hannah and husband

Alumna Overcomes Illness to Serve Others

EAST TAWAS, MI – The building smelled faintly of chemicals. For the sake of cleanliness, the furniture and room overall were rather austere. A muffled voice came over the intercom asking for one doctor or another. Machines beeped. The nurse’s shoes squeaked on the tile floors as they walked back and forth from one workstation to the next prepping Hanna Shields for surgery.


At 24 years old, Shields has been driving for less than a decade and recently was eligible to vote in the presidential election for only the second time. However, after being diagnosed with Eosinophilic esophagitis (EOE), the East Tawas, Michigan native, aspiring missionary, and Colorado Christian University online student has also undergone 13 surgeries in order to clear her airway and make it easier to breathe.

“It was bad,” she said. “I’m in treatment right now. They don’t have a cure for it, but it’s about getting me to a point where I can eat without problems.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, Eosinophilic esophagitis is a “Chronic immune system disease in which a type of white blood cell builds up in the lining of the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. This buildup, which is a reaction to foods, allergens, or acid reflux, can inflame or injure the esophageal tissue. Damaged esophageal tissue can lead to difficulty swallowing or cause food to get stuck when you swallow.”

“My body doesn’t like food,” Shields said. “My throat shrinks, and they have to go in and expand my throat. It’s a mess.”

The prescription includes strict adherence to a prescribed diet that features aloe vera juice, soy, and eggs, in addition to the frequent surgeries that Shields said typically take around two weeks to recover from.

It provides its own set of challenges for daily meals, let alone moving to another continent.

“I had no intention of going to college when I started (at CCU),” she said. “I was going to a secular school and hated it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life, but I went on a mission trip (to Brazil) with my church in 2018 and it clicked. Switching schools and going to CCU was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

A Communications Studies major, Shields heard about CCU Online from a commercial on K-LOVE Radio and took the first step toward her degree the same year she found her calling.

“My dad was an exchange student to Australia when he was in high school,” she said. “Australia had always been a part of my life. I’d been there as a tourist, and I was able to go over there for an internship. It was then that it was laid on my heart. I would love to go to Australia as a missionary.”

The internship was in 2019, the same year she transferred to CCU Online. The same year her immune system disease was diagnosed. The same year she was married, and shortly before going into lockdown with the rest of the world due to the pandemic.

But through it all, she persevered.

“Hanna handled her adversity really well,” said Justine Greever, who was Shields’ advisor at CCU. “She was proactive in communicating when she had something come up that would interfere with her courses. We worked to make a schedule that fit her needs well.

“Hanna is passionate about the mission field. She has a heart to serve others, which was evident in all my interactions with her.”

Shields finished her classes at home, in airports, and in hospitals, and even worked on others in Australia where she taught Bible programs for Sydney Missionary & Bible College.

“I did talk to my professors quite a bit,” she said. “They were always understanding and worked with me a lot, but I never turned in assignments late. There’s no way I could have done it all at a different school.”

Shields didn’t take a semester off. She didn’t miss a class or even an assignment, and when commencement arrived in the spring of 2022, she finished atop her class.

Since graduating, Shields and her husband, Trenton, have made frequent trips to the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism International Headquarters in Pennsylvania, where they received training and were officially commissioned as full-time missionaries. They’ve also traveled throughout the Midwest visiting churches that are supporting them in their move.

“We’ll be going over there for on-the-job training for two years,” she said. “Then we’ll come back for more training before going back to Australia for four more years.

“I will always be grateful to CCU for the values it instilled in me. Not only am I finding it to be helpful in my prep for the mission field, but also in my pursuit of being a Godly wife, friend, and Christian. I will always be grateful for that.”

Just like Hanna, you can follow your passion, find your support system, and earn your degree. Succeed beyond your expectations.

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