Untitled, 2020, digital photograph, 3712 x 5568. Shutter speed 1/160, F4.0, ISO 5000. 

Untitled, 2020, digital photograph, 4000 x 6000. Shutter speed 1/320, F5.0, ISO 8000.

Oluwadamilare, 2020, digital photograph, 5324 x 4000. Shutter speed 1/125, F5.0, ISO 5000.

Nigerian culture has been on a rise worldwide. While everyone wants to enjoy the music, clothing, traditions etc., many are ignorant of the various struggles and labor that Nigerians experience daily and throughout their lifetime. They want the beauty without the bitterness. Nigerian culture puts an emphasis on education, discipline, and respect, rooted in the idea that by instilling these core values, individuals will not depart from them, and it will lead them to success. The artist shares a common experience with the audience when discussing one’s journey to success and the ever-present fear of failure with a theme of dreams versus reality. Rooted in fashion photography, portraiture–both candid portraits and staged self portraits–and still life, Bittersweet is a musical autobiography, the coming-of-age story of a Nigerian man, as told through the stories of many different people.

Samuel Ojo ’22 is an Economics Major at Williams College. He enjoys photography, dancing, and watching anime. He was born in Lagos, Nigeria and raised in both Nigeria and Brooklyn, NY, and he calls both places home.

Bittersweet is a series of twenty photographs, and the full project will be posted on Samuel Ojo’s Instagram page (@Ojoptics).

Dealing with Doubt

“And have mercy on those who doubt.” – Jude 22

I’ll never forget the first time I seriously questioned my faith. I was thirteen, sitting in the back of a Christmas Eve service, and as I looked up at the church ceiling, I thought, “How do I know this isn’t all made up?” Feeling the tears build in my eyes, I rushed out of the sanctuary to collect myself. As I sat in the lobby, a domino effect of uncertainty and confusion set in. I began to question more and more of what I had been brought up to believe. I felt overcome with fear.

My fear stemmed from a view of faith as a binary thing that you either had or didn’t have. Growing up in church, sometimes I’d look around and it would feel like every other Christian had it all figured out, with complete confidence in their convictions. I wanted to be that way too, so I’d act like I didn’t have any doubts. I would hear stories about people who had left the faith after they had started doubting; so at some point, I developed this notion that if I were a real Christian, I wouldn’t experience doubt. Doubt became something to avoid, to push away, or to treat like it didn’t exist. As a result, I came to fear it. Once I grew older and the questions kept piling up without being addressed, eventually, I hit a breaking point. I had all this doubt built up and absolutely no idea how to feel about it, where to go with it, or what my life would look like if I ever made it out.

I know I’m not alone in having felt this way. In fact, it seems to be very common. There are a lot of things in the world that can lead someone to doubt. It could be a family member receiving a concerning diagnosis, a news station describing the latest tragedy, or something as simple as curiously searching a Bible question on Google and being bombarded by dozens of skeptical and atheistic responses. Sometimes, the messiness of it all makes it feel like we just can’t believe what Christianity teaches. This is only worsened by COVID-19, where prolonged isolation and a spotlight on worldwide suffering bring with them a slew of new questions, magnifying whatever uncertainties about Christianity we may have had previously. Christians today need to be prepared to deal with doubt, both in our own lives and our communities, but we can’t be ready if it’s something of which we are fearful.

This is why Matthew 11 has quickly become one of my favorite passages in the Bible. In this chapter, John the Baptist, the prophet who prepared the way for Jesus and even baptized Him, has just been put in prison. Likely awaiting death, he has his followers ask Jesus a question on his behalf: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”1

This question still shocks me when I read it because it reveals that John the Baptist had some serious doubts about his faith. I know that if I were in John’s position, I would have been absolutely terrified to ask this question. John, the man who was related to Jesus and witnessed His miracles and teachings, the man who talked about Jesus by proclaiming “this joy of mine is now complete.”2 You’d think if anyone had confidence that Jesus was the Christ, it would be John the Baptist! Yet, there he was, publicly questioning Jesus’ validity, doubting the very faith that he had once championed. 

