“So, what do you think is going to happen in the future?” The guy sitting next to Maria in one of her classes at the University of California in San Diego turned to her abruptly and asked. “I feel like an apocalypse is coming.”
A couple years before, a question about her faith would have left Maria frantically searching for words, butterflies filling her stomach. Even though she grew up in church, had a positive experience, and genuinely loved Jesus, she never volunteered opinions or thoughts on religious discussions.
In fact, not long before she came to UCSD, Maria was struggling with serious doubts about her beliefs. Ironically, these doubts began when she came from the Ukraine to the US to study at a Christian university. When she arrived, at 19 years old, she found that many of her classmates were having serious questions about the faith they were raised with. Maria didn’t know what to say to them as they expressed their skepticism:
“We’re only Christians because we were born into a Christian family. If we were born into an atheist family, we’d just be atheist…” “I don’t know if God exists…” “There is no absolute truth. We all have our own truth.”
…at 19 years old, she found that many of her classmates were having serious questions about the faith they were raised with.
Maria didn’t give up on church or beliefs, but she didn’t know what to say to her friends. If the same thoughts had been expressed by classmates at a public university, she wouldn’t have been phased at all. Of course they wouldn’t believe what she believes. But her friends from church were raised the same way she was raised. Could there be some truth to their questions? The doubts affected her faith deeply, revealing a lack of foundation:
You know how when you’re a kid, you believe whatever you’re told? I believed without a why. I didn’t need a why, but when I got older, I started needing a why and no one told me why, so I started questioning everything.
In an effort to find some insight into her questions, she began listening to sermons on YouTube and stumbled upon messages by David Asscherick. She also began reading books like The Great Controversy by Ellen White, which, among other things, addresses the problem of God being good and yet allowing evil to be present in our world. These resources excited her. She was on a faith journey and finding her way.
Eventually, Maria decided to transfer to the University of California in San Diego to continue her studies in international economics. UCSD exposed Maria to people from all different worldviews and backgrounds. As she talked with her classmates and studied, she discovered two things. First, most people she met had very logical reasons for believing what they believed. Simultaneously, she realized, as she took a class on world religions and compared worldview with worldview, there were many things in her own faith tradition that actually made a lot of sense to her.
She was continuing this spiritual journey when, one day, just after the pandemic began, she saw a message on Facebook about an online discipleship course that was opening up for 60 days for free. Curious, she decided to check out the offer and sign up for ARISE Online.
From the first class, Maria was excited. Along with all of their questions on the nature of truth, humanity’s origins, and religion, her friends at her Christian university held an either conscious or subconscious belief that faith takes the fun out of life, and Maria had wondered as well if this was true. So when some of the first ARISE Online classes began by talking about how God created human beings in a perfect world to experience maximum pleasure, her mind was blown.
God wants us to be happy?!
The idea flew in the face of what her skeptical friends had told her. She enthusiastically continued to devour the material.
The idea flew in the face of what her skeptical friends had told her.
The ARISE Online curriculum is titled The Story, and it takes the student through an overview of the Bible as a narrative. They encounter core biblical truths but they are all framed in the context of the story of a God, madly in love with humanity, coming to rescue people from sin. Over the next 60 days, as Maria studied, she discovered not only answers to her friends’ questions, but more:
The Story has helped me to put together the fragmented pieces of Bible knowledge that I accumulated from my childhood, and finally see how it all fits together…
I was already searching for answers, and ARISE put everything I’d been thinking and studying into one big picture for me.
Maria feels ARISE Online has played a key role in her knowing not just why she believes but who she believes in. She was profoundly affected by a narrative Bible study centered on God and His love.
I finally understood what God was like, who He is, what He wants, how He feels about me, and how He feels about all the things going on in the world.
Now when people ask about her faith, she doesn’t panic inside. When her UCSD classmate turned and asked her what she thought about a future apocalypse, she didn’t have to say something. She had something to say.
“You know, I believe that too,” she told him, and then began to thoughtfully share what she believed as a Christian about the world’s future.
We don’t have all the answers, but there is one solution we believe is solid: show people, young or old, the beauty of the character of God and they will fall in love with Him.
Maria has now graduated from UCSD with her bachelor’s degree in international economics. She’s looking forward to serving God as a disciple-maker herself in her field:
I used to think, if I want to be a disciple-maker, I have to be a pastor…but now I’ve learned that whatever you do, you can be a disciple-maker, and that is mind blowing to me. I’ve started thinking, how can I use my degree to do something for God?
There are many other young adults who are searching for thoughtful insight into the big questions they will inevitably ask themselves or be asked by others. We don’t have all the answers, but there is one solution we believe is solid: show people, young or old, the beauty of the character of God and they will fall in love with Him.
ARISE Online is a video discipleship course that parallels the on-site 14-week ARISE program that Light Bearers operates. In January of 2021, we enrolled 800 new students, and we’re excited about that. There are lots of other Marias out there, though, who are searching for an intelligent faith, but they don’t have the means to enroll in the course. If you’d like to help them discover a beautiful and thoughtful faith, centered on the character of God, consider partnering with us and donating to our ARISE Online scholarship fund.
Allie is a 2012 ARISE graduate and on-staff writer and communications assistant for Light Bearers. She is fascinated by the intersection of faith and the creative process and enjoys poetry. When she’s not watching a good movie with her friends, she enjoys narrating life with mediocre accents.