Voices of the Future: Changing Leaders into Visionaries

Talking to Alex, it is immediately evident he is not an average 20-year-old college student. For one thing, he is already a Senior at the University of Minnesota. For another, his intellectual depth and spiritual maturity marks him as someone far older and wiser than his age would suggest and makes it clear why he was selected as part of the inaugural class of CUFI on Campus Bonhoeffer Fellows.

CUFI on Campus’ Bonhoeffer Fellowship enables young people to take their pro-Israel advocacy to the next level. The fellowship’s theme, Putting Faith to Action, is designed to cultivate a new generation of bold Christian leaders who are willing to make personal sacrifices for what is right. After a careful nationwide search, we selected 36 young men and women for the year-long Fellowship including Alex O’Connor.

As a young boy, Alex showed himself to be unusual by voluntarily giving himself a classical education in politics, history, literature, and ancient languages. He became mesmerized with the complex political issues of Israel and the Middle East at an early age. Politically, he respected Israel for its courage and resilience in standing up to its enemies and winning against enormous odds. After becoming a Christian at 15, Alex developed an even stronger love for Israel as he read the Bible and realized how deeply God loves the Jewish people

God works in amazing ways. While running for a position as a Republican National Committee elector last year, Alex gave a speech which included his strong support for Israel. Afterwards, a friend put him in touch with CUFI.

Having been passionate about Israel for many years already, Alex jumped at the chance to be part of the Bonhoeffer Fellowship and visit Israel for the first time in August 2016. Despite already being well-informed on the issues, the experience of seeing Israel and meeting the people for himself blew his mind.

In Israel, Alex had a profound spiritual experience as he stood on the Mount of Olives and saw the Bible come to life around to him. As he looked at the city of Jerusalem and felt the presence of God and the weight of Jerusalem’s history, Alex was moved to tears with love for His God and this ancient place that is still inhabited by His people.

Alex met many interesting people in Israel from all walks of life, both Israeli and Palestinian, but the person who left the biggest impression on him was Pastor Steven Khoury. Pastor Khoury is an Israeli-Arab Evangelical Christian who lives in Bethlehem, and shared his story of choosing to stand up for his love for Jesus and the Jewish people against extreme threats to his life and family. His courage and faith challenged Alex to examine his own life and strive to live with the same boldness and passion for God that Pastor Khoury exhibited. During this meeting, Alex saw firsthand what it means to be a modern-day Bonhoeffer, and when he returned home he knew his experience in Israel had permanently changed him and altered the course of his life.

“I think the primary way that an idea or an issue can be propagated is not through speaking, but through seeing and experiencing. The Bonhoeffer Fellowship takes young people who are leaders and it makes them into visionaries,” Alex said. “If you can take somebody who is an articulate speaker, somebody that people look up to and respect, and you can impact their lives in such a way that the Bonhoeffer Fellowship does, honestly it is life changing. It’s faith changing. And I am in eternal debt to the people that made it possible for me to go to Israel.”

On his campus at the University of Minnesota, Alex faces strong opposition to Israel from pro-Palestinian groups. These groups harass Jewish students, try to intimidate anyone who dares speak up for Israel, and support Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Alex is one of the few Christians on his campus willing to stand alongside the Jewish students to fight for Israel. Since getting involved with CUFI on Campus and founding his local chapter, he has started working with the Jewish groups on campus to build a pro-Israel coalition strong enough to stand against the well-funded and aggressive anti-Israel groups. His Jewish peers have welcomed his support with a mixture of surprise and relief.

Because of his trip to Israel, Alex is now armed with a valuable tool in persuading students on his campus not to believe the lies they hear about Israel. He has seen firsthand how hard Israel is working to make peace, and to treat the Palestinians fairly and with compassion. He heard from leaders in the IDF who are putting significant brain power into trying to come up with a solution to end the conflict. Alex knows, because he has seen for himself and talked to people on the ground, that Israel is not the problem. Now he can use that indisputable personal experience to challenge the lies and change the way his peers view Israel.

Alex knows he wants to spend the rest of his life immersed in this calling to support Israel through politics and pro-Israel advocacy. Knowing that many Americans have lost faith in the political process, he believes one of the biggest problems we face in our country is a severe lack of strong Christian leaders willing to go into politics and shine the light in the darkness. Alex plans to be part of the solution.

When asked his specific plans for after graduation this coming May, Alex had one modest goal: to change the world for the better. He laughed at himself as he said it, but he’s serious about it. Based on what we know about Alex, we believe he can do it.

You can help produce more leaders like Alex by supporting CUFI on Campus. Investing in these students is investing in the future of CUFI, Israel, and the United States as we empower a new generation of fearless advocates for God and Israel.

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