#MyWheaton Alumni Blog

Providing Quality Education on the Open Seas

Posted April 7, 2017 by Brian Blackburn M.A. '06

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I first heard of Wheaton College when I was in high school and read The Journals of Jim Elliot by Elisabeth Elliot ’48. Later in life, when I was working with Mercy Ships, a fellow missionary mentioned that he had just completed a master’s program at Wheaton College Graduate School through a Billy Graham Center International Christian Leader Scholarship. I immediately looked into the various programs offered by the College’s Graduate School, and found that the educational ministries program would be of great assistance to me as I was working with missionary children on Mercy Ships’ ship school. After I completed my program at Wheaton, I returned to teaching with Mercy Ships, and in 2007 I became director of Mercy Ships Academy, a K-12 international Christian school located on Mercy Ships’ hospital ship, Africa Mercy–a position I still hold today. 

Most families leave the mission field due to a lack of quality education, and it’s my goal to provide the best schooling possible for our ship teachers, students, and parents. My current role is very administrative as I recruit teachers, oversee school finances, guide our school board, and provide overall leadership to our staff of 13 teachers on the Africa Mercy. I attend many meetings and have lots of opportunities for communication with our ship team via phone calls, video conferencing, and ship visits. This summer, I will venture back to life on a ship in Africa. 

I had two professors at Wheaton that had a profound impact on my work today. Dr. Scottie May M.A. ’87 was my adviser and teacher for many graduate classes. She never let me settle for second-best in my studies and pushed me both academically and professionally. I am a better educator/missionary as a result of her pursuit of excellence for her students. (Also, being the mother of the man who created VeggieTales was pretty impressive to me as an educator!) 

Dr. Lyle Dorsett also influenced the way that I currently do my job with Mercy Ships. I took his class at Wheaton called The History of the Care of Souls. At first, I thought that this class was a waste of my time and that it had nothing to do with running a school for missionary kids. However, in the last class session of the semester, as Dr. Dorsett called on me to share what I had learned in the course, I found myself sharing with the entire class how this topic had entirely changed the way that I viewed my role in education: “If I do not take care of my own soul, I cannot take care of those that God has allowed me to be responsible for. If my teachers are not spiritually healthy, how can they impact their students?” Soul care is a huge part of my role as a school director, and Dr. Dorsett was able to share that with me in a very unique way at Wheaton. 

The professors, school staff, and fellow students at Wheaton College Graduate School made my time there precious to me. I am so thankful for the people that I was able to spend a few years with during graduate school at Wheaton. The rich source of contacts it provided me to network with in my current role is invaluable. I am part of a group of people who want to change the world for Christ, and that I will always remember. 

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Brian Blackburn M.A. ’06 completed a master’s in educational ministries at Wheaton College Graduate School. Photo captions (top to bottom): Brian with the Africa Mercy ship in Madagascar; Brian sharing with third graders about donations of books to the Academy. 

To connect with alumni in various careers and vocations nationwide, join Wheaton in Network, a Vocation and Alumni Engagement program that allows alumni and parents to make themselves available to advise or mentor Wheaton students and recent grads. Students and alumni are able to contact advisers or mentors to learn from their experiences.

My Experience With the Refugee Crisis in Greece

Posted March 28, 2017 by Annie Arbitter '16

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In early May 2016, I triumphantly pressed “send” on my laptop, submitting the final project of my Wheaton education: my senior capstone paper. The paper, which sought to outline a Christian response to the refugee crisis in Europe, had caught my interest in a way that I couldn’t escape. About a week after submission of my final paper, I received my diploma on the stage of Edman Chapel, and three months later, I boarded a plane for Greece to begin working in what’s been called the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. 

I recently returned from spending six months in Greece serving with Samaritan’s Purse. My role allowed me to spend a great deal of time in refugee camps, managing various shelter and WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) projects that were taking place on-site and frequently interacting with the people who lived there. I learned so much from the resilience and grace that so many refugees show in the face of such dire circumstances and I feel honored to have built relationships with some of them. It is a beautiful and humbling thing to be welcomed into someone’s tent, and to be offered a cup of tea and a chance to hear their story. These friends’ faces are forever etched in my memory and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have met them and to work on their behalf.

