For Bia (l.) and Raquel Stoltzfus, sisters from Bellefontaine, Ohio, EMU has been a place to grow in faith. Photo by Jim Bishop

From Brazil to EMU, Sisters Keep Family Bond

HARRISONBURG, Va. – One sister is about to graduate from Eastern Mennonite University, the other is completing her sophomore year after transferring from another school.

Each decided independently of the other to attend EMU, but both believe it was one of “the best decisions” they’ve ever made.

Luciana Beatriz Stoltzfus – who goes by “Bia” – is finishing up the demanding nursing program at EMU and expects to graduate May 1. Her final semester “is the most stressful ever, but I’ll make it,” she insists.

Raquel Stoltzfus, a sophomore early childhood education major, arrived at EMU last fall after spending one semester apiece at another private university and a local community college. She sees herself eventually teaching first or second grade in a public school in a urban area.

Bia, 23, and Raquel, 21, are the adopted daughters of Winfred and Wilda (Willie) Stoltzfus of Bellefontaine, Ohio. They were born in Brazil, where their adopted maternal grandparents, Kenneth and the late Grace Schwartzentruber, were long-time missionaries with the former Mennonite Board of Missions. Winfred and Willie are both EMU alumni; he is a specialist in internal medicine; Willie is an oncology nurse at a cancer center who well recalls the rigors of EMU’s nursing program.

In 1999, the couple adopted a group of four siblings from Sao Paulo that included Bia, then 11, Raquel, 9, Davi, 7, (now 19) and Lucas, 5 (now 17). They joined three other Stoltzfus children, a biological son, Marcos, 26, who graduated from Goshen College and lives in Colorado; and two other adopted children, Carla Renee, now 20, and Tomas, 22, who were adopted as babies.

“Bia is a survivor, the oldest of the sibling group,” Willie notes. “She helped the younger siblings who grew up with little adult supervision. She knew no English when we adopted her, but has always been highly motivated, a hard worker.”

“God didn’t seem to be the primary focus at the schools I attended before coming here [EMU],” Raquel says.  “My professors make every effort to help me succeed,” she adds, citing her “Intro to Bible” class as “providing a different way of looking at things and encouraging us to look deeper into Scripture.” She finds participation in the Sunday night “Celebration” contemporary worship services on campus as another highlight

Raquel pointed to her teammates on the women’s soccer team where she plays right midfield as another vehicle for personal and spiritual growth. “We’re playing for God and not just for each other,” she states. “We have devotions and work together as a team.”

Bia cited her EMU cross-cultural seminar in South Africa the fall of her junior year as a “major eye-opener” to the interconnectedness of people and cultures and the incredible needs of people everywhere. Raquel plans to take a six-week cross-cultural trip to Honduras this summer led by Jason and Bryn Mullet Good.

“EMU has helped me discover qualities that I didn’t know I had, and it’s opened my eyes to how much I can do to serve others,” Bia declares.

“There’s a family atmosphere [at EMU],” Bia adds.  “The nursing professors are constantly empowering and encouraging me to be the best that I can be while also helping me grow in my spiritual walk.”

“My only regret,” she adds, “is wishing for more time to spend with other people and to take part in more campus activities.”

How does it work being sisters on a small Christian university campus?

“We don’t see each other as often as you might expect,” Bia notes. “I’ve been living off campus and my clinical nursing work keeps me extremely busy.” Raquel quickly notes that they do stay in touch by texting and on Facebook. They’ve been attending Aletheia, a church in Harrisonburg which caters to young adults. Their home congregation is Oak Grove Mennonite Church, West Liberty, Ohio.

Following graduation on May 1, Bia hopes to secure a nursing position locally. She is engaged to another nursing student, Michael Bruner from Pettisville, Ohio. They plan to marry in September.

“I’m definitely a stronger Christian for having this experience [at EMU],” Bia says. “I’ve sensed the university’s commitment to encourage students to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.”