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Hello there :) I’m so glad you landed on this page! My name is Neema Joy Mbogo, I am a senior, double majoring in Communication Sciences & Disorders and Commercial Music, and I am so honored to be the 101st SMU President. I would like to share with you a bit of testimony, my journey to SMU, and my hope & vision for this year.

Before I continue, I would like to put a trigger warning as I will be touching on topics of addiction, abuse, and self-harm. 

In 2001, I was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, in a Christian household, with a childhood far from ordinary. In the early 2000s, the Lord placed a heavy burden on my parents' hearts towards vulnerable children living in impoverished communities. This led my parents to take in a few of the children into our home, starting the growth of what has now become ByGrace Children’s Home, caring for over 100 children today. 

When I was about 4 years old, I was exposed to pornography. This instance would negatively shift the way I related to those around me. When I was 6, we relocated to La Mirada, California where for the next 5 years my parents would obtain their PhDs here at Biola, while my brother and I attended public schools in the area. Being in this environment only spiraled my addiction as my independence increased. In 6th grade, I found myself in what I learned to be an abusive situation, but I hadn’t realized that at the time, as the person was near my age. I remember carrying so much shame, feeling like my body was destructive, and feeling like I was the problem. 

So 6th grade ended and now I’m back in Kenya, in a Christian boarding school. I felt as though God had given me a new start and so I promised myself that I would change my behavior, that I would be good. As you could guess, my plans failed, I continued to struggle with addiction, and low self-esteem, and the shame continued to grow.

9th grade comes along and I am still in a cycle of trying to be better, only to fail again, condemn myself, and repeat the process. At this time, it also happened that I had a fallout with some close friends. Looking back, I couldn’t tell you the reason, but I remember isolating and blaming myself. For the next 2 years or so, I would struggle with self-harming. 

In my life up to that point, I only knew of a Neema who was always doing something wrong, who just couldn’t get it right, but who also worked so hard to hide her problems. I mean, “I’m a pastor's kid, I shouldn't be struggling” is what I thought. I remember feeling so distant from my parents, as though they did not love me or see me. At the same time, I felt as though I couldn’t share my problems with them as they were in ministry, and that would make me selfish. As much as high school was heavy, I did end up enjoying the last year or so as God brought some amazing people into my life whose love started to heal my heart. It is through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit that the stronghold of self-harm was broken in my life at the end of my junior year and has been since then. 

2019 came along, and there I was, a freshman at Biola. It was difficult to navigate being in La Mirada again, as this town held good memories, but also disturbing ones. That first semester and a half, I was not doing well, and to be honest, I was ready to go home, and as we all know, we had to! The year that followed is when I really encountered God’s love and experienced healing through surrender to that love. I started to pray, “Heal me Lord, and break my heart for what breaks yours.” He showed me that his heart breaks for my 4-year-old self who saw things she should not have seen, for my middle school self who was deep in addiction, for my high school self who was drowning in condemnation, and for the daughter who wrongly viewed how her parents perceived her. The power of the Holy Spirit and his work in me became so evident. He led me to have a conversation with my parents that was terrifying, but so instrumental to my healing. With tears in my eyes, I expressed to them the ways I had failed as a daughter and how I felt that they did not love me the same due to my actions. With tears in her eyes, my mother expressed to me just how much they love me, and how that love had never been based on my actions. God was healing my distorted views. The gospel became so real to me, that when John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”,  I deeply understood that that world included my brokenness.

That is why I have chosen John 3:16 as SMU’s verse of the year. 

God loves us through our failed attempts to make ourselves lovable before him, and that’s good news! Through the sacrifice of Jesus his Son, we get to experience eternal life right now as we anticipate that life will manifest into its fullness when He returns. But here on earth, we have a calling to share this treasure with all who will receive it. My prayer is that God may remove any apathy, comfortability, and self-centeredness within our hearts, regarding the plans of his Kingdom. That we may desire to be known and used by him. That we may be sensitive towards the gospel, saying yes to the surrender it calls us to live by. So I pray that as you are on this campus, whether you serve with SMU or are involved in ministry through a different avenue, may you be sensitive to the Spirit's call to share Jesus' love with those around you. I need his grace every day, you need his grace every day, the world hungers for his grace, and we can share that with them. My story doesn’t end with perfection, but it is through surrender to God’s love and being refined by the Holy Spirit, a hard but fulfilling journey, that I can experience freedom from my past, genuine joy, and a peace that surpasses all understanding. This walk of faith cannot be done alone, and so I pray that we may be overwhelmed by His love and from the abundance in our hearts, may we overflow with that love towards each other on this campus, in La Mirada, in California, and to the ends of the earth. Thank you for stopping by!

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