Jada Tarvin Abu-Bekr: Transformed to Serve

“The thing that transformed my life and my identity was definitely my trip to South Africa. It’s a familial culture. Your neighbor is hurting in your township, and you love them. You make a meal for them. It just opened up everything for me.”

Jada Tarvin Abu-Bekr ’22 began walking with Jesus as a high school sophomore. "Coming to know Jesus was literally finding meaning for my life,” she said. “I needed to break the cycle of abuse I witnessed growing up, and I wanted to be something different.” She bounced between homes until she came to APU and discovered her place in the world. “APU has provided consistency. This is the longest I’ve lived anywhere.”

God opened the door for Abu-Bekr to attend APU as a social work major through the Horatio Alger National Scholarship awarded to high school students who have overcome significant adversity in their lives.

Abu-Bekr said that her APU education has afforded her many opportunities to experience personal transformation, including studying in South Africa where she explored her own roots. As she served in ministry there, she grew in her faith and relished each day, with no way of anticipating that the COVID-19 pandemic would force the team to return to the United States three weeks short of their intended three-month stay.

“I was absolutely devastated to leave the people of South Africa,” she said. As she returned to the United States, grief stricken by the sudden departure and quick goodbyes, Abu-Bekr found the solace and support she longed for through her APU community. Meaningful relationships with fellow students, faculty, and staff and classes that wove faith throughout the curriculum, proved life giving during that challenging time and have continued to enhance her college journey to this day.

“I love my roommates, I love working at the Center for Student Action, and I love the people I’ve done life with over my past four years here.” Abu-Bekr cites Karen Rouggly, Shelly-Ann Dewsbury, Keith Hall, and Curtis Isozaki as integral APU figures who have encouraged, empowered, and poured into her.

Reflecting on her biblical studies classes, she said they helped her walk through difficulties. Readings from Ruth, Esther, and Hebrew political wisdom literature sustained her. Engaging in social work classes with the fresh lenses of those biblical studies courses helped her envision a future for herself.

With graduation fast approaching, Abu-Bekr has her sights set on a move to New York. Drawing upon her social work degree, life experience, and relationship with Christ, she seeks to promote restorative justice in families and communities. She also dreams of opening a bakery or coffee shop where people who were formerly incarcerated can find work.

For Abu-Bekr, uplifting communities, especially communities of color, is doing the work of Christ. “Service is transformational,” she said. “Service is the Gospel. If we’re culturally aware, and going in with a learner’s mind, with faith and justice at the root, then of course, you’re going to be transformed alongside those you serve.”

She reflected on how the early chapters of her story inspire her to make a difference. “I lost so much, but I’ve also gained immeasurably more. If I can advocate for people who have been in situations like mine, show them that they are equipped, and reinforce that their history doesn’t define them, but lifts them up to be able to change the world,” Abu-Bekr said, “then that’s how I respond to God’s call on my life.”