What am I going to do with my life?

Meredith Nichols was definitely not the first high school senior to ask that question. She thought she had everything planned out. A soccer star in her small north Texas hometown, Nichols planned to play at a university in New York.

But an ACL tear brought her plans to a screeching halt. “I was super lost,” she remembered. “Sports were a huge part of my life, but I know now that my priorities weren’t straight.”

One day in class, a recruiter caught her attention as he described the extensive disaster relief work the Navy carries out all around the world. “I thought that was really cool,” Nichols said. “I could see myself doing that.”

Her mother didn’t share her enthusiasm for the military. “We’ll find another way for you to learn those skills,” Nichol’s mom insisted.

So naturally, they turned to Google and discovered a small Christian school a few hundred miles north that offered the exact kind of training she sought through a program called International Rescue and Relief. After a free trip to Union College for a preview days visit, she was sold.

“It was awesome,” she said. “The enrollment office did an amazing job and I met a lot of wonderful, welcoming people.”

But that first year proved challenging. If being hundreds of miles from home and tackling the challenging IRR course work wasn’t enough, Nichols—who had grown up in the Baptist faith—had to acclimate to a new culture.

“I love Jesus and He is a huge part of my life, but it was hard to feel like I belonged at first,” she said. “I had to learn all kinds of Adventist terms like ‘vespers’ and ‘Ellen White.’ People have been really open. They knew I was different, and still wanted to include me and know more about me. But it was still hard.”

Finding a calling

Conflicted, Nichols took the next year to teach English in a little village in Kep, Cambodia. “Many of the missionaries there had studied intercultural studies or international studies,” she said. “They all said they received good information, but they didn’t have tangible skills to use in the mission field.”

For Nichols, that changed everything. “I had a new vision—not my own, but God’s,” she said. “I knew Union’s IRR program was perfect for me. I knew it would give me the tools to be effective in the mission field. I emailed the IRR director the next time I had access to the internet to let him know I was coming back to Union.”

She returned with a new attitude and a new mission. Nichols enjoyed the IRR coursework in disaster response, emergency management, public health and even wilderness survival, and she wanted to make a difference on campus, too. “I served as a student senator as a freshman, so I saw the impact student government has on campus,” she said.

At the end of her second year at Union she was elected executive vice president of the Associated Student Body—Union’s student government. “A lot of students see the events, the social events, banquets, etc. I’m glad we do so many events and get everyone involved. But it’s rewarding to lead the student senate in order to help shape policies and ideas that can lead to lasting change at Union.”

What’s next?

Now entering her senior year, Nichols feels confident in God’s plan for her life. “After graduation, I plan to earn a master’s degree in Global Community Development at Southern Adventist University and possibly work for an aid organization like World Vision or ADRA,” she said. “After my experience in Cambodia I have a heart for southeast Asia, so it would be amazing to go back. I would love to work in food and water security or fight the rampant sex trafficking in the region.”

And she knows God isn’t done with her yet. “I don’t know for sure where God wants me, but I do know He has given me a heart for marginalized people and a passion to help those who are suffering.”

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