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While in Greece, I realized how valuable the education and experiences I had at Wheaton truly were. My studies in international relations served me well in understanding the implications and complexities of the refugee crisis as a whole. Various history classes gave me context to appreciate the region I was living in and the rich backgrounds of the people I was working with. I held tightly to so many truths from my theology courses as I wrestled with the almost palpable hopelessness in the camps and was tested to lean on Christ alone as the source of hope. Even some of my general education courses like anthropology, geology, and public speaking provided me with useful skills while living and working in Greece. 

My education prepared me not only for the responsibilities of humanitarian work, but to recognize the greater kingdom work that was being carried out as well. I saw the Gospel regularly come to life in Greece since I’d been trained to look closely for how God is in the process of redeeming the broken things of this world. I’m thankful to Wheaton for teaching me these valuable lessons, as well as for providing me with people to live them out alongside me. I left college with many dear friends and professors who have been a constant source of encouragement and prayer every step of the way. In all these ways, Wheaton College has served as a launch pad for me. Those years of learning and cultivating my passions at Wheaton can now be used for their proper purpose of serving others and ultimately pointing them toward Christ and his kingdom.

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Annie Arbitter '16 graduated from Wheaton with a degree in international relations and a minor in biblical and theological studies. Photo captions (from top): Annie with a little girl who enjoyed practicing her two English words “Ice cream?” with everyone she met; Annie with young Kurdish children enjoying getting their picture taken on the Greek islands; Annie with other Samaritan’s Purse staff at a hygiene kit distribution: Samaritan’s Purse Greece manages shelter, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) infrastructure and the distribution of non-food items in various refugee camps throughout Greece. Photos credit Samaritan’s Purse. 

To connect with alumni in various careers and vocations nationwide, join Wheaton in Network, a Vocation and Alumni Engagement program that allows alumni and parents to make themselves available to advise or mentor Wheaton students and recent grads. Students and alumni are able to contact advisers or mentors to learn from their experiences.

My Journey as a Novelist

Posted March 15, 2017 by Sam Hayes '12

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Q: What inspired you to write and publish your first novel, The Weather Man

A: I started working on The Weather Man while at Wheaton College. It was in Dr. Roy Joseph's Writing for Media class that I discovered how much I loved writing. 

The class, first of all, was one I thought I couldn't even take because of a scheduling conflict. But Roy saw my passion for a creative portfolio class like this, and allowed me to take the class by meeting with him regularly in his office. 

A professor had never done something so kind for me. But I can guarantee you, he didn't let me skimp out on the work. For my big assignment, I wanted to write a short story. He challenged me to write a novella. He said it had to be 100 pages. I had one quarter to do this. I thought it was impossible. But he had made me promise I would at least "Try." 

In trying, I discovered just how much I loved writing stories, and wound up turning in a “short story” at 130 pages. Roy loved it, and encouraged me to turn it into a full book. It was essentially a collection of short stories from my own life, exaggerated in the vein of Big Fish, and tied together thematically. I called it Reckless Orange. With his encouragement along the way, I finished it the summer before senior year at 250 pages total. 

Overall, it was not a book to publish. Let's be real—it was my first book—written by a 20-year-old with an extremely limited worldview. But I learned so much, and grew so much, and developed a voice in writing. I sent the book off to a random list of literary agents I had found online, and one of them really took a liking to my writing style. Her name is Lacy Lynch. Though she didn't think she could do much with my first book, I had already started writing my first real novel, The Weather Man. After I had finished the first 100 pages or so, she signed me. I was so excited, but so naive to how long the journey would be from there. 

I rewrote The Weather Man six times. And five years later—poof, it's been published by a small publisher for emerging writers, Amazon White Glove. The video above is one I made for my Kickstarter, when I needed $10,000 bucks to finish the book. I made the video with my Wheaton friend Jon Seneff ’15, who is filmmaker out here in L.A. My Kickstarter ended up raising $19,000, with 1,000 books pre-sold. Other Wheaties contributed in big ways too. Abigail Mitchell ’12 designed the cover, Chentell Stiritz Shannon ’13 (Convivial Production) crafted handmade mugs to be sold, and friends from Wheaton supported me. 

And still, the book, and me, are just getting started. I've got a long way to go. And thinking back to Roy—since he sadly passed away a couple years ago—I hope the book honors his legacy. 

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What do you do when you’re not writing and promoting your novel? 

