Three Reflections from Three Graduates

Hear from Tanner, Payton and Liza – three of our newest CM alumni

Tanner Rufenacht

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Tanner (left) with college roommates Drew Robbins, Payton Mills, Tanner Rubin and Ben Martin.

I don’t know how I ended up here. That’s a good thing though because it means it was God’s plan and not mine. Five years ago, I received a pamphlet in the mail for a place called Grand Valley State University. I had never heard of it before, but out of the thousands of college letters I received, this one stuck out to me. Nothing about leaving my small town where everyone knew me, to go to school at a place where 25,000 people didn’t, should have appealed to me, but it did. Nothing about leaving a church, community, friends, and family that had loved me, supported me, and pointed me in the right direction to go to a place where I didn’t know if I would find ever find anything close to it should have made sense, but for some reason it did. Nothing about leaving a place of Christ-followers, to go to a public university where you can choose to follow whomever or whatever you want, should have drawn me here. And nothing about being 3 hours away from Mom’s home-cooking in a place that seemed to fry everything should have appealed to me, but here I am.

When I was a senior in high school I knew there was something special about Grand Valley and I knew the Lord wanted me to go here, even though I had no idea what or why that was. The Lord had spent that past four and a half years showing me what that something special was. Not a day has gone by in the past four and a half years that I have not thanked God for being here. However, many days have gone by where I have been brought to my knees because of God’s faithfulness in my life here at Grand Valley.

One of the reasons Grand Valley is such a special place is because it is where I found Campus Ministry. It was in this community and with these people that the knowledge that I had in my head from growing up in a church community and family started to spill out through my heart and my actions. I realized here that following Jesus isn’t about just being “good,” it’s about seeking and saving the lost and hurting. It’s about relying on Him when it seems there’s no one else, it’s about standing firm in your faith in the midst of temptation, and it’s about falling into the arms of God when all seems lost. I have been in all of those places during these past four and a half years. Places I haven’t been in the first 18 years of my life. The reality is I have hurt more in the past four years than I ever have, but I have also experienced a greater joy than I ever thought was possible. I really think God needed to bring me to a place where it was harder to find Him and follow, so when He did move in my life it was impossible to deny and resist Him.

That being said, I want to share three short stories of God’s provision during my time here. My time here has not been all good, all the time, but that’s ok because no good story is free of hardship and conflict.

  • During my first three years at Grand Valley I had a lot of people that knew me, but no one really knew me. I was having trouble finding community outside of the well and outside of CM. I would lead and talk to hundreds of people on Sundays but would spend countless the rest of the week hanging by myself at home or feeling like I was in places I didn’t belong. Being someone who loves people, this was really, really hard and it really, really hurt. In hindsight, I know that the Lord wanted me to get to know him better before He provided me with the community I desired. If you are in this place, I would love to talk to you because it is a hard place to be, but it can be one of the most powerful. I have found the most amazing community in the past year, but it was only when I drew closer to God that he revealed the community He had for me.
  • God also walked with me through one of the darkest periods of my life last year. Three weeks into winter semester last year I begin struggling with anxiety and stress. I was teacher assisting and had school on top of that and the weight of everything seemed to break me. I thought I was doing what God wanted me to do, so I was really confused by it all. The physical symptoms made day to day life really difficult and it felt like the world I had built for myself was crashing down. That was the problem. I had built the world around me. God has spent the last year breaking down all these parts of my life and replacing it with his plan. And remember, the community I talked about before. I met them just in time for me them to walk with me through this period. Almost like someone planned that… Wow, God is good!
  • The third story has to do with leadership. For some reason, God thought I would be a good leader and kept putting me in leadership positions. Or maybe a bad leader so that if I did anything good, people would have no choice but to believe it was the Lord working through me. This was the case in D.C. on a Spring Break mission trip my junior year. I was leading the trip and through a series of events I managed to spread our entire group in three different spots in the city. I thought I had ruined everything, but it managed to be the moment that brought the whole trip together. It ended up being one of the best weeks of my life.

