Antonio Castillo came to the United States with his dad when he was 13 years old, not knowing a bit of English. After struggling through the seventh grade, Antonio spent the summer with his cousins. By sheer grit, he learned English that summer, hoping to make a better start with school in the fall.
In the eighth grade, Antonio’s hard work paid off. He excelled in his studies and made friends. One day, one of those friends invited Antonio to church.
“I was raised in a church,” Antonio said, “but I didn’t understand that I could be forgiven. I thought if I went to church, I would go to heaven.”
For the first time in his life, Antonio experienced God’s forgiveness; he had found new hope in Christ. But it wasn’t long before Antonio’s hope in Christ would be challenged. When he was just 17, his dad, unable to find work, announced that they were leaving the United States. Antonio was crushed.
After much turmoil, Antonio decided to stay behind. With nowhere to live, no family and no plan for the future, Antonio hardly knew what to do next. In desperation, he called one of his dad’s friends in Shipshewana, Ind., who graciously took him in.
Fast forward to the end of Antonio’s junior year of high school — when he visited Huntington University for the first time.
“I fell in love with HU right away,” he said. “I’m not even sure why I came for a visit. I knew I couldn’t pay for it. I remember just thinking, ‘What am I going to do after high school? What am I going to do?’”
Enter God. Again. Through a friend at school, Antonio learned about the Horizon Leadership Scholarship at HU. In conjunction with Youth for Christ, this scholarship awards full tuition plus room and board for ethnic minority students. Could this be God’s answer for him?
Antonio’s uncertainty gave way to great celebration just a few days later: He had been chosen to receive the Horizon Scholarship.
“It was a huge blessing,” Antonio said, and he thanks God for making it all possible.
Currently a sophomore biology major, Antonio hopes one day to become a surgeon. He is fascinated with the complexity of God’s design in the human body. But Antonio’s main reason for wanting to be a doctor is to give people a second chance at life, as he has had, and to show them the love of Christ.
Growing up as a missionary kid in Ukraine, Becca Perhai wondered if she’d ever have the opportunity to attend a Christian college, and if she would even be able to pay for it. So, when Brian and Cathy Birdsall (friends of HU ) told her class at the missionary school about Huntington University, Becca decided to get started on college applications and leave the results with the Lord.
“I applied to eight different colleges, thinking that God would direct my decision through not getting accepted to some of them. I was accepted to all eight.”
Faced with what seemed a monumental task, Becca was concerned about being able to make a decision from so far away. Campus visits were not possible, but with the Birdsalls nearby, a visit to HU was hardly necessary.
“The Birdsalls kept commenting about how beautiful the campus was, how personal the professors were and about the great community,” Becca said.
Then, as she looked into the financial side of things, she couldn’t believe how substantial the package was at HU.
“I thought, ‘Wow! This school is very generous. It must be pretty incredible.’”
Becca packed her bags and left Ukraine to pursue her education at a college campus that she had never visited. Even though she misses her family terribly, Becca knows HU is where God wants her to be.
A sophomore majoring in elementary and special education, Becca has grown a lot in her faith because of the spiritual environment at HU. As a missionary kid, she did all of the “right things.” She was involved in ministry and served alongside her family at every opportunity.
“I feel like I was put on a pedestal; I was supposed to ‘look good.’ When I came to HU, that all changed. I was taken down (from that pedestal) and started growing along with the other students.”
Becca loves chapel and worship with her floor, but the accountability she experiences with mentors has been pivotal in her relationship with Christ. For example, during her freshman year, Becca struggled with maintaining a consistent time with the Lord. Her campus ministry coordinator, Essie Kaufman, was there to encourage her.
“We wrote up a contract on a napkin to have devotion time every day that month,” Becca said.
When the contract was up, the discipline of daily study was in its place. For the most part, she has persevered.
“When I miss a day of devotion time, I have the worst day ever. I am starting to depend on Christ more fully. It’s hard, but it’s good."
Brian Menzie was just a kid when he received God’s calling to become a pastor. An HU sophomore youth ministries major and cross country athlete, Brian looks back and sees the many ways God has been preparing him for a life of ministry.
