Vienna Christensen
All her life, Vienna Christensen ’20 has been fascinated with travel, cultures, and serving others. As the daughter of missionaries, she never lived anywhere for longer than three years at a time. Her exposure to the beauty of different backgrounds combined with her heart for ministry through effective guidance led her to study sociology and honors humanities at Azusa Pacific University. She now serves as the Outreach Manager at World Relief Western Washington, assisting in refugee resettlement, drawing from what she experienced growing up and the ways her education expanded her understanding of others.

Before college, Christensen had already visited more than 20 countries. After high school she completed a few internships and short term mission trips. While living in Oregon, she started working in college ministry, engaging in discussions with various university students. Christensen felt called to pursue higher education, and toured a number of schools in Southern California. “I immediately felt like I could thrive at APU,” she said. Christensen started her studies in spring 2017.

Some of Christensen’s most fruitful and formative years of her life were at APU.“I’ve always loved reading and writing. The Honors College allowed me to enter a safe space where my peers and I could discuss our opinions about great books, and every student’s voice mattered as much as our professor’s,” she said. At the same time, as a sociology major, Christensen broadened her perspective on the ways societies shift and change one another, and often tied in what she learned into her honors papers and conversations. “Sociology is a tool to help understand the ever-changing flow of society and how we are both creating culture and being influenced by it at the same time.” All honors humanities majors work on a final capstone project called Oxbridge, where students collaborate to write and publish a book analyzing a piece of literature. Christensen looks back fondly on the chapter she wrote about John Milton’s Paradise Lost, where she intertwined her passion for sociology by arguing that the author was an exile exploring the relationship between other exiles in order to prove that refugee resettlement must be community based. 

Apart from the enriching classroom experience, Christensen’s involvement in community taught her a number of valuable lessons that she continues to embody today. One of the things she misses most is attending chapel. “I wish I could still have brief moments throughout the week to worship, and hear from incredible speakers from all over the world. I didn’t realize the gravity of what I was privileged enough to partake in,” she said. Christensen was a resident advisor for two years, and thoroughly enjoyed creating a welcoming environment for students. She also worked for the Center of Student Action (now the Office of Service and Discipleship), which laid an excellent foundation for her career. She collaborated with non-profit organizations in Azusa helping undocumented immigrants prepare for citizenship. “College is what you make of it, so make the most of it!” she said. Christensen wishes she would have taken advantage of even more opportunities while they were available, but is grateful for the ways APU poured into her spiritual, professional, and personal life.

While Christensen found fulfillment in the many ways she made a difference in people’s lives on and off campus, one of the challenges she faced was learning to balance her commitments. “No matter what, there was always a leader at APU who was not just invested in my career journey, but me as a person,” she said. The life-changing mentors she met offered Christensen the comfort that God is big enough to carry the weight of whatever she’s going through, and to reduce the pressure to try to do everything herself. Learning to trust God and allow his healing to intercede through the people He placed in Christensen’s life is something she continues to foster. 

Because of the wide range of experiences that Christensen embraced at APU, she was set for success while pursuing her goals after graduating. After being inspired by a guest speaker in one of her sociology classes who worked for a refugee resettlement agency, Christensen realized exactly where she was meant to make a difference. A mentor recommended she look into AmeriCorps, and Christensen discovered World Relief through a position as an intermediate and advanced ESL instructor. She quickly became a coordinator and trained community teams to walk alongside refugee families through their resettlement journey. For the past two years Christensen has been the Outreach Manager. 

World Relief is one of ten resettlement agencies in the U.S. As a Christian non-profit, they strive to go above and beyond federal requirements. Refugees undergo a long, complicated process to earn resettlement in the U.S., and are given only 90 days to be fully self-sufficient. World Relief helps families through case work management, ensuring refugees are directed to the correct documents and employment programs to suit their needs. Additionally, community outreach broadens refugees’ inclusion in social engagement. Christensen’s job as the Outreach Manager is to connect newly arrived refugee families to welcoming communities. “At World Relief we believe that what we do isn’t just to the benefit of the refugees we serve, but also to the community as a whole, including individual volunteers and churches we partner with,” she said. To learn more about how you can be a part of welcoming your new neighbors visit

Even when challenges arise, Christensen aims to provide holistic care to clients. “Relying on federal funding closes doors,” she said, “but there are ways that the community can come alongside their new neighbors to give them the support they need to be successful.” Christensen encourages everyone to do their part. “You don’t have to be a caseworker to have an impact. Be a smiling face, and be welcoming to everyone. It goes a long way.” Click here to learn more about refugee resettlement, and a recommended reading list

Christensen is a true difference maker in all she does. But it’s about more than just the work she completes on a daily basis, or the number of refugees she helps each year. Rather, it’s the hearts she touches through her kindness. Her love for God and people radiates through all her intentions. Her care for making every individual she meets feel worthy proves that to embrace love in whatever way God calls you to is to fulfill the calling He has for you.