Zella Christenson, an iEDGE (an international two-year internship) intern who served in Puerto Rico, met one-on-one with Sofia* for Bible study. Sometimes they’d meet online and other times in person, connecting often through text messaging.
It was months after first meeting Sofia at Universidad de Puerto Rico en Arecibo (UPRA) that Zella realized her prayers for a Life-to-LifeⓇ discipleship relationship had been answered.
“There was a moment when [Sofia] had an epiphany. Many times I had mentioned Leann Sebald, a Navigator who I did life with and discipled me at New York University (NYU),” Zella shared. “She looked at me and smiled and said, ‘So you’re like my Leann!’ I beamed at hearing her say those words. This meant a lot to me because that was my prayer. I want to be what Leann was for me for other women. I stepped back and thanked God, ‘Wow, God! You are doing this and that’s amazing!’”
Zella never imagined she’d serve a two-year internship in Puerto Rico; or that she’d add to the spiritual generations through passing along the Life-to-Life discipleship she received from Leann through Bible study with Sofia.
Missions wasn’t her plan with a double major in Food Studies and Spanish. She had hoped to join the Peace Corps after graduation. Zella calls herself a recovering textbook perfectionist that God led to missions through ways she didn’t expect. It all started with an invitation to Bible study.
How Discipleship Starts with Asking Genuine Questions
During Zella’s junior year at NYU, a friend asked if she would like to attend a Navigators Collegiate Bible study. Zella was already a believer, but wasn’t involved with a community where she grew in her faith and consistently studied the Bible. It was through this Bible study, co-led by Leann, where God changed Zella’s heart about her future.
As Leann and Zella got to know each other, Leann discovered Zella’s hopes for a summer job. She recommended Zella for a chef position with a Navigators Summer Training Program (STP) (discipleship training during summer employment).
“Not in a million years would I have signed up for an STP. I would have initially thought this wouldn’t be a good use of my time. But Leann knew I had culinary and kitchen experience,” Zella shared. She smiled and laughed as she talked about how God positioned her for an STP. “This job offer was what I was looking for. God used this opportunity as a way to take me through the back door of participating in an STP.”
While completing this summer job as a chef, Zella gained experience in her field and also grew in her faith.
“God did a lot in my heart that summer and further integrated my career trajectory with my faith and commitment to Jesus and His Kingdom,” Zella shared.
She prayed for God to show her the next step, even though she didn’t know how she would manage all her responsibilities as a student.
In Zella’s first week back her senior year, God led her to the next step—co-leading a Bible study with Leann. They met once a week to prepare for leading the study together. However, the preparations weren’t as practical as she thought they should be.
“I can be a very business-minded person, so I had all my notes. I was prepared to talk about Bible study. Then Leann would start with asking me, ‘Zella, how are you?’” Zella shared. “I thought to myself, We don’t have time to talk about how I am. That isn’t the point. For Leann, this was the point. She really cared about me and wanted to know my heart. She wasn’t focused on what I could do or how I could perform as a Bible study leader.”
It was through Leann modeling vulnerability and availability that Zella’s heart continued to soften.
“I saw what God was doing through my relationship with Leann and even through this Navigators community,” Zella shared. “I prayed, ‘God, I know You more because you have brought this friend into my life. I want to be that for other people. I want other people to know You because You are the greatest gift I have ever received. Lord, I want to share You because You have brought someone into my life to share You with me. I’m grateful.’”
Easy Ways To Share What You’re Learning From the Bible
Zella wasn’t sure what it would look like to be “a Leann” for someone in Puerto Rico. Her iEDGE team focused on pioneering ministry with the UPRA campus. This meant they didn’t have already established connections or ministry opportunities. They would have to wait and see how God led them.
Thankfully, Zella and other iEDGE teammates landed on the island a few weeks before COVID-19 caused virtual learning. They connected with a local student ministry on the UPRA campus called Confra. They started attending these on-campus events and meeting the freshman who also looked like they didn’t know anyone.
“We were showing up and talking with students and wondering what God would do,” Zella shared. “Sofia was there and when everything shut down we connected mostly through texting. One of my teammates also connected with her, but encouraged me to pursue a discipleship relationship because she could see the ways Sofia connected with me.”
Sofia had such a passion for studying the Bible and asked if our team had planned to lead a Bible study.
“We didn’t have enough people to have a Bible study group, but I asked if she wanted to read the Bible with me,” Zella shared. “At the same time I was taking an online Navigators Biblical studies course where I was learning how to read and interpret Scripture. I could see Sofia had a deep-rooted heart for Scripture, and thought I could bring in some of what I was learning.”
Zella would learn something through this course and then bring it to Sofia. She reminded Sofia that she wasn’t an expert at Bible study but got excited about sharing all the ways she was learning and growing in her relationship with Jesus.
What Happens When God’s Truth Changes Your Life
As Zella and Sofia read the Bible together online, their friendship grew. It was a gift for them when so many people were isolated and lonely. Sofia eventually invited Zella into the deeper places of her heart and asked questions about how to apply what they were reading to her life.
“Alongside of what [Sofia] was intellectually learning she invited me into the deeper areas of things she wrestled with and truths she found it difficult to live out,” Zella shared.
Sofia took the challenges Zella gave her to heart, especially the one about making a list of friends she could pray for and possibly invite to read the Bible with her.
“One evening Sofia texted me and said she finally reached out to a friend on the list and they would start reading the Bible together,” Zella shared. “Today, they continue to meet and even use some of the Bible study tools I shared with Sofia.
This time with iEDGE in Puerto was when Zella confronted a lot of brokenness, especially when it came to her perfectionism. This internship didn’t look like how she had imagined.
“I really confronted whether or not I was truly trusting in the gospel. Even asking myself, Do I actually know how to receive God’s love when I don’t think I’m enough? And do I trust that God is enough and that makes me enough? Sometimes I’d share my brokenness with the young women I met with, like Sofia, and how God had begun to bring healing into my own story,” Zella shared.
“The gospel continues to become even better news as I recognize how I am fully wrapped in the Lord’s love and grace. This compels me even more to share the gospel with others and make disciples.”