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May 3, 2024

Student Spotlight: Brianna Garcia, '27, Christian Union Martus at Penn

by erin conner, writer and communications associate

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship."- Romans 12:1

Entering University of Pennsylvania this past fall was an answered prayer for Brianna Garcia. As a first generation student, she will be exploring business related majors in the Wharton School as an undergraduate with a personal mission statement driving her: "My whole life I've wanted to build things for others around the concepts of service and community; I want to build a life that helps others to see the Lord through the works of His people," Garcia said. Although, she does not yet know the specific details regarding how she will get there, it is evident that she will because she is building her life for the Lord and allowing Him to build something beautiful in her and through her. 

Building a life around one's relationship with God and seeing one's work as an expression of love and devotion to Christ is what it means to live for the Lord. It is a radical counter-cultural expression in a self-seeking world. It is a clear expression in Garcia's life.

Christian Union's University embraces the Biblical notion that a believer's relationship with God is the purpose and source of meaning and power in one's life; it is not simply an add-on; the understanding that followers of God are called to build their lives around seeking and loving God, as opposed to simply adding religious activities to a secular life is essential to teach believers, especially in modern American culture. For this reason, Christian Union offers a Bible course entitled the Seeking God Lifestyle to all incoming freshman to help them explore the mindset and practical applications of what it might look like to follow Jesus. 

When transitioning into college life, research is clear that students need to find and develop a sense of community to help find personal security, mental health, and academic success, especially in the rush and rigor of intense academic institutions such as the ones where Christian Union serves. Garcia found her community through Christian Union when she arrived on Penn's campus. CU Martus at Penn's Bible courses, group activities, worship nights, retreats, and leadership roles helped Garcia and other freshman develop the much needed sense of healthy community each college student in America deserves to find.  

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Garcia said, "The seeking God lifestyle Bible course was pivotal in gaining clarity and strength for this kind of wholehearted living for the Lord."  Garcia continued, "with my Bible study girls, our God-centered conversations have helped me learn more abut biblical disciplines to further seek God, for example, fasting. I didn't have much knowledge about fasting before this." 

"I feel like fasting has brought me closer to the Lord because of the noticeable effects it has produced in my ability to focus on praying, reading, or studying. When I feel in a rut, I know that my flesh is weak, but God is always the same no matter how I'm feeling," Garcia continued. In this way, fasting has served as a tool in Garcia's first year of her college career to help her live by faith, instead of feelings- a challenge many believers face as they learn to navigate what it means to live in the world, but not of it. 

"The very first time I was given an opportunity to fast, I quickly found excuses, saying to myself that I can not fast because people will hear my stomach growl, I have too many classes, and I have too much to do. Shortly after saying this, I found myself being so busy that I unintentionally didn't have the time to eat over the course of a day, and I noticed that all of the reasons that I thought I could not fast were untrue. My stomach didn't growl once," she said with a laugh. "So I decided to try fasting." 

She shared, "The context I was in at this point in the semester was this: I was struggling with my math class and I felt that no matter how much I studied, I wasn't seeing the fruit of my labor. I was putting in all the effort and attention needed to be successful, but was not seeing results. I, then, decided to fast for the Lord, asking Him for encouragement. I received a 100 on my next math exam. I would say that was the encouragement I needed!"  

In addition to being in Bible course, Garcia serves on the Socials team as a leader for CU Martus. Garcia has a heart to invest time in planning events, while making sure that others are engaged in the community outside of just BIble course participation. This leadership position allows me to see and to help." This simple, yet profound statement illuminates the importance of giving students opportunities in college to grow in Christian leadership.  

In regard to Christian Union Martus, Garcia said, "This is a supportive community that I didn't even know I needed, but God blessed me with upon entering college. I've never had the experience of being around Christians my age when I was growing up. Christian Union has helped me grow closer to God and has changed the way that I speak. For example, I recently went on a school trip and one of my nonbelieving friends said to me, 'I see your love for God.'"

CU Martus' Women's Ministry Fellow, Sarah Hickenbotham shared, "it is amazing to see God working in Garcia's heart and mind. Deeper  than learning about different spiritual disciplines, I think Brianna, and the other freshman women, learned to think biblically and critically about any topic they encounter in life. Scripture has become the lens through which they can process, and then possess, life. I think Brianna and the other women learned to consider how to practically treat people the way Jesus does and to come with questions and open hearts about life, instead of unyielding statements and claims."

This kind of Christ-like posture speaks loudly against the demands currently being made by some student protestors on the campus surrounding them. 

How do we measure if God is working in our lives? One way is to look for fruit. Good tree bears good fruit--  the fruits of the Spirit. Hickenbotham, commenting on this, said, "In Brianna, I see how much the fruit of gentleness has grown in her in the last five months, especially since winter retreat. The softness in her speech and in the way she speaks of others and speaks of God is beautiful. I notice a shift in how she thinks and how she talks about things."

Perhaps these are the most significant kinds of transformation--the ones of the heart-- that others witness in a believer's life.

Garcia is living out her life for the Lord and helping others to see His transformative love. She is also living out a powerful truth in a generation that is embracing cultural lies about identity: Garcia's life testifies that people are not defined by their feelings, their past, or their circumstances, but rather people's identity are formed by their Creator, who knows the plans He has for them to prosper them and make them grow; to give them hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).

Garcia has discovered, in just her first year of college, a community to which she can belong and through which she can impact her campus. She has also found a firm foundation upon which to build her college career and her future profession. She has claimed her security in the True Vine. She is establishing and rooting herself in His love. 

Years before graduating, Garcia has already contributed greatly through her character to a legacy of righteousness in her family – a legacy that contributes faith and light to a secular world in great need of it.