CORD Spring03 Celebrate

story by Lauren Bongard and Laura Rumsey

Directions.  Careers.  Friendships.  Beliefs.  For many,  Union College has influenced these crucial decisions and opened unexpected doors. Meet three young alumni who were transformed while at Union—a business major into an international relief coordinator, a disk jockey into a youth pastor and a student with dyslexia into a bilingual teacher. Three different paths with a common influence—a Union College experience.

Teaching the World to Fish
Whether Carla Andersen '95 is being offered fried mice, fresh mangos or live chickens, her adventures in Africa are never dull as she helps strengthen struggling communities.

As international project coordinator for World Vision in Seattle, Wash.,  Andersen acquires money to fund relief and development projects in Southern Africa. Established in 1950, World Vision is a Christian development and relief organization. With an annual budget of more than $100 million,  Andersen's nine-country region includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. In addition to working with the United States government and private individuals to secure grants and donations, she travels to Africa at least three times a year to visit projects, meet the African people and research new project possibilities.

On each of these trips, new excitement always greets her. Once in Malawi, Andersen discovered with relief that mangos, pineapple and avocados were in season—a pleasant change from previous delicacies of fried grasshoppers and mice. Another time, a community member proudly presented her with a lovely gift—a chicken. "I had no idea that a live chicken could be so scary up close," she said.

Carla Andersen joins a celebration at the Mchinji Children's Home of Hope, an orphanage in western Malawi.

How did Andersen arrive in this world of bizarre presents, international adventures and poverty relief? "It ties back to Union College," she said. Through the influence of Susan (Cowin) Byers '86, her ninth and tenth grade teacher and friend,  Andersen came to Union College as an undecided major. "I had never been to Nebraska. I drove to Lincoln from Oregon, arrived on registration day and moved into the dorm," Andersen said.

She entered the gym for registration where Arlie Fandrich was assigned as her advisor. Fandrich encouraged Andersen to take several computer classes, at which she excelled. By second semester of her freshman year, Andersen was working for Fandrich as his computer lab tutor. She began to focus on a computer science degree, but discovered her love for accounting classes was even greater. She graduated with a degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting.

According to Andersen, many of her decisions were strongly impacted by Fandrich's guidance. Her friendship with him has continued to this day. "I am so thankful I was assigned to him," Andersen said.

Andersen's love for international work developed during her college years when she spent a year as a student missionary in Thailand. Coming home was difficult. "My junior and senior years at Union were hard because all I wanted to do was go and work internationally again. It was really in my blood."

Her passion for international work grew as she worked as the student missions director at Union and became good friends with many international students on campus. These experiences broadened her view of the world. As soon as she graduated, Andersen took an internship with ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) and worked for a year in Sudan, Africa.

With her two years of international experience and business degree from Union College, Andersen was the perfect candidate for World Vision. Her situation is a little unusual. "I'm one of the youngest people around here because generally it's hard to get those two years of international experience," Andersen said.

In addition to poverty and hunger relief, World Vision believes in empowering people. Andersen's work philosophy can be summarized in this well-known saying: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime," Andersen said. "I embrace and love that concept and use it in my work!"

"We work in emergency mode, but we also work in an area of long-term development. We try to obtain grants for projects that will affect the core problems."

Areas of long-term development include agriculture, transportation, health care and education. World Vision staff members teach African farmers agricultural techniques such as rotating crops and using affordable organic fertilizers. World Vision builds roads to provide farmers better access to markets and community members better access to health clinics and schools. To fight health problems from water contamination, staff members help communities dig wells and provide education about safe water practices. Illiteracy is another big problem, so classes in reading and writing are provided for children and adults. World Vision also grants small loans to people and provides training in owning a business.

One grateful lady received a loan of $30 to start a business. After successfully establishing a shop and paying back her loan, the lady told Andersen, "Now I'm free. I don't need anything; I am completely satisfied with my life. I'm so happy."

