fullsizerender-1
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.

img_1781-min
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.

img_1788-min
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

img_4094
By Emily Reynen

One of the things I strive to be is strong. Physically, I want to be the strongest one on the court or in the weight room. I want others to be strong as well, that’s why I chose exercise science/strength and conditioning as my major. But I can’t help but ask myself, what about being spiritually strong?

I’ve been blessed with an awesome family and a great group of friends who encourage me daily in my faith. I grew up in a Christian school and went to church on a regular basis. When I got to senior year, it was all about the gains, literally. As an athlete, in school, in the weight room, and with Jesus – I was where I wanted to be. I loved what God was doing in my life. Athletics were going well, school was great, I had opportunities to share what God was doing in my life. Senior year was awesome until a certain point…

I was on a run with my dad one rainy, April afternoon. Suddenly he collapsed, and being the healthy physician that my dad was, it didn’t occur to me that something was wrong. Long story short, my dad ended up having to go to Sioux Falls in a medically induced coma. In that period of waiting for him to wake up, the only thing I could do was trust that this was in God’s hands. I had so much hope that he would wake up, but he never did.

My dad passed away a month after the incident. My anger was evident in my life. I was doing everything right. I gave God my time and effort every day. I served Him and others. And this is what I get. I was angry that He took away my best friend.

Looking back, it’s funny that my dad’s favorite saying was “Embrace the Suck.” It’s something that he had started to say a couple of weeks before he went down. Embrace the suck is a military saying, “Face it, soldier. I’ve been there. This ain’t easy. Now let’s deal with it” (Austin Bay). I felt like God was saying; “Yeah Em, this does suck, but this is what you’ve been preparing for physically and spiritually.” I knew I had to get back to “practicing” my faith and making my relationship with God stronger. But I was scared that if I trusted Him wholeheartedly, he would take something away from me again. I became weak in my faith and I just couldn’t get the motivation to get going again. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 Paul encourages us that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness,” and we should “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when we are weak, we are strong.” I kept feeling this tug saying, “You can’t grow stronger in anything if you’re not uncomfortable for a while.” Sounds pretty familiar, right? It’s the same concept in the weight room. You don’t get any stronger without a period of some pain, suffering, and even weakness. I need to live with God’s “power resting on me” (verse 9).

In the late fall of my freshman year here at NWC, I made it a habit to spend time with God again because I knew that’s what I had to do. The cool thing is that God promises to help strengthen us; 1 Corinthians 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth, seeking to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” He wants our desire to be spiritually strong, and he promises to be that extra “pump.”

It’s easy to slack off physically and spiritually. When we don’t put effort into our workouts or practices, our performance suffers. It’s the same with our spiritual life. When we don’t put in the effort to practice our faith and exercise our relationship with God, we become lethargic in the way we live for Him. So, when those challenging times hit us, we should be confident that with His help we are strong enough to “embrace the suck” because we are spiritually strong.

img_6327
By Aaron Rinehart
In 2017, my spring break story was a little different than most. When I got home from school last March, my brother-in-law, Josh Meinders, asked if I would go witness with him at the Memorial Union (MU) on Iowa State’s campus. I told him I would, not knowing that chasing this opportunity would result in a permanent life change.

At this point, my walk with Christ was not authentic, I had decided to go with Josh just to boost my reputation as a “good Christian kid” something I could put on my snapchat story so everyone could see what I was doing. Yet, as we walked around the MU talking to people about the gospel and what Christ had done for us, I saw it truly impact people. One student we talked to from Dubai, Yosef, broke down crying saying he prayed to God for the first time the week before, asking that He would show him that he was loved by God. Yosef was so excited because he had never had a father. One of his friends, who was a member of Salt Company, told Yosef that God is our heavenly father and that He can show us true love – a perfect fatherly love for his children. Yosef’s prayers had been answered, Yosef’s life changed, and my life used by God was soon changed as well.

After my experience in the MU, I decided that I was going to rededicate my life to Christ and live a life that would follow in His footsteps. On top of that, I asked God to teach my how to listen, listening to God is just as important as praying is. When we talk to God we have to listen as well, this is something that I was challenged with because I enjoy talking, a lot.

This also meant I had to be still and focus on what God was telling me, focus on the opportunities that He had placed before me. However, I am not the type that enjoys being still, I would rather do something and cloud my mind with less important things. Yet, Christ humbled me, He taught me to listen by using my own father, who I would not listen to either. It wasn’t until all the poor choices I had made in the past caught up with me, my dad called me out, and I had no choice but to listen. This conversation with my dad also forced me to listen to what Christ was saying to me.

As I grew to listen to God, more and more opportunities to be a witness came forward every day. Sometimes, so many that it would be overwhelming. All I had to do was say hi to someone, or ask them to sit down with me and talk about their day. Sometimes, their week would be completely changed because the Holy Spirit was working in powerful ways through me. It is through the ordinary “hellos” and the intentionality that we bring to a friend that the Holy Spirit can work. By listening, I was able to become a witness for Christ, and the opportunities came that challenged me and helped me to draw closer to God.

God changed my life. He has changed others as well. So for me, why not let God continue to work in me the ways he has been? Why not let him continue to change my life the way he did with Yosef? There is no person the Holy Spirit cannot reach, including me; may I listen and understand so I may speak and be understood in the name of Jesus.