As a science teacher at Hillcrest Academy, I get to know students from all around the world and each has a unique story. I have seen, over and over again, that the process of becoming a Christian isn’t an event as much as it is a journey (an adventure, really). So many people and events go into that process. Of course, that is also the Bible—a long history of God revealing himself to fallen humanity, preparing us for that moment in time when God entered time and space through Jesus Christ.
What follows is a Hillcrest story that blossomed before my eyes over the past two years, and I still am in wonderment that it happened.
August 2015: The student would be arriving at Hector International Airport in Fargo, North Dakota. I headed down the highway to Fargo, wondering how I’d spot the new student. Would she be tired, hungry or worn out from the trip? Most importantly, could we communicate in English?
It didn’t take long to find Loi, looking cheerful, perhaps a little apprehensive, and excited to start life at Hillcrest Academy. She had come to America from Vietnam. This was her first time in the USA. I asked if she’d like something to eat. She said she was fine, so we loaded the car and headed southeastward to her new home.
During the hour-long ride back to Hillcrest, I asked quite a few questions. My first big surprise was that Loi was fluent in English—as in, there wasn’t even an accent. And she had a huge English vocabulary. I never would have guessed that she was an international student. We began a conversation about Jesus. Loi hadn’t heard of Jesus, though she was interested to find out more. I asked her about the Bible, she had heard of that, and was interested to learn more.
So I asked her after a bit—did she know that Hillcrest was a Christian school? She was not sure what that meant, but she thought it would be interesting to learn more about what Christians believe.
When school started, I was blessed to have Loi in my biology class. Over the following semesters, she would take biology, chemistry and physics. I appreciated her insightful questions, her boldness and deep thinking. There were only a few Hillcrest students from Vietnam, and Loi seemed to prefer books or studying to spending time with friends. I found myself praying that she would develop deep friendships as the year progressed.
In Loi’s second year, a few students joined the student body who would have a profound impact on the lives of many students. One was Ashley, who has an amazing vivaciousness for life and people, and who has a sort of Velcro-stickiness that attracts friends. Loi soon found herself caught up in Ashley’s circle of friends.
Another student, Molly, came from Brainerd, Minnesota. She also got caught up in the Ashley Velcro. Molly was a cross-country ski champ, and Hillcrest was blessed to have her on the school’s team. Molly is one of those quiet evangelists who is always looking out for others. She brings wisdom to every conversation.
We have circular tables in the dining hall—very handy for conversations. Often faculty and staff join the students for lunch. Loi, Myles, Ashley, Di and others staked out a place in the southeast corner. Di came from China. She’s a fantastic artist and engineering student. Sometimes I’d sit with these students and enjoy learning about life. Myles works at a movie theater and gives intellectual reviews of the latest movies. It’s also a great spot to discuss spiritual things.
Things transpired that this “sunshine” group of girls from Hillcrest began attending Fergus Falls’ Good Shepherd Lutheran Brethren Church. Ellen, who had also joined the Ashley team, along with Molly, Di and Loi, would sit in the first row at church, absorbing all of the music and preaching. They also joined the youth group. God’s spirit was at work, and soon Loi was asking a lot of questions about Jesus. Paula Quam started a Bible study for the girls. As time went on, I noticed that Loi’s circle of friends was growing and that she was becoming more and more cheerful.
One day, during Loi’s senior year, she and Di brought some really big news: “Mr. Jahr, we’re going to be baptized!” I praised the Lord for his powerful work!
And the year continued to unfold with a multitude of requests from Loi to me. “Mr. Jahr, would you like to read my testimony?” “Mr. Jahr, would you write a recommendation? I’m applying to a Christian college.”
And as the year closed, Loi wrote, “Mr. Jahr, thank you for everything in the sciences and about Christ… I am grateful for how you’ve helped me establish my faith. Don’t forget me!”
Loi concluded her testimony with these words: “People will be asking questions about how I became a Christian and why I am a Christian, and I hope that my answers would always lie in how great of a sacrifice Christ has made for me, and how deeply I need his forgiveness as a sinner and his shepherding as a lost lamb. There’s much to be said about my relationship with Christ and I’m confident that my story will continue to evolve and change as my life will itself. I hope that Christ will always be the center of my faith and that I will stay as committed to him, a follower, as I am now.”
Loi’s testimony was recorded and featured at the Hillcrest class of 2017 graduation. Hers became another voice testifying to God’s grace as her faith was brought to life through Christ’s Spirit at Hillcrest.
Loi’s life changed because the Lord brought her to Hillcrest from Vietnam—halfway around the world. Her story of faith is another celebration of Hillcrest’s centennial.
Rev. Armin Jahr is the Science Teacher at Hillcrest Lutheran Academy in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.