Guest Post by Claudia Mahaffy: My Faith Journey to College

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Back in the spring of 2015 I was just your average 11th grade student. Touring college campuses and trying to find my best fit. I remember making a check list of everything I wanted in a college, but the only two important ones worth mentioning where: Big and Far from home. Turns out my parents thought other criteria might be more important, and they took me to a place that was the complete opposite. They decided to take me about an hour from our house to a college called Nyack. I was not happy the entire ride up. The school did not meet my criteria, and no one, not even my high school, knew that this place existed.

Well, to make a long story short, after only 5 minutes on campus, I loved it. The diversity, the views, the welcoming faculty. All exterior things, mainly.

Fast forward to late June of this year. I was at my graduation party greeting all my guests. Many of them are church-going people, and they are all congratulating me on my success and telling me that God is really going to do great things for me at Nyack. It was still a couple months away so I wasn’t thinking about it all that much. But two days later my parents sat me down to talk about my future. It’s probably the third scariest talk you can have after the sex talk and the about-to-go-into-high-school talk. I sat there at the end of their bed and after a couple of minutes I in was in tears. They broke the news to me that the financial package the school was offering was just way too high, and they did not want me leaving college buried under the all-too-familiar pile of student loans that many students graduate with. They told me it would be smart for me to transfer to Nyack after completing two years locally.

I had already met my roommate, paid my fees, and gotten my schedule. Now I had to put all that aside and think about my 22 year old self getting out of college. Although it was hard, I knew that what they were saying made sense, and I decided to listen. That night I started finding other colleges to apply to. I shook it off as best I could, put all the emotional aspects aside, and tried to stay focused on making a good future for myself.

About a month later, after about 12 times being put on hold by two local colleges I applied to, I was getting a bit fed up. A month till most colleges started, and I still didn’t know what I was doing, or if it would be too late to apply. Then, two weeks ago, I was on my way home from work and checked my missed calls. I saw that Nyack had tried to reach me. I didn’t think much of it because they didn’t leave a message. My mom joined me on the train, and when I told her about the missed call, I got choked up. My future had been set. I was ready to go to Nyack. And now I was sitting here not knowing what I was doing while all of my friends were gearing up to leave in just a few weeks.

My mom then proceeded to tell me a story I had heard before but really had little to no impact on my life. This time, however, it hit home for me. She told me about a similar incident that had happened to her in college. It was too pricy for her to return to school, but God had made a way and provided for her to go back, and eventually she graduated. She encouraged me to go home and pray and seek God for the answers I needed, and told me that He would give me peace. When she said that I shot everyone a text on my recently texted list and said, “pray for me.” I even sent it to some people I’d be going to Nyack with that I had met online.

When I got home my dad told me that the director of admissions had contacted him in regards to my status, and asked whether or not it was official that I was dropping Nyack as an option for next year. My dad told him the issue and explained that they didn’t want me graduating with such a huge amount of debt. He gave him an amount that he thought would be more reasonable and manageable to pay off, and said if they could get down to that number we would be able to consider it. The director completely understood and said he was going to do everything he could to see if he could find me more money. After hearing that I had to remind myself to be neutral about the situation at hand and remember that things might or might not work out the way I wanted them to. When I got home I went straight to my room and began praying and reading my Bible. I lost a lot of sleep over the next two nights. I attended a prayer meeting where people encouraged me and prayed for me.

A couple days later we sat down as a family and my dad shared the results with me. I was playing out all possible circumstances in my mind, waiting for him to say, “Sometimes God shuts a door, but that’s okay. ” He informed me that he had spoken to the director, and that the director told him he requested and was able to secure enough financial aid to make it feasible for me to go to Nyack. He was within a thousand dollars of the number my dad had given him! I broke down in tears. God had done a miracle, and I had just lived it for myself! I was so amazed at how good He was to me in that moment.

Now, the night before finding all this out, I had been reading the story of how Abraham was tested and was asked by God to sacrifice his son, but was then stopped by a voice from heaven. Then I saw this verse: “Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”)” (Genesis 22:14). That was a huge sign from God for me that gave me peace when I didn’t have any answers. God took me to the top of the mountain, out of my comfort zone, and He provided.