I’ve noticed that when talking to people about how their doubts have been received, their experiences generally fall into one of two camps. The first is that people feel their concerns are inflated, where the doubter ends up feeling judged or reprimanded for asking questions. The second is to have their concerns mitigated, to be told their doubt will fade away and that all it takes is more faith. Both of these approaches can lead people to fear their doubts, which is why Jesus’ response to John is so amazing. Jesus says, “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”3

At first glance, Jesus’ response can seem confusing. John asked a yes or no question, so why didn’t Jesus answer accordingly? However, in this context, His response was really a resounding “yes.” New Testament scholar Craig Evans elaborates by referring to 4Q521, a Dead Sea Scrolls fragment that describes what some of Jesus’ contemporaries thought should be happening in the world when the Messiah arrived. Evans explains that “Jesus has appealed to some of the same passages and phrases that were employed by the author of 4Q521… In answering John’s question in this way, Jesus has clearly implied that he is indeed Israel’s Messiah, for the wonderful things that are supposed to happen when the Messiah appears are in fact happening in Jesus’ ministry.”4 Jesus doesn’t just have an answer; He has evidence that backs up his answer, showing John that there is good reason to keep the faith. By pointing to what He has done in the world, Jesus reminds John that despite the circumstances, Jesus is the One who is in control.

Jesus then goes on to say, “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”5 Given how disrespectful John’s doubt would have appeared to be, it would have been easy for Jesus to either attack John or ignore his question. However, Jesus not only takes the question seriously but also builds John’s confidence back up with His response. As American theologian Russell Moore points out, “A narcissistic cult leader or political guru would be offended by this wobbliness, but Jesus was not.”

I think Christians can benefit greatly if we take Matthew 11 to heart when dealing with doubt, both for ourselves and our fellow believers. Doubt doesn’t have to be something we fear, because if even John the Baptist had major doubts in his journey, it’s safe to say that we probably will too. Instead, we can encourage Christians to be open about their uncertainties, knowing that they are a natural part of our faith journey. For most Christians I know, myself included, doubts have ultimately played a key role in strengthening our faith by acting as an invitation to investigate and understand what one really believes and why. If we treat doubt appropriately and make sure to imitate Jesus in building up our brothers and sisters when they’re struggling, crises of faith can turn into catalysts of faith.

In the months following that Christmas Eve service, I was able to work through my doubts thanks to the help of many wonderful Christian mentors. However, I would be lying if I said they didn’t return frequently. Life is weird and messy, and just about anything in a pandemic can cause you to feel uncertain. Remarkably, I no longer fear doubt. Just like with John, regardless of circumstances, I can take comfort in looking to the very real things that Jesus said and did in the world and be at peace knowing that at the end of the day, Jesus still is the Christ. He still died and overcame the grave for us. He still is Lord, and He still loves us.


1 Matthew 11:3 ESV

2 John 3:29 ESV

3 Matthew 11: 5-6 ESV

4 Evans, Craig A. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. IVP, 2007. 

5 Matthew 11:11 ESV

6 Russell, Moore. “Real Christian Courage Looks like Elijah at His Most Pathetic.” Christianity Today, 18 Mar. 2021.

Andrew Nachamkin ’24 is a prospective Statistics major at Williams College. From Cold Spring, NY, he enjoys theater, basketball, and reading on his Kindle.


Death is a Gardener

Questions for Journal Reflection:

  • Many of us have experienced the global trauma of the pandemic as a numbness. How does or doesn’t this resonate with you? Travel through any guilt you may be experiencing in response to this. Where does the pressure to respond in particular ways stem from for you?
  • What memories of death do you have? Has the past year stirred up past grief? How has it changed your experience of grief?
  • When we’re most honest, our own mortality often terrifies us. What about dying is scary to you?  Have you had experiences where you experienced mortality as a gift? How does that shape this season for you? 
  • What are your methods and patterns of coping? What does healthy, holistic coping look like for you?1


Last January, I was heading down to Connecticut to visit a close friend of mine for the weekend. During the drive, it began to snow suddenly on a mountain road, and the car slipped on black ice as we moved downhill, resulting in the car crashing into a snowbank on the side of the road. Three airbags deployed. With my ears ringing and my heart pounding, I sat stunned in the passenger’s seat. My mind could not stop replaying the scene over and over again, each time fearing that the outcome in one of those scenes would be death.

By God’s grace, the two of us in the car survived with no injuries. In the several nights and days following this accident, my mind was fixated on what had happened, and I constantly ruminated on my proximity to death. It was so much closer to me than I had realized. Death could have met me on that road, and it would not have mattered whether or not I felt ready to leave this earth. With news of the coronavirus and its death toll also spreading during this time, I began to think more about my fear of dying and confront death as a reality that I would personally have to face one day.

This was not the first time I’ve thought about death. For years, I had lived with a debilitating fear of death. The fear of losing my life to some unexpected event, the fear that my life would be lost too soon, my years wasted to an accident, a mistake, or a simple oversight. Whenever I entered uncharted territory, I would always be thinking of the different ways I could die in that moment. As my paranoid mind raced through hypothetical possibilities of death, my heart would beat faster and my breathing would become heavy. Death was terrifying. It was, for me, the epitome of suffering and evil.

