Three Reflections from Three Graduates

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

Tanner Rufenacht

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.


Liza Braatz


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.


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

key of hope mass kids

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.


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.
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.


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!

Cody’s Story

Déye mon, gen món.”

Cody Zuiderveen – CM Alumni 2013


(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.


(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.


(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! 

Meredith’s Story

Seeing God’s Purpose Through the Pain

Meredith Filter


“The Lord is my strength and song; He has given me the victory.” Exodus 15:2

I started my freshman year like many other people: I thought my roommate was going to be my best friend, making friends would be easy, and everything would fall into place; but God has a way of throwing expectations aside and replacing them with His plan. My first night at Grand Valley, my three roommates and I were driving around, trying to get to know each other. They talked about partying and asked what I liked to drink. I responded by saying that I don’t drink and I don’t party. My roommate replied, “That makes me uncomfortable that you don’t party.” It was that moment that I knew my big plans for the rest of my college career were not going to be what I imagined. The first few weeks of being at college were some of the toughest of my life. There were many nights filled with loneliness, tears, and questioning. Looking back however, God replaced the people I thought were going to be in my life with people I needed in my life.

I went to the first Well of the year and heard Ben Post preach about God’s plan for our lives. It seemed as if he was reading my mind and the entire service, I wept. I felt God’s presence and comfort. While the rest of the semester was incredibly challenging, God used those challenges to build my relationship with Him. I struggled almost every day between my expectations andGod’s plan. My life group leaders, thankfully, poured into me every week. One week, one of my leaders said, “God sometimes has to empty us before He can fill us up again”. That statement completely summarized my story. I had to release all of my dependence on earthly things so I could truly be filled with the Holy Spirit. God changed my perception of myself. I once was a small, scared girl trying to find her way through college. I know who I am now—I am a strong, victorious woman of Christ.


Sylvia’s Story

Broken Doesn’t Mean Out of Use

Sylvia Knight


I used to believe that in order for God to use me I first had to be good enough for God. Honestly, I still think that a lot of the time. 

This past summer, I lived and studied in Nicaragua for 3 months. In July I got really, really sick and for about a week my greatest excursion was leaving my bed to go to the kitchen and try to eat. Eating was another battle of it’s own. I was weak and altogether broken. Once I started to feel better, I scheduled a tour guide to take me on a hike up an extinct volcano to a big cross on the mountain top, because I was getting better and once I was good enough and strong enough, I was going to celebrate by hiking up a volcano! I got better. I felt good again and it was awesome. Just to be safe and confident that I would in fact be strong enough, I scheduled the hike for the following week. Just a few days before my celebratory adventure, I got an awful migraine headache that lasted a couple of days. Simply put, I was sick and weak (AGAIN). I knew I should reschedule the hike for when I would be strong enough for it, but I was leaving the city at the end of the week. It became a choice between trying to do it in my fatigued, sick state or not at all. 

Being a logical person who understands that our human bodies have their limits, I chose to do what any woman with a sound mind would do. I hiked up the volcano. Really though, I didn’t do very much and God did a lot. Just the day before I was unable to even walk down the street without feeling exhausted, but God literally lead me to the cross. 

There wasn’t a trophy or ice cream at the top, no one applauded me (except for Joseph, my tour guide, was happy for me). Honestly though, there was no WOW moment, no moment that I said, “This was 110% worth the pain.” Because of that, I then believe that as a broken person, I can’t be used by God, the weak simply don’t get applauded. But, isn’t that sometimes life? I think as humans we often look for praise and approval for every little thing and we forget who is really DOING the work. 

Looking back, I learned that if God can make use of a very sick Sylvia and bring her to the top of a mountain, I cannot imagine what else He can do with me. I am still so broken, so tired, so weak and I will never be strong enough or good enough. Thankfully, I have a God who is always more than enough. He can and will always make use of me in whatever condition I’m in.


Sarah’s Story

Sarah Coutts

Easter Baptism Story!


Looking back at the last few years of college, God has completely redirected my life by bringing joy and hope that used to seem so impossible. I grew up lacking a relationship with Jesus, which resulted in a faulty foundation. In high school my parents decided to divorce and I was unable to handle that amount of change that accompanied. God met me at my lowest point and provided me with every opportunity to come and follow Him. He led me to Grand Valley and I left behind my past filled with depression, anger, and a broken family. I came to college and found myself in a new community, one who fosters my faith and God shines so brightly through. During my struggles before college, I was lost and hopeless. Once Jesus shined His light through my closest friends, I knew a relationship with Him is what I had been searching for all along. God has placed countless faithful servants in my life that have supported me, encouraged me to take numerous leaps of faith, and displayed what a servant’s heart truly looks like. I am forever thankful for the friendships that God had waiting for me at Grand Valley. Their boldness, vulnerability, and invitation to come and follow alongside them has impacted my faith tremendously. Jesus has been evident by leading me to go on mission trips, to sign up for leadership, and to serve kids as a teacher. He has transformed my heart, grown my passion to serve, and has shown me what it looks like to live and love with passion. God has continuously shown me that he is my hope, my guide, my redeemer, and my joy. He provides comfort in the deepest of valleys and brings light to every situation. He calls us by name to shine his light on the lives of those around us and play a role in his perfect plan. Jesus has laid a new foundation for my life that is built on his unwavering love. All of this has been God’s way of encouraging me to take the next step in my faith to be baptized and commit my life to following Jesus.


Megan’s Story

Megan Kilts

Easter Baptism Story!


I grew up in a Christian home, attending church with my mom, and was saved when I was 5 years old. My parents got divorced when I was 6, which was a very difficult time for my mom and me. I have struggled for a long time with anger towards my father and it is something that God is still working on in my life. As I got older, I became very involved in my youth group. I felt completely accepted by the older students there, some of whom are still close friends of mine. Unfortunately, my youth group went through many messy transitions between youth pastors, as did our church in regards to senior pastors. During these times, many students would stop attending, although some stuck it out. Luckily, my last youth pastors poured into me and encouraged me to volunteer with the middle school youth group. The summer before I came to college, however, was challenging because these new ministers ended up leaving as well. I was devastated, but God used this time as a period of growth for me, helping me trust in him. I ended up leading the youth group for the summer along with a family friend until I came to college, something I never would have imagined myself doing a year prior.

I have seen God work in amazing ways in my life over the past few years and I’ve grown immensely. Coming to a secular college has really helped me make my faith even more my own and I have had to lean on God a lot more. I have had to seek out my own church and Christian community and I have seen God answer my prayers in so many ways, from helping me find CM and good friends, to providing for me with finances and a ride to Life Stream Church on Sunday mornings. I have been blessed with an amazing Life Group, an RA who connected me to CM, the opportunity to go on a Spring Break trip to Dallas, and a roommate with many similar interests as me. Just seeing the Lord’s provision for me in coming to GVSU has really strengthened my faith.

I have felt God calling me to be baptized for a while now, and I believe that it is the perfect way to acknowledge my faith to both my community of believers and my friends who aren’t Christians. I want to take that next step by acknowledging that I am striving to follow and trust in God’s plan for my life and be obedient to his call. Even if I sometimes cannot see what it is that God is doing, I know that his plan is greater than anything I could ever imagine up for myself. I am choosing to lay down my worries at his feet because his ways are higher than my ways and his plans are higher than my plans. I love the lyrics from the song “Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle: “When you don’t move the mountains I’m needing you to move, I will trust in you” and this is the anthem I will keep singing.