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Christian Union: The Magazine
May 28, 2021

Cornell Alumnus Is Thankful for Christian Union’s Impact

By Zachary Lee, Cornell ’20

Being involved with Christian Union for four years at Cornell taught me all about translation. No, I did not translate the Bible from ancient Greek or Hebrew (although that could be a Bible Course idea!), but rather through Christian Union, I learned what it meant to take the restorative and life-giving truths that had nurtured me in my Christian walk and contextualize them to people from other backgrounds without compromising the integrity of the message.

zach lee at cornellZachary Lee, Cornell '20This lesson manifests in two dear and distinct memories. The first recollection was my first “Grill Me for Grilled Cheese” event, where any student on Cornell’s campus could text a question they had regarding God or Christianity and they would not only get their question answered, but also get a grilled cheese or Nutella sandwich (or for the truly bold, a Nutella-grilled cheese sandwich). Given that this inter-ministry event took place right in the middle of finals, we had a lot of questions—and the kitchen in Mott House was a beautiful storm of laughter, Havarti, and in many cans of sparkling water (we had to stay hydrated!). Students usually went out in pairs to answer the questions. As another student and myself met someone outside of Olin Library, I scanned the question she had asked: “If God is good, why do bad things happen?” I remember thinking to myself, Ah a classic question of theodicy! When the student finally came, we gave her the sandwich and I began to answer the question.

It was not long before I realized that her initial look of curiosity gave way to confusion. My carefully curated answer, stuffed to the gills with fancy words like sovereignty, free will, and sin, were baffling more than they were illuminating. The other Christian student graciously took the lead and started more simply, asking the student what her own experiences with hardship were on campus, and from there began to use a framework for answering her question. I was humbled and grateful for the example of this student who took the time to genuinely listen. My friend “translated” and explained the gospel in ways that this student could understand, yet avoided changing the Gospel to fit her worldview.

Another way Christian Union helped me with the act and work of translation was through writing for Christian Union: The Magazine. I entered Cornell with a question in mind: was there a publication out there where I could write earnestly about my faith and at the same time sharpen my skills?

I am so grateful that Christian Union: The Magazine was a resounding YES to that question. While writing for the journal I grappled with the same questions of translation that I did with Grill Me for Grilled Cheese. Within the straitjacket of the 500-700 word limit, I had to distill life-changing events and experiences into palatable stories that could speak to people from all backgrounds.

As my editor Tom Campisi would graciously remind me, I was not writing exclusively for those who attended Cornell; a sentence like “Students could not attend Nexus because they had prelims” needed to be explained clearly to an audience that was unfamiliar with Cornell’s world. Thus, through writing for the magazine,  I learned what it meant to view writing as a form of hospitality; what did it look like to really invite people into the world at Cornell? What was it like for them to feel present and “on campus” even though they were not able to physically be there? I was grateful for the guidance of Tom and various other editors for helping me learn how to translate my experiences into stories that would encourage readers.

In this upcoming academic year, I will be working with students through the campus ministry Chesterton House. My hope is that regardless of where students are at in their lives, that they know the Gospel can speak to them in any situation and that the unchanging God can meet them in any storm. I realize that there always lies the temptation to think that the most important and repeated truths are too simplistic, only to find that it is those truths that gain new meaning throughout lifetime and time again. Thank you Christian Union!


 Zachary Lee is the Content and Communications Ministry Fellow for Chesterton House, a residential living-learning center at Cornell University focused on the integration of the Christian faith and academic study.

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