Yet when I began to actually wrestle with my proximity to death and process my fears about dying, my thoughts on death started to shift. I realized that death itself was not what scared me. It was what came after death, and not knowing exactly what came after death, that was truly terrifying. What I believed would happen after death greatly influenced my reaction toward death.

Having worked out a personal understanding of death and dying is a crucial factor in deciding how you want to live your life. Dr. Lydia Dugdale is a professor at Columbia University who recently published The Lost Art of Dying. In an Instagram Live before the release of her book, she noted, “There is no way to die well if you don’t give any thought to the fact that you are mortal.”2 Although death may be a somber and avoided topic of conversation, the reality is that all of us will one day face death. What you recognize and accept about this inevitable truth will change your understanding of life. 

If you believe that there is no afterlife, it might be important for you to pursue everything you want to on earth before you die. Death is the end of existence. If you believe in an afterlife that is determined by how good of a person you were on earth, you might try to strive toward goodness in your thoughts, words, and actions. Death is the time of ultimate judgment.

As a Christian, I believe in the God who has overcome death and its judgment over us. Jesus came to earth in the form of a human being and chose to die on a cross to redeem our brokenness through His sacrifice. This death reconciled the separation between God and humans so that we could be in relationship with Him. Yet Jesus did not remain dead. God asserted His ultimate power over death when He raised Jesus from the grave. For those who believe in Jesus, death no longer condemns; instead, it ushers in new life. Jesus transformed death from an executioner into a gardener, and living in fear of death is to doubt this victory.

This is why Paul in his letter to the Philippians can boldly declare, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”4 When I live with faith that there is something better for me after death, I am freed from the fear of dying. Dying no longer symbolizes an end but rather a beginning of an eternal life with Christ. This hope frees me to fully enjoy each moment of my earthly life without worrying about when, where, or how I will die. The certainty of death instead becomes a reminder that my time on earth is finite and therefore something to be cherished while I am here. My life takes on deeper meaning as I am encouraged to live my life in hope and not in fear, looking ahead to that time when I will be reunited with Jesus.

Living without the fear of dying, however, does not mean that my life is void of death’s reminders. Death is woven into the pattern of our lives. As we journey through life, we encounter analogies of death that remind us of the ultimate end. Endings and goodbyes, breakups and departures; these are all experiences that reflect the character of death. Consider the death of a way of life that changes the way you interact with others, or imagine the death of a former worldview that brings you to see the world in a new light. In this age of COVID-19, there are many people in the world experiencing death or its parallels. We are suddenly being thrust into uncertainty, confronted with abrupt ends of life and ways of life. 

Yet if God has already transformed the fear and uncertainty of our earthly death into the hope of new life through His victory over the grave, I know that He will also use the other ends we face in this world to usher in a better life. Death and analogous endings can seem full of uncertainty. Similar to how a seed sown deeply into the earth is first surrounded by complete darkness before it emerges into the light, the uncertainty that we face now may simply be the growing pains of a new life. In time, I trust that God will bring us all into a more whole, more beautiful world.



1 Riley, Cole Arthur. “MORTALITY | Lent III.” Patreon, 28 Feb. 2021, 

2 Veritas Forum [@veritasforum]. Conversation with Lydia Dugdale. Instagram, 9 Jul. 2020,

3 Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. Viking Press, 2015, pp. 149.

4 Philippians 3:21, 23, ESV.

Reflections Amidst COVID-19

Christie Yang

I originally wrote this poem in the midst of midterms during the spring semester of my freshman year. I was procrastinating my studies, and I was tired, stressed, and pressured by comparison and competition. My greatest fear was failing to meet my own standards and those of the world, as well as disappointing others around me, including my parents. My goal was to turn to face Jesus, let go of the fears and standards, and rest in Him.

A lot has changed since then: I still fear failure, but I now have greater fears that extend beyond my academics and success, due to COVID-19 and with the uncovering and increasing awareness and action against incidents and issues of injustice across our nation. 

There have been external changes regarding the places I go, the things I do, and the people I am with, as well as changes and growth in the thoughts, perspectives, and dissonance that I hold and struggle with inside my mind and heart. 

However, this poem still seems relevant, and certain parts stand out even more under the light of this long pandemic and the uncovering of and fight against social issues and injustices. And while fear persists–new and old fears–I can confidently declare that my faithful God is still here by my side. He was working, is working, and will continue to be working. Though darkness, pain, and suffering seem to be growing, I still see light, witness grace, and experience peace. Perhaps even more than before, I now understand the meaning of life, the power of hope, and the clarity in purpose. 

