This month, we thought we’d do something a little bit different and give the subject of our article a platform to offer a firsthand account of how God altered the course of his life. No one can tell a story quite like the person who experienced it. Allow these words to be an encouragement and testimony to the powerful work God is doing in and through His children. Without further ado, this is J.D. Klippenstein’s life interrupted:
CSM has played a major role in shaping my career, faith and identity. My experience as a student volunteer and later as summer staff in Chicago planted seeds that God continues to nourish and grow in my life today.
I grew up in a white, middle class, evangelical bubble in Reno Nevada. I grew up going to church and got baptized when I was in the 3rd grade. My faith was pretty surface level and didn't extend much beyond Sundays. It wasn't until my junior year in high school that I started to see that my relationship with Christ entailed more than a divinely gifted "get out of jail free" card. Spring break of that year I went with the high school youth group down to L.A. for a week long mission trip.
One morning we served breakfast at a soup kitchen and then walked over to a nearby park to eat our sack lunches. The whole team sat together on one side of a large fountain. On the other side of the fountain several people who appeared to be homeless were sitting and chatting. As we ate our PB&J sandwiches, I began to feel a bit uneasy with our seating arrangements. I was convicted by the fact that I was there to "serve" and "love" homeless people, but I was too uncomfortable to sit on the same side of the fountain as homeless folks. I remember taking a deep breath and then walking over to the other side of the fountain. I avoided eye contact with my friends because I didn't want them to ask questions and because I wasn't quite sure how I would explain what I was doing.
I sat down and nervously watched the people around me. Something inside me broke in that moment. I felt that in a fundamental way I was connected to those people and their suffering. It wasn't someone else's problem. It was my problem. It was my problem, because I was a Christian. That experience made me dive deeper into my relationship with Christ and really explore what it meant to live out my faith. It started me on the path to discovering that faith was more than a mere ticket to heaven - it was the answer to a broken world. That discovery has been one of the strongest guiding factors in my life.
In college, I decided to join CSM summer staff in Chicago because I had had such a profound experience as a student and wanted to dive deeper into that. That summer was more challenging than I would have ever thought going in and I also learned a lot about myself. Most importantly, working on the west side of Chicago showed me the systemic nature of poverty. Poverty, violence, homelessness, and all the other challenges I saw in those neighborhoods weren't just unfortunate or isolated occurrences. Entire neighborhoods dealt with these injustices because they had been marginalized and disenfranchised. I realized that charity and volunteering alone would never be able to fully address the root causes of what I saw in Chicago and I felt a strong call that I needed to learn how to fight for justice.
That passion continued to grow throughout college. I had experiences trying to help some friends who were homeless as well as building relationships with a folks on an American Indian reservation that further convinced me that the world is broken and in desperate need of redemption. I didn't know what to do though. No one in my life was seeking justice in the way that I felt called to. I decided I needed to go back to the city that had made such an impact on me and enrolled in grad school at Loyola University Chicago. My program was the MA in Social Justice and Community Development. The classes, conversations, and ideas I encountered in those two years opened me up to a whole other world. For the first time I saw that there were real ways that I could work towards a more just world. I also learned that for hundreds of years in the United States Christians had been fighting for justice. They had worked to abolish slavery, picketed so women could vote, and were the driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement. God equipped me to do the work of justice, just like he has done for followers of Christ for thousands of years.
In Chicago, I worked as a community organizer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. I spent nearly three years building relationships, developing leaders, and mobilizing communities to stand up for the rights of homeless students. It was extremely challenging and humbling work, but it was also deeply rewarding and transformative. It affirmed that God was real and actively redeeming his creation. I also came to believe that white evangelical churches--like the one I grew up in--need to better embrace social justice and develop believers who engage in the important work of transforming their communities to better reflect the Kingdom of God. Now that my wife and I have moved back to Reno we are back at the church I grew up in, I have taken on a leadership role and I am working to bring about that change in my own church.
Praise God for constantly interrupting our plans and expectations. We pray that this story will help you surrender yourself to greater acceptance of where the Lord may be leading you.