Nathan Wong BUILD’22 Lives His Dream at Bethel

Over six years ago, Nathan Wong BUILD’22 already knew his dream college: Bethel University. Now on campus, Wong is thriving, participating in numerous campus activities and impressing many with his biblical knowledge and faith.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

February 04, 2021 | 4:30 p.m.

Nathan Wong BUILD’22

Nathan Wong BUILD’22 is making the most of his time at Bethel, participating in Student Ministries, performing at a Testify worship service, and much more.

After visiting campus through his church, Nathan Wong BUILD’22 told his mother in 2013 that Bethel was his dream college. But before Bethel formed BUILD as a two-year postsecondary, residential program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the family wasn’t sure that dream would be possible. Then as Wong neared his high school graduation, his mother wasn’t sure he was ready for a program like BUILD. Knowing the deadline was approaching, Wong urged his mother to help him apply. They contacted BUILD Director Dawn Allen and turned in his application in the nick of time. He was accepted. “Miracles do happen,” Wong says.

It turns out, Wong was ready for Bethel. Though Wong is only partway through his first year in the BUILD program, he’s drawn praise from Allen and many across campus for the numerous ways he’s gotten involved and thrived. In fact, Allen says she and her team were impressed by Wong from his first interview with the BUILD program, and she continues to be impressed by how Wong advocates for himself at Bethel—and by the ways he’s taking advantage of many opportunities at Bethel. “Really what our program is about, it’s about students having the opportunity to go to college, to begin to make choices for themselves, and so already from the beginning we could see that it was a good fit,” she says.

One early success came in Associate Professor of Business Stephen Whiting’s Introduction to Business Applications course, which Wong took as an elective and admits the course material could be difficult and frustrating, requiring him to watch instructional videos several times. But he felt called to push through. “The Holy Spirit convicted me,” Wong remembers. “The Holy Spirit, the Lord said, ‘I have you in this class for a reason and for a season and for a purpose, stop complaining.’” Whiting commended Wong for his work ethic. “Nathan was one of the hardest working, if not the hardest working student in the class. But he did so in a way that seemed like it was a joy for him to do so,” Whiting says.

Noah Heiss BUILD’22 and Nathan Wong BUILD’22

Nathan Wong BUILD’22, right, poses with Noah Heiss BUILD’22 outside Nelson Hall. Wong has gotten involved in numerous ways during his first school year at Bethel, including Nespers, a worship time similar to Vespers in Nelson Hall.

Wong did more than simply finish the course. He passed rigorous tests on Word, PowerPoint, and Excel to become a certified Microsoft Office Specialist, a designation he can add to his resume that could help him get jobs. Whiting says the Microsoft Office Specialist exams are difficult, with about 30% of people failing the Word and Excel exams while 10-20% fail the PowerPoint exams. Passing all three shows employers that you’ve achieved a level of proficiency that most people do not accomplish. After hearing that Wong had passed, he went to the BUILD office to share the news and congratulate Wong. “His excitement after passing all three and passing an extremely difficult Excel exam was really fun to be a part of,” Whiting says.

But that wasn’t all that stuck out to Whiting. He always saw Wong with a smile on his face—a smile that usually brought one to others around him. “Nathan was such a joy to have in class and brightened my day every time I saw him in the hall, in class, or had a chance to chat with him,” Whiting says. Wong’s Biblical knowledge also impressed Whiting. He remembers a discussion on philosophy and theology with Jaran Roste ’21, who is Wong’s BUILD mentor, and Jack Fielder ’20. “I shared some pertinent verses that would shape my thinking, and twice after I quoted the verse Nathan spoke up and said that's Philippians 4:7 and then that's Romans 12:2,” Whiting remembers. “He was continuing to practice and work on his homework after class ended, but as soon as we started the theological discussion Nathan was clearly more engaged with our conversation.”

Wong wanted to attend a Christian college, and he is the first in his family to do so. “It’s really important to me because my faith is really important to me,” he says. And his faith has grown tremendously at Bethel. While he can struggle with anxiety—especially when following the news of the last year—he’s relied on BUILD’s model of “faith over fear.” But he admits it can be difficult. “What ‘faith over fear’ reminds me is if we can have faith over the circumstances, we can have faith over the fear of this nation right now,” he says.

Wong feels blessed to pursue ministry opportunities at Bethel. He’s a part of Student Ministries’ events team, helping plan events for Bethel Student Government. He relished the chance to help lead worship at Testify, a monthly student worship service. He also frequently attends things like Shift, student ministry for first-year students, and Nespers, a worship time similar to Vespers in Nelson Hall. He is hoping to perhaps intern with Christian Formation and Church Relations (CFCR), and he’d like to one day earn a degree in Biblical and Theological Studies from Bethel—and perhaps pursue a career in ministry. While Wong has a support system through BUILD, his involvement in these activities has forged connections across campus.

While Bethel has already been a good fit for Wong, he wants to continue growing in his faith, his advocacy, and his relationships at Bethel and at home in Savage, Minnesota. Allen is happy to see Wong getting involved early in his time in the BUILD program, but she is also excited to see what will come next. And Wong is already playing a role in introducing prospective students to the BUILD program. He is interning as a tour guide through Bethel’s Admissions office, and he gave his first tour in mid-January, which he says went smoothly. “My favorite part is being a student representative of the BUILD program, representing Bethel well,” he says.

Study in the BUILD program at Bethel.

Bethel's BUILD program provides a supportive and comprehensive educational experience for individuals with intellectual disabilities. You'll experience dynamic and encouraging instruction, career-oriented curriculum, specialized mentorship, and on-campus living—all within a supportive Christian environment.

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