And in the midst of it all, I continue to tremble–for I know my God is with me. 


Sarah Gantt

When I wrote my essay, my college application process and transition to Williams College were fresh in my mind. Right now, I am processing different changes in my life, but I remain grateful for God’s generous love, and I aspire to trust Him more each day. In the moments when I struggle to connect with God, I am encouraged by His fierce loyalty, expressed in these words: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13, NIV).


Greg Phelan

The pressures of COVID-19 have accelerated the trend toward blind beliefs where no amount of evidence can convince people to change their minds about the positions they hold. With that shift, condemnation of those we disagree with has become more trenchant; there are no facts or evidence that can stem the tide of our disdain. It is now nearly impossible to defend ourselves from false accusations, and the consequences of “being in the wrong” are more severe and more permanent. If you find yourself as someone’s enemy, there is no path toward reconciliation. Combine that with the inner insecurities that Covid has unmasked, and it is more important than ever to realize that God in Christ does not and will not condemn us because when we were God’s enemies, Christ died for us to reconcile us to God. That’s good news.


Life is difficult
Fears can get in our way, yet
God delivers us

Fear is one feeling that is universal for human beings. Everyone – no matter how young or old, rich or poor – fears something. Rational fears are usually good, as they tend to keep us from doing things that may put us at risk of self-harm. For example, the fear of getting too close to an open fire is usually rational because fire can burn us. It is irrational fear, though, that keeps us from pursuing goals, following our dreams, and serving God to the best of our ability. 

For a long time, the fear of what other people might think of me if I said or did something a certain way acted as an inhibitor in my life. As a result, it became very difficult to maintain a healthy relationship with God because I always felt boxed in by my irrational fear. It wasn’t until I began to realize that fear was taking the place of God in my life that I self-reflected and asked God for help. 

One day, I stumbled upon the part of the Bible where Jesus prayed and asked His Heavenly Father to spare Him from the impending pain He would have to endure.1 This was the moment leading up to His betrayal and crucifixion, a period of intense distress. Even knowing ahead of time that He would die and be resurrected, Jesus still displayed human anguish. Jesus yielded to His Father’s will and was nailed to the cross, but the fact that He feared – even briefly – made me realize that I am not alone in my fear. 

Fear is a human emotion, and as long as we are humans, we will have to face fears big and small. Personally, I know that I face both rational and irrational fears. Although this is true, I find solace in the fact that the greatest Person to walk this earth also feared, but He overcame His fear by faithfully depending on His Father – the same Father who knows and cares for me. When I internalize that thought, it becomes easier to disregard fear and regard the One who can calm my fear. For me, focusing on God helps me to overcome otherwise debilitating thoughts and worries. 

Jesus later became the greatest blessing to the world. I hope we can all find comfort in knowing that even in facing our various fears, we are not alone, nor do we have to be.


1 Matthew 26:36-39, 42 

Originally published in The Williams Telos Issue 14, FEAR

Written by Eugene Amankwah ’23

No Fear of Condemnation

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1 (NIV)


We are all looking for a verdict. 

We want to be told that we are good enough and that we matter. In other words, we want a verdict that our life is meaningful. We seek that verdict from many places, whether from our work, our relationships, our reputation. We make these things our judges, we ask them if we are good enough, and we let them determine our worth. We place the “condemnation gavel” into the hands of something, but the verdict the world gives us is always, eventually, “Not good enough.” And so, we live in fear, knowing that a verdict of condemnation is coming.

Looking inside for a verdict doesn’t seem to work any better. Too often we take the messages from our screens and the world around us and put the condemnation gavel in our own hands, whether or not we have received an explicit verdict from outside us. A recent issue of New York magazine described people today as “feeling guilty and inadequate at every turn.1 They compare themselves relentlessly to others. They are turned inside out, day after day, by social media.” One person says, “I think my primary emotion is guilt. When I am happy, it only takes moments before I feel guilty about it – I feel desperately unworthy of my happiness, guilty for receiving it out of the pure chaotic luck of the universe.” The author summarizes life today like this: “Merely muddling through, doing your best, seeing friends when you can, trying to enjoy yourself as much as possible, is, according to the reigning dictates of today’s culture, tantamount to failure. You must live your best life and be the best version of yourself, otherwise you’re nothing and no one.” We feel naked and ashamed, and the constant din of our notifications amplifies our insecurities. We are filled with anxiety and doubt and guilt, and we are working harder and harder to convince everybody, including ourselves, that we have it together. This is what condemnation looks like. We don’t need condemnation to come from the outside when we already condemned ourselves.