“In the first grade, I got the lead in the church musical which put me in front of the whole church,” he said with a smile.
Of course, that was only the beginning. He received affirmation from a pastor in the fourth grade, and in the eighth grade served on a team at his church where he learned a lot about effective leadership skills. By the time he reached high school, Brian knew he wanted to attend a small Christian university where he could fulfill the calling he had received many years earlier.
Brian visited a few different colleges before deciding on Huntington University. As an athlete, it was important to find a great coach, but knew he had to consider much more than that.
“I talked to coaches (at other colleges) but I just wasn’t sure what to do, so I prayed about it.”
Then Brian visited Huntington University. While he was impressed with the coach, the community stood out to him as well.
“I was really glad (I visited HU). When I went to chapel, people were involved, excited and passionate. It’s one thing to talk about (the Christian faith), and another thing to live it out,” he said.
It helped, too, that he was offered both an academic scholarship and athletic scholarship. Brian said that receiving that financial aid was a big factor in his decision.
“Any donation people make (to the Forester Fund) is invaluable, because it all adds up. Most of us couldn’t be here without it … We wouldn’t be able to get this quality education and the experiences that Huntington offers.”
And for that, Brian is very grateful. He is also thankful for the way he is growing in his faith because of the many examples of Christ he sees in students and faculty.
“I enjoy getting to know people better and talking with them about the deeper things.”
That’ll come in handy as a youth pastor.
“My God is good, life is great — let’s make an impact!” Jake Essig, HU junior recreation management major and soccer player, says that this is how he feels
sometimes as he is coming out of chapel. But he wasn’t always this fired up about God.
Jake grew up in the church. He attended youth group. He went on mission trips. In short, he went through the motions. It wasn’t until he came to HU that he really saw his faith as his own.
“When I came to Huntington University, I really grew in my faith in ways I didn’t think I would,” he said.
He didn’t expect the “brothers” on his floor to spur him on, but they did. And, although he expected to be educated spiritually in his Bible courses, it came as a complete surprise to him how professors in his other classes would challenge him to think Biblically, as well. Even on the soccer field, his teammates demonstrated a genuineness in their walk with Christ that inspired him.
“Being around brothers who are Christ-centered is amazing,” Jake said of his soccer teammates. “They have respect for teammates, coaches and the opponents. (They bring their faith) into the flow of everyday life.”
That seems to have been the biggest revelation of all for Jake since he came to HU — that being a follower of God isn’t merely something you do, but someone you become.
“I am so grateful,” he said, of how God has used his experiences at HU to help him grow. As a scholarship recipient, Jake is thankful for that, as well, recognizing that he wouldn’t be here without it.
“(People who donate to the university)are investing in the person I am becoming. They are putting me in a position to impact the world for Christ and fulfill His mission.”
And that’s something worth getting fired up about.
When James Parker was in his early teens, he fretted about the future. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do or who he wanted to be. He remembers that when he turned 16, all that changed. Jeremiah 29:11 assured him that God did have a plan for his life: “‘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.’” (NIV)
“I felt secure, knowing that God had a plan and a purpose. When I don’t think I have direction, I know that God does,” James said.
And if God’s direction leads you halfway across the world, that’s where you go. James, a junior sport and exercise studies major and soccer player, came to Huntington University from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, through a series of divine appointments.
After high school, James attended Hillsong International Leadership Academy in Australia for a year, where he studied worship and played Club Soccer. During this time, he became acquainted with a soccer coach who was a Taylor University graduate. The coach encouraged James to get a Christian education in the states and look into playing sports during college. James began searching for Christian colleges on the internet, which led him to teams in the Midwest, Florida, Virginia and California. At first glance, the coast seemed a logical choice; James was used to living in a big city near the beach and enjoyed the warm weather. But James’ dad had another idea.
“My dad challenged me to try something different, experience the country … I said, ‘Challenge accepted.’”
Since campus visits were out of the question, James once again turned to the internet to check out various Christian colleges in the Midwest. After some investigation, his efforts paid off.
“I read HU’s mission statement, which lined up with my beliefs. I wanted a place where I could freely grow in my Christian walk. Then I read the bios of the profs, and those were great.”
