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Christian Union Students Minister in U.S. and Abroad 

by francine barchett, cornell ’20

It would be hard not to find a Cornell student who longs for a relaxing summer vacation. Instead, social and career pressures often compel them to pursue summer internships, research, and more “notable” experiences. Several students with Christian Union at Cornell, however, bypassed resume-building this summer in favor of serving at Christian camps and on missions trips.

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Sophia Jeon ’21 served at the El Porvenir Primaria school in Mexico this summer.  

“The Lord Jesus walked the road of service and sacrifice the entirety of His life, and calls His disciples to do the same,” said Geoff Sackett, Christian Union’s ministry director at Cornell. “Our prayer, as a faculty, is that our students will grasp something of Jesus’ sacrificial life and implement it in their own.”

Sophomores Olivia Simoni and Ji-Ho Lee both worked at summer camps, but in different capacities. At JH Ranch in Etna, California, Simoni took on a behind-the-scenes role in the kitchen, where she “learned what real servanthood and humility look like.” Although she admits that kitchen workers stood less in the limelight than other positions, Simoni considers the impact of her stay far from inconsequential. “God worked through me to encourage and build up those who felt unworthy and unseen,” she asserted, recollecting conversations with campers who were battling addictions, depression, and loneliness. Leaving camp at the end of the summer, Simoni felt more grounded in her own faith. “God worked in me to restore a steadfastness and trust in Him that I had slowly lost over the school year,” she said. 

At Kanakuk Kamps in Branson, Missouri, Lee assumed a counselor position for six to 12-year-old children. Since he had been a camper at Kanakuk Kamps for eight years, and “loved every minute there,” becoming a counselor seemed an obvious choice. Lee also desired to become a role model for campers, just as his past counselors had done for him. Among his most spiritually rewarding moments were explaining the eternal goodness and faithfulness of God the Father to a young man who never had a father figure and helping to mend a relationship of brothers by encouraging them to sharpen, love, and set examples for each other. Lee was impressed with “the Lord’s willingness to equip broken vessels, such as me, and His faithfulness to grow our next generation of leaders.”

Sophomore Sophia Jeon ’21 brought her art supplies all the way to the state of Baja California in Mexico to illustrate Christ’s love. As an art teaching assistant, Jeon worked with 11 to 13-year-olds at El Porvenir Primaria in the town of San Telmo. “Art is not just an extracurricular activity there,” Sophia emphasized. “Even the [most difficult students] would write the Bible verse of the day in pencil first and draw borders around it in order to perfect their sketchbooks.” Although Sophia’s service work became quite taxing, she discovered that her moments of weakness and vulnerability always steered toward a greater purpose, making God more real and active in her life. “Mexico missions deepened my understanding of the power of the cross and that God loves me regardless of the work that I produce,” Jeon reflected.

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(Left to right) Penn Ministry Fellow Kelly Schaaf, Ugandan partner Aidah Nambozo, Hannah Dorpfeld, Cornell ’17, and Kelly Jawork, Cornell ’21, in Mawanga, Uganda.

Christian Union’s influence also spread to Mawanga, Uganda, where Kelly Jawork ’21 and intern Hannah Dorpfeld ’17 worked alongside Rural Orphans and Widows Aids Network (ROWAN) as part of the ministry’s annual missions trip. Click to Tweet For Jawork, the venture instigated more than just culture shock, it also tested her faith in God’s provision. Leading up to the trip, a stress fracture in her tibia brought her track and field season to a staggering halt, and only a week before leaving could she even walk. From interacting with the ROWAN community, Jawork’s trust in God sharpened. The trip also inspired her to adjust her priorities as she tackles Christian Union’s community service team leadership position this year.

Dorpfeld, who has been on three ROWAN trips, also came home with important takeaways. “I felt healed from the States’ culture of comparison and individualistic competition,” she reveals. “In ROWAN’s community, I found myself feeling part of their greater whole and looking at where my giftings could best be used for the betterment of everyone.” As Hannah jumpstarts her second year as Christian Union’s intern, she looks forward to facilitating enhanced student community.

And do does Sackett, who was impressed with these students and others from Christian Union who served as well over the summer.

“What you see in them is an expression of their service to Christ and to others,” he said. “It is sometimes a difficult calling, but one also filled with great joy.”