Shelly Choi and Kjetil Nilsen started dating three weeks before graduation. Their last minute romance turned into a marriage proposal nearly two years later, another captivating love story found under the Hillcrest steeple. But, in a recent visit to Hillcrest the couple found a renewed focus for obstacles facing their marriage as they were reminded of the simple love commitment they found at Hillcrest in 2015.
Shelly attended Hillcrest her sophomore and junior year, but left the first semester of her senior year. She attended a junior college in Seattle, hoping to get a jump on her future. But after a few weeks she realized she made a mistake. She missed more than the rolling hills surrounding Fergus Falls, she longed for the close-knit, intentional community of Hillcrest.
Kjetil journeyed to Hillcrest on recommendation of Spiritual mentors in Danielsen School in Bergen, Norway. His elder friends shared that Hillcrest was a great place to build one's faith. Kjetil grew in maturity and leadership during his time at Hillcrest, taking every opportunity to build friendships while growing in confidence in his faith as he plugged in to the worship team.
The two met when Shelly surprised friends in returning to Hillcrest mid-way through her senior year. Unable to sleep due to excitement, Shelly woke early for breakfast and stood as the first person in line for the doors to open to the cafeteria on a chilly January morning following Hillcrest's Christmas vacation. Kjetil was an early riser, and noticed that Shelly was new and, taking every advantage of his American experience, easily introduced himself and started to build a friendship. Little did he know this friendship would later lead to a set of rings that communicate a life-changing promise.
Shelly first realized her feelings for Kjetil at the Junior-Senior banquet, where the two agreed they would accompany each other because of their ongoing friendship formed over a bowl of cereal in Hillcrest's cafeteria. After the banquet, the two went on a handful of dates, resolving to work on their relationship as they faced the looming graduation weekend, where Shelly would travel back to South Korea and Kjetil would join his friends on a plane bound for Bergen, Norway.
Graduation weekend felt like a slap in the face, but the two turned the other cheek, determined to Skype over the next year. Their tear-filled goodbye in the Perkins parking lot lingered before Shelly folded into the back seat of a van bound for the airport while Kjetil hugged friends with tears in his eyes.
Skype was not ideal to communicate, but the two committed to work through the distance to continue their relationship. Shelly eventually joined Kjetil in Norway, serving at a missionary training center which gave her a visa to stay in Norway for longer than a few weeks. Kjetil proposed in August 2016, and the two planned weddings in South Korea and Norway. The melding of cultures seemed natural for Kjetil and Shelly, who exercised cross-cultural communication skills through their time at Hillcrest, honing their abilities to relate to foreign cultures in the fledgling days of their marriage. However, the greatest challenge lay around the corner, and was more serious than deciding on kimchi or lefse for their dinner sides.
After unpacking wedding gifts, and placing their wedding album on the shelf of their new home, Kjetil and Shelly were met with difficult news. Kjetil would need to work nearly full-time to reach the income level Norway requires for an immigrant spouse visa. Kjetil is in the middle of a program to become a dentist, and doesn't have time nor energy to work full-time. The stress was nearly unbearable, causing significant questioning on God's goodness to grow like weeds in soil of their young love. It was in the middle of this storm that the two decided they needed to take a trip to the seedbed of their love, Hillcrest Academy.
When the two arrived at Hillcrest there was an initial shroud that justified their trip. They thought they were simply visiting friends and connecting with Kjetil's cousin who is currently attending Hillcrest. However, what the two discovered is that the trip is saving their hope in their future in Norway.
Lunch dates with Hillcrest faculty and late night conversations in the home of former teachers have encouraged the couple. Shelly confessed, "I really needed this trip. I was questioning God a lot...now, I have hope in what He is doing."
Shelly and Kjetil both confessed that seeing former teachers and mentors who are desperately concerned with the couple's relationship with God, church attendance, and how they're integrating their faith into their marriage has been a balm on a wound of early marriage struggles. They have seen the strength in marriage of former teachers, some of whom have dealt with their own difficulties in obtaining a visa for their spouse. In these poignant moments of reconnecting the two have found a new resolve to face the obstacles that are waiting for them in Norway, a renewed focus after a hearty reprieve in Fergus Falls.