Corresponding with Russ Lawson, HU’s head soccer coach, and Jeff Berggren, in his role as the international student admissions counselor, was instrumental, as well.
“Russ replied first of all of the coaches I had emailed, and was the most interested in me as a whole person. He said I’d be a good fit for HU. It was more personal — not just, ‘Hey, we need some more numbers for our soccer team.’ That made a big difference.”
The next step involved finances. Huntington University came out ahead on that one, too.
“Straight up,” James said, “the scholarships I received made the difference between me getting a higher education or not. (The financial aid package HU offered) allowed me to follow my dream.”
At first, James thought he might pursue a degree in ministry here at HU. He says he loves to worship God, but he knows that worship will always be central to his life, regardless of his profession. For now, he is making plans to attend graduate school for physical therapy.
“In physical therapy, you develop a long-term relationship with the patients … sometimes they can be (in therapy)for months. I think there will be great opportunities for me to share Christ in that environment.”
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 (ESV)
Like many of us, Kyle Geiss had to learn the truth of Matthew 6:33 the hard way. But what was once a stinging conviction is now a source of encouragement for this HU junior majoring in exercise and movement science.
Kyle grew up in a Christian home, with the added benefit of youth pastors who impacted and nurtured his spiritual growth. During his senior year of high school, Kyle’s guidance counselor handed him a Huntington University pamphlet, telling him to check it out. Since Kyle is a soccer player, he was in contact with Head Coach Russ Lawson several times before he actually came for a campus visit.
“(At my campus visit), people were over-the-top nice,” Kyle said.
He was thrilled with the campus and impressed with the soccer team. It was a fairly easy decision to attend Huntington, especially considering the financial help he received in academic and sports-related scholarships.
“The only reason I can be here is because of the scholarships I’ve been given. It was a huge (factor) in the decision to come to HU.”
Kyle had a great start at HU. He loved playing soccer, his classes were manageable, and he was growing in his faith. But something happened during his sophomore year. Kyle lost sight of the “seek first” part of Matthew 6:33. Classes were becoming more difficult, and busyness threatened his time with the Lord.
“I allowed the stress to push me further from the Lord,” Kyle says. “I had no life outside of organic chemistry and soccer. I knew it wasn’t right, but I saw spending time with God as an inefficient use of my time.”
Kyle had a couple of wake-up calls halfway through the year. First off, he realized that his relationships and his school work had crowded out his relationship with the Lord. Second, he made some new friends who demonstrated a fresh wonder about the Lord that he had long since forgotten.
“Early one morning Zen called to say that a group of students were heading out to watch the sunrise and do devotions. That was so cooI — I knew I wanted to get back to that.”
Now, Kyle strives to “seek first” in all he does.
“I feel closer to God, and I am not worrying anymore,” he said. “For a while there, it was mostly school, some soccer and no God. If I am seeking the Kingdom of God first, those ‘other things’ will come in due time. Spending time with God, and getting in the Word — that’s what my life should be about.”
“(At Huntington University), I have learned a new joy in following Christ,” said senior Lance Wood. Interesting, when you consider that Lance never thought he’d be at Huntington. In fact, when Lance was thinking through his college choices, HU wasn’t even in the running. But then, to appease a friend who had been encouraging him to at least check it out, he came for a visit.
“I can’t even explain what I felt at that visit. It’s like what so many other students say. I just knew it was where God wanted me to be.”
During that first visit, the atmosphere at HU completely changed Lance’s mind, and today has continued to foster spiritual, emotional, academic and relational growth in him for which he is most thankful.
Besides the great atmosphere, academic and athletic scholarships played a significant role in Lance’s decision to attend HU.
“To be honest, even though I loved the atmosphere, I wouldn’t be here without it,” he said.
Determined to make the most of his years at Huntington, Lance is pursuing a double major in business management and entrepreneurial small business management. While he admits his program is challenging, he is grateful for it.
“Education in any era of life is the reason one goes to college, so attending a college that will help you grow is crucial,” Lance said.
Lance also recognizes the impact the faculty has had on him as an HU student.
“Many of my professors have been more than just teachers, (they have been) mentors. They have helped me grow in my faith and maturity, and in turn, will be lifelong friends,” he said.