These stories are just a snapshot of God’s faithfulness in my life here at Grand Valley and I would love to share more if you ever want to talk. I realized that one of the main reasons I worship is because God knows better than I do, and he has proved it time and time again. It feels good to rest in that truth as I leave Grand Valley. God is all-powerful and He is in charge, and anyone who knows me should know it’s much better that way.

Payton Mills

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Payton (left) with college roommates Tanner Rubin, Ben Martin, Drew Robbins and Tanner Rufenacht.

Dear Students of Campus Ministry @ GVSU, 

I hope you know that you are changing lives. With each word you say, with each action you take, with each look you give, with each moment of interaction, YOU are changing lives. You are either changing them for the better or for the worse. Please change them for the better.

My life has been changed for the better by the people of CM @ GVSU.

I don’t know what college is like for you, but I know I don’t know what I’m doing. I think there are many students who come into college in search of stability. It’s easy to find your identity in many different arenas of the college life. Thankfully, God changed my heart through the work of Campus Ministry @ GVSU.

Coming in as a freshman, I thought I was doing just fine, but I wasn’t. I was isolated, I didn’t understand the value of a Christian community, and I was trying to live out my faith on my own. Fortunately, God had something better for me. A few months into college, I randomly texted a guy who had been my honors college mentor to see if I could join a Bible study he had mentioned a few months earlier. He said, “Yes.” So I went to this thing called a ‘Lifegroup’ that was part of CM @ GVSU. Here were my thoughts after my first meeting: “Wow, what a bunch of weird Christian dudes. That one guy talked too much, and half the time, no one even said anything. I’m a way cooler Christian than that.”

But I went back… week after week after week.

And guess what, now I’m a graduate, and I live with the guys from that group (including the mentor guy I mentioned), and they are my best friends, and they have changed my life for the better.

My story is just a small sliver of what is happening in Campus Ministry. I see my story happening all over the place in this community. I know countless people whose lives have been changed for the better by you people.

Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you are refreshing the hearts of people.

I walked into college as a boy, and now, I will walk out as a man… a better man… because YOU are changing lives. Thank you so much.

Praise the Lord.

Payton

Liza Braatz

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Well, I can finally say it, I’m an ALUMNI! Everything I’m used to doing for the past four years like going to class, writing (seemingly pointless) papers, cramming the night before a test, joining new organizations, etc. is all over. In light of this – I think that any big change like these causes someone to look back and reflect on what he or she has learned in that particular season of life.

For me, the most important and life changing lesson I am taking away from my time in college is that pursuing a relationship with God is the single most important “assignment” you can ever undertake.. I understand how trite and overdone this can sound, so hear me out here. College offers all sorts of new experiences and opportunities. Some you don’t like, some serve as a growing experiences and some you end up absolutely loving. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “the world is your oyster” at least once during your time in college? Now I am not saying there is something wrong with that phrase, I’ve probably even used it in an Instagram caption! What I am saying is that there is something even more important and life changing than anything college can offer you.

I have been a Christian my whole life, and God has been incredibly faithful to me during my time in college, even when it wasn’t reciprocated. And by the way, If you’re hearing this and you don’t know God, I would LOVE to talk with you more about that! But if you do have a personal relationship with God, here are some facts for you;
Your friend group will probably change
Your major will probably change
Your housing will probably change
YOU will most definitely change!

Facing uncertainty and unsteady ground alone can cause even the strongest person to doubt their life’s direction and purpose. I am here to tell you that we have the opportunity to press into a relationship with a God who is NEVER changing and loves you unconditionally! No matter your grades, your major, your popularity status, your internship, or your IM sports standings, you can always know that He loved you enough to send his perfect SON to die so that you can have a personal and intimate relationship with God Almighty!

I’m not saying I’ve always had it together by any means, because as we know, everyone falls short! Something I am extremely grateful for though, is that no matter how far I got from God he was never more than a prayer away from me. God will walk with you through everything, no matter how ugly or confusing or messy. God created you, which means he knows you better than anyone (even more than your mom does, which is crazy to think about!). This reminds me of a verse in James 4 that say, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” That’s not something to take lightly. God wants you to KNOW him!

