As students watched North Dakota plains transition to Montana's bluffs a calm fell over the bus. chaperon Armin Jahr shared his testimony, which sparked a devotional hour that propelled many students to organize their story to share with churches.
When the bus pulled-in to Yellowstone Lutheran Brethren Church in Billings, Montana the students looked forward to stretching their legs after being on the bus for the eight-hour trip. Loading risers into the sanctuary started a flurry of activity as students organized their bags in the basement of the church, conducted a thirty-minute rehearsal, and descended on the prepared meal earnestly.
Sitting around a dinner table in Billings, Montana a group of students talked through their faith story with Mr. Jahr and chaperon Wayne Stender. The paper plates on the table held remnants from the evening dinner as Kevy Konynenbelt shared her encouragement in her upbringing. Committed Christian parents modeled faith in action for Kevy as her family faced medical challenges. Through a series of questions Kevy honed the focus of the story to highlight the providence of grace and peace given by God to her parents. Her smile widened as she testified to the passion her parents had in honoring God with their family through the difficult decisions. Kevy closed with a thought that pierced the Chaperons. The thought being that parents have a great affect on the formation of their kids through the process of dealing with difficult situations. For Kevy, seeing her parents turn to God and honor the position of the family has caused her to see faith as a tangible attribute essential for spiritual maturity.
Kevy sat back in her chair as if she had conquered a complex math problem and was satisified with the outcome. Her gaze raised from the table to her friend Shelly Choi. A soft, "and what about you, Shelly" drew attention on the Korean student who has attended Hillcrest for nearly three years.
A series of questions prompted Shelly story, the details rolling out from under her veiled eyes as she pulled back her bangs. Mr. Jahr's promptings caused Stender to push further in questioning Choi, helping her to formalize a presentation that she would give later that evening. As students bumped between tables and chairs in the fellowship hall Choi stood in confidence after focusing her message. She quickly gathered her things and joined the throng of girls curling their hair and rolling lint off their dresses as the boys gathered in the sanctuary of the church awaiting the 7 o'clock bell that would mark the start of their concernt.
After three songs Stender walked to the front of the sanctuary. Students filed-down from the risers as Stender grabbed the microphone and greeted the congregation. A short introduction to Choi's testimony left the parishoners eagerly waiting here from an international student who has a passion to know Jesus Christ.
Choi started her story by highlighting her family dynamic. Because of her Chinese heritage Choi didn't have a home that considered God. However, Choi loved to sing, and the best place for her to do that was in the church. She found herself at the age of 5 in church pews without her parents. A few forceful attenders drove Choi away from regular attendance. As she entered junior high she moved homes and began attending a different church. She can't explain why she attended church, apart from liking to sing, but she sees the desire as a way God pursued her.
Shelly then spoke of her transition to Hillcrest. The culture called her to question if God is real. Through friends and classes Shelly was driven to see the need for God. However, she failed to understand Christian worship. As students raised their hands Choi pondered why. Worshipping a God they couldn't see, bowing knees and closing eyes, was a testimony that Shelly couldn't shake.
On a Friday Chapel near the end of the year students gathered to the sound of guitars and drums. Voices raised in praise of God and Shelly's life changed. She remembers beginning to raise her hands. Cognitively, she paused, but physically arms stretched out. She thought to herself that she should lower her arms and continue singing, but tears started to flow from her closed eyes. She fell to her knees. An uncontrollable shaking ensued as she opened her clenched fists to stretch out her fingers. This was the first time Shelly felt as if God was standing right next to her.
Shelly notes that God did the work in pursuing her and gradually changing her heart through the culture of Hillcrest. Her worship-conversion experience is a testimony to how God mysteriously works in the hearts and minds of those who seek Him.
As Shelly closed her testimony time she took three steps to the front row. A group of Seniors sat, having videoed her testimony as a tangible reminder of what God has done in the life of their friend. Hungs followed from tearfilled eyes as students heard, some for the first time, how God changed their friend.
As students gather to worship this Sunday, Shelly and her friends are leading a throng of believers to see Christ by sharing their personal testimonies. The group will travel to Idaho tonight before a Monday night concert at The Rock of Ages in Seattle, Washington.