“The CCO was a great motivator for me to think of Christianity as something more than just a thing to participate in on Sunday,” says Jacob Portnoff. “It gave me some intellectual frameworks to look at the world in a larger way and see how we can be ‘in but not of’ the world.
“While I was in the Army, that took the form of trying to exemplify servant-leadership and being willing to go the extra mile, even in dangerous and hard circumstances for those who were lower ranking or not of my group.”
Before Jacob’s four-year United States Army commitment, which included a deployment to Afghanistan, he spent four years as an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He earned degrees in Information Systems and in Ethics, History, and Public Policy from CMU, and today, he lives in California, where he works as a data analytics engineer and is a graduate student at UC Berkeley.
“I got connected to CCO ministry at CMU through an open house during the freshman integration week at the local church,” Jacob remembers. “I ended up rooming with some good friends from high school who also attended CMU, and the three of us intentionally set out to find Christian community at CMU. CCO did a great job of offering fellowship and Bible studies as well as other activities, like intramural sports teams.”
Jacob grew up in Pittsburgh and had been aware of the CCO’s ministry long before he started college. He attended Jubilee as a high school student and also during college, when ROTC commitments didn’t interfere. “I always came away from Jubilee with a sense of empowerment and community. One of the biggest impacts that Jubilee had on my faith was the understanding that the baseline for Christianity is a professing faith and that, as we mature as Christians, we are expected to go beyond that and try to shape our professions and society in ways that please God.”
Jacob is grateful for the community, fellowship, and accountability the CCO’s ministry provided during his college years, and for the foundation it helped to firm up before his deployment.
“My faith was the bedrock that kept me strong through four years in the Army, including a deployment to Afghanistan. CCO ministries always encouraged me in my calling to be a part of the military after college and gave me strength in difficult and trying times overseas in a warzone. My faith allowed me to better reconcile with the Afghans that I met and dealt with and was instrumental in any and all successes I had over there.”
Now that he is back in the United States, working in non-military settings, Jacob continues to draw on his CCO experiences.
“Daily devotionals and meetings with fellow students and young professionals to discuss real problems and challenges are things that I picked up from CCO and have continued to pursue,” he says. “I will be moving to Berkeley in the near future and have made some contacts that will hopefully get me plugged into a community-driven outreach.
“I’m careful about how I present my faith, because it can often be seen in the archetype of ‘God and Country’ due to my military service. I’ve found that people are far more interested in my faith experience after they get to know me a bit. Now that I’m out of the Army and working in the tech industry, I’m looking to express my faith in ways that are helpful and pleasing to God. I’ve only just started, but I’m excited to see how God moves me in this area.”