Looking back on my four years of college I can confidently promise you that passionately pursuing God was the most life changing decision I made. Don’t put Him on the back burner for the next four years. Invite God into your life and watch Him turn your plans into more than you anything you could have ever expected or dreamed!

A note from CM: If you are a current student or alumni, we would love to hear your story of how God has used Campus Ministry in your life. Please consider submitting your story here.

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David’s Story

If God is For Us, Who Can Be Against Us?

David Genslak

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David (left) and friend Matt

My name is David Genslak, I am a sophomore and studying criminal justice. This is my story.

I grew up catholic, and I remember going to church every Sunday, but the services were kind of bland for me. I never really got a lot out of the services. I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point, my family stopped going to church, until my freshman year of high school when we started attending a church called Kensington. I really started to accept Christ as my savior at that time. So, on the outside I looked like a pretty good Christ following kid, right? Well, I was struggling with something that I never told anyone for a long time.

In 6th grade I started watching pornography. I would watch it frequently, and then go to church on Sunday and tell everyone that “I’m fine.” A lot of people do this. I felt awful for lying to my friends and family. This changed when my buddy invited me to Finding Freedom last year – I told somebody that I was struggling with this problem for the first time. Not only did this group help with how to stop watching pornography, but also how Christ is involved with this journey. I decided that I wanted help fighting this addiction and knowing that Christ will save me from this sin helped me get out of it.

This group started to change my life around and I’ve been able to cut this ugly sin out of my life. I was able to fight off the devil with the help of God and community. After cutting off this sin, I am more open around my friends in talking about the issue, which leads into discussions about Jesus. This in turn also makes me more comfortable talking about Jesus with people that do not believe. Cutting out pornography and filling that gap with reading the Word and singing worship music has helped me grow closer to God. In Romans 8:31 it says, “If God is for us, who can be against us.” I believe that with all my heart. How could something hold us down when God is right there to help us get out of it? I encourage anybody who is struggling with pornography to take that step and ask God and other people in the community for help. Finding Freedom was a big step in my life. I am now closer to God than ever, and this is why I worship.

A note from Campus Ministry: If you are struggling with any kind of sexual addictions such as pornography, CM@GVSU offers support for both guys and girls. Check out Finding Freedom for guys – they meet Tuesdays at 9pm in Kirkhof 1142. You can email findingfreedomgvsu@gmail.com for more info! Check out Renewed for girls – they meet Mondays at 9pm in Kirkhof 2227 (except for CPR weeks). You can email renewedgvsu@gmail.com for more info!

Key of Hope’s Story

Campus Ministry @ GVSU has partnered with Key of Hope in a variety of ways over the last seven years. We are excited to keep partnering with them and beyond excited to hose their choir concert this Monday, Nov. 20th!

Key of Hope

Durban, South Africa

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After more than ten years serving at The Power Company Kids Club since its founding, Dan and Rachel Smither felt that God was calling them to begin a unique ministry to children in the worst AIDS affected area in the entire world: Durban, South Africa. Based on the power of long term mentoring relationships and the language of music to communicate the truths of the Gospel, the dream to reach thousands of children affected by AIDS was born.

From a Dream to Reality

Key of Hope was formed in January 2007, and fundraising began in earnest. The Smithers sold their house, cars, and furniture, and made a trip to Durban to begin making arrangements for housing, school for their girls, and other essentials. One year later, in January 2008, they stepped off a plane onto the runway at Durban International Airport with 16 suitcases and clear vision of what God had assigned them to accomplish.

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“Key of Hope desires to reach thousands of poverty, HIV and AIDS stricken children with the love of God, transforming them into ambassadors of change in their families, schools and communities.”

Slowly, with each relationship built, inroads were made into these areas. The work literally began with one child in one squatter camp, and has grown steadily from there. Key of Hope now operates with a staff of seven, ministering in eight different squatter camps and two black township areas, with more than 1,200 children being visited at home each week.

