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Christian Union
February 16, 2016

Columbia Sophomore Perseveres through Trials

by Catherine Elvy, Staff Writer

rivera-articleA Columbia University undergraduate is sharing the lessons she gleaned from the trenches of extraordinary financial hardships to inspire participants in Christian Union's leadership development ministry on campus.

Migueyli Rivera '18 readily offers fellow students some of the spiritual and practical insights she gained as a strapped, often displaced teen in Lawrence, Massachusetts. "When I was going through homelessness, I really hung onto my faith," said Rivera.

Rivera is a member of Christian Union's ministry at Columbia, where she is the co-leader of the community service team. The sophomore is also active at her church in nearby Washington Heights.

Earlier this fall, Rivera helped set up a panel on the intersection of the Gospel and race at Columbia.

Yolanda Solomon, a Christian Union ministry fellow at Columbia, described Rivera as an "amazing, strong Christian" who demonstrates tangibly her heart to disciple other students. "She is definitely a big influence on many," Solomon said.

Likewise, Rivera is open with her Columbia peers about her monetary struggles.

"You don't want to make people feel bad for privilege," said Rivera, who spent part of her childhood in the Bronx as well as the Dominican Republic. "The general problem of sin and hurt is something everyone can relate to."

As such, Rivera is quick to share with students how she became unexpectedly homeless during the autumn of her senior year of high school after an older brother engaged in criminal activity. Nonetheless, she managed to complete high school after shuffling, primarily, between classmates' homes.

Also during her senior year, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, Rivera applied to Columbia. The prospect was especially daunting as no one around her followed suit in seeking admission to an Ivy League institution, and she is a first-generation college student.

"I prayed before I submitted the application, 'Lord do this for me. Give me a story to tell.' From that moment on, I knew I was going to get in," said Rivera, who accepted Christ as a youngster and began attending church on her own at 15. "I knew that God was going to answer that prayer."

After receiving an acceptance letter, "the reality of God's goodness" resonated with Rivera, who is contemplating a major in ethnic studies with a concentration in business.

Even after enrolling at Columbia Rivera continued to deal with the residual trauma of homelessness. In particular, summer 2015 posed a formidable challenge; she had no place to stay after finals ended.

"At Columbia, you have 24 hours to move out after finals. I didn't have a place to go and I still had to study for finals," said Rivera, who ended up staying with friends from church. "God provided."

Despite the wounds of her homeless youth, Rivera said she has "never felt more comforted or loved."

Rivera attributes much of her success at Columbia to the support she receives from Christian Union's ministry and her church, Christ Crucified Fellowship.

Since joining a Bible course with Christian Union, Rivera said her spiritual walk has grown exponentially, especially after poring through the compelling chapters of Hebrews. As well, in August, Rivera participated in one of the ministry's Christian Worldview Summer Sessions at its conference center in New York.

Rivera recently made it a point to encourage her fellow Lions with an account of a timely financial miracle.

In September, just a few days before owing Columbia's student contribution payment – and with no means of making even a down payment after the budgeting stresses of the previous summer – Rivera was at a loss for solutions, other than to take out another loan.

She paused to pray, while noting that only God could sustain her in adversity. "From that, I just went along with life, trying not to stress too much about being buried under debt," she said.

Then, just after an unproductive visit to Columbia's financial aid office, Rivera received an unexpected e-mail alerting her to the news of a $2,000 scholarship. To Rivera's surprise, a check, made possible by an alumnus of her high school, was waiting for her.

"I was in shock to find out I got the scholarship," Rivera said. "The Lord never ceases to just blow my mind."

Such testimonies and challenges have taught Rivera that Christ is her source. "Jesus remains greater than all looming problems. He is Lord of everything, including our storms," she said.

Ultimately, "not even death could hold down the God that loves us," said Rivera.