Lance’s favorite Bible verse is Exodus 15:2: “The Lord is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.”(NIV)
As he prepares to graduate in 2012, Lance will no doubt look at this time in his life as a turning point in becoming the man God wants him to be.
“I am more comfortable and excited to reach out in the community because I know my strength comes from Him.”
“I could probably count on one hand how many kids were Christians in my high school,” said HU junior Stephanie Morin, a native of Gorham, Maine. That number would include her.
When Stephanie was 13 years old, she gave her life to Christ at a youth group retreat. Her parents thought it was a phase, but Stephanie began to grow in her newfound faith. Not only that, but over the next few months, her entire family would come to Christ.
Shortly after Stephanie’s profession of faith, her parents became reacquainted with some old high school friends who had become Christians. Stephanie said these friends had a huge impact on her parents, as well as her whole family.
“They brought us to church, and our families spent a lot of great times together. One night when they were over my parents were both on their knees in the living room, crying.”
They had given their lives to Christ that night. It wasn’t long before each of Stephanie’s three siblings became Christians, as well.
When her oldest sister, Darah, was a senior in high school, she began searching for a college – but not just any college. She knew she wanted a Christian education, a place where she could grow in her faith. Her search led her to HU.
“Darah was a little nervous about being so far from home, but she was very excited about being in a community where she could be challenged in her faith. We just didn’t have that back home,” Stephanie said.
Stephanie’s older brother Derek, influenced by Darah’s experience, decided on Huntington too. Before long, it was Stephanie’s turn to choose a college.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to be that far from home – in fact I had my heart set on going to a school close to home that wasn’t a Christian college. God had other plans, though.”
In 2010, Stephanie enrolled at Huntington as a public relations and history double major.
And, as if three Morin siblings weren’t enough, Stephanie’s younger sister Rebecca ended up at Huntington last fall. Currently, three of the four siblings attend HU, making it more like home than Gorham, Maine.
Stephanie is thankful for the many ways God has worked in her life so far. She especially appreciates the people at Huntington that have poured so much into her life.
“The faculty and staff really care about your spiritual life. Sometimes it’s hard. I’ve been challenged by someone saying, ‘Stephanie, you have a pride issue.’ But that’s part of growing. Sometimes it’s going to hurt.”
Stephanie also appreciates how HU integrates faith and academics, something she had never experienced before.
“It’s so freeing to be able to talk about my faith in classes and to be challenged and affirmed.”
In high school, it felt like it was all she could do to lead by example. But her experience at HU has strengthened her faith, increased her boldness and given her a compassion for people who are separated from Christ.
“I don’t take for granted the blessings I’ve been given here. This community has given me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had at home. Maine is a place for missions. If I end up going home after college, I want to be a part of God moving there.”
“I can do nothing without Jesus. When that thought hits you, it’s a really big day,” said Will Stauffer, who had his “big day” during his sophomore year at Huntington University, and hasn’t been the same since.
Raised in a Christian home by great parents and being involved in church during his growing up years, Will learned a lot about Jesus. He’s thankful for that. But it wasn’t until he came to Huntington and came up against some tough real life experiences that Will came to understand many of those truths in a deeper way.
“I was performance driven and very competitive. All through high school I studied the Bible a lot, and tried really hard (to be a good Christian).”
Scott Raymond, HU’s executive director of student success, was instrumental in helping Will to understand that the performance plan wasn’t going to work. He needed to stop “doing” things in his own strength and start “being” like Christ.
Will, a junior communication studies major, knew that his relationship with Christ became more personal from that moment on, and points to Psalm 37:4 as one of his favorite verses: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”(ESV)
He notes, “A big part of being a young person is that you have lots of desires, lots of things to accomplish, lots of dreams. But throughout all of that, Jesus is the only one who satisfies.”
Further, Will has realized his inadequacies, and has come to be grateful for them.
“I don’t feel inadequate. I don’t act inadequate. I am inadequate,” he admits. And he’s okay with that, because he knows the One who is more than adequate.
“Whatever my future career is, I want it to be meaningful, which means it has to bring glory to Jesus. I want to know God and make Him known.”