I am so thankful for the opportunity given to me by God. He has deepened my faith and trust in Him. When I first visited Nyack, it was exterior things that caught my attention. During the last few weeks, however, it has been their interior that has impressed me. I have seen the heart of Nyack during this tough time. They are the kind of school I want to be a part of. They didn’t simply shut the door on my face and pity me. They believed that if God wanted me at Nyack He would make a way. Thank you, Nyack admissions staff! Thank you for your giving spirit and the love that you have shown me. I am so blessed to have people who see my potential and want to invest in me. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me these next four years. Thank you to everyone who prayed for me during this season of life! God works in great ways. Trust in him and He will do amazing things.

Operation Finish Well

I am about to share with you two of the most important things about good youth ministry, so read all the way to the end.

I know, I know. Probably 90% of you reading this live in places where school has been out for several weeks. But here in New York we find that keeping our kids in school for half of the summer is benef … no, wait, is utterly ridiculous! But, for (I am certain) politically-motivated financial reasons, most of our students are still in school.

Last year my good friend Laurie Bolton sent me an idea that she did with her students that I knew instantly I wanted to do. She delivered “study break” goodie bags to her students while they were in finals week. So, this year I went out and bought lots of junk food and little goodies, wrote a poem; we bagged them up, and divvied them up by zip codes among our team of awesome adult youth leaders who delivered the surprises to unsuspecting students. This, we called Operation Finish Well. It was awesome!

Perhaps you are a healthy food person and you are offended that we would deliver sugary goodness to our students. Someone even told me that the sugar would kill their precious brain cells, and that we should have taken them healthy snacks like fruits and veggies, etc. I get it. I understand. You’re totally right. We should have. But I had two thoughts about this … 1) We wanted our kids to be excited when they received the packages. 2) We are actually trying to help our kids learn humility. I’ve been told that the students in our area are really smart, and we think we are serving them and teaching them that they are no better than anyone else by killing off a few brain cells in order to be more average. I’m kidding, of course. lol! (Seriously, point noted.)

This whole operation highlighted two hallmarks of good youth ministry. 1) Stealing ideas, and 2) Junk food.

Feel free to re-steal (But give Laurie props for the idea!).

And feel free to give your students healthy food … which most students will consider junk food and promptly throw away. lol! (Sorry, I was in a joking-kind-of-mood writing this. I’ve been reading Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan – the funniest book I have ever read. Post about that coming soon.)IMG_3359 IMG_3362

Passing the Leadership Baton

Many of you may remember the excitement we experienced 8 months ago when our youngest daughter Natalia started the first-ever Christian Club in her middle school. All year they averaged almost 30 students in weekly attendance, and it was awesome watching the influence they had in the school and beyond. A few weeks ago, they received a Certificate of Merit from the New York State Assembly for their project of sending Valentines to Veterans which is going to be framed and displayed in the school!

After an amazing school year, yesterday we attended the final club meeting of the year. We have been so proud of our girl for all of her hard work and leadership. She assembled a great team of her peers and led them as together they led the club all year. Perhaps the most impressive part of her leadership is that right from the start she recognized that as an 8th grader this was her final year in the middle school, but she wanted the club to continue long after she was gone, so she was looking for future leaders from day one.

About 3 months ago, she and her team really started praying, watching, and talking with the younger students who had been faithful and active in the club, and who had a desire to be lights in their school. Two months ago she approached two 6th graders and asked them about the possibility of them leading next year. After they accepted, she began training them, giving them opportunities to lead, and giving them leadership feedback. Yesterday, as we celebrated a great inaugural year for the club, Natalia and her team formally handed the baton of leadership to the aforementioned students and prayed over them.

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Video: Natalia Speaking at Youth For Christ Banquet

Last night was one of the greatest highlights of my life as a father and as a youth pastor. I had the privilege of sharing the stage with my daughter at the Youth For Christ banquet as she shared about starting a Christian Club in her middle school. Our family is so proud of her!

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Natalia with banquet speaker Pastor Dimas Salaberrios of The Bronx

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