Cooper Ochsenhirt

Friendship Is The Most Valuable Asset


When I began thinking about how I could possibly condense sixteen years of church learning into a five-minute speech, I was reminded of a line from Romans 12, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection..” In that moment, I realized that the words of Apostle Paul encapsulated my experiences with Kenilworth Union Church extremely well the church helped me to love others and myself by having my back for all these years. Additionally, my many wonderful experiences with the church taught me to hold fast to the meaningful moments in life, for they are truly priceless.

Rewind to 2000, when my family and I moved to Chicago from Dallas. My introduction to Kenilworth Union was spent in the crib toddler room (or so I’m told). We were given free reign to play with a myriad of toys, and free crackers from the Cracker man himself Mr. Kiphart, a church leader known by the aforementioned title because he would sit on the ground and hand out the salty snack to kids. However, there was not total anarchy. The teachers made us learn to play with other children, which full disclosure I was not so hot at in the beginning. I still think I may remember a few stern-talking-to’s. That being said, it was those many trials and occasional errors that set me on the right path, beginning my journey towards the person I am today.

Fast forward to 2006. It was the beginning of my third grade year and the time in which I began to study the Bible with a little more fervor; I really wanted the Good Book from Dr. Bowen and had my game face on. I quickly realized that I did not really understand the words, the Bible having been written so long ago. As a result, I found it a little tough to internalize the messages. However, as I soon found out, that was not going to be an issue. I was fortunate to have amazing teachers by the way, shout out to Mr. DeWitt and to be afforded the religious experiences I was, from Club Night to The Habitat to singing in the Chapel. It was through dedicated teaching in the classroom and my experiences in those activities that gave me the ability to see beyond the text of the Bible and to pinpoint the important messages of Christianity.

I was well on my way. On to 2008. I was in fifth grade and going to my first Middle School Youth Group (MSYG) meeting. It was right around this year that I was dealing with some problems at school. It was tough to socialize with people away from friends and family that I didn’t trust, for fear that I’d get wounded again.

Consequently, I came into the Manse a little wary and unsure I’d last beyond one meeting. However, I was very quickly proven wrong I was welcomed with open arms by leaders, Silvi Pirn and Sarah Garcia. They introduced me to the other adult leaders and some of the kids present. My discomfort quickly disappeared, and I knew I was in for the long haul. With every meeting, I felt my relationships with my peers and God growing stronger. As a result, I ended up going every Wednesday from then on out until the end of sixth grade, then to every Junior High Youth Group (JYG) meeting until I graduated from middle school.  Thanks, Silvi.

Big fast forward here all the way to the beginning of 2013. I was halfway through my freshman year of high school at North Shore Country Day. This time, the script was a little different I was a new student at a small school, forced to navigate a brand new socialenvironment, all while balancing football and my studies. Nevertheless, IMPACT always found a way to cheer me up. I could have been having the worst week, but knowing that a Sunday meeting was coming up fueled me to stay strong through it. Whether we played fun games, or watched a group movie, I was always excited for the fellowship and connection to God that those Sundays provided. When the service trips rolled around each June, things became even better. I was able to work alongside my new friends, help others, and live out God’s mission. Those trips always gave me a feeling of fulfillment.

Looking back on the sixteen years I’ve spent at this church, I know I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Throughout the ups and downs of my life, there was always someone from the church community who would step up alongside me and help me move forward, making sure I always felt supported. This encouragement, help, and approval has consistently been part of the Church environment and lets me know I’ll never be alone, even as I leave the North Shore area to attend college in Pennsylvania. Kenilworth Union Church has become a part of me, and will remain with me forevermore.