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What God is Doing Through Key of Hope

Our Saturday Kidz Klub began with 17 children sitting on the curb next to a taxi rank in a Durban slum known as Eringini. Today, more than 700 children board our minibus taxis for Kidz Klub each week. Our youth Bible Study touches more than 100 young people each and every week. There are also 5 soccer teams, 6 netball teams, 3 levels of after school tutoring in our Hope Academy, 75 children and youth in our leadership training program, a drama group, a youth Bible Study attended by more than 100 young people each week, and a 40 voice children’s choir. We founded and oversee a community garden, which provides several households with enough produce to eat, plus some to sell for extra income. We have formed a network of 8 preschool centers located throughout the slums, where we provide teacher training, curriculum, and early childhood education resources to prepare children for school. Our staff has grown to 20 people, 5 of whom have relocated from the USA.
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The heart of our mission is to bring eternal life change to children through solid Gospel teaching in relevant and tangible ways. Key of Hope is fully dedicated in its efforts to provide long term mentoring relationships to these children. Relationships that they need not only to survive, but to thrive as citizens, leaders, and disciples of Christ.

 

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The Smither Family

Click here to help Key of Hope’s Feeding Program! Learn more about Key of Hope here, and like them on Facebook!

Noelle’s Story

Noelle Jacobs

CM Staff & Alumni (2015)

— Yes and Amen —

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Week after week, I read blog stories from CM students and alumni whose lives have been wholly transformed by God’s steadfast love and uncontainable grace. Likewise, I go to The Well and hear testimonies that bring us to humility and worship. I am blown away… seriously. I am blown away by the honesty and vulnerability students express as they share the depths of their brokenness, only to point us all back to Christ and His redeeming love. Many times, I’m silenced on the spot by a stillness so quiet, I can’t even feel my own heartbeat. It’s in this silence that I’m brought to a place of deep reflection on His faithfulness—His faithfulness in the lives of those who I read about, who I hear of and who I see. In their stories, I am reminded of His faithfulness in mine.

A Community to Hold onto

I had an astounding group of girls that I journeyed through college with. We met in the dorm freshman year and our friendships were sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit on January 9th, 2012 at a Campus Praise Rally. We did nightly devotionals and testimonies in our dorm rooms called “Jesus Nights.” They happened every night our second semester! We moved in together and added to the sisterhood over the years. To this day, we are still heavily invested in each other’s lives and have even welcomed some wonderful guys into the family, too! Because of these girls and all my amazing friends from CM, I had a phenomenal college experience. The Lord orchestrated every person, in His perfect timing, for His perfect plans.

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An Invitation to Grow

Each year of my undergrad presented me with opportunities to respond to God’s invitation to mature in my faith and grow in my relationship with Him. These events had a tremendous impact on my spiritual formation:

Year One: Recommitting my life to Christ at CPR that night, and applying for CM leadership on the productions team.

Year Two: Accepting an internship with CM, responding to Christ’s work in my life by baptism at CM with one my roommates (shout out to Danielle a.k.a. D-Money!), going to Passion 2013, obeying His direct call to go on a Spring Break trip to Mescalero, NM, attending a local church and accepting a job as an Orientation Leader with GV Admissions.

Year Three: Returning to Mescalero as a co-leader for Spring Break and trusting the Lord during a dark season of looming uncertainty with a bad knee injury.

Year Four: Trusting Him with my finances as I made two down-payments (one to lead the Hollywood Spring Break trip and another to study God’s Word and hike in Israel/Palestine) and accepting my big-girl job at a local news station right before graduation.

A Call to Abundant Life

Israel/Palestine was my last hurrah with CM (or so I thought). I returned to work and every shift seemed like another up hill hike… except there were no mountains, no breathtaking views, no mad-mooing cows and no fire for pursuing God in most people around me. I was unhappy, and increasingly so. I felt nudges to explore ministry as a vocation, but I was doubting and had my eyes wide-shut to what God had done and was still doing in me. It wasn’t until a conversation with Scott Stark at Aroi Thai in Allendale where those nudges became a reality. I spent the next year working part-time at my news job and part-time with Campus Ministry in Grand Rapids, hanging out with some great students downtown. It was an opportunity to simultaneously live out both careers as I discerned the possibility of full-time ministry. One day, Scott’s tough love showed up through doughnut holes and the Holy Spirit: “I think you should apply to seminary… seriously.” The call became clear with my acceptance into the Master of Divinity program at Western Theological Seminary in Spring 2016.

