Reflecting on her upcoming graduation, senior English Creative Writing major Rebekah Otto still chuckles when recalling how she came to North Central University.
“I’m still trying to figure out how this happened,” quipped the Anchorage, Alaska native. “When I was 15 years old I started getting literature from North Central … but I promptly threw it away.” Otto had no intention of going to college.
A mission trip to the Philippines when she was 17 was the catalyst for a change in her thinking. “Suddenly I was aware that I was called to do something different—not to stay home but to go overseas,” Otto said.
Maybe I should Google it
The home-schooled high-schooler was a little panicked, though, because this new dream would include a college education and she had no idea where to go. “I remember getting on my knees and saying, “If you want me to go to school, show me what you want me to do.”
It was then that Otto recalled the North Central literature and thought, “Maybe I should ‘Google’ that school.”
“And I just utterly fell in love with it,” she said. “I applied but wasn’t able to visit. Just looking back, I don’t know how it all happened. When I turned 18 I bought a one-way ticket on faith, caught, my first cab, stayed in my first hotel…” and started her academic career at NCU.
“Throughout this journey everything has been bizarre and exciting, and it’s begun to feel a lot like home here,” Otto said, but added that Minneapolis doesn’t appear to be her landing spot.
Discovering her direction
Otto, who is also the Senior Class Poet, remembered a conversation with a professor that had great meaning about 18 months ago. “There were some great words spoken into my life by Professor [Desiree] Libengood,” Otto shared, “to seek out God’s dreams for me. My writing and poetry began to shift a lot.”
An internship at Augustana Care found her transcribing stories of residents that could be shared with their families and others. One store in particular captured her heart. “I was amazed at the incredible journey of a woman from Croatia,” Otto explained. The woman was an immigrant who dealt with a speech impediment and had encountered many difficulties along the way.
“I realized she had suffered so much more than [she would have] if she had had an advocate. It really broke my heart.”
This process uncovered something deep within. “I had a thirst to do something about the tragedy in the world,” Otto said.
An advocate for literacy
The thought of joining the Peace Corps had occurred to Rebekah Otto before college, but she had set the idea aside. But as she was preparing to begin her senior year, the thoughts found their way back to the forefront. “Why not you?” she thought to herself. “Why not research your options?”
As she continued to seek the Lord, Otto took a volunteer position with the Minnesota Literacy Council and taught English as a Second Language—even though teaching was something she had said she would never do. “I built incredible relationships with people,” she said, realizing that without teaching they never would have crossed paths.
Having gone through the complete application process for the Peace Corps, she waited. Word came in the early part of second semester this year: she was accepted, and she would be teaching English in rural Zambia, in Africa.
Called to do this
“Before I came to North Central I had always planned to serve with AGWM [Assemblies of God World Missions],” Otto said. “I was afraid to do things out of the Christian context—like if I were under a different umbrella my faith would be squashed.
“But I’ve worked in many secular jobs while at school, grappling with the idea that Christ is for everyone. I can’t truly show love to the world until I’m in it; and if my God is all He says He is, then why am I afraid?”
Intent on resolving this tension, Otto is “beyond excited” to experience a new culture, learn a new language, to eat new foods, and to see a different expression of Christianity.
“I’m more sure than I have ever been that I’m called to do this,” Otto stated confidently. “If I’m truly light, can’t I be light in dark places, also?”
Otto is awaiting her visa and if it arrives as planned, she’ll be in Washington, D.C., in September for training and will begin her two-year Peace Corps assignment in Zambia in December.