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I spent my summer living in Amsterdam, and working with Shelter Youth Hostel Ministries. Going into my SOS trip this summer, I had heard a lot of different things from people who had been to Amsterdam working with this ministry. Everyone I talked with could only rave about the staff, the ministry opportunities, and the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit, but the first thing they would always mention was the amazing community and love that exists between the staff member and is shown to the guests. Going into the shelter, with the knowledge of the beauty of this community, still did not prepare me for what I was going to experience.

After hearing and experiencing the community at Northwestern, I couldn’t imagine a place that could be better at community living, but my first day in the community house I was floored. I entered a loving and committed community where no gossiping took place, there was no judgement, and everyone felt comfortable being completely open and vulnerable about their struggles. I was in absolute shock that such a community could exist, and let me tell you, I can’t think of any other time or place in my life that I have felt so loved, cared about, and respected. It was in this community that I experienced the Holy Spirit moving freely and convicting people’s hearts. I experienced what it was like to be justly called out in sin, and what it meant to lovingly call out brothers and sisters. The passage in Matthew 7:5 “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (NKJV), begun to actually make sense and I got to watch this type of love and care happen right before my very eyes.

Toward the end of my trip, I began to think and pray about what I would experience coming back to Northwestern and honestly, I was terrified. In this community in Amsterdam, I was challenged to break old habits of gossiping and judging others. I began reflecting on my previous three years and was crushed to relive all the times that I had acted on these frivolous and unnecessary sins. The idea of returning to NW where these temptations seemed to be running rampant around me, made me truly worried that I would not be able to abstain from these old habits. I remembered that this type of community I had experienced in Amsterdam was not going to be what I was entering back into at NWC – and that left me heartbroken and not entirely wanting to return.

After returning to campus, I am still left trying to reconcile these thoughts and feelings. I know that God is here and is present, but what will it take for the Holy Spirit to truly move freely in the midst of this community? I wonder if it’s through the little things – like being vulnerable with someone, asking someone how they are truly doing, praying for people hurting in the moment, abstaining from gossip, keeping judgmental thoughts at bay, and sharing with others how I am seeing God work in my life and others around me. What if I was willing to stop speaking hurtful and slanderous talk, what if we were committed to uplift and encourage one another (even if it means calling each other out in love), what if we replace anger and wrath with grace and forgiveness, what if NWC became known for its genuine kindness and love towards each other? I know that craving the type of community I experienced in Amsterdam will be something that I

will always be searching for, but I am confident that God is working in mighty ways to bring this type of community to all places – even Northwestern. This type of transformation will take a personal and communal effort to really make a change. I have been challenging myself to be this change, to start making personal adjustments, in hopes that others would notice and start walking alongside me.

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By Suresh Portillo

I – a San Franciscan who was born into a loving Mexican family, who left for the mid-west to go to college a little over a year ago, and who recently got back from a Summer of Service (SOS) in France – sat at the Pioneer ministry headquarters in Florida as people shared about their summer experience, knowing that they were all going home after this time of debrief.

I, however, didn’t get to go home; I actually came back to Northwestern, to school.

What’s taken me a few months to identify within my own heart, through my own personal debriefing, has been something of great importance – Home. I’ve come to understand that home is not just where you live, where you come from, or where you spend your time. But if this is true, where or what is home?

The very first week I was in France this last summer, our team met a missionary kid who grew up in the Czech Republic, but went back to the US for college. His name was Rich. As the team was getting to know a little more about him, Rich shared something that affected the rest of my time in France and has affected my life since I’ve been back. He said that after going to college and going around to different parts of the US, he would live in the US for a time, but not for the rest of his life. His reason? Simply because “it’s not home.” Europe had been home to him, and it will continue to be his home.

One of the reasons I ended up in the mid-west was that, when I was applying to colleges, I was looking at places both outside of San Francisco and outside of California. Why? I had the same feeling as Rich: I didn’t feel that California was home.

Had it not been for two months on a different continent, with team members from different parts of the US and surrounded by people from all around the globe, I wouldn’t have been able to figure out this part of my life and truly reflect and realize, as Rich came to understand, that the US (not only California) had not been home. As a result, I was stuck asking myself, where will this longing be satisfied? This caused some unsettlement in me since, apart from this summer, the US had been the only place where I had lived and that I had experienced. I thought that’s what made a home, home – the familiar; the comfortable; the knowledge of.

