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CU Alumna and Hamilton Cast Member Finds Identity in Christ By Ashley LaLonde Growing up in the heart...
December 19, 2022

A Jazz Musician Found His Way In CU Lumine


By Isabella Campolatarro

There’s a Christian aphorism, often attributed to St. Teresa of Avila, that “God draws straight with crooked lines.” Christian Union Lumine student Michael Manasseh ’23 has experienced this truth first-hand.


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Manasseh was raised in an ardently Christian home by a loving Indian family in Boston. In fact, he and his family routinely attended two church services each Sunday—one in the morning and one in the evening. The first service was at an Assemblies of God church, which Manasseh considers his family’s home church. The evening service was a traditional Indian church service with a multi-ethnic flavor, bound by faith.


But the church wasn’t the only source of Christian education for Manasseh. He also attended his protestant church’s Christian school from preschool through sixth grade until his parents sent him to a private secular school all through high school. 


“In retrospect, I can see I was kind of sheltered in my Christian school and strong church community…like a Christian Bubble,” he explained. “Private school was eye-opening and a little isolating.” 


Though Manasseh never found a like-minded faith community at school, he did feel deeply connected to and through worship.


Worship is a family affair the Manasseh family and his parents and grandparents deeply valued and nurtured their five children’s musical abilities. Manasseh’s dad volunteers to sing and play the keyboard, his mom sings, each of his four siblings sings and plays an instrument, and Manasseh himself has been playing the drums since he was just five years old. 


At different times, his entire family would lead worship at their home church. By the age of seven, Manasseh was playing often at church and went on to play with different worship and secular bands throughout his childhood and adolescence, including jazz ensembles. 


Passionate about music and percussion, he says, “I’m a musician first.” It’s in worship, Manasseh asserts, that he feels closest to God, and maybe even, closest to his highest purpose.


In fact, his paternal grandfather, a musician himself, is always checking on Manasseh’s musical exploits to ensure he’s using his gift. No doubt, he is.


Yet, there’s no denying Manasseh also is an outstanding student. When it came time to pick a college, he had an impressive assortment of choices. Still, he just wasn’t sure where he was called to be. For him, several excellent options made choosing that much harder.


The challenge may have been magnified by the fact that Manasseh was still disconnected from the warm, close-knit faith family of his childhood after he changed churches as a sophomore but didn’t plant roots to replace his earlier faith community. 


“Everything got a lot more polarized because of the whole political situation in America,” he remarked. “I was feeling a little bit disillusioned by some of the stuff I was seeing and hearing, some of the sentiments, and I wasn't getting much reinforcement or encouragement, because I wasn't plugged into a youth group.”


Manasseh still had his own relationship with God but recognized that the lack of community was taking a toll. “I wasn't really getting that sort of spiritual training I’d had…I sort of lost that aspect of my childhood.”


Still, God was working behind the scenes, which became abundantly clear during Manasseh’s overnight student orientation day at Princeton, one of several schools where he’d between admitted. 


Manasseh recalls, “I was sitting at a table at Princeton’s orientation even with my parents and I got a message from a jazz musician at Columbia asking if I want to join a jam session that day.”


In an instant, Manasseh says, he knew he was meant to be at Columbia. He’s visited Columbia many times in high school and yet was very undecided about where he would land. Yet in the instant he got the text from the Columbia student, he remembers it as one of the clearest times of hearing from God.


“At that moment it was like a switch went on.”


Ironically, Manasseh had just talked to the head of the jazz department at Princeton when he got the message. 


“I’d been so torn,  I had no idea how to decide, I had been hearing so many things from so many people, and right then I made my decision. It was definitely a God moment.”


There were more God moments to come, including being directed to CU Lumine at Columbia, something that hadn’t even entered his mind.


“When I came to Columbia I never really thought about ministry groups,” he said. “It just wasn't on my radar.”  


Being at a non-Christian high school there was little outlet for faith-based conversation and his faith soon took a backseat.


“I had no opportunity to talk about faith and when relevant topics came up with non-believing students, I felt very ill-equipped,” he confessed. “We’d have deep conversation, but it was more intellectual.”


That all changed when Manasseh found a CU Lumine postcard slipped under his dorm room door, a calendar of all the CU Lumine orientation events, including a jazz night. 


“That piqued my interest. I went to the jazz program and I ended up seeing someone who was a Senior at Columbia, but  I’d played with in an ensemble when I was in sixth grade and he was a freshman in high school.”


Manasseh also saw another student from high school, Tony, with whom he’d been in an All-State band. Now, they’ve been roommates for two years and have become close friends.


“I didn't know he was Christian and he didn't know that I was Christian, and now here we both were at a CU event!”  


The next event was a CU Lumine Q&A event at the CU Lumine Ministry Center. Almost immediately, Manasseh struck up a conversation with a member of the worship team and the conversation quickly turned to music. 


“She asked me what instruments I played,” Manasseh remembers. “She explained they’d been looking for someone to play drums. By the end of the conversation, he was on the Lumine worship team.”


Two years later, Manasseh also became editor of The Witness, Columbia University’s campus newspaper, part of a national, inter-denominational, campus-based network.  This opportunity also came through a CU Lumine connection. 


God again. “You know, the timing of everything, the people I met,” he said. “Everything was just sort of fitting together.” 


Manesseh explained the class of ’23 Christian Union cohort is unusually large and have stuck together from those early weeks as freshmen. Many attend Hope West Side Church, pray together, lead groups together, and hang out a lot.


“We’re very close, very tight-knit.”


Manasseh is grateful that he landed with CU Lumine so early in his Columbia journey.

“Among other things, it made the transition really nice, because we just have this tight community.”


Manasseh, who graduates next may with a B.A. in economics, doesn’t quite know yet what’s next. Given his track record, it seems clear God will guide him every step of the way.