The Bible says that anything we look to besides God for our verdict is an idol, and idols always let us down, always condemn, and always demand everything from us. We place the condemnation gavel in the hands of our reputation, our career, our looks, our health, our relationships, what our friends think of us, what we think of us – and these idols never fail to hammer in condemnation. The verdict seems to come from within when we internalize what our external idols already tell us. We crave a favorable verdict, but nothing we look to in this world can truly give it. 

This is why the apostle Paul says in his letter to the Romans that in Christ alone the verdict is “no condemnation.” To summarize what Paul already said, the gospel is this: All have sinned, but God freely justifies through the atoning work of Jesus. Sin means we don’t love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, but instead we love created things – our reputation, comfort, job, health, romance, or family, even our own opinion of ourselves – more than the Creator. We don’t find our satisfaction in God, but instead we look to idols for our satisfaction. We don’t obey God, but instead we obey our own desires and emotions. We don’t love our neighbor as ourselves, but instead we seek our own good, or we serve others inasmuch as it is convenient for us, or in our interest, or makes us look or feel good. Every single one of us, religious or not, falls short of God’s glory.

But as a gift, God freely justifies, which means “to declare in the right.” Even though we fall short of God’s glory, even though we are sinners, in Christ God counts us as if we aren’t. Think of it this way. Suppose that a student of mine fails an exam and I want to have mercy. I can’t honestly say, “You did great on the exam!” because they didn’t, but I can say, “I won’t count this exam toward your final grade.” Similarly, in Christ, God doesn’t count our sin against us, but instead He counts Jesus’ faithfulness for us. In doing so, God declares that His promises to rescue and redeem His people, to love and bless His people, and to make them a blessing to the world, all apply to us. This is God’s gift to us; we don’t earn it. We were sinners deserving condemnation, but God forgives us and counts us as holy. 


Paul says that for the Christian there is therefore no condemnation. Paul doesn’t say, “You are not condemned … for now, but if you screw up again you’ll need more forgiveness.” Paul says there is no condemnation. None ever. Jesus bore all of your sin – all of it, past, present, and future – so there is no condemnation and there will be no condemnation. Paul writes, “God has done what the law … could not do. By sending his own Son … he condemned sin in the flesh.” God definitively condemned sin so He will never condemn you. That’s why at the end of Romans 8 Paul can say, “Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ”; that’s why a good summary of the gospel is, “You are more wicked than you could ever imagine, but in Christ you are more loved than you could ever dare hope.”2 Why would God do that?

God gives the declaration “no condemnation” so that we can live beautiful, holy lives. Only in the gospel of Jesus Christ does the declaration of “accepted” come before any acceptable performance; only in the Gospel does the verdict come before it is earned. You won’t find this order anywhere else. In school, if you do well enough on an exam, you get the grade. In traditional religion, if you are moral or observant enough, you get salvation or acceptance. Today, many people reject traditional religion and instead get their identity from being a good person. If you are a good enough person, eventually you get the verdict. If you work enough for justice, you get the verdict. If you express yourself or liberate yourself or accept yourself or find yourself – you get the verdict. As a result, every day is a trial with us in the court working for a verdict.

But in Jesus, Christians get the verdict “no condemnation,” and then the verdict leads to a changed performance. When Jesus rescued the woman caught in adultery, Jesus turned to her and said, “Has no one condemned you?” and she said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Jesus did not condemn her, and only then did he tell her to sin no more.3 Reversing the order loses the gospel. Traditional religion says, “Stop sinning and I won’t condemn you,” and that’s crushing. Modern society says, “There is no sin so there is nothing to condemn,” yet our hearts still condemn us because we know that isn’t right. But Jesus says, “Because I don’t condemn you, stop sinning.” When you have already been forgiven and set free, then love and gratitude become the motivation for obedience. If we must perform in order to avoid condemnation, then we obey out of fear of punishment, or to avoid feelings of guilt, or out of pride – because in pride we believe, “We are not the kind of people who get condemned.” But those who by grace have received “no condemnation” are set free to live beautiful, holy lives out of sheer, grateful love for what Christ has done. 

Nonetheless, our lives are never paragons of beauty and holiness. I lose my temper with my kids, my parents, my spouse. We all struggle in some way. We gossip, we judge others who don’t have it together, we are insensitive, we dismiss people we disagree with. We lust, we covet, we envy. Anxiety, doubt, and temptation rule us. Our lives are not beautiful. Our failures produce panic as we fear what that means – might we not be forgiven? Deep insecurity and doubt arise – might we be condemned?