With my family being originally from Mexico, I always knew I was living life in the middle of two cultures, I just didn’t know where. What’s more is that for some reason unbeknownst to me, I always told my parents growing up that I wish I had grown up in Mexico. Perhaps because Mexico is where I first learned to speak and to communicate with others. Though, because I have very little memory of Mexico due to only ever being there about six months when I was four, I don’t really know what life in Mexico is like. However, it’s a place that God continues to put on my heart, and, even so, given that I’ve mostly experienced Mexico through family and friends, I still cannot be 100% sure that Mexico will be the place I have always longed for.

What I can be sure of is that God has used family and friends (in California, at NWC, and in different parts of the world) to show me glimpses of home. For that reason, I’ve learned to find home in relationships rather than in commonality.

I know I will never truly feel home until God takes us up to his holy presence, but for now I cherish the little pieces of home he’s showing me through family, friends and those around me.

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By Hannah Lautner


Why do I ignore God? All throughout my life I have been aware that God is up there watching, listening, waiting, and loving on me. Admittedly, it’s often easier for me to acknowledge His presence in the hard times: when my brother was diagnosed with cancer, when I moved for the fifth time, when my best friend found out she had a brain tumor, when I was in a car accident that threatened my life.

But the thing is, the hard times often aren’t constant; they are just seasons. And it’s without question that the hard times put the magnifying glass on God’s presence in our lives. But isn’t God just as actively and powerfully at work in the simple and routine? God miraculously healed my brother from cancer (and that’s amazing), but He also provides ‘little’ miracles in the ordinary and every day. He never stops working. It isn’t like God takes a nap and forgets about life for His children on Earth. He doesn’t take breaks. He extends this crazy type of unconditional love that is difficult to wrap my head around. But how can someone care so much that he literally never stops watching for even a minute, even a second? Lately I have realized that God is so much more prevalent in my everyday life than I dare to acknowledge.

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But how should I respond to such overwhelming love? How do I apply this concept to my life? How can I approach Him even though He knows every little time that I have strayed from Him? How can I open my heart fully to Him when life gets so busy with stuff that distracts me from him? Easy 🙂 (haha, right…), God invites the same amount of intentionality as any earthly relationship in order to prosper. He delights in our effort, love, and time just like anyone else. Oftentimes, if we’re honest, these are the resources of our lives that are the hardest to give up! And guess what?! God knows that! He is perfect and patient because He knows that we are imperfect and will mess up and will forget to give Him even an undivided ten minutes of our day. Regardless of what we – unintentionally or intentionally – do, He is still there. He is always there; patiently blessing us with the small things day by day and working through an immeasurable amount of miniscule ways to invite us to Himself.

So as I look ahead to my last semester here on campus, I pray that I would have the eyes to see just how much Christ is working in me in the daily, miniscule, rhythms of the everyday. And who knows, maybe our whole campus community could join together to look for God in the small things too. We’re never ignored.

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By Devin Vander Werff

When Jesus died to save me, he not only saved me from sin, but saved me to new life. For me, new life has come in the form of incredible people and opportunities. When I was in high school I went on the same mission trip for three of my four years. In addition to the work we did on this trip I started to build relationships with friends and adults from northwest Iowa. We had a great time serving and it was crazy how fast relationships came together.

During my senior year, it was a very easy decision to choose Northwestern. Many of the adults from my mission trips told me I would be a good fit. Now that I am here on campus I have mentors that I can meet with on a regular basis. These people have been such a blessing to me. Last fall I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life and then found out that I had no idea. These people listened to me and helped guide me in the right direction. In addition to great mentors, God filled my life with great friends. Coming to campus was exciting and a little nerve-racking since I had no friends except one kid that went to my high school. However, the first few weeks I met so many fun, exciting, loving and awesome people. As the year went on, I kept making new friends but grew close with a few. We have done a ton of fun stuff together, but they have also blessed me by helping me out with studying, playing on the basketball team, and other activities. God has given me an incredible amount of opportunities from things as little as getting doughnuts on Friday nights, to dorm events, to getting to go on an SSP and all the other ways to get involved on campus. It seems like I never had to seek out any of these things or people, they just happened by the work of God.

When Jesus died to save me, he not only saved me from sin, but saved me to new life. I don’t know why God has been so good to me, but I do know that it has nothing to do with me. I didn’t do anything to deserve this, it is 100% up to God and His plan. As a result, my only response is to reciprocate. Since God has blessed me, I am to be a blessing. I don’t try to ‘live the right way’ so that I can be blessed. I try to ‘live the right way’ since I have been blessed. Obviously, this is a goal that I am striving to attain. There are relationships that I have screwed up, feelings that I have hurt and situations that I handled poorly. I am clearly not perfect at being a blessing, but with God’s grace I strive to do it every day.