed. Due to my dad’s difficult childhood, fears of doubt, anxiety, and depression started to creep into his mind after not having strong attendance for the first year.

But this did not shock me. Of course, satan was going to discourage and attempt to destroy something that is honoring and glorifying to God. Why wouldn’t he? He will not target the people who aren’t trying to live for Christ. He wants the strong ones. There was tension starting to form in our church and Satan was winning. He was using relationships to tear down what God wanted for my dad and our church. I started getting discouraged because I was seeing how hard it was to do God’s will. I cried out to God asking, “God! Our family is trying to do your will, but it seems impossible at times, why?” And that is when God spoke to me. He said, “Candice, my daughter, the people are not the problem. Satan is the problem. You have to start fighting your true enemy.” I started to remember my true meaning on this earth, to love and serve God in everything I do.

This was such a new concept for me. Fighting Satan? Don’t I need to fight the people that are causing the problems? The answer is no. The enemy knows our weakness and insecurities and he will do anything in his power to manipulate people, things, and circumstances. I have learned recently, that fighting people leaves the root of the problem untouched. I need to get on my armor and fight the one who is truly out to discourage, deceive, and divide. 1 Peter 5: 8-9 says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” Spiritual warfare at times has been scary, but I know that if I am following Jesus the devil has no power over me, my church, or my family. God has already won the battle, and we now fight from His victory.

By Bethany Muyskens

As I walked onto the plane, I was dreading the next 12 hours of travel and the ensuing six weeks that I would be stuck in Mexico. I signed up for a Summer of Service 6 months earlier when I thought God was urging me to do so, but at this moment, I was convinced I had heard Him wrong. I passed up great opportunities at home because I had committed to serving in Jalapa, Mexico, home of the Jalapeño, where food poisoning is abundant and air conditioning is not.

The first two weeks I spent there were exceptionally hard. I neglected the beautiful culture I was surrounded by because I selfishly wanted to be back in Iowa. I listened to my prideful thoughts that said the American way of life was far superior to the Mexican lifestyle. I let my fear of falling in love with the place and then having to leave hinder me from fulfilling the reasons I felt the Spirit had called me to go there in the first place. Not to mention I was adjusting to new food, a new family, and speaking in a completely different language.

I found myself with a lot of free time and only my Bible and a book by Francis Chan, The Forgotten God, to entertain myself. I began to read the book along with the story of Acts, and I saw all the Spirit was responsible for. Almost every time the Spirit was referenced, He was accompanied by an action verb. I began to realize that the Spirit isn’t just a wispy ghost that occasionally visits and gives us goose bumps when we sing worship songs, or that we pray to for guidance when we decide which grad school to attend or who to date. The Spirit does things— He refines and teaches us. Most importantly, the Spirit is living and active in us, and when we choose to follow His leading, we become more like Christ.

The call to follow the Spirit isn’t for the faint of heart. Chan explains:

“The truth is that the Spirit of the living God is guaranteed to ask you to go somewhere or do something you wouldn’t normally want or choose to do. The Spirit will lead you to the way of the cross, as He led Jesus to the cross, and that is not a safe or pretty or comfortable place to be. The Holy Spirit of God will mold you into the person you were made to be. This often incredibly painful process strips you of selfishness, pride, and fear.”

The Spirit of the living God led Saul to give up his cushy life as a Pharisee to become a fugitive frequently imprisoned and fleeing for his life. The Spirit of the living God led my host dad to give up a job he loved practicing medicine in a well-respected emergency room to open a small clinic for the poor citizens of Jalapa. The moment I read that quote, I knew it was the Spirit that had called me to Mexico. Although it wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to do as I was boarding the plane, the Spirit led, refined, and taught me throughout my time there.

He transformed my selfish attitude into an attitude of service. Instead of longing to be back in Iowa, I longed to return to the mission each day to spend more time teaching the children about math and serving soya and fruit juice for lunch. He tore down my pride, and, instead of thinking American life was superior, I began to see what it was lacking and tried to implement aspects of the Mexican way of life into my daily routine. Finally, once He helped me realize I was letting the knowledge of leaving restrict the way I loved people, I began to love on everyone as much as possible despite knowing I was leaving in a few short weeks. Throughout this refining process, the Holy Spirit taught me how to listen for his call in my everyday life. I would feel an urge to speak to a patient, and soon we were talking about the Gospel. I felt like I should

eat lunch one day with a kid that had never been very friendly, and I listened as he told me about his shattered home life. I began to pray for the Spirit’s leading in the little decisions. Now, I receive daily reminders from the Spirit. Sometimes they take the form of thoughts that randomly pop into my head, other times the messages come through conversation with friends, or a scripture passage, but they never fail to challenge me to live like Christ.

I wish I could say that I always listen when the Spirit calls, but, despite my shortcomings, He continues to carve away at my selfishness, pride, and fear to shape me more into the person God made me to be. I just have to keep listening.