Paul’s original readers had those same doubts and Paul knew it. Fear creeps in when we forget that in Jesus we are not condemned. That’s why Paul chronicles his own failings and struggles in Romans 7 and then declares, “There is no condemnation.” Paul reminds us that the only one who could ultimately condemn you is Jesus, and he died for you, and he lives for you, and he will not condemn you. The God who created the world – the God of infinite holiness and power, the God whose voice shakes the heavens and causes the earth to quake – looks upon you and graciously welcomes you into his arms. If you have put your faith in Jesus but still feel condemned, then you are still placing the condemnation gavel somewhere, perhaps in your own goodness, your reputation, or how much you are doing for God. 

When we work for our verdict, we think we can be loved only if we aren’t deeply known because being known makes us feel naked and ashamed. But for those who desperately want to be honest and loved, God knows the depths of your heart – all your brokenness and failings – and He loves you more than you could ever hope. For those who constantly feel naked and ashamed, Jesus was shamefully stripped naked on the cross for you to buy your freedom. Jesus took on our guilt and shame and received the condemnation we deserve, so that we can receive the life and righteousness that is his. If you wait for the world’s verdict, you will be in constant fear of condemnation, because the condemnation is guaranteed. But if you receive God’s verdict as your own, there is no more fear.

Our lives do not magically become beautiful when we start to follow Jesus. Life in this broken world is a painful struggle. We continue to do things we are rightly ashamed of. We continue to hurt others and have others hurt us. The world’s condemnation still screams past all our filters. This fractured world is full of guilt and shame and loneliness and anxiety, and we feel that. For Christians, those difficulties do not end, but the condemnation does.



2 Tim Keller has said that in many places. Indeed, this entire article is heavily influenced by his teaching on this passage.

3 See John 8:1-11 for the full story

Originally published in The Williams Telos Issue 14, FEAR 

Written by Prof. Greg Phelan 

My Fathers

I stood in the laundry room with piles of clothes at my feet, feeling my dad’s arms wrap around me and his scruffy beard scratch my forehead as he kissed me, whispering, “I am proud of you.” Hours later, I boarded my Williams-bound plane, my eyes moist with tears and my heart bursting with love for the family I was leaving behind.

I cherished my dad’s words of affirmation because his praise, though infrequent, is thoughtful and meaningful. The development of my relationship with my dad has involved a tension between my high regard for and my fear of him. Even though I’m not “afraid” of him per se, I am intimidated by his intellectual superiority. My recent high school diploma pales in comparison to his numerous graduate degrees. When I was younger, I hesitated to confide in him because I worried about sounding immature. Over time, my dad has shown me through his words and actions that he loves me completely, imperfections and all. We are close now; I ask him for advice and tell him stories about Williams, and he asks me lots of questions.

Even though I see my dad as superior, his love has opened the door for us to have a close relationship. Similarly, God’s love bridges the gap between His perfection and my humanity so that God and I can have a deeply personal relationship. For some unfathomable reason, the indescribable God of the universe desires intimate relationships with human beings, including me. Acknowledging God’s greatness and accepting His love brings me closer to Him. The fact that He is perfect but still loves me makes me want to get to know Him better. Like many relationships, the process of getting closer involves daily communication. I like to write and pray to God, and I listen for His responses as I sit in silence, sing worship songs, or read the Bible. I can interact intimately with God because Jesus’ death and resurrection made a way for me to commune with Him. I do not have to worry about sounding immature when I talk to God because although He is so much greater than me, He will never reject me.

As we grow closer, God’s love and acceptance help me trust Him more. I remember drawing a series of doors and windows in my prayer journal senior year, labeling them with the various colleges to which I had applied. I prayed, “God, have Your way with me. Open and shut doors.” I thought He wanted me to go to Dartmouth, so when I was deferred in the fall of my senior year, I felt angry and confused. Through prayer, God helped me realize that Williams was a better fit for me. There is a verse in the Bible that captures how God can take away something good and give something better. It reads, “Instead of bronze I [God] will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron…I will make peace your governor and well-being your ruler.”1 God took away my potential Dartmouth acceptance, but he was giving me a positive Williams experience instead. When I feared God, I realized that I did not have to be scared of the outcome of my college applications because God knows and loves me fully. My perfect God answered my prayers by giving me otherworldly peace throughout the college process and making it abundantly clear my senior spring that He wanted me to go to Williams.

