The whisper from God for Sarah Gummig came four and a half years ago, when one of her best friends died.
A drunk driver killed her friend, Michelle, in a car accident.
At the time, Michelle, 24, had been lonely, Sarah remembered. She had wanted a Christ follower to pour into her when she was in college, but she couldn’t find anyone through any of the Christian organizations on campus. So she drifted.
Sarah, a few years out of college by then, had been working in the corporate world in merchandising and then banking. But after Michelle’s death, God called her back to the college campus.
“I wanted to be available to really lonely women,” says Sarah, now 29, sitting on her carpet in Lakeview next to her 15-month-old daughter, Adelyn, who crawled next to her. “I wanted to be with women who felt like nobody else had time for them.”
Women like Michelle.
So began Sarah’s dive into working with The Navigators, something she had wanted to do since college, when The Navigators collegiate ministry at Northwest Missouri State University had poured into her.
God also used The Navigators to introduce Sarah to her husband, Brad.
Brad, like Sarah, grew up going to church. “I knew the right answers, I knew what to say and when to say it.”
But Brad turned into a bit of a party guy, especially in high school. Most of his friends went to the University of Missouri in Columbia, joined fraternities and continued to party. And in the beginning of his freshman year, Brad made plans to leave Northwest Missouri State and join them.
If he had done that, “I think my life would have looked a lot different,” says Brad, now 28.
His parents insisted he spend at least one year at Northwest Missouri State, essentially out of principle in honoring his commitment to attend. By the time the year was up, he had made new friends and decided to stay. Even more, he met Jesus.
For Brad, it started with filling out a spiritual interest survey for The Navigators. And then came a relentless first-year Nav staffer.
“For lack of a better term, he just kind of came to my door and harassed me and finally got me to a Nav Night and a Bible study,” Brad says. “For the first time, I saw guys that had a real relationship with Jesus.”
Sarah, meanwhile, felt God tugging her toward ministering to women in sororities. She soon realized she wanted to join the Greek system to make the kind of impact she wanted. “There’s a bond, like you’re sisters.”
Through a friend’s connection, she became a part of Sigma Sigma Sigma.
“It was definitely a cool sorority, but it was very broken—a lot of drugs, a lot of sex, a lot of partying,” Sarah says.
Sarah began praying for a helper in reaching Greek students, especially a guy. Then, in fall 2008, Sarah and Brad were both asked to emcee the weekly Nav Night on campus.
Soon after, Brad joined Sigma Phi Epsilon. He confesses that a year earlier he would have joined a fraternity “for booze and parties and girls.” But after his freshman year, Brad wanted to join so he could share Jesus with other guys in the Greek system.
Brad was the answer to Sarah’s prayers, in more than one way.
“We just fell in love,” Sarah says. “What should have taken 20 minutes to plan (for Nav Night), we’d always draw out to four hours.” Plus, he became a real partner in spreading the gospel.
A week after Brad graduated, they got married. Sarah had graduated the year before.
Throughout most of their college years, Brad and Sarah planned to join The Navigators full-time after graduation. They went to summer trainings to prepare. But during his senior year, God called Brad to full-time work in the business world.
After graduation they moved to Kansas City, and Brad took a job doing information technology in health care while Sarah took a job in merchandising, before transitioning to work at a bank two years later. Brad and Sarah faithfully ministered to their co-workers through Bible studies and fellowship. But in 2012, they both felt a similar tug.
“We had wonderful relationships with people, getting to share the gospel with people,” Sarah says. “But God was just slowly like, ‘Hey, yeah, there’s young professionals here, but there are other places I want you to trust me with.’ God placed the city of Chicago in our hearts.”
Neither of them had any real connection to the city. Sarah had visited once, for a merchandising trip during college. Brad had gone to Chicago for a concert and made a couple of other short visits.