This is what Andersen's work is all about. "We want to give the people a hand up instead of a hand out. We want to give them something they can use to improve their own life, and we want them to embrace and have ownership over whatever we're doing."

To create this ownership, World Vision staff members often encourage community members to participate with projects. "Frequently we offer incentives for the community to come out and help build a road," Andersen said. "We may give them a mosquito net or clothing or something else they need."

To improve her effectiveness in these development efforts, Andersen is pursuing an MBA through a partnership with World Vision. Andersen's classes meet in Africa once a year and are taught by professors from Pennsylvania's Eastern University. Andersen and one American man join some 20 African classmates each year for a month of intense study. Students then disperse to do their homework, which they submit to professors by e-mail. Andersen is halfway through the four-year program and has made an agreement with World Vision to work at least two additional years after completing her degree.

"When this opportunity came up it fit exactly what I wanted," Andersen said. "I'm getting a master's in business administration with a focus in international leadership of non-profit organizations. I love it."

Beyond graduate school, Andersen will continue to learn and grow for a lifetime. Thanks to her work with World Vision, she is "teaching the world to fish." And thanks to her earlier education experience at Union, Andersen has found a job and a life she truly loves.

"I'm very passionate about my job," Andersen said. "I'm passionate about the communities where we work and the types of interventions we do. I get excited every morning and rarely have a dull day. I feel very blessed."

More than Rock and Roll

Before Michael Halfhill '02 labored over Greek conjugations and discovered the art of preaching in homiletics class, he filled his days with rock and roll hits and spent his nights partying.

Halfhill grew up Methodist but was not interested in the Christian scene. He didn't know what an Adventist was until 1995 while attending Iowa State University.

One evening, his father stumbled upon 3ABN. "It was when Pastor Doug Batchelor was doing a series on Revelation," Halfhill said. "My dad liked him so much he ordered the whole series." 

At the time, Halfhill was living a rough lifestyle. "I was into alcohol and drugs, and I was numb inside," he said. His parents knew he was struggling and sent him one of Batchelor's tapes.

Rock and roll DJ turned youth pastor said he and his wife, Jeannette, have no regrets about moving to Kansas. "To leave Lincoln was tough, but sometimes the Lord has a different spot for you," he said. "I just needed to be wherever God wanted me."

"In the midst of all the partying and nonsense," Halfhill said, "I put the tape in and watched." Batchelor discussed the time prophecy in Daniel 9 that predicts the coming Messiah.

Growing up, Halfhill believed in God but was unsure if the stories were true. "I thought people believed so they could sleep at night or to help them through the day," he said. But as he listened to Batchelor describe Jesus and the accuracy of the time prophecy, Halfhill was stunned. "It was like getting hit in the face with a bucket of cold water," he said. "I was blown away."

The realization that Christ loved him touched Halfhill. "I got down on my knees, and I gave my heart to the Lord," he said. "I realized that I can believe the Bible. I thought, 'This is great news.' Then my second thought was 'Wow—the Bible is real. That's bad news.' I knew my life didn't match up."

Although he had pledged his life to God, Halfhill continued his destructive habits. "I wish I could say that things were completely changed at that point," Halfhill said, "but I was still in the midst of my old lifestyle." The videos had piqued Halfhill's interest, however, and he kept watching.

Halfhill graduated from Iowa State with a degree in journalism in 1997 and attained his dream job at 23 as an afternoon music director at a rock station. Still, he couldn't stop the questions in his mind. He wanted more than rock and roll.

"I could not shake the thought that God had more planned for me than just talking in between songs," he said.

On a whim, Halfhill looked in the local phone book and found a listing for the Fort Dodge Seventh-day Adventist Church. "It was a great church," Halfhill said. "The members were welcoming, yet they weren't pushy. If they had been overwhelming, I probably would have pulled back."

After studying with the pastor, and four years after first seeing the Revelation video, Halfhill decided to be baptized.

