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By Michael Simmelink, Resident Director of Hospers Hall

A portion of the 2013 Wilderness Leadership Expedition (WLE) trip was spent paddling canoes through the wilderness of Canada. To this day, I have no idea where we were. We had driven a van an hour and a half past Thunder Bay into the middle of God-knows-where-Ontario and dipped our canoes into blue lakes that had ice on them only a week before. There was more than one joke about the water temperature on this Coldwater Foundation trip.

We put in our canoes that evening, and paddled a measly five minutes before we shored on a peninsula to set up camp for the night. Tomorrow would be the first full day of paddling.

The start of my career as a paddler was the antithesis of ideal. My friend Zack entered the canoe and then stabilized it for me to join him. Carefully, he positioned himself away from the rocky shore so our canoe didn’t get beat up, but still tried to keep it reasonably close for me to throw a leg in. I do not recall what led to me being in the water up to my armpits, but I remember it being stupid cold. I was in two feet of water and couldn’t move my limbs to doggy-paddle. My breath left me; my lungs felt like they had shrunk to the size of two earbuds. Apparently I had slipped on the rock, and after an excoriating seven (eight? nine? eleven?) seconds I was shaking water out of my boots in 40 degree weather on shore. Thirty-five minutes after waking up I had successfully made myself ridiculously uncomfortable and cold. I succeeded on my second attempt entering the canoe, and we paddled to catch up to the group. We still had a full day’s travel ahead of us.

The sun moved behind clouds and across the sky, and we came to a portage near the end of our day, and I acknowledged that I was numb from my abdomen down. I was a little nervous about that, but I knew if I worked my legs hard, I could raise my body temperature. I loaded up two Duluth packs on my back, snatched the team’s equipment bag, and ran the 300 yard trail with close to 120 extra pounds.

I rumbled to the end and dropped the gear. Panting and hopeful, I slapped my thighs to see if the mission was accomplished. Hardly. My anxiety level rose. When the rest of the group caught up, I told our leader what I was feeling (or lack thereof). He reassured me that we’d camp on the next lake, and the best thing I could do is go to the bathroom so my body doesn’t waste energy maintaining temperature of waste.

I trounced through the bush and found a birch tree with a smaller fallen jack pine leaning against it, recently dead. As I stood at this urinal, tears began to form and fall. A lot hit me at that moment.

I was only alive because God wanted me to be. The wilderness could not care less if I live or die; it was completely agnostic towards my fears and feelings. I was alive because the Creator of the universe felt that wasn’t such a bad idea, and He was sustaining me as He always had. It wasn’t just God’s sufficiency in that moment of near-hypothermia; it was His sustenance for me day after day after day after day after day. Ongoing and never-ceasing.

I received the challenge I sought from this trip, but I always expected to come out of it feeling stronger, individualized, empowered. That was true to an extent, but it was overshadowed by feelings of affirmation, claimed, cared for, protected. Christ had always been guiding me to the warmness of a campfire and change of clothes, metaphorically speaking. On that day, it just happened to be literal. I peed on some trees while soaking wet and freezing cold, and I garnered a deeper sense of God’s providence.

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By Caley Vink

During the summer of 2017, I was working in the local county tax assessor’s department as an intern. I’m not typically a fan of working with numbers, but as it was my first real “grown up job”, I was excited about it. At this government job there was a woman, we’ll call her… Amanda, who was a secretary in the office. One day at work I overheard her talking to someone about some severe discomfort she’s had in her foot for over a year. The scientific name was plantar fasciitis. It was a sharp pain in her foot that made it so that she only found comfort by walking in a certain pair of wedges that took the pressure off her heel. But the moment she took the shoes off, terrible pain made it difficult for her to walk and sometimes sleep at night. I could hear in her voice how weary she was of dealing with it.

When she had finished explaining it to the other woman, I relaxed into my creaky swivel chair, contemplating her words. I thought, “It’s a little risky to ask to pray for people at a government office.” Most government offices are not typically places that are very hospitable to the expression of one’s faith in the way that I was planning to express it. But, I knew my boss was a Christian and I felt that he wouldn’t have a problem with me offering to pray for her healing. And so, compelled by the truth that I know how my Father loves and cares for me, and how he desires for me to be well mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually; I also knew that those same truths applied to Amanda. So, with that in mind, I decided to step out in faith. Which, for the record, is something that I have had to grow into.

