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Students at Christian Schools Need Church, Too

Since becoming a Christian in high school through Young Life, Alfredo (Freddy) Sanchez Jr. ’18 has cultivated a pastoral heart for supporting college students through the local church.

Words: Peter Biles ’20

Alfredo Sanchez headshot for Wheaton College

“By God’s grace, I was able to build a college ministry from five students to having a worship night with 100 plus college students.”

Alfredo Sanchez Jr. ’18 came to know Jesus through Young Life as a sophomore in high school. Born and raised in Berwyn, Illinois, he was close geographically to Wheaton but didn’t have his sights set on attending the school himself. He wanted a big university experience. However, while attending a college fair event in San Antonio, Texas, hosted by the National Hispanic Institute, Sanchez struck up a conversation with Wheaton College recruiter Raashon Daniels. As a new Christian, Sanchez’s interest was piqued, and after a couple more phone calls with Daniels following the conference, he eventually decided to apply.

Although he didn’t get into Wheaton on the first try, Sanchez persisted, calling Wheaton admissions, “annoying them,” as he put it, totally convinced he was destined to go to school there. His determination landed him at the institution his sophomore year as a transfer student.

“I think that really set the tone for me because I was already so excited and happy to be accepted,” Sanchez said.

As a biblical and theological studies major, Sanchez had the opportunity to expand his understanding of the Christian faith including western theological traditions, global theology, and Black theology. He also greatly appreciated taking classes on C.S. Lewis and spiritual formation from Dr. Jerry Root, Professor of Evangelism Emeritus.

“I think it was very special to take courses that weren’t necessarily in my major, but still would deeply impact me as a person and change the way I think about the world,” he said.

The many mentors and role models who entered his life always seemed connected to the opportunities and institutions Sanchez wanted to pursue. He studied abroad twice during his time at Wheaton: once at Jerusalem University, and again for an entire semester at Oxford University in the U.K.

During his time at Oxford, which Sanchez calls “one of the best semesters of [his] life,” the residence director recommended Princeton Theological Seminary, from which Sanchez recently graduated with a Master of Divinity last May. 

One summer during his seminary studies, Sanchez interned for Gospel Life Church in Carol Stream right up the road from Wheaton. Not long after he arrived, the church leaders approached him and said, “We want you to start a college ministry.”

Sanchez was initially hesitant—even doubtful. For one, the country was still reeling from early COVID-19 lockdowns. Everything was closed. Additionally, Sanchez felt overwhelmed. Like everyone else in the country, he’d been socially isolated, and wasn’t sure how he would convince a group of people to gather together, particularly with the stigma attached to connecting face to face with anyone. Starting a campus ministry in a global pandemic felt untenable practically and even spiritually. People would have to radically readjust to being in the presence of others, himself included.

In the end, he took on the challenge. “By God’s grace, I was able to build a college ministry from five students to having a worship night with 100 plus college students,” he said. “That was just so powerful.”

Looking back, Sanchez acknowledges that he was never able to connect with an off-campus church ministry during his time at Wheaton. For many students attending an explicitly Christian institution like Wheaton, with ample opportunities to get involved in Bible studies and fellowship on-campus, it can take extra effort to get plugged into a local church. But the local church is key to supporting college students, Sanchez notes, and he wants to offer that kind of community to current students in the Illinois suburbs. Currently, he works as a connection and discipleship pastor at Westbrook Christian Church in Bolingbrook, helping to cultivate belonging among both regular congregants and new attendees.

In the long run, Sanchez realizes he can never underestimate the impact he might have by simply being present to those around him. He hopes to encourage and counsel others in the same way his own mentors helped him.