By Lucas Sander

I grew up in a family of 10 kids. We were all homeschooled and grew up in a farmhouse in the country outside of Newton, Iowa, but moved to a house that we had built when I was 16. One day while I was working with Dad on unfinished parts of the house, he took a phone call over our lunch break. When he got back from talking, he told me that our pastor had been unfaithful to his wife and was in denial to the elders of the church about his habitual sin. There were a lot of spiritual issues tied up with how he was living, and his betrayal had a deep impact on the church, but it didn’t stop there.

Mom would be at the church in town a lot as Dad was building the house, and since Pastor Jim was often there, too, she had become pretty close with him. She took Jim’s side on the divide in the church, and separated from my Dad – who had been the one to find out Jim’s unfaithfulness and bring it to the elders in the first place. They got a divorce a few months later.

There were still eight kids still living at home at that point, so a schedule was set up for the younger children to go between Dad’s house and Mom’s, where she now lives with Jim. I was old enough to choose to live with Dad permanently, but even when I visited Mom’s house it never felt right, it never became normal – if divorce can ever be normal. I was torn because I believed that my own mother was living in sin, that she had willfully left the church and broken our family. I was never told how I was supposed to deal with that.

The hardest part of this process was when I graduated high school in 2015. We had a graduation ceremony at our church for homeschool families in the area, families that we had been friends with since our parents were in college. The parents who put the event together had been with my Dad throughout the entire divorce process, and together made a decision to send a letter to my Mom telling her that they wouldn’t let her come onto the stage to present my diploma because she had broken our family and abandoned the education of her children. I agreed with them that my Mom was living unrepentantly and agreed to sending the letter, but it put me in an extremely tough spot. There were two different times when my Mom asked me what I thought about the letter, and I avoided giving a direct answer. I didn’t know how I was supposed to tell my Mom that I didn’t believe she was a Christian anymore. Eventually, I avoided going to her house altogether.

Last spring, I began to realize that I had not been reflective of Christ in my relationship with my Mom. Instead of pouring out the unconditional love that saved my soul, I was hiding it because it seemed too awkward and hard to talk about. God spoke to me, and told me that I needed to make things right, so I braced myself to do one of the hardest things I’ve ever done: apologize to my Mom.

There was one week between when I went home and when I left for my summer job, so during that week, I texted Mom and asked her if I could come over. It took me several tries to get it out, but right before I needed to leave I asked her if we could step out on the porch. We sat down, and I told her that I had done an awful job of being a follower of Christ, and I asked her to forgive me for letting my feelings and my view of her get in the way of showing the love that Jesus poured into me.

We were silent for a long time, and finally Mom began to tell me how proud she was of me. Perhaps it was a smaller moment than I anticipated, but in that small moment, the truth came out and even if my Mom and I were at very different places, I had stopped letting that get in the way of love.

By Lexi Weaver

Something has plagued me since my teenage years – the mirror. For as long as I can remember, the mirror tried to morph me and convince me of all sorts of things about myself – that I’m overweight, not good enough, etc., etc. These were the thoughts that haunted me daily, and sometimes still do.

I remember sitting down in a young adult group this summer, and being called out by God to SAY SOMETHING. I needed to say I was struggling, say I couldn’t keep it together, say I never felt good enough. So as the group drew to an awkward silence I spoke, I cried, I pleaded.

I pleaded that somebody would save me from myself. I told these girls every struggle that was eating me to my core. I told them how when I looked in the mirror, I hated what I saw. I prayed that they would understand. Deep down, I knew my thoughts about myself were unreasonable and from Satan. In this moment of confession, it didn’t seem to matter what my fellow sisters in Christ would say to me, they could tell me I was thin and they could even lead me to scripture about how I was made in the image of God. But what I do know is that for the first time in my life, I laid the ugly at God’s feet. I laid it all down in hopes I would feel different. I cried out that this weight would be lifted.

See, that is the cool thing about God. He asks us to lay the good, the bad, and the ugly at his feet. He wants an intimate relationship with us. As I show God more and more of me, I feel closer and more connected to my Father, my Abba, my Daddy. He knows the hairs on my head. He knows the thoughts of inadequacy that plague me. But, He calls me His. When I dive deeper into knowing more of Him, He shows me what is in me that is FROM Him.

I could lie to you and say I have this all figured out. But I do not, and it is more powerful to be honest with my family in Christ than to live a lie of perfection. I still struggle to see myself as God does. It is a day by day fight between me and the devil of inadequacy. But because of God’s grace and understanding, I am loved as I am but called higher to give it up to Him. When I struggle, I am reminded to lay at his feet. He will wash me clean. God has already sent His son to remind me I am His. As the prayers go up, the blessings pour down. We’re all human, looking to be loved, already loved by a perfect Father who makes us whole. At the end of the day it is about knowing that I am loved by an omniscient Father that helps me realize I am already beautifully crafted by Him. He speaks Proverbs 31 over me, ” Lexi is Clothed in strength and dignity, with nothing to fear, she smiles when she thinks about the future. Lexi conducts her conversations with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is ever her concern.”

Charm can be deceptive and physical beauty will not last, but a woman who reveres the Eternal should be praised above all others..

Psalms 31:30