Feb. 23, 2017
“I encourage women to be courageous, strong and bold in sharing their stories so that in some way they might inspire other women to be a testimony for Jesus Christ.” – 2012 Olympian and alumna Amy Atkinson ('11)
Biola celebrates a 105-year history of women pioneers, dating back to Anna Horton, wife of Biola founder T.C. Horton, and trailblazers like alumnae:
Fullerton city council member Jennifer Fitzgerald (’95)
2012 London Olympian Amy Atkinson (‘11)
Talbot School of Theology’s first female professor Judy Tenelshof (‘85)
professor of pediatrics at University of California, San Francisco Jane Anderson (’71)
Division Chief of the Health Management Services Division, L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services Elizabeth Koo Edwards (‘91)
Ward Elementary School Principal and 2010-2011 L.A. County teacher of the year Allison Israwi (’02)
President of Ambassador Advertising Agency and board chairman at Azusa Pacific University Peggy Campbell (’82)
Sovereignly shaped by God, the following Biola women have experienced the transforming work of the Lord in their lives through varying circumstances and paths. Through grief and joy, they have been shaped by I Am — following an invitation to courageously become their true selves in Christ.
Their stories — represented here in honor of National Women’s History Month — are part of what it means to seek and find an identity in Christ while pursuing personal, spiritual and professional ambitions. Biola celebrates them and all of the women worldwide and the women of Biola University — students, professors, mentors, employees, mothers, and alumnae as daughters of Christ shaped by I Am.
I am unfinished.
I was blessed to have had KKLA radio’s drive-time host, the late Frank Pastore, as one of my mentors and co-workers. I met Frank in 2008 while I was a student at Biola and intern for the station. Frank was kind and supportive of me as I worked my way up to midday host.
He inspired me to think outside the box as a Christian and was an absolute joy to be around. His presence always lit up a room. He encouraged me constantly about my blossoming career.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Frank had a motorcycle accident on his way home from work and fell into a coma. About five weeks later, he passed away.
Watching a faithful Christian family deal with the loss of their loved one is an inspiring yet perplexing thing to observe. Frank’s widow, Gina, remained faithful and dignified as she spoke about heaven and trusting in God’s plan. I began to wonder if I could be as strong if I were ever in her shoes.
Many have commented since his passing that Frank didn’t like it when people had a “casual relationship with the truth.” Suddenly, this question rocked my world: “Was I really living an authentic Christian life?”
Through Frank’s loss I’ve learned that I am God’s unfinished product and that the Christian life is often much easier said than done. I know the reason Frank blessed so many people is that God’s hand was on his life. I pray that I too can have that impact on my listeners. I pray that I too can trust God with the faith I have seen the Pastore family display, during life’s most painful circumstances. I will remain unfinished until the day God says so — God’s timing, not mine.
I am His to love.
Since beginning as a social worker for DCFS in 1994, I’ve been serving Los Angeles County in the Department of Children and Family Services with more than 7,000 staff members, working to protect its most vulnerable citizens. I’ve been blessed with frequent promotions through the ranks giving me the opportunity to train other social workers along the way. I have again been unanimously appointed by the department's executive team to be the Division Chief of the Health Management Services Division, effective Feb. 1, 2013.
At each juncture, I experienced God’s wonderful orchestration, because I had never planned for promotions.
On a daily basis, I’m responding to an onslaught of critical, time-sensitive requests and inquiries concerning the needs of thousands of children, including the most medically fragile.
To work here with the department, you really have to be well equipped, while being totally dependent on the Lord. Dealing with the ongoing difficulties of children in abusive or other dangerous situations can be emotionally draining, but I’ve been able to pray with other staff members regularly, and I’m thankful for my godly husband for his support.
I often draw strength from John 15:16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
I am enough.
When I immigrated to the United States when I was 3 years old, my father was unable to come with us. Growing up, I was often reminded about the sacrifices my parents had to make in order to give my brother and me a chance at a better life. Though I only met my father once after our initial separation at age 3, something inside me wanted to please him, make him proud and prove to him that I was worthy to be pursued as a daughter. This internal, even subconscious, desire to show my father that I was worthy of his love indirectly fueled my constant pursuit of accomplishments in school and idea that I needed to be the "perfect" daughter.
When I became a Christian at the age of 12, I indirectly projected this assumption of my worth, which was connected to what I accomplished or what I did, towards my relationship with God. I slowly began to develop a view of God as someone whom I needed to please and constantly prove that I was worthy to be called his daughter. It was only after hearing some heartbreaking news about my biological father my freshman year at Biola and coming to the reality that he would never come after me nor my family to America, that I began to question how God truly viewed me.