Right after college I moved to Los Angeles to attend a screenwriting program called "Act One." After a year of that, I kept writing, and started working odd jobs, like being a production assistant on film sets, or driving for Uber. And after about a year or two or that I had built up my copywriting enough to start getting more serious advertising gigs. That's what I do now, other than the book. I write advertisements for start-ups and ad agencies around L.A. Some have been really fun companies that I'm proud to have gotten to work with. Most recently I've signed on as a creative director at a social app startup, so that's exciting. But nothing tops publishing The Weather Man for me, no matter how the book performs. It feels good to know I put everything I possibly could into it, and that it's out there for people to read. 

What has been one challenge within your current job(s) that you have overcome? 

Freelance writing work is great and pays when you have enough of it, but it's hard to maintain. You must constantly prove yourself over and over, do tons of free work, lots of last minute quick turnaround stuff, and slowly build up a wide client base. 

How did Wheaton’s liberal arts curriculum prepare you for the career/vocation you are pursuing today? 

Liberal arts gave me the freedom to explore what I really loved while still in college. Wheaton’s small classes and flexible professors who know and care about their students helped, too. When I entered college I had no idea what I wanted to do, and even though I loved storytelling, I didn't take writing seriously yet. I didn't know I could. I think it's ridiculous to expect an 18-year-old to know what he or she wants to do, or can do. We need that time in college to explore, rather than get locked into a certain track right away. Communication professors like Dr. Roy Joseph and Dr. Read Schuchardt gave me immense freedom to explore creative writing and creative thinking within the assignments given. Read let me start a t-shirt company for an assignment in his Iconography class, and he took time, even after I graduated, to give me pointers on writing The Weather Man. So anyway—classes were not rigid. I was allowed to push things in the direction of my passions, even encouraged to do so, and that was invaluable. English professors like Dr. Brett Foster and Dr. Roger Lundin encouraged me to write freely. They taught me the power of storytelling, and their passion for it had a profound effect on me. 

What advice or encouraging words do you have to share with current or prospective Wheaton students today? 

"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." -Steinbeck. 

Try things. If you aren't making any mistakes, you aren't trying enough things, and you probably aren't learning much of anything. If you're not changing, you're not growing.

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Sam Hayes ’12 graduated from Wheaton with a degree in communication (media studies) and a minor in English. Photo captions (from top): A video created by Sam and Jon Seneff ’15 to support a Kickstarter for The Weather Man; Sam doing “guerrilla marketing” for The Weather Man by putting up realistic government signs warning of the weather that Adam's emotions create—stories about the campaign have been featured in the Chicago Tribune, LAist, and LA Magazine. Sam says, “More guerrilla marketing to come shortly.” See one sentence excerpts of The Weather Man and one-minute passage reading videos on Sam’s Instagram channel, @storiesbysam. 

To connect with alumni in various careers and vocations nationwide, join Wheaton in Network, a Vocation and Alumni Engagement program that allows alumni and parents to make themselves available to advise or mentor Wheaton students and recent grads. Students and alumni are able to contact advisers or mentors to learn from their experiences.

Wheaton Football Ministry Partnership: A Spring Break to Remember

Posted February 24, 2017 by Peter Jarrett '13

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senegalI can still remember the first time I saw a Wheaton Football Ministry Partnership (WFMP) video during my recruiting trip to Wheaton. As I watched the video I had to hold back tears in that Sports and Recreation Center classroom, which was shocking to me as an eighteen-year-old wannabe tough guy recruit who didn't want to care about much more than football. I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of those trips. Not surprisingly, as a student and player at Wheaton College from 2009-13, I made sure that I went on every WFMP trip Wheaton offered.

Looking back, that meeting with WFMP played a huge role in my decision to come to Wheaton. God was in the process of awakening something in my heart: a desire to do something significant, something selfless with my life. Something that was eternal. I had not planned on caring much about that. I figured I would go to Wheaton, make some good friends, strengthen my faith in some way, and then graduate. I didn't have plans to live boldly for Jesus or actually rely on my faith in a tangible way. However, God knew that I needed to be challenged. In the end, it was WFMP that made me say yes not only to Wheaton football but also to a living a life that matters, as Coach Jeff Peltz likes to remind us at the end of his emails. 

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I learned through WFMP trips that living like it matters is only possible when Christ is the foundation and the motivation for whatever we're doing. Everything else we do will fade. I also learned the value and joy of tangibly living by faith. Rubbing shoulders with former Wheaton football players, who are at work in some of the most difficult places in the world, showed me that the rich and abundant life is the one lived through radical dependence on our Savior. Looking back on those week-long trips are some of my favorite memories as a Wheaton Football player and I can point to those trips as the inspiration for me entering into full-time ministry with Young Life.

