One of the gathering’s attendees was club member and senior Jason Shen, who joined Roots in his freshman year. The journey that ultimately lead to him finding Christianity for himself spanned several countries. Shen was born in Canada, and he lived in China until he was nine years old. Though he did grow up listening to Bible stories at bedtime, the church atmosphere in China was very formal and almost exclusively in Mandarin. It was only when he moved to America and joined a youth group that he felt the call to truly embrace Christ for himself.
When reflecting upon this year’s UIC Gathering, Shen thought that it was good to be able to join together across FUHSD to worship and to be affirmed in their walks with Christ. He did notice, however, that the turnout and atmosphere were different from the ones that he went to in previous years.
“I went to one two years ago, I thought that one had a lot more people. Maybe that was just [me],” Shen said. “I think the atmosphere maybe was a little less ‘with abandon’ … Yeah, I wouldn’t say that it wasn’t totally moving, I think the atmosphere just wasn’t as energetic. I think it was still a good experience though.”
Shen agreed with the part of this gathering’s sermon that revolved around being unafraid of speaking out about Christianity and demonstrating it in public. However, he did think that the sermon could have focused more on love instead of the consequences of sinning or not being a part of the faith.
“I see Christianity as a relationship with God, and that relationship is marked by love. It’s not marked by condemnation,” Shen said. “Everyone’s a sinner, myself included. And so, if we focus on the condemnation, it’s not the Gospel, because the Gospel literally means ‘the good news.’ So, I would change that part of it.”
Senior Sara Nordby has been a part of Roots since her freshman year as well, but she decided to truly get involved this year. Part of what motivated her to do so was the toughness, both socially and academically, of her junior year and the Ponderosa Lodge summer camp in Santa Cruz, Calif., where she was both counselor and camper.
“So I’ve always loved working with kids and that was really great. And then, also, a big factor was just my relationship with God and . . . how it strengthened through that experience and through the worship,” Nordby said. “Being around the people because everyone is wanting to love God and love others and just have so much joy in it.”
Nordby was initially nervous about going to the gathering, but when her favorite song was performed during worship time, she was comforted by the answering of her prayer and felt like she truly belonged.
“The song was [called]‘Extravagant’. . .That song was first introduced to me this past summer at camp, and it was very transformative at camp and just in my relationship with God, in general, it’s all about like God’s love and how we’ll never know how far He’ll go to make us understand that that He loves us and that we are love,” Nordby said. “That was just a really big song for me this summer. No matter how far I run away from God, He’s always going to be standing there with open arms, welcoming you back.”
One of Nordby’s most impactful experiences in regards to finding and realizing God’s love happened during freshman year, on her church’s annual mission trip to King City, California.
“I met this girl named Tania and she was absolutely wonderful. Pretty shortly after, we learned that she had brain cancer and she was only ten years old and that spring I was able to go to Stanford Hospital and Ronald McDonald House which is where she was staying and just, see her every single week,” Nordby said. “And I feel like relationships like that, that are so special . . . just seeing her on that journey even in the hard times. like having so much hope and so much love and I think that’s quite special . . . people like that, that bring love. I don’t how to say else to say it, it’s just pure love.”
“Tania passed away, this Christmas will be, two years,” Nordby said. “But even through that all, there was such peace. That was really hard. But God surrounded me by people that loved me and loved her. Even though it was so hard, I was able to support their family and continue to bring love into their family, and God just washed peace over the whole situation and. Yeah. Definitely sorrow but also some joy.”
Nordby thought that this UIC gathering’s message was meaningful and related back to her experience with Tania.
“It’s just a lot about seeking God through it all, and not necessarily focusing on the storm but focusing on what’s on the other side. And what’s on the other side is just you being able to bless other people through God working through you in order to bless other people,” Nordby said. “Perseverance. that’s the word. When you persevere through the storm, that’s when your relationship with God grows most.”
Ex-pastor Quoc Nguyen, gave the sermon for the UIC Gathering. Though Nguyen was a pastor for the River of Life church for many years, he is now working on planting a new church in San Jose. He will be the pastor of that church when it is established. Nguyen grew up in a Buddhist household, and was an atheist throughout his high school career. The event which he experienced on his senior prom night, however, firmly set him on his walk with Christ.
“To make a long story short, on my prom night, I had a drug overdose,” Nguyen said. “When I almost died, that’s what made me recognize the need for belief and that God was good.”
When he reflects upon the message that he gave at the UIC gathering, Nguyen believes that the storms, or hardships of life, are all temporary, and that as long as one keeps an open connection to friends and family and places their faith in the love of God and His ultimate plan, they will get through it.