Through the community I developed while at Biola, my church family, godly male role-models, and revelation through his Word, the Lord began to speak upon me my true identity, my value, my worth — which had nothing to do with what I could do but who I was — his beloved, his daughter. I am continually learning to step into the freedom that comes with knowing that to my Father — I am enough.
Some of my most rewarding experiences have been seeing a transformation in students who are at risk behaviorally, academically or socially.
With a ‘maverick spirit,’ it is imperative that teachers teach with positive energy, dedication and a sense of humor. I consistently reflect upon this ongoing question: ‘If I were a student in my classroom, why would I care?’
Throughout my tenure as a teacher, I quickly realized that there is absolutely no greater reward than the daily impact I can make on a child’s life. The rewards you receive in teaching a child how to read, giving a child confidence, teaching a foster child the meaning of success, seeing non-English speaking students leave your classroom in June fully able to read a book are immeasurable.
I am a speaker.
I went into speaking a little reluctantly. I wanted to stay home and have a family. I found that God was asking me to use my gifts of speaking, teaching and exhorting on the road publicly to travel and to speak to groups.
I found that following God into new places was where I found myself reflectively in him better because it was his idea to begin with, and in the process I found he was faithful to give me also my heart's desire. I have a two-year-old son who comes along with me. I have found more freedom in walking holding Jesus' hand than in forcing his hand to give me what I want.
I am grateful.
It’s easy to have the mindset and mentality of ‘I just want to get as much experience as I can,’ and to make all these plans. God has really taught me to slow down, just have some patience, and to understand where he has me and how he wants to use me there.
More than anything I've been learning that ministry isn’t always in a church — ministry is wherever God has you. You can really bring glory to His name. It doesn’t matter what form or facet. As an accountant, I don’t have a lot of time to be involved in ministry, but I do have opportunities to work with small groups and teams. I have the opportunity to show them Christ in daily life. Doing life with people is ministry in itself.
I work with middle school girls that are identified leaders and very good students within their communities. I come alongside them and sharpen those leadership skills. It’s been an enriching experience. I can see what lights they are now. To see them have so much life and ambition and to be able to come alongside and encourage them has truly been outstanding.
It makes me appreciate the people that have helped me — no one gets anywhere on their own. It has made my heart even bigger. I never would have thought that a sixth grader could teach me anything, but I have learned so much about grace and patience.
I am adopted.
On March 1, 1993, I was officially introduced into this world. However, unlike many of my friends, I wasn't taken home to a family awaiting my arrival. Instead, my path was a different one — my biological mother put me up for adoption. By 3 months of age, I made my first international flight from Pusan, South Korea, to Seattle, Wash., where I would meet my adoptive family from Gresham, Ore.
While growing up, I not only noticed a difference in appearance, but a difference between my peers and their families. I felt separated and deprived of knowledge that my friends could so easily acquire just by asking their parents. I always felt I couldn’t ever fully answer those questions about my origins. I felt like I wasn’t, “from this place,” and I also felt like I wasn’t, “from that place.”
Then as I grew up, my family switched to a smaller church. There I met my mentor, April Fisher. The Lord used April and my family to really shape my character, and soon I found myself rededicating my life to Christ Jesus as my Savior. By doing so, after a few years I came to realize these questions held no weight on me. I knew that since I accepted the Lord into my life, I was adopted into his family. When I did so, I set down my old name, and took upon a new one as a born-again Christian, and with that my character underwent changes. I was a part of his family now. As God as my Heavenly Father, all good qualities I have, whether they be kindness, joy or laughter, those qualities came from him. I know my history because it’s in his story. He is my past, present and my future.
I am not in heaven yet.
I’ve spent most of my adult life chasing the ideal. I’ve longed to live the perfect Christian life — which for me includes an intimate marriage, Jesus-loving children and a beautiful home. I thought that God would give me these things because they are good things.
I did everything in the “right” order: first college, then marriage, then a house, then kids. I had everything I wanted, and I believed that my good choices had positioned me for a good life. Then my husband was diagnosed with cancer, and 18 months later he was gone, leaving me a single mother with two children aged 3 and 5.
It was around that time when my 3-year-old was learning her shapes. On a car ride, she noticed that the three of us formed a triangle. “I don’t WANT to be a triangle,” I screamed inside my head. I wanted nothing more than to be a square again. Without that, I didn’t know who I was anymore. I had made Family my idol, and I was flailing without it.
