The “ACU difference.”
The phrase is heard so often – especially on social media – that over time, its significance can be lost.
Twin sisters Andrea and Adriana Saenz, biology majors from Dallas who will graduate Friday, are testaments to why the phrase exists.
Before coming to ACU, high school had been a tough road in more ways than one. Their faith was attacked in the classroom, and their home life crumbling, they said.
During high school, the two attended a community college to earn their associate’s degree. As biology majors, they were in classes where evolution was king and the idea of a creator mocked.
“I loved our professors, but school was a major faith battle,” Adriana said. “For example, one professor would always make sly comments about God and people who believed in him. Our faith was constantly being attacked.”
While high school lacked spiritual encouragement, at that point in their lives circumstances at home were no better.
“Our sophomore year of high school, our parents filed for divorce and we eventually lost communication with my mom,” Andrea said. “The whole process was incredibly hard on us, but even so, I knew God was working. We prayed so much for healing within our family, and while things still weren’t perfect God slowly began healing our hearts, and we eventually restored communication with our mom.”
When the two began looking at four-year universities, ACU was not on their radar. But after their experiences, Andrea and Adriana began searching for a faith-based college to attend together.
“We decided we didn’t want to be biology majors at a public university, so we looked into Christian schools and heard about ACU,” Adriana said. “We visited, and the difference in environment was so clear. With a lot of prayer, we chose ACU.
The twins’ father is from Guatemala, and they are the first in their family to go to college in the United States. At first, attending a university was something they had only dreamed about.
“It was a surreal moment because I had always dreamed of going to school, but didn't think it was possible for us,” Andrea said. “I didn't think we could afford it or even get accepted to any college. Overall, the whole process was just scary.”
Despite being intimidated by the college admissions process, Andrea and Adriana noticed the “ACU difference” right off the bat.
“We fell in love with ACU when we visited,” Andrea said. “It was the only school that seemed truly Christ-centered and genuinely showed interest in the students.”
From their first visit through the closing of their senior year, Andrea and Adriana have seen God move in miraculous ways during their time here.
In the classroom, discussion was no longer a place for lambasting Christians, but rather a place to have open and honest discussion about the challenges faced in the science community.
“Our experience has been different in every aspect,” Adriana said. “In our classes we’re open to discussion about any questions or doubts we face. We don’t have to remain confused with our thoughts, because we have professors we can talk to about it.”
God was not just evident in the classroom. He was also beginning to restore their family.
“My sister and I started praying for healing and friendship between my parents, and any resentment we still might have in our hearts,” Andrea said. “God had already worked so many miracles, such as our coming to ACU and talking with my mom again, that we knew the power in prayer.”
A few months later, the two found out their parents had begun speaking to each other again, and they apologized for the things in the past.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Andrea said. “It was honestly a miracle – a drastic change that only God could have done. God answered our prayers, healed deep wounds, and here we are now, two years later, spending the holidays as a family. He has truly been with us through everything and turned something dark into something beautiful.”
Not only has God impacted their lives during their time at ACU, but the sisters have impacted this campus.
Active in the biology department, Andrea and Adriana went on the 2016 Spring Break medical mission trip to Guatemala and are part of Body & Soul, a program that prepares students for entry into health-related professional schools through co-curricular programs such as shadowing physicians, observing surgeries and other activities that help pre-health students get a glimpse of health profession career paths.
Body & Soul director Terri Aldriedge helped recruit Andrea and Adriana when they began thinking about coming to ACU and has had the opportunity to mentor them during their time here.
“Any time I present them with a shadowing opportunity, they always say ‘yes,’ ” Aldriedge said. “They were also my translators on the medical mission trip to Guatemala, and that’s when my eyes were opened to what incredible ministries they each have.”
Because their father is Guatemalan, Andrea and Adriana had a connection with the people they were serving.
“Their love for the Guatemalans just added such a different layer because they were able to relate so much,” Aldriedge said.
Both desire to do some form of medical missions – Andrea in the field of physical therapy and Adriana in optometry. They were able to put their education into practice during their trip to Guatemala.
As translators on the trip, they gained shadowing experience alongside physicians, nurses and physical therapists they could model their life after.
“Guatemala was such an enlightening trip because the verse we went off of was Matthew 11:5: ‘The blind will see and the lame will walk,’ and we actually witnessed those things,” Adriana said. “We came back appreciating everything we have, especially being here in school. Guatemala just solidified my desire to be a medical missions optometrist.”
Andrea and Adriana feel called to continue their journey in missions.
“They both have such gentle hearts, and I truly believe that through ACU they saw God and Jesus on a different level,” Aldriedge said. “Being here helped them realize that God is going to use them in the health professional world to connect to patients in a deep way.”
As they prepare for graduation, ACU has surely left its mark.
“I couldn’t have imagined myself in another place,” Adriana said. “I’ve grown spiritually and academically, and am so grateful for my experience here.”
After walking with them through their spiritual and academic journey, Aldriedge also prepares to say goodbye.
“Every year there are those few students who touch your heart in a special way,” Aldriedge said. “We hear ‘the ACU difference’ thrown around so much that it becomes callous, but they are what’s different about ACU. They are a true testament.”