By Amy Hauptman

A Beautiful Mess

When Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Urbana 12’s Program Director, arrived at Stanford as a freshman, she immediately began looking for InterVarsity.

A number of people at the church she’d attended in Chicago had been involved in the nearby InterVarsity chapter at the University of Illinois. So when Nikki arrived at Stanford, she already knew which campus ministry she wanted to be a part of. And what Nikki discovered through InterVarsity turned out to be pretty compelling.

“The thing that was really striking to me was that InterVarsity was a community of people who read Scripture and then applied it to their lives, even though I had grown up in the church,” says Nikki. “It was really refreshing to see this radical discipleship for myself—Jesus’ words coming to life through Scripture study and people trying to live them out on campus.”

The Cost of Discipleship

Upon graduating from Stanford with a degree in mechanical engineering, Nikki was offered a job with her dream company. “When that happened, I thought, I have changed so much in four years of college through InterVarsity. . . . How could my dreams have changed so little?” remarks Nikki.

She entered the “real world” and started work as an engineer in Silicon Valley while the economy was booming. The wealth that Nikki began to see was extraordinary. She saw classmates become millionaires. She also frequently saw engineering firms offering BMWs as signing bonuses.

But God was speaking to Nikki about another vocation. “In this engineering firm that I worked for there were a couple InterVarsity alumni who wanted to be missional at our workplace,” says Nikki. “At this point, God’s pull on my heart to go into ministry only grew.”

While praying about going on staff with InterVarsity, an opportunity for a lucrative project came up at her engineering firm. If Nikki stayed with her engineering job for one more year, she would receive $1 million to $3 million for the project.

This was the deciding point for Nikki. And she chose to walk away from her job as an engineer and from the money that job would bring to pursue the call that God had placed on her heart for ministry.

The Joys of Obedience

Since joining InterVarsity staff in 2000, Nikki has been entrusted to large teams of people, whether on campus or off campus through InterVarsity Global Urban Treks. She also coedited More Than Serving Tea: Asian American Women on Expectations, Relationships, Leadership and Faith  (InterVarsity Press). Now, as the program director for Urbana 12, she says she couldn’t imagine a better job for herself. It captures everything that would be on her “dream job list.”

Nikki is especially excited for the new things that Urbana 12 will be doing through art. “There’s one dance piece called What the Fish Saw—it’s about the disciples fishing. [From] what I’ve seen in rehearsals, it brings the passage to life in a way that you can’t enter from studying it in an air-conditioned room,” she says.

Nikki hopes Urbana 12 will help Scripture live and breathe in a way that will stick in peoples’ gut and be something they remember as they’re making decisions with God on how they can best use their lives for his mission and purposes.

However God moves and speaks at Urbana 12 next week, Nikki is confident that people will have transformative experiences, as so many past Urbana attendees have. “I think when people say I’m going to give five days [and] this much money, and I’m going to open my heart to God for five days, God is very quick to speak to those who are seeking him,” she says. “God speaks to a lot of people at Urbana because a lot of people are open to hearing from God at Urbana.”

The Goodness of God’s Plan

To this day, Nikki does not regret leaving millions of dollars in order to follow Jesus. While others might interpret Nikki’s decision as a waste of her education, her major, and her talents, for Nikki, walking away from all of that money was a beautiful offering to God.

Since making that decision, Nikki’s life has continued to be marked by radical discipleship. The radical discipleship she experienced in her InterVarsity chapter at Stanford turned out to be training for the radical life that God was calling her to live after college.

The program Nikki has built for Urbana 12 will call a new generation of students to a similar life of radical discipleship and surrender to God. She hopes students will discover, as she has, the goodness of saying yes to God and to his plan for our life and the joy that comes from being used by him to help bring his kingdom to earth.

Amy Hauptman is a writer on InterVarsitys communications team. She is a former campus staff worker at UC Davis, the University of NevadaReno, and Truckee Meadows Community College. The three driving forces in her life, besides her love for coffee, are to see, learn, and enjoy as much as possible. She also blogs at

You might also be interested in reading the Q&A with Nikki in Christianity Today. Also check out the Urbana 12 schedule to see some of the fruits of Nikki’s labor.

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