Next door and around the world: Alumni share the good news

August 24, 2017

This article is the second in a three part series that highlights how the Wheaton community shares Christ at home and abroad. It focuses on three recent alumni and the ways they share the gospel in their everyday lives.

Conversations in Slovenia: Sarah Goertzen, Class of ‘14

        Sarah Goertzen, Class of 2014, lived in Slovenia until she was 12 years old. Years later, after participating in Wheaton in the Holy Lands during her time at Wheaton College, Goertzen visited her old home and friends — especially her best friend from elementary school, Yasmina. As she caught up with Yasmina, Goertzen learned that, though her friend was not ready to commit to following Jesus, recent events in Yasmina’s life made her more open to hearing the gospel. “While I was talking to [Yasmina],” Goertzen said, “I felt God say, ‘You’re going to come back and see this through.’”

        A few years later, Goertzen moved back to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. For the past year, Goertzen has lived in Ljubljana and worked with Cru, an organization that shares the gospel on college campuses. “There [are] 2.5 million people in [Slovenia], but there [are] 1,500 Bible-believing Christians who follow Jesus,” Goertzen explained, pointing out the number is fewer than the total of undergraduate students at Wheaton.

        Of the 2.5 million Slovenians, 65,000 are university students. Goertzen and her team approach students on college campuses, using booklets, short films and questions to initiate conversations with the students about their relationships with God.

        The team also seeks to identify students who already have a relationship with God and are passionate about sharing their faith with others. Goertzen’s team makes disciples of and equips those students— the “key volunteers”— so they can then go and share the gospel with their fellow students. Because the students are Slovenian themselves, their fellow students are more likely to listen to them.

      For Tajda — a graduate student Goertzen is discipling — the big “aha” moment came when she realized that Jesus is God. Since Tajda had never read the Bible, Goertzen suggested she read a few chapters of the book of John so they could discuss the book the next week. Two nights later, Tajda texted: “Ok, I’ve finished John. Which one next?”

        Tajda’s excitement over her discovery drove her to not only learn more about the Bible but to share that learning with everyone around her; when she read a story in the Gospel of John that she particularly loved, Tajda called up a friend to read aloud the passage. “Every time I meet with [Tajda], I think she will have taken these [specific] steps of faith, but she’s always gone like ten steps further,” Goertzen laughed.

In one case, Goertzen and Tajda made a list of five friends for Tajda to share the gospel with and five Christian friends she could invite to start sharing the gospel as well. Goertzen challenged Tajda to reach out to one person from each list that week, but by the end of the week, Tajda had shared the gospel with all ten.

        Not every moment of Goertzen’s past year in Slovenia has been filled with stories like Tajda’s. Goertzen also shares stories of small groups of students that fizzled out and relationships that never took off. Goertzen explained that even though Slovenia is 60 percent Catholic on paper, it is a spiritually dark place. Students who say they are Christians often acknowledge that they don’t have a personal relationship with God — they tend to be culturally Catholic but agnostic in practice.

        As she returns to Slovenia after spending the summer in conferences, Goertzen plans take with her a renewed desire to be bold and clear about the gospel in the relationships she continues to form with students.

Photo Courtesy Skye Bennett

Living the gospel: Katelyn Skye Bennett, Class of ‘17

        Katelyn Bennett, Class of 2017, remembers the exact date that she asked Jesus to save her — July 2, 2001, when she was five years old. With her father serving as a pastor and her family heavily involved in a variety of ministries, Bennett grew up constantly hearing the gospel. As a result, she can define evangelism succinctly. “Evangelism,” she explained, “is the proclamation of the gospel using words.”

        Because she became a Christian at a young age, Bennett doesn’t remember life without Jesus. In fact, she can’t even imagine it. “I don’t know how people live without Jesus or without the Holy Spirit,” she said. “When you’re going through struggles, who do you turn to? I don’t understand that.”