I approached Amanda privately and asked if I could pray for her healing. She welcomed it, and as she sat in a chair I got down on my knees and placed my hands on her feet. I reached out to God and asked Him to heal her. I spoke of how pain does not belong to us and that we know this to be true because of what Jesus did on the cross. I rebuked the pain and commanded it to leave Amanda in the name of Jesus. I told her feet to line up with the Word of God, and I welcomed the healing that comes from the Lord to make the nerves, muscles, tissues, and bones of her feet like new again.

Our shared time of prayer lasted about a minute. Afterward she thanked me, and although she couldn’t test her foot for healing right then, she promised to check for it when she went home that evening. The next morning Amanda approached me, her face was alit with joy and tears were in her eyes. She proceeded to tell me that when she went home the night before and removed her shoes, the pain she was so accustomed to was totally gone. Filled with gratitude she told her husband what had happened, and the two of them continued to praise God throughout the night. They were so excited about it that they could hardly sleep!

When she finished telling me this, a few tears slipped over my cheeks as I hugged her and thanked God with her. God had healed her, and for the rest of the summer I rejoiced inwardly each time I saw her wearing new shoes around the office.

Every time I see God work in these ways I am left grasping for words to describe it. Please be sure not to look at me as some expert who has it all together. I am constantly having to learn and to grow in the ways the Spirit leads me. I am just an ‘ordinary-Joe’ with an extraordinary heavenly father. But even in our ordinary lives, we are called to do as Jesus did and engage in the fight to crush injustice everywhere we go – even if it means doing so in a place, at a time, or with people that are out of our own comfort zone.

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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 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.

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By Fritz Boyle

I think the most embarrassing thing about my freshman year of college was the fact that I struggled with lust. If reading that makes you feel uncomfortable— don’t worry about it because I can 100% guarantee I feel way more uncomfortable about you reading it than you do.

This struck me as the most fundamentally humiliating thing there was to know about me. I had absolutely zero intention of telling anyone about it, well . . . ever. (Which should explain to you why I’m writing about it now on a public forum.)

I ended up going to a local church Women’s Night because my friend Kate Arnold told me they had really good food. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that actually, the point of the women’s night wasn’t just the good food, but so that everyone could sit around eating good food and talk about Jesus and their feelings and everything else going on in their lives. Anyways, there was maybe 35 women there and at some point they had an open mic session where anyone could stand up in front of the whole crew and talk about how God had been working in their lives.

There was about two minutes of intensely awkward silence before Kate Arnold (what a gem) went to the front and shared some things, and sat back down and the rest of us were left sitting there staring at each other.

I can’t really explain to you everything going on in my brain at that moment. I knew that I had to say something, because, really, what sort of Christian would I be if I couldn’t even stand up in front of a group of other believers and talk about how good our God was? But the only thing I could think to talk about was how I was struggling with all of this sin in my life and how I knew that God loved me so incredibly much that he sent his son to die for that sin.

I also knew that under no circumstances would I ever, in a hundred million years, stand up and talk to this group of 35 adult women about how I was struggling with lust; but I serve a God who loves me enough he sent his son to die for me so I could trust that he wasn’t going to just up and leave because I couldn’t get my freaking Christian act together.

So, though I wrestled internally, I got up behind that microphone and shared – except there was a whole lot more blubbering and tears going on.

And I remember sitting back down and having three or four people offer me tissues and just thinking that that was the most humiliating thing I had ever experienced ever and it helped absolutely no one because Dear Lord in Heaven I was crying so hard no one could even understand me.

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I wanted to leave right after the thing ended but Kate wanted to gab with every single person there individually, so I was stuck awkwardly smiling and nodding at the stream of well-meaning-middle-aged women who came up to me afterwards to tell me that everything was going to be alright and so on and so forth. We were finally headed out the door when someone else stopped to talk to me.

“I just wanted to thank you, because your testimony was the only testimony that touched my heart this entire night.” She looked like she was about to cry, which made me feel a little bit better because I was still hardly holding it together. “God has felt so distant from me, and I’ve been wondering what else there is I can possibly do to be close to God again. But you’re right. He’s not just going to up and leave us because we’re struggling.”

God uses everything to further His kingdom, even the most unattractive parts of us. Of course, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t address the sins in our life. Being proactive about the kind of change God is bringing to fruition in our lives is essential to following Jesus. But He uses sinful people, and broken people. That’s just the way it is.