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I can vividly recall the people and events God used to bring me here. Back then, I didn’t have a clue where and what they would lead to. I was and still am on a blind road trip—only having my blindfold taken off for a short time to see the destination I’m at. It goes right back on and the journey continues through mountains, valleys, long stretches of cornfields (my Iowa friends gave me permission to spotlight them), barren deserts, rich forests and refreshing waters. I never know where I’m going or what I’m about to experience, but that’s living a life in faith and obedience to God’s will. It’s saying yes to the unknown and amen to the circumstance with thankfulness. He is faithful to His promises, so why shouldn’t I be faithful to Him? He led me back to CM in such a way that I would have never dreamed of! And now, I truly think I have the best job in the world… I get a front row seat to watch the best storyline around—God’s same faithfulness over the lives of people like me. Nothing brings me more joy than to witness it!

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” – Frederick Buechner

Nathan’s Story

Nathan Wagner

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I remember walking through the halls of my high school all alone and looking around and seeing everyone else with their best friends. It was like I had a cloak of invisibility on for most of my high school career. I think not having a friend group was partially caused by not being an outgoing person and partially because I wasn’t always the nicest person to be around. I was constantly filled with anger and bitterness. I told myself that I didn’t need anyone; that I preferred to be alone. Looking back now, I see myself as a person desperately looking for friends and a community to belong to.

I grew up going to church, youth group, Bible studies, and Young Life regularly and it was really easy for me to act like life was perfect. I was the “good Christian boy” that people always saw at events. What people didn’t know was that I had turned to pornography to try to fill the emptiness I had inside. That temptation continued to follow me throughout my junior and senior years of high school and into college.

I came to GVSU in 2016 as the typical, wide-eyed freshman who didn’t know anyone. That was pretty much normal, except I felt even more alone because I literally had no familiar faces to try to associate with. That was, until I stumbled across Campus Ministry. Never in my life had I experienced people my age so eager to get to know me, love me, and care for me. I decided to go to everything CM had to offer because I knew that I had to find somewhere that I belonged. I went to The Bridge, joined a Life Group, went to the Passion Conference, and on a Spring Break mission trip. Through all of that, God has blessed me so greatly with best friends and with a place to belong. I have also devoted more time into personally knowing God, rather than just showing up at events. I also found an awesome group called Finding Freedom that has helped me fill the void I had with the love of God instead of pornography. I have seen God continually bless me time and time again since I got involved with CM and I have been able to give back to the organization that gave so much to me. Thanks be to God!

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Elena’s Story

No One Said It Would Be Easy

Elena Brownwell

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I was raised in a very strong Christian household. My family and I went to church every Sunday and my two older sisters and I did just about anything and everything typical “Christian kids” did. Back then, we were the epitome of a happy family.

Life changed when I was 12. My two older sisters went on a backpacking trip to Colorado with our church’s high school youth group. Two days before they were supposed to come home my oldest sister, Audra, was killed instantly by a 26-pound falling rock off a cliff. She was only 17. My family was no longer happy; we changed. My mom was devastatingly heartbroken, my dad tried to fill his day with meaningless chores and take care of my mom, and my other sister locked herself in her room. I forced myself to try to handle things on my own because I didn’t want to add on to anyone else’s pain. As time wore on, everyone in my family became more worn out. My sister specifically. She became very sick, which led my parents to invest almost all their time and efforts on trying to get her healthy again. I, on the other hand, just felt alone and angry. Angry with my family, angry with life, and mostly angry at God. Angry because I could not understand how this could be God’s plan.

