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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!

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By Alyson Eversman

I love nature and I love being outside. It’s where I feel God the most, the place I feel the most comfortable, and it’s the area God challenges me the most in. So, I try to be outside as much as I can, whether it’s walking the long way around campus, hammocking, “hiking” the Puddle Jumper, or just wandering around with no destination. For me, being outside allows me to clear my mind, to think, and to encounter the Creator.   

Throughout this past summer, I heard the term “prairie remnant” frequently, always being reminded that Iowa only has less than one-tenth of one percent (.001%) of these natural areas remaining.  Iowa is the most altered state in the nation. For those who don’t know, a “prairie remnant” is a grassland that, to some extent, remains undisturbed by European settlement. Thanks to my internship with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, I was able to work on some of these remnants of Iowa, witnessing all the biodiversity they contain and observe some more rare prairie species such as hoary puccoon, green milkweed, and silver-leaf scurf-pea. It was such a gift to work on so many remnant acres of gorgeous land. 

And it was on these prairie residues that I gained a deeper reverence for God’s creation. My heart honestly did a summersault when I realized the pieces of land that I was working on have not been disturbed since God allowed the prairies to form. The thought gave me goosebumps too because I was wandering through God’s raw, undisturbed beauty, observing the native herbaceous plants, grasses, and animals residing there.  

That realization has made me want to know more about the species living on the prairie remnants – the plants’ common names and their Latin ones too, the bird species behind the songs I heard, as well as the mammals hiding because of my presence. Through understanding a plant or animal’s uniqueness (as humans do when they meet someone new) or the individual impact on their specific ecosystem, I can learn more about the awesomeness of God as well as His loving personality. Overall, I yearn to draw closer to God through His creation – an exquisite perspective of God that people tend to forget about.   

Furthermore, as an Ecological Science major, I’m required to familiarize myself with the environment, but I think as Christians this needs to become a necessity. For how can we fully care for God’s creation if we do not understand or grasp how to take care of it?  

In my opinion, creation is one kind of gateway to God, that we, as stewards, can open every single day. For me, with the help of creation, I have discovered God in a new light by noticing His handiwork throughout nature; and thus, by caring more about it, I believe that I am glorifying Him for it. 

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By Will Browning

Everyone has probably heard the story of how Humpty Dumpty fell off a wall and how all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put him back together again. Do you think that Humpty felt lonely or begged for them to try again after no one could put him back together? Do you think he called out to God? Do you think he stayed broken, forgotten, and alone forever? Unfortunately, there are hundreds of Humptys all around us, and honestly, I was one of them. 

I started to fall, like Humpty did, in the summer of 2017 when I felt spiritually drained and was headed to Uganda for two months. After contracting a bacterial infection halfway through my trip, I found myself broken into hundreds of pieces that no one, not even my friends or family, could put back together. During that fall semester, I continued to take a full 18-hour course load, work several jobs on and off campus, co-choreograph a RUSH dance, and prepare to co-lead an SSP, all while recovering from the initial infection and the seven-week long treatment that left my body susceptible to everything from a common cold to just as common depression. I would do the minimum work just to make it through the day, and I would often wake up in so much pain that I would pray to fall back asleep to escape it. These prayers were desperate grasps at an idea of God, who would do anything I wanted as soon as I asked, instead of the reality of God who did what I needed at the appropriate time. These were usually the only prayers I uttered, and when his answers weren’t the same as mine, I quickly focused back on the obstacles in front of me. 

The spring of 2018 was a new beginning. I was doing exponentially better, but I still felt separated from God. I gave him the minimum attention while taking full advantage of my new-found health. I was so hurt by the challenges of the last year that I put up barriers to guard my heart from the only one who could fix it. Two weeks before leading an SSP, God used the speaker at P&W, who shared about coming out of a time of spiritual drought, to knock down the walls I built up before him. Through the message, God reminded me that sometimes things fall apart so better things can fall into place, but it would take time and that He wasn’t going anywhere. This was the start of the long process of putting me back together. God started showing me how each challenge helped to break me, so I could be shaped into a newer and more authentic version of myself. He made me a leader when I thought I had no qualifications. He deepened my understanding of him through a RUSH dance that unintentionally represented my personal relationship with him. He encouraged me every day as I studied for the MCAT this summer by taking the anxiety, sadness, doubt, and frustration and turning it into peace and joy. Coming back to campus, I see God speaking his love into my life in many ways. One way is how he sends my peers to engage in acts of service and quality time with me through deep, spontaneous-yet-intentional conversations. Focusing on that love, I have grown so close to God that ignoring him hurts. 

Even though I was broken with little hope of being complete, God stepped in at the perfect moment to start putting me back together. He is showing me how each piece, the good and the bad, fit together to form a beloved masterpiece. He, himself, even holds these pieces together and refuses to let them go. So Yes, Humpty fell off the wall, and no one could put him back together again. Yes, he hoped someone else would help when he felt alone and everyone seemed to give up. Yes, he even cried out to God, but No, he did not remain broken. Through Christ, I was and still am being put together in the indescribable image of God.