Still, after giving their family in Kansas City time to digest the news, the couple moved to Chicago in January 2014 on an Amtrak train, lugging four giant suitcases in the middle of a snowstorm.
Sarah says, “It sounds silly now, but it was really of God.”
Brad entered the Chicago corporate world. There are stressors to his job with Strata Decision Technology, where he has a managerial role. His life, he says, has gone “from a walk to a jog, to a full sprint.”
The pressure from work—he’s often up at 1 a.m. with his laptop—has necessitated steps back to reflect and process. And to make more adjustments. Just that afternoon, he and Sarah say, they resolved to “live a quiet and humble life for God.”
At the same time, God has enabled Brad to minister in the workplace.
“From my vice president down to every team member, they are family,” he says. “Not only have they embraced me, but they have also welcomed Sarah and Adelyn into this family as well.”
The bonds with his co-workers, Brad says, have deepened in such a way that he and Sara “care deeply about their souls. As a couple, we have had the opportunity to share our lives, hearts, and the gospel with a handful of these co-workers in hopes they would be adopted into the Kingdom as brothers and sisters.”
When the Gummigs first moved to Chicago, there was just the beginnings of a Navigator collegiate movement. Matt and Kori Podszus had moved to Chicago from Kansas a year earlier to launch The Navigators collegiate ministry. They started with the University of Illinois at Chicago, or UIC.
Sarah joined the pioneering team on campus—Brad started attending a Friday morning Bible study with Matt and some other young professionals who had recently moved to Chicago. Sarah began spending time weekly on the UIC campus. In the early days, Sarah, Matt, a volunteer named Marissa, who had been involved with The Navigator ministry at NYU, and a former staff member, Andrew Loewen, spent time at the UIC campus trying to build connections through spiritual surveys and initiating conversations.
At first, Sarah says, “it didn’t seem as though much was coming of my efforts.”
Then, in 2014, Sarah met Kjerstin Berg.
“She was definitely very lonely; she would say that, too,” Sarah says. “She was exactly the type of girl I was trying to meet.”
A girl like her friend, Michelle.
At first, Kjersten was resistant. But she liked Sarah. She opened up to her. Sarah and Kjersten began meeting every week. They started reading the Bible together. They had long conversations. Their friendship became real and deep. So did Kjersten’s relationship with God.
“She was very honest,” Sarah says. “Over the course of time, I could just tell she was falling in love with Jesus.”
Now, Sarah also invests her time with another college student, Kaitlyn. They meet every Thursday at Sarah and Brad’s walk-up apartment in Lakeview.
“We meet for about an hour, an hour and a half, and then we hang out for like four hours afterward,” Sarah says.
For Brad, it’s been a joy to see Sarah invest in these women’s lives through The Navigators.
“From the day we met, that was always her dream job,” he says. “It’s amazing to see the relationship she has with these girls now. It’s evident the impact she’s having. It’s really, really sweet to see that.”
They had some rare down time on a recent Sunday evening. Brad wears a backward Kansas City Royals baseball cap, and the couple digs into mac and cheese and carbonara pasta from DryHop Brewers a few blocks away.
Even then, they find themselves cleaning up Adelyn’s “Cheerio tornados” and tending to the little girl, who wears a pink bow in her dark brown hair—a few shades darker than her mother’s—when a cut lip makes her cry.
Despite the exhaustion of being new parents, the fruit of investing in the lives of others, comes in little reminders, like the handwritten note Sarah received this year from Kjerstin, the young woman who came into Sarah’s life a few years after the death of her friend, Michelle.
In purple pen, Kjerstin wrote this:
“…One of my resolutions is to outwardly express my gratitude to those who have positively influenced me. So hey…that’s you! Thank you for being such a strong and faithful woman of God. Your steadfast love for Him is beautiful, and something that I try to mold in my daily life. My respect and admiration for you is only overpowered by my love for you!
Love and Blessings,
Written by Erin Chan Ding
Photo Credit Kristen L. Norman