Two years later, I got remarried, thinking, “This will fix my life. Now I’m in a whole family again.” Imagine my surprise when the shiny Christian life I pictured did not materialize. It took me years to realize that my husband isn’t Jesus; he’s a sinner, just like I am. The ways we fall short of the ideal are the places where God draws us closer to him. My disappointments remind me that earth is a place where things aren’t ideal, where God sanctifies me through suffering and where I learn to be grateful for everything that helps me to love him better.
Thank you, God, for not giving me everything I want. It makes me more like You.
I am a photographer.
I never considered myself creative while growing up. My goal as a kid was to be a fourth grade teacher, and most of my life was spent being boxed in while simultaneously striving to act perfectly in order to be accepted.
I came to Biola unsure of what to major in, but when I found myself jealous of all the art majors, I decided to follow that urge and become one myself.
I was quickly shocked at the freedom that professors offered me. My boxed-in self was so shocked by the open-ended projects. I had no idea what to do with the freedom, but I tried to embrace it and I discovered what I now see is the part of me that had been locked up for so long.
I have now been a photographer for over eight years, and still go through phases where my “in the box” self creeps in. I've learned ways of steering myself back to the path where I feel most creative and imaginative. I know that God was the one who led me to this place because it would have never been my plan or my idea.
My photography has definitely been an aid in my self-discovery, and I have found that I am passionate about helping others come out of their own boxes and walls that they've been bound by.
I am journeying.
A little over two and a half years ago, my gentle and strong husband of almost 37 years left this earth and entered the presence of God. Nothing could have prepared me for the deep pain and loss of widowhood. There were things I did expect. I expected to miss my Jolie like one misses a limb. I expected to be profoundly lonely for his voice, his touch, his presence. I expected to be overwhelmed with sadness. What I did not expect was to feel terribly confused about my own identity.
Who in the world was I now? For all of my adult life I had been the other half of a pair, sharing life, love, ministry and parenthood; experiencing laughter and tears, the joys and the sorrows of life as part of an intimate team; seeking direction and making decisions as part of a secure relationship. Now, I questioned who people saw when they looked at me, especially as I found myself in a new church community, new job and new home. And to be quite honest, I didn't want a new identity — the "new normal" that everyone encourages you to find.
God in his unfailing kindness and mercy has sustained me and strengthened me for this journey I would not have chosen. And in the process he has begun to reveal to me the truth of who I am and how all the steps of my journey are woven into the fabric of my identity; how tenderly he has crafted me using the places of pain to deepen who I am. And in this I am discovering that who I am is not limited by the circumstances that surround me in a given moment but rather a rich blending of moments and experiences of my whole life, framed by the faithfulness of a God who has never left me alone.
I am transformed.
Deep inside I knew that I was brave, strong, powerful, resilient, beautiful, courageous and so much more. But for some reason, it wasn’t the life I was living. It was as if something was holding me back. I knew there was more to life for me to experience but I was truly afraid.
I was afraid of the idea that I would never become what I oh-so-desperately desired to be. There was this lioness deep down inside of me that wanted to be unleashed, but I had tamed her. I suffocated her very existence. There was a part of me that doubted if she was even there. And those moments of doubt seemed to overshadow the small voices of hope and possibility that screamed from deep within. I wanted more for my life but I didn’t know if I deserved it or could even achieve it. There was a girl deep inside that was trapped and I wanted to let her free.
Ever since elementary school, I have struggled with my weight and my addiction to food. In 2007, at the age of 21, I was 350-plus pounds. My obesity made me miserable and I knew something had to change, but I was so afraid. I was afraid that I would never be the “me inside of me.” I was afraid that I would never reach the potential that God had placed in me. I knew greatness was there but it was untapped and the fear that I would fall short of achieving it, kept me bound and broken. In 2007, I decided to engage a journey, to enter a process that has forever changed my life. I decided to take a chance on myself.
I decided that I no longer wanted to just exist but I wanted to live. I realized that if this was life, if what I was experiencing was all there was to life, then it wasn’t worth living. But, if God’s word was true and Christ really came to set the captives free, and if there was really liberty where his spirit dwelt, than I was willing to take him on his word. And over the course of four years, I have lost 180 pounds, naturally! I have finally become the “me inside of me.”
The physical pounds that I have shed are a testament to all the barriers and hindrances that once convinced me that I would never be courageous, powerful, beautiful, brave, and strong. I am the “me inside of me.” I am transformed.
Biola celebrates National Women's History Month with events and activities honoring Biola women and those who are making an impact for Christ around the world. Biola University is encouraging all women in their pursuit of personal, spiritual and professional ambitions, as we celebrate and recognize the ways in which I Am has shaped their unique identity throughout their journey. View a schedule of events.
For more information, contact Jenna Bartlo, Media Relations Specialist, at 562.777.4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
media [dot] relations [at] biola [dot] edu