        That’s why Bennett has made sharing the gospel such an important part of her life and constantly looks for ways to share the gospel with those around her. One of the stories Bennett shares involves Sue, whom she met at a graduation party. When Sue asked Bennett about the henna — a temporary tattoo — of a bird on Bennett’s arm, Bennett explained that the henna represented the story of Joseph. Sue seemed interested, so Bennett used the opportunity to tell the broader story of the Bible. “Jesus is at the end of this story,” Bennett said, and proceeded to explain the gospel to Sue.

        Bennet has experienced periods of excitedly sharing the gospel almost every day and long stretches of rarely sharing the gospel at all. She can list the pros and cons of both street evangelism and sharing the gospel in the context of pre-existing relationships because she has done it both ways. “People are more respectful than others give them credit for,” she explained when describing what it is like to approach strangers in the street. “Whether or not they go away interested, they might take a minute to listen at least. People are cool like that.”

        Bennett also strives to share the gospel with her non-believing friends. She exchanges ideas about faith and life with her Muslim friend, Halla, and prays with her friend Jared. Because she values her friendship with them, she shares what she sees as the most important aspect of her life with them.

        Currently, Bennett seeks opportunities to share the gospel by offering to pray for anyone she sees in the street who is injured. In the future, she sees herself sharing the gospel in more “holistic” ways that include fighting for social and racial justice. “I don’t just want to tell you these words,” she explained, “I want to show you Jesus’s love. And also, I want to go march on the streets next to you when we’re fighting for racial justice. That’s part of living out the gospel.”

        As a recent graduate, Bennett is searching for a job. She hopes to work with a non profit organization, preferably serving refugees or using music ministry. But no matter where she ends up, Bennett plans to share the gospel. “It’s a win, no matter what,” Bennett concluded. “Even if they reject you, it’s still a win for the gospel, because they were able to hear about God. So yes, be bold is what I’m saying, and if the Holy Spirit is directing you a certain way… listen, don’t fight that.”

Photo Courtesy Sarah Johnson

Celebrating the truth: Sarah Johnson, Class of ‘15

Sarah Johnson, Class of 2015, described herself as the kind of girl who continuously answered altar calls in first grade. Although Johnson grew up in a Christian home and accepted Jesus into her life at a young age, it wasn’t until a boy broke her heart at age 17 that the gospel truly reshaped her life. “That’s when the Lord swept in,” Johnson said, “[He] gently wrapped me in his love and faithfulness, and taught me to know His voice just like I’d always asked Him to.”

        For Johnson, sharing the gospel seemed a logical response to understanding the gospel. “Evangelism is telling the truth,” she explained. “It’s sharing this great secret we know. . . it’s explaining why we can laugh without fear of the future in a world where such joy doesn’t make sense.”

        That truth impacts Johnson’s everyday life. Johnson currently works as a copy-editor at Tyndale, a Christian publishing house. She firmly believes God has gifted everyone with passions — and she utilizes hers every day at her office. For Johnson, that means making gospel-centered books “more accessible, more in line with the truth and more beautiful so that they can most accurately represent the God they talk about.”

        Away from her desk, Johnson shares the gospel more directly with others. When Johnson noticed that a someone had “liked” a gospel-related J. I. Packer quote on Facebook, she felt the Holy Spirit nudge her to contact the girl. They met up to talk at McDonald’s, where — over mozzarella sticks — Johnson gathered up her courage and told her co-worker about Jesus. “[God] used analogies about credit card debt payment to call her to Himself,” Johnson recalled, “And I got to watch as she heard good news she’d never heard before.” Even after they hugged goodbye in the cold parking lot, they kept talking. By the end of the night, she had given her life to Jesus, and the two celebrated her decision.

        As Johnson strives to give glory to God by allowing him to continue to transform her life, she knows her calling. “My mission,” Johnson concludes, “is to spend my life making known the truth about Jesus Christ specifically by strengthening written resources for His church and making disciples of those who have misunderstood or been hurt by it.”

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