“I believe that there are moments in life when we get the exact right thing at the exact right time,” says Jennifer Luitwieler. “Because of the CCO’s ministry, I feel like I was given a good strong biblical background. I know why I believe what I believe; I can defend it if I have to. And I learned that you can have a sense of humor and follow Jesus.”
The first person Jen met on her first day at Chatham College (now University) was a young woman named Julie, who helped her move into her dorm room. Julie was a CCO staff worker affiliated with nearby Shadyside Presbyterian Church. Jen was a pastor’s daughter from nearby Moon Township, Pennsylvania.
“I left my home with the intent to seek out Christian fellowship on campus, and Julie was the very first person I met on campus,” Jen remembers. “It was my first day of college and her first day of her first job right out of college. I didn’t have to do any of the work—I just had to go where I had to go and she was there waiting for me.”
That meeting set the tone for the rest of Jen’s college career. Julie became Jen’s mentor, and Jen grew into a leader of Chatham Christian Fellowship and of Shadyside Christian Fellowship, where she met her future husband, a Carnegie Mellon University student named Kurt.
Today, Jen, Kurt, and their three children live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Jen is a published writer and a homeschooling mom. The Luitwielers are active in their church family, The Burgh, which meets in a wholesale grocery store in a lower-income Tulsa neighborhood, and offers everything from after-school programs to medical assistance to neighborhood residents. Jen has an informal ministry to young mothers and college students, modeled on what she experienced and observed during her college years in Pittsburgh.
“I knew very little about faith when I got to college,” Jen admits. “I grew up in the church, my dad was a pastor, but I barely read the Bible, and I didn’t know Christian music or authors. I think about how the staff at the Beach Project looked at me when I spoke. They didn’t laugh at me when I asked the most basic questions. They took me seriously, asked me questions, visited me at my job, went on walks, and drew me out. That made a big difference to how I perceived myself.”
Jubilee exposed Jen to diverse voices and opinions and doctrines which she says increased her ability to critically think about her faith. “It’s what the CCO is about—integrating the heart and the mind,” she says. “It’s not just touchy-feely faith but also not so intellectual that it sucks the joy out of life. The CCO helped me find that intellectual/emotive balance. And Jubilee helped me understand that I don’t only have to write about Jesus to be a Christian writer.”
Jen credits another CCO staff member with encouraging her to pursue her writing gifts. Two decades later, she is an active blogger at jenniferluitwieler.com, and her first book, released in September 2011, is entitled Run With Me: An Accidental Runner and the Power of Poo.
“Before college, I was this naïve, timid, quiet girl, reluctant to lead,” Jen says. “The Ocean City Beach Project changed that for me. The CCO’s ministry was one of those bridging-the-gap, formative, spiritual, human experiences that shift and change everything.”
Photo of Jennifer Luitwieler, copyright M.M. Photography, 2011, Marleny Marsh