By LaShawn Wanak

From Chapter to Chapel

Throughout my life, I have been amazed at how God uses seemingly innocuous events to reveal His presence and sovereignty. Even something as innocuous as a wrong phone number could lead to a long-lasting relationship.


I first became involved with InterVarsity when I graduated from high school in 1989 and went to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. I had chosen this school because it was far enough from my family in Chicago so I could be more independent, but close enough to them that I could run back home if need be. Although I'd grown up in an all-black neighborhood, my high school and my church had been diverse, so I was used to a diverse environment.



When I went to my first church service in DeKalb, I looked at the sea of white families and realized, I'm the only black person here. Everybody was well-dressed in suits and dresses, whereas I had on jeans and gymshoes. When the band started playing, I stood up—then sat back down again when I saw no one else was standing up to worship. They sang with hymnals, which I had never seen before. And nobody clapped or raised their hands.



First Chapter Experience



So when I was invited to an InterVarsity large group meeting by a friend, I decided it wouldn't hurt to try it out. That Friday, I walked in and was immediately welcomed by several students, some white, some Asian, all in jeans and T-shirts. Although I was still the only black person, they made me feel comfortable, having genuine conversations with me instead of polite, distant chit-chat. Worship consisted of guitars and bongos, but it was done in a praise and worship style I was more familiar with. They even clapped to the music—granted, it was off-beat, but I could live with it. Before the night was over, I knew I would come back.



In 1992, my parents told me that if I wanted to continue school, I'd have to pay for it myself. So I left DeKalb to work full-time in downtown Chicago. Eventually, I was able to go to Roosevelt University part-time. While I was glad to be back in school, what I truly craved was to be part of a college-based ministry again. Roosevelt didn't have an InterVarsity chapter then, but the Circle Campus of the University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC) did. The campus was about fifteen minutes away from my job, so I made a phone call.



That Friday I drove down from the suburbs. The campus, filled with gothic architecture that crouched next to a wide, grassy midway, confused me. I parked next to an ivy-covered meeting hall and looked at my directions, then at the number I called.  I was supposed to be in downtown Chicago; but instead I was in Hyde Park, on the city's South side. And the only university I knew in Hyde Park was the University of Chicago. I had called the wrong campus—instead of calling UIC, I called the University of Chicago. Whoops.



I could've said forget it and driven back home. I could’ve called the chapter at UIC and gone there. Instead, I decided, Well, okay, just for tonight.



Second Chapter Experience



Large group was just as I remembered it. The people were just as friendly and diverse. They invited me to go to a coffee shop. Then they invited me to go bowling the following week. And it was there that I met Jon.



Jon was a sophomore and a missionary kid from the Philippines who was also involved in the chapter. He was a quiet and shy young man, but once I got to know him, I saw he had a cutting sense of humor. One day, he wanted to prank his roommate, and since I had a crush on the roommate, he enlisted my help. We drove down to Walgreens at midnight, where we bought a Barney doll and a greeting card. I sprinkled perfume on it. The next day, we then got my sister to deliver the “gift.”  While the roommate was suitably teased about his secret admirer, I was more impressed by how  Jon pulled everything together just right. He’s devious, I thought. I like that.



For a couple of years, I teased him, flirted with him, chased him, mocked him, and did everything I could to let him know that I was interested in him. But he didn’t take the bait, and in 1995, he graduated and moved back to the Philippines to be with the rest of his family. I was bummed, but by then, I had become fully involved at the UofC chapter, so I figured if God had meant for us to be together, he’d make it so. If not, that was fine too.



Love Wins Out



Later that summer, I was at my job, doing secretarial work. I went to deliver some documents and came back to my desk to see Jon sitting there, unannounced, looking very pleased with himself. I was so shocked I just stood there staring at him for several minutes before kicking him out of my chair. “I thought you were in the Philippines,” I said.



He shrugged. “I came back.”



He wanted to find a job in the Chicago area. Because I was in the last year at Roosevelt, we made bets—while he worked on resumés, I worked on school papers. Whoever finished first would get treated to dinner by the loser.



It wasn’t until I won the sixth time in a row that I realized he had ulterior motives.



We've been married for twelve years now, and have a six-year-old son. We both continue to serve InterVarsity by working at the National Service Center in Madison, Wisconsin. Each day, I give thanks for God bringing us together and using our marriage to as a way to address diversity in ministry. And it all happened because of a mis-read phone number: the best mistake I’ve ever made.