When his radio station was sold, Halfhill began searching for a new job, but none seemed to fit. "I tried to run from it," he said. "I tried to not vocalize it, but I finally said it out loud. 'Maybe God wants me to be a pastor.'"

Halfhill and his fiancée, Jeannette, ventured to Lincoln to look at Union. While there, he discussed his possibilities with Dr. Siegfried Roeske, religion professor. A month later, Halfhill's pastor preached a sermon that inspired him to decide. "I finally said, 'OK, this is what we're going to do. We're going to Lincoln, and I am going to go back to school.'"

Two months after they were married, the Halfhills packed up everything they owned and said goodbye to their friends and family.

At Union, the Halfhills appreciated meeting other Adventist young adults. "Because we had never been in an Adventist environment before," Halfhill said, "we didn't know what it meant to be Adventist other than what we had studied and the few people we had met."

During his two-year trek through the theology program at Union, Halfhill served as youth pastor at the Piedmont Park church. Though it took stamina, Halfhill was able to juggle his mounting responsibilities. "I did one year of Greek and Hebrew at the same time," he recalls. "I praise the Lord because I was able to make it through and actually enjoy it."

Halfhill says he had a good relationship with his theology teachers. "I could go into any of their offices and talk about problems or sit and visit," he said. "The relationships I had with them were incredible." Halfhill feels blessed by what he learned at Union and is excited about taking what he's been taught and teaching it to others.

Although they had graduated from college once before and lived off campus making it harder for them to participate in on-campus activities, Halfhill says he and Jeannette had great experiences at Union.

He recalls the first Ministerial Club soup supper they attended. "It was at Dr. [Tom] Shepherd's house, and we were fresh off the road from Iowa," Halfhill said. "Someone was playing guitar and people were singing. I leaned over to Jeannette and said, 'These college parties sure have changed over the years.'"

In August 2002, the Halfhills left Lincoln and moved to Overland Park, Kan., where Michael accepted the job of youth pastor at the New Haven church. He also teaches Bible at Midland Academy. "It appears I can never escape school," Halfhill said. "I thought I was done getting up for a 7 a.m. class. Now I'm just on the other side of the desk."

In addition to teaching, Halfhill organizes three vespers programs a month. He and the youth in the church put on a program each month for church featuring the talents of the youth. He is also active in Bible studies and Pathfinders and was involved with a mission trip to the Dominican Republic in March.

Creative ministries are another of Halfhill's passions. In early fall, he helped organize a Tuesday Fun Night. Halfhill estimates 200 individuals from the community attended the event that included a ramp for skateboarders. Also on October 31, the church hosted an event as an alternative to Halloween. More than 1,000 people came for games, rides and to view the Bible theme rooms set up in the church, including the Garden of Eden and Joseph in Egypt.

Halfhill has learned much from his position. "One of the tough parts I'm learning is that I could go 24 hours a day, seven days a week if I let myself," he said. But his job is everything he hoped it would be. "We are glad about what the Lord has done with us," Halfhill said. "We hope He continues to work on us, change us and use us to help others."

People still ask Halfhill if he misses being a DJ. "I honestly have to tell them I don't miss it. I don't know why, because it was my life passion, but I don't," he said. "I had good times there, but I don't ever have a longing or wondering. I thank the Lord He made it that way."

Unlocking doors and dreams

Dora Santillan Herald '92 always knew she wanted to be a teacher. "I played 'teacher' from my first day of kindergarten," she laughs.

But Herald's hidden dyslexia almost stole her dream.

"It got to the point where I thought maybe I shouldn't be in college because I didn't have what it took," she said.

Herald struggled throughout her freshman year. A classmate took her to the Teaching Learning Center (TLC) and introduced her to the staff, including Joan Stoner and Jennifer Forbes.

With the encouragement of Pastor Rich, Union College chaplain, Herald served as a student missionary at Hawaiian Mission Academy. "I threw myself into it to see if it was what I wanted to do," Herald said. "The experience convinced me I wanted to teach."