High school came and went and like a lot of you, I left high school with a lot less friends then I went in with. With college approaching, I promised myself that I would find friends and become a happier person; however, when freshman year came around, I stayed in my comfort zone, only really communicating with my roommates and boyfriend. At the end of my freshman year, I was frustrated with how I had gone yet another year just as unhappy as I was before. That summer I prayed that God would change my life in some way so that I could start being the person I wanted to be. And boy, did he answer my prayers. Sophomore year I went, by myself, to the first Well kickoff service. While walking home after the service, I was approached by a car driven by a girl named Kadison Klausing. A girl, might I add, that I had only met her for all of maybe 5 minutes at The Well. She yelled from her window: “Hey! We just met at The Well, I was just wondering if you liked pancakes.” Naturally, I said yes, and surprised myself by getting in the back of her car to ride with her to the first ever CM pancake breakfast. That night I went online and signed up to be in her life group and my life will be forever changed by that. Through life groups last year, I found all of my best friends and I found community right when and where God wanted me to.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Life changed again when I was 19. It was then when my family decided to begin looking into adoption again. We had always felt that God was calling our family toward this destination but things got put on hold after my sister passed away. A couple months after we began our search, we found 2 brothers who were 8,305 miles away, in the Philippines. We instantly fell in love with their story and just them in general. From then, it took 11 months and 1 week for us to FINALLY be able to go pick them up and bring them home. Now, I can no longer say that I am the youngest of the family.

Like a lot of people, I went through most of my life believing that I was worthless and that I was too broken to ever amount to anything. But let me tell you, God uses broken, messed up people to help broken, messed up people and THAT IS WHY I WORSHIP.

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Cody’s Story

Déye mon, gen món.”

Cody Zuiderveen – CM Alumni 2013

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(Cody with his wife, Jessica, and their son, Hudson).

The Lord has always been faithful, good, and gracious to me. As I sit here thinking about my story—and how I want to tell it—I can’t help but think that, if nothing else, I want you to know that the Lord is faithful, good, and gracious.

Thanks to the Lord, I am a lifelong disciple of Jesus Christ. As his disciple, he invited me to follow him many years ago. I knew that following Christ would mean being willing to give up people and places that I love dearly. It would mean being willing to give up anything that I love for the One that I love more than all of it—Christ himself. It would mean following him to places that I maybe wouldn’t otherwise go, whether those places were as near as the local retirement home or as far away as West Africa.

And so I went. Especially during my four years with Campus Ministry where I worshiped on the praise team and “worked” as an office intern, I had awesome opportunities to go and help others do the same. In each of those places we went, Christ proved himself to be good in his care and provision for me and for those around me. In light of that goodness, I continue to go, which has led me to where I am today—serving as a missionary in Haiti, dwelling on the thought that the Lord has been and continues to be faithful, gracious, and good to me.

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(CM office interns Cody, Emily Bandfield [Emily Hoffman] and Rachel Goddard – taken during the annual downtown scavenger hunt, where Cody and Rachel were hiding as an elderly couple).

I think that is the theme of my story because I am in terrible need of a reminder myself. During my years at Grand Valley, the call of Christ was clear and exciting. The Posts, Pam Bush, Scott Stark, Chris Pieters and others affirmed my calling and encouraged me forward to the work set before me. Praise the Lord that they did! Campus Ministry was a tremendous mountain-top experience, but the work the Lord has called me to is vast and difficult. I work as a church and leadership developer, which means that I meet with and encourage pastors, train deacons, support Christian education, develop youth ministry, and serve as the academic dean of the Reformed Seminary of Haiti, where I teach systematic theology. I am being asked to contribute in ways I don’t know how, to do what I feel incapable of doing, and to fix brokenness even as I, too, feel broken. As you can imagine, I am inadequate.

Déye mon, gen món.” This is possibly the most popular Haitian proverb and it simply means, “behind mountains, there are mountains.” That is to say, if it is not one thing, it is another. One challenge, one obstacle, one struggle is followed by the next. Déye mon, gen món. If you know anything about Haiti, you know that this is a very fitting proverb for this island. As far as I can tell, if there was ever a mountainous, challenging place—a place that needed to hold on to the faithfulness, goodness, and graciousness of God—it is Haiti. It is in this place that I sit, facing the mountains before me, certain that there are more mountains yet to come. I am sure many of you are facing your own mountains. As you do, remember that when we lift up our eyes to the hills before us, we know where our help comes from. Our help comes from the Lord (Ps. 121), who if faithful, good, and gracious.

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(CM worship/productions team Christmas Party 2010).

Click here to follow Cody’s personal blog and keep up on God’s work through his ministry in Haiti!