Even though I fear both my dad and God, their unconditional love invites me to be in close relationships with them. Drawing close to God and fearing Him is a continuous process in my life, just like the apostle Paul instructed to the early church in Philippi, I “continue to work out [my] salvation with fear and trembling.”2

1 Isaiah 60:17, NIV.
2 Philippians 2:12b, NIV, emphasis added

Originally published in The Williams Telos Issue 14, FEAR 

Written by Sarah Gantt ’23

I know you are with me

I know you are with me.
You know me, and I hate you. 

I know you are with me.
You know me, but you love me.

Darkness, judgment, pain –
I do not want to know you anymore.

I want to know you so much more – 
Source of light, grace, and hope.

I do not know when 
You will mess with my mind,

You know when
I will break your heart,

Or when you will attack 
and tear me to pieces.

And when l will stumble 
and fall into pieces.

And you come chasing after me,
Threatening that I am not enough,
Telling me that I will always fail. 

But you come chasing after me,   
Declaring that you are enough,
Reminding me that your love never fails.

You destroy life
You detain peace
You degrade meaning

You restore life
You offer hope
You provide purpose.

I let you in
When you knock.
I let go,
Then you take control.
My heart, mind, and soul,
I submit to you.
And I tremble, 
For I know
You are with me.

We all fear something in this world. I fear failure and disappointing those around me; others fear spiders, heights, closed spaces, the unknown, death, or losing a loved one. Not all fears are necessarily bad, but when we submit to these fears, letting them invade our thoughts and take over our actions, they limit us. Trembling in the presence of these fears prohibits us from loving God, loving others, and spreading the good news of Jesus’ love. When I submit to my fears of failing and disappointing others, I mistakenly attribute my significance to the things I do to please people and please God, rather than center my worth on what He has done and will continue to do for me and this world. When I focus on living up to other people’s expectations, I get caught up in trying to reach a certain end goal and am too distracted to enjoy the process of growth along the way. I am unable to experience God, let alone share those experiences with others.

On the other hand, fearing God means to be in awe and wonder of His greatness and submit to Him. God is greater than everything – He is the omniscient Creator who has power over all things, from spiders to death. Therefore, submitting to Him is freeing and empowering, in contrast to submitting to the limiting fears of this world. Trembling in His presence enables us to experience His holiness, righteousness, and unending joy.

Sometimes I can be so focused on myself and my fears that I forget about the Almighty God who loves and saves. However, choosing to fear God instead of worldly things helps me to remember God’s goodness, power, and hope. When I take time to regularly reflect on my life through journaling, prayer, and sharing with others the ways I’ve been experiencing God, I can see how God is working in and around my life. I can trust in Him.

Fear is among us, but so is He – for whom are you trembling?

Originally published in The Williams Telos Issue 14, FEAR

Written by Christie Yang ’23

Baby Steps

Although creation is beautiful, I sometimes forget that the world is a dangerous place full of uncertainties. I grappled with this unsettling reality during my first Mountain Day experience.

After admiring the picturesque mountains and savoring warm apple cider donuts on top of Stony Ledge, two friends and I began our descent on a relatively flat path. I was walking steadily until the trail began to narrow. It was when I looked down after a quick slip that I suddenly had several realizations. The mountain was higher and steeper than I had thought, and there were wet leaves covering potential obstacles. I started hyperventilating from my fear of heights, and my tears began to blur my surroundings. I gripped my friend’s hand and took baby steps while my panic grew with each additional slip.

As I was gradually being consumed by my worries, a branch cracked under my feet. My ankles sharply pivoted to the right, and I collapsed on the ground. I could not stand up on my own. I felt helpless and worried that my injuries were severe. I wept as I imagined Satan laughing at my struggles and weighing me down with doubt. 

The wind intensified, and the sky began to dim. I desperately prayed to God for any source of help and waited in silence as my friends patted my back comfortingly. My prayers were eventually answered when a few students and the Williams Outing Club director found me. They attached braces to my legs and carried me down the mountain, alternating who carried me every 100 feet. With my arms and legs being lifted by my rescuers, I felt like a physical burden. I responded apologetically when everyone assured me, “You’re doing great.”

After several hours, we safely arrived at the base of the mountain. During the ride back to campus, I called my mom and was disheartened to hear her cry. She became more concerned when I eventually had to be transported to the hospital in an ambulance. Luckily, my bones were not broken, and I would be able to walk gradually with a cane. Hobbling around campus for several days, I realized that I had been taking the ability to walk for granted. 

I was relocated into a temporary dorm with fewer stairs. Being physically isolated from my friends, even over a small distance, made me feel alone and locked in my own reality. I felt more guilt than gratitude when friends visited me, causing me to communicate less with others.