Thankfully, WFMP has remained a part of my life since graduating three years ago. At first it was through donating to the program, but it turned into more when Coach Peltz asked me to help lead a trip. For the past two years, I have had the opportunity and privilege to help lead groups of players on WFMP trips to Palo Alto, in the Dominican Republic. When considering the cost of this trip financially-but also emotionally, and physically-the decision is never difficult. To have the chance to play a role in what helped shape me into the man I am today is an honor. I can say without a doubt that if I had not had the chance to see God working throughout the world on multiple WFMP trips I would not be in full time ministry today. It was through those experiences that God spoke into my heart and inspired me to go all in for Him in my vocation. 

My hope is that the same thing happens for the current players. I hope and pray that God grabs their hearts the way he did mine on these trips. So much good happens when we get out of ourcomfort zone, and I cannot think of a better way to do that than through a WFMP Trip.

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Peter Jarrett '13 graduated from Wheaton with a degree in biblical and theological studies. He participated as a running back for Wheaton Football from 2009-13, has traveled on several Wheaton Football Ministry Partnership trips, and currently works with Young Life full-time. Approximately 75 players plan to travel with Wheaton Football Ministry Partnership over spring break 2017, to Port Elizabeth, South Africa with Rod ’87 and Kathy Smith Duttweiler ’87; Loskop, South Africa with JD ’64 and Barb Timyan Borgman ’64; Havana, Cuba with Keith Cote ’84; Santiago, Dominican Republic with Kyle Bradley ’09, Seth ’88 and Anne Letsinger Cohen ’88; and Sevierville, Tennessee with Ryan McCaffrey ’02 at Wears Valley Ranch. 

To connect with alumni in various careers and vocations nationwide, join Wheaton in Network, a Vocation and Alumni Engagement program that allows alumni and parents to make themselves available to advise or mentor Wheaton students and recent grads. Students and alumni are able to contact advisers or mentors to learn from their experiences.

Photo captions (top to bottom): Jarrett and teammates giving children a ride on their shoulders in Dene, Senegal, after digging a trench to lay a foundation for a wall that will someday be a classroom; Jarrett and teammates hauling concrete which would be used to make a large water cistern to provide water to a retreat center in Palo Alto, Dominican Republic; a Wheaton football player mending a barbed wire fence the team built for a mother and her six children in Loskop, South Africa.

Following God's Call to 'Seek Justice'

Posted February 10, 2017 by Alesha Guruswamy Rusk '04, Janelle Milazzo Lau '06

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We were both undergraduate students in 2004 when Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of International Justice Mission, came to speak at morning Chapel about God’s heart for justice. At the time, we were deeply moved by the message, but little did we know that over a decade later, we’d working side by side helping to advance IJM’s work in South Asia. 

My (Alesha) IJM career began almost a year after graduating Wheaton, when I was originally hired to serve as IJM’s receptionist. Shortly after I was hired, IJM began research in Sri Lanka, a country where I have family ties and had completed my HNGR internship, and so I was hired on to help support IJM’s work in South Asia. Today, I serve as the Senior Program Manager for IJM’s work in the region, ensuring the effectiveness of our work to combat sex trafficking and bonded labor slavery.  

Meanwhile, after graduating from Wheaton, I (Janelle) pursued a couple of different opportunities before going on to complete a master’s degree in social work. From there, my husband and I felt compelled to serve in one of IJM’s field offices together as “fellows,” so we left our jobs and moved to South Asia from 2011 to 2013. In 2014, I was hired as an Aftercare Specialist for the South Asia regional team (working alongside Alesha at the HQ office) to provide technical program guidance and to help empower and equip our field teams who are focused on social service provision for survivors of bonded labor slavery. 

Today, IJM is the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization, working to end modern-day slavery, human trafficking and other forms of violence against the poor. We partner with local authorities to rescue and restore victims, restrain criminals and transform broken public justice systems. IJM is out to prove that justice for the poor is possible. 