Discovering her hidden dyslexia opened doors for Dora Santillan Herald. "Union gave me tools that enabled me to become a better teacher," she said.

When she returned the following year, however, Herald still had difficulties in her classes. She was tested for learning disabilities and discovered she had dyslexia. Although she didn't have problems reading or writing, her comprehension was extremely low. "I would spend hours studying but I couldn't make the grades," Herald said. "I would read a passage and couldn't understand it—I had no comprehension."

The TLC staff worked with Herald to increase her productivity. "They charted my deficiencies to see what needed to be targeted," she said. "For example, did I need a note-taker, extra time on exams or an oral exam versus a written exam?"

Herald gained a sense of understanding from the TLC. "I think everyone comes into college life wanting to know more about fulfilling what they hope to do," she said. "The TLC added a missing piece of the puzzle—that of being identified as dyslexic and understanding that part of myself."

When Herald began her teaching career, she discovered that her experiences at Union added a new dimension to her teaching abilities. "I feel that being identified dyslexic and having TLC staff at Union give me those tools has enabled me to become a better teacher," she said. "It has also opened doors for me I would not have thought possible."

Besides support, Herald found friendship in her Teaching Learning Center advisers. "They made such a big impact on our lives," she said of herself and her husband Gilbert ('92), whom she met while at the TLC. "It is amazing. I've heard your college friends are going to be lifetime friends. They have been."

Herald began her teaching career in Baton Rouge, La., and spent the following summer teaching at Brighton Academy, a school for dyslexic children.

From there the Heralds moved to Texas. She applied for teaching positions but found no openings. Instead, she began substitute teaching. Herald, who came from a Spanish-speaking family, became friends with a teacher who told her there was a need for bilingual skills just 45 minutes away.

Herald took the short drive and applied for a job. "I walked in and was hired that same day because I knew Spanish," she said. "I had no clue my Spanish would take me to where I am."

Herald taught bilingual education for one year. "It was so hard," she remembers. "The last time I used Spanish was when I was five, and then I started school and used English." Herald found she could converse in Spanish, but reading and writing were a struggle. At the end of the year, she moved back to monolingual education.

After teaching third grade for three years, Herald was asked to reconsider bilingual teaching. She took the bilingual teacher certification test and moved back into the bilingual classroom. "If you want to learn a second language, go in there and do it hands-on. It does work," Herald said. "It was hard, but I've come a long way."

The lessons she learned at the Teaching Learning Center helped Herald become an advocate for special education students. She had an understanding of disabilities and recognized that even if a student wasn't in special education, the dyslexia program could still be of service.

Her Teaching Learning Center education spilled over into other areas as well. With the confidence the TLC instilled in her, Herald was able to work toward her master's degree.

Herald recently moved into curriculum development for kindergartners, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do. "The more years of experience and higher degrees you have, the further you are pulled away from the classroom," Herald said. "Curriculum development took me away from where I enjoy being—the classroom."

Currently Herald is taking time away from the professional world to raise her young family, Allen, 3, and Phillip, 6 months. She isn't certain where the future will find her, but she has some ideas. "My career aspirations are to become a principal or a bilingual director," Herald said. "The need and demand are here and opportunities are overwhelming, but the timing isn't right. For now, I am choosing to put my young children before my career."

Herald feels Union's Teaching Learning Center gave her the skills she needed to find her dream job. "Recently I said to my husband, 'They want me to do this? It is so much fun,'" Herald said. "You know you're in the right profession when you like going to your job."

Recently Herald found a worn copy of The Desire of Ages that she read in Dr. [Siegfried] Roeske's class at Union. "It amazes me how a class at Union can leave such an impact on your life, she said. "I chose to grow in his class."

Although she isn't able to tell her students directly of Christ's love, Herald tries to share the good news in her own way. "I may not know until Jesus comes what I've imparted on students," she said. "When you don't work in Christian education you can't say the words. Your actions have to speak louder than words." 

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