I talked to God about my conflicting emotions during the nights I was alone in my room. I expressed to Him my fear of relying on others and my worries of knowing that my parents were more concerned for my well-being than I was. I felt nervous to ask my friends for favors and potentially disrupt their busy schedules. I wanted an immediate solution, but I continued to struggle on my own because of my stubbornness, and I cried out to God in frustration. 

Then God told me to pause and look beyond myself to the people who love me. I thought about how my family and friends were worried when I brushed off their concerns and lied to them that my life was okay. By isolating myself, I was rejecting opportunities for their help. My fears were a barrier from realizing that the recovery process would be difficult unless I sought out guidance. 

Taking little steps toward Him, I started to accept God’s help that was provided through people’s concerns and compassion. My parents sent me medicine, leg braces, and comforting text messages. My friends supported me when I had the courage to ask – they turned in my assignments, held my hand when walking down the streets, prayed for me, and gave me hugs. Through moments of practicing vulnerability, I learned to walk in trust and deepened my relationships with those who love me. 

I had hoped to overcome my fear as my ankles healed, but my current reality tells otherwise. For simple tasks like walking to class, I am overly cautious, and I walk slowly on slippery sidewalks. Even now, I am still learning to cast my fears on God. When I do, He reminds me that He is with me every step I take.

Originally published in The Williams Telos Issue 14, FEAR

Written by Esther Kim ’23

A Sparrow’s Prayer


Above me sparrows chirp,
they chirp like sirens
Hoping to get your attention
What do they say?
God, how can I pray
As fervent and fearless as they?
I can hear my grandma saying,
“One offense is all it takes,
For the stony ancestors to sweep us with hurricanes.”
And it did rain.
It rained for days and days,
The waters flooded to our waists,
Until my father’s brown car
And my mother’s golden dowry were swallowed in haste.
– Or at least, that’s what she said.
“You see, the red statues will not hesitate.”
I wish to ignore her, to overlook that ancient coldness
But to be warm, You know that I lack the boldness –

Something wouldn’t let me
The time, it was not yet ready.
Until the waters sedated and settled low
All things covered were shown
Then I woke from a slumber
I thought, I was surely ready for eternity, though –


But this weight never does go away,
With every Song I sing it detaches, but still remains
It remains –
I can’t help but wonder, what if you are the same?
As the night grows older
I feel it looming behind my shoulders
Your echoing I cares
They’re leaving me like your breaths leaving my interior
Are you not worth more than sparrows? they whisper,
But how can they in the sky deliver to you their sounds
While now, mine seems only to sink deeper underground?

I have to ask –
Do you care as much about me
As you care about them?
The sparrows, the grey and amber sparrows
Whom you colored and livened with your words.
Or the lilies, the gloriously arrayed flowers,
Into the grasses they so easily merge but do not disappear.
Do you adore me just as much?
But how much does it take you to do as such?
Cleansing me with your blood,
Hearing my heartbeat from under the suffocating mud.
There was my fearful hand,
You held it with yours.
So that the wind, Job’s whirlwind,
And fire, Moses’ bushfire,
Help me stand again in your promised land.
Gently, but with your gentle force,
Bless my spirit and yours –
they shall never ever drift to divorce –

Draw me in, please
Draw in my family
That heat can’t be warmer,
You say, this is my daughter,
With whom I am well-pleased.
I’ve been waiting so long, and finally
To live forever in your stable sanctuary –

After I became a Christian, I did not have all my fears reduced and resolved. In fact, in a sense, I have single-handedly divorced a part of myself that seemingly secured me–my ancestry, my goals for living, my source of explanations. Sometimes, I still wonder about to whom I am praying, who is responding to me, and which “god” people see through me. My inherent fears about destiny, about natural disasters, about inevitable cycles, about divorces and fracturing of relationships, about the arbitrary cruelness of the universe, about being isolated and neglected, were still very much deeply rooted inside, even after those rejuvenating waters of baptism had washed over me. I have realized that as ready as I am for eternity, between then and now still exists a long period of time–my life. And in this life, I still fear being unpolished, unnoticed, unheard, unloved, probably just as much as anybody.

But our God is unique in that He is not a distant God who expects us to somehow achieve perfection; He is the one who guides. I have begun to realize that this hollow part within me is destined to be fulfilled by our Maker, who polishes, notices, hears, and loves us. I am not yet a fearless person, but I have decided that I will not live life in my way, or with any other “gods”–I can only do it with the God whose steady hand patiently holds onto mine, while His perfection overwhelms my weakness.

Originally published in The Williams Telos Issue 14, FEAR

Written by Catherine Chen ’23