Working for an international Christian NGO that focuses on transforming public justice systems can draw a lot questions and doubt about whether or not we can make a lasting impact on the lives of the poor in the developing world in the face of so much corruption and brokenness. But during our time at IJM, we have seen very significant changes in government responses to slavery and sex-trafficking in our project areas. It has been incredible to see our staff in South Asia, 99 percent of which are nationals of the region, engage with their government on high-level initiatives such as advising on critical anti-trafficking legislation to collaborating with government officials as they work to release slaves for the very first time.  We have witnessed the development of a courageous team of social workers who have provided a community-based aftercare program to more than 3,000 survivors of bonded labor slavery in a remote, highly impoverished and difficult region in less than five years.

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While we get to see a lot of progress in our work, we are also continually reminded that there is much that remains out of our control. Our investigators in the field are haunted by faces of slaves they are unable to rescue. Criminals are not always convicted of their violent crimes against the poor. Walking with survivors on the road to recovery can often be met with frustrations and setbacks for our teams and for the survivors themselves. 

These are all reasons why IJM is dependent upon God in prayer: this is His work that He has invited us into, and we realize that the results are in His hands. In fact, IJM so highly values prayer that it is built into the culture and daily rhythms of the organization. Each day begins with 30 minutes of “Stillness” and at 11am all staff gather into one space for a time of corporate prayer for our daily needs. IJM also annually hosts a two-day event called the Global Prayer Gathering in which staff from around the world come to DC to share first-hand stories of rescue and restoration and to ask for prayer for areas of critical need in the work. (This year’s GPG will take place on March 3 & 4 and we would love for more members of the Wheaton community to join us.) 

In facing challenges in the work alongside our colleagues in the field and here in DC, we are both incredibly grateful for the time that we had as students at Wheaton College—especially for the academic and spiritual preparation that it built into us as young adults. Weekly chapels, special seminars, ministry opportunities, and our majors (International Relations for Alesha and Anthropology for Janelle), opened our eyes to the realities of the needs of the world. Most specifically, the Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program (Alesha ’03 and Janelle ’05) instilled within us skills and values that we use in our current jobs, and gave us memories of life-altering relationships with people in the developing world that we treasure. 

Wheaton College was for us a place which sought to develop the whole person: mind, soul and spirit. Beyond academics, we were challenged at Wheaton to integrate our faith into all that we do and we also experienced examples of true Christian community. We were encouraged to pursue excellence in all of our endeavors, which aligns perfectly with an IJM’s motto that “the poor deserve an excellent organization.” Wheaton prepared us to work for an organization that values being Christian, professional and bridge-builders. If we had any advice to give to current Wheaton students, it would be to take advantage of as many holistic learning opportunities as possible, and also to pursue what God has made you passionate about. 

Through our work at IJM, we have witnessed some of the harsh realities of today’s world – a world that is often filled with unspeakable violence for the poor.  While there is much darkness, at IJM we are very mindful that the story is still being written, and that we are privileged to be a part of it. One of the frequent phrases you will hear around our office is “to the dawn,” which is a constant reminder to continue pushing forward until that new day dawns, and everything is made right.

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Alesha Guruswamy Rusk ’04 graduated from Wheaton with a degree in international relations, and Janelle Milazzo Lau ’06 graduated with a degree in anthropology. Both received Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) certificates. Alesha and Janelle currently serve with International Justice Mission: Alesha as a Senior Program Manager, South Asia; and Janelle as an Aftercare Specialist for Bonded Labour, South Asia. Photo captions (from top): A bonded labor slave tells his story to a police official during a rescue with IJM attorneys present; Madesh, who was rescued from bonded labor slavery on a rose farm, takes part in a fun game with his family while attending a “Freedom Training program” hosted by IJM aftercare (Janelle is pictured in the background); An IJM Aftercare manager leads a “Freedom Training” for survivors of bonded labor slavery. He says that Freedom Training is “a time for them to dream about their future, what they want to do next, and to set goals in their lives.”Photo captions (from top): A bonded labor slave tells his story to a police official during a rescue with IJM attorneys present; Madesh, who was rescued from bonded labor slavery on a rose farm, takes part in a fun game with his family while attending a “Freedom Training program” hosted by IJM aftercare (Janelle is pictured in the background); An IJM Aftercare manager leads a “Freedom Training” for survivors of bonded labor slavery. He says that Freedom Training is “a time for them to dream about their future, what they want to do next, and to set goals in their lives.”


To connect with alumni in various careers and vocations nationwide, join Wheaton in Network, a Vocation and Alumni Engagement program that allows alumni and parents to make themselves available to advise or mentor Wheaton students and recent grads. Students and alumni are able to contact advisers or mentors to learn from their experiences.

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