Moody's 2019 commencement season concludes
In November, Tirzah, a senior at Moody Bible Institute, learned that her hometown of Paradise, California, had been destroyed by fire, her family’s home burned to the foundation. Another Moody senior, Levi lost his eyesight in a horrific car accident just before his freshman year. Throughout his four years at Moody, he has struggled to cope with his disability.
As they begin their final semester at Moody Bible Institute, Tirzah and Levi want you to know that despite their tragic circumstances, they have seen God work in their lives. May their stories of courage and faith bless your heart as we begin this new year.
Eighteen-year-old Levi (right in picture) had just returned from a college visit and was driving to a friend’s home. Distracted by a phone conversation, Levi swerved his car across two lanes of traffic, crashing headfirst into a tree. Incredibly, Levi survived but with multiple brain fractures, unable to walk, and legally blind.
In the long, difficult months that followed, Levi began to heal, but his sight was not restored. Nevertheless, he sensed God urging him to pick up the pieces of his life and move forward: It’s time for you to go out and show people that there’s more to life. I want you to help other people, too!
Levi enrolled as a Human Services and Pre-Counseling major at Moody Bible Institute. He was overwhelmed by the love shown to him by faculty and the men on his floor. “I was legally blind, but people looked out for me like I was their own brother.” Moody provided academic assistance and software that allowed him to listen to books on his computer.
Living with blindness was difficult.“I encountered a lot of depression. I often felt like things were stacked against me. I couldn’t read without assistance, and I wondered how I could serve God.” On his darkest days the Moody community came alongside him with the encouragement he needed to press on.
Then, during his junior year, God performed a miracle. On an ordinary October day Levi woke up and was getting ready for class. He sensed something was different. He remembers checking his backpack, his shirt, and his belt to determine what was out of order: “Something was off and it was irritating me.”
At 7 p.m. he headed back to his dormitory, tired and still not feeling right. He decided to take a shower. He remembers scrubbing at his left eye and crying out to God because he didn’t feel well. His left eye was throbbing.
As he got out of the shower, Levi did his usual peripheral vision check, something he had done since his accident. It was then he realized that the sight in his left eye had been partially restored. What was once dark now revealed light and shapes. “I could see more!” he recalls.
Levi immediately dropped to his knees, wrapping his towel around his waist. “I was still holding soap and shampoo in my hands, yelling and praising God. The other men on the floor came running to find out what was wrong. I could see! I couldn’t believe it!” In the days that followed, an optometrist would determine that the vision in Levi’s left eye was 95 percent restored with just a blur in the center. He said he would work with Levi to help him take full advantage of his remaining eyesight.
Levi and his family are praising God for this miracle, and today, he is looking forward to graduation from Moody this May. He and his fiancé are committed to inner-city missionary work and church planting. Levi wants God to use his story to encourage others. “I want to use my story of emotional and physical trauma. I want God to open the eyes of people to realize that life isn’t over if you’ve been beaten up or dragged through the mud. God is still there, and He loves you and is moving you forward. I want to use the mud in my own life for His kingdom expansion in whatever way He sees fit.”
Moody is offering a new major specifically focused on ministering to people with disabilities within the church. Levi has been able to speak to students in that major, sharing his experience. “People with disabilities like me—people who can’t walk or see or struggle to do everyday tasks—need to know that they’re just as valuable and vital in God’s sight. It’s not what we can or can’t do—our value is in Jesus Christ.”
Levi is thankful for every person who contributed to his journey into ministry. “I couldn’t have done this without Moody donors. I’m purely here to be a spokesperson for Christ. I want to wholeheartedly pursue that mission and that calling.”
Tirzah, a senior Jewish Studies major at Moody Bible Institute, was in Chicago when she heard news of the forest fire raging toward her hometown of Paradise, California. With little warning her family evacuated to safety, but their town did not escape.
An estimated 90 people were killed and 95 percent of the homes destroyed, including her family home that burned to the ground. Miraculously, the thing that wasn’t touched by the fast-moving inferno was the church her dad pastored.
The raging wildfire consumed Tirzah’s family home, leaving only the foundation. With only minutes to evacuate, the family was forced to leave most of their belongings, including some of Tirzah’s dearest possessions. They had to choose between saving lives and preserving things. An avid reader, Tirzah’s books had been stacked on bookshelves and overflowing in the hallway. They were among the items lost in the fire. “The books. It’s hard to lose the books,” she says softly.
But her mom had one more regret. She wasn’t able to save Tirzah’s vintage wedding dress, perfectly preserved in its original 1935 keepsake box. The dress held symbolic meaning to Tirzah and to her mom. Her mother had purchased the dress at an antique shop when Tirzah was 19 years old.
Tirzah and her mom had seen God work miracles in her life. As a young girl, she had struggled with a serious illness that threatened her dreams of being a mother and a missionary. To show faith that God was faithful and held her daughter’s future in His hands, Tirzah’s mom purchased the wedding dress. It symbolized their belief that God had a plan and purpose for Tirzah, that He alone held her future.
Tirzah is a pastor’s daughter. Her dad leads two congregations, one Messianic Jewish and the other Baptist. The passion for ministry led her to enroll at Moody in the Jewish Studies program. “I grew up doing Jewish ministry with my own family and then with Jews for Jesus,” Tirzah says. “Even in high school, I loved the hard work of evangelism. I loved being able to respond to people’s anger and fear with kindness and understanding.”
“I didn’t plan on going to college,” Tirzah says. “I was determined to go straight into missions.” But then she read a book by Elisabeth Elliot that told the story of John and Betty Stam, Moody alumni martyred in China. Their story inspired Tirzah. She said, “God, if You want me to go to college, Moody is where I want to go.”
Tirzah returned to Paradise for Christmas break, knowing her trip would be much different because of the fire. She would spend her time serving at their church, which is now being used as a relief center. She prays people will rebuild the town and their lives upon Christ, the chief cornerstone.
As for Tirzah, she would love to be used by God to reach her Jewish people for Christ, teaching about forgiveness and reconciliation. She would love to teach literature. She would love to work in church ministry like her parents. But most of all, she wants to wait on God, trusting in Him and allowing Him to work in her heart and life.
For Tirzah, losing the wedding dress is a symbol that the God who knew what she needed in the past also holds her future.“The fire taught me to trust Him. I don’t need training wheels on my trust now that I have lost my dress. God remembers and God is good.”
And Tirzah is thankful for the financial support of Moody friends who have allowed her to attend Moody. She appreciates that generous outpouring of support since she has often worked three jobs to pay her expenses. “I know that I’m here because someone else believes that I should be. Knowing others have donated for my education makes me pay attention not only to what I’m learning in the classroom but also to what I’m learning from God and the responsibility of being a believer.”
“One of the things I love about Moody is that I have people praying for me. I’m not doing it alone,” Tirzah says. “We are part of the body of Christ, and in five or ten years I want to be a donor too.”
Dr. Michael Rydelnik is passionate about teaching students. He wants them to be confident as they understand and apply Scripture with an eye on impacting lives for Jesus.
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