Blessings abound for GCU alums Nicole and Brent Nedella

Story by Janie Magruder
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU Today Magazine

Jesse Hannington Nedella is a cherubic blond bundle of busyness. He zips through his living room in Avondale, Ariz., alternately lobbing a fluffy ball at his dad’s head and fitting plastic triangles into a puzzle box. He stops just long enough to bounce on toddler legs to an Elmo song on TV’s “Sesame Street,” then pops a plastic bucket onto his head and continues to entertain.

Jesse is 20 months old and even knows how to whistle. By all accounts, he is the definition of a miracle.

The uniting of brainpower

Looking back, their meeting at Grand Canyon University feels accidental. But Drs. Nicole (Stevenson) and Brent Nedella, now 34, have realized their relationship — which began awkwardly in organic chemistry class — and their entire lives are being orchestrated quite beautifully by God.

Brent figured out at 13 that he wanted to be a doctor, and GCU made his undergraduate education possible with a scholarship. Nicole decided in kindergarten that she would be a veterinarian, came to GCU because of its cadaver lab (as so many high school students do) and switched to people medicine as a junior after enjoying her human dissection class.

The two biology majors were extremely shy and never spoke during their freshman lab despite sitting next to each other.

“God just totally brought this guy into my life, when my plan was to go to grad school and meet someone later,” Nicole said.

With medical school and residency looming, Brent had no room in his schedule for a girlfriend. “I figured once I was a big important doctor, I would meet my trophy wife,” he said.

“Sorry, you got a nerd,” Nicole laughed.

They dated for two years, graduated in 2002 and started medical school at Midwestern University in Glendale, Ariz. They married on Nov. 17, 2003, then supported and studied with each other during seven years of tough courses and residencies.

God directed them away from pediatrics (her) and orthopedics (him) toward family practice and made room for them in 2010 at Pinnacle Family Medicine in Litchfield Park, Ariz. The new practice, started by GCU alumnus Dr. David Engstrom, was bursting at the seams. Engstrom had been given funds from Banner Health to hire one more doctor to serve the expanding West Valley population.

“Dave started it on a foundation of God and was fully seeking Him when he made the decision to bring on another provider,” Brent said. “And then God brought him two.”

A mission to Africa

The Nedellas wanted to be parents and tried to conceive for six years before consulting a fertility specialist in 2011. But they had reservations about putting “20 embryos on ice” that likely would never all be used. Ultimately, Nicole prayed for God’s will and converted the nursery in their home to a “surrender” room where she studied the Bible every day.

“It was a turning point for me — ‘If I don’t get pregnant, that’s OK,’” she said.

That spring, a friend of Engstrom who ran a nonprofit doing work in Uganda said God had told him in a dream that the Engstroms and

Nedellas would accompany him on a medical mission trip to Africa. This was news to Engstrom, who’d never been to Africa, and to the Nedellas, too.

Brent and Nicole prayed, and after listening to Britt Nicole’s song, “Seeing for the First Time” (How many years did You plan this moment here? To show me how You love me?), they felt called to go.

For 10 days in June 2012, the 12 Americans traveled throughout western Uganda, flying by what felt like the seat of their pants, handing out medication, healing what they could and praying for what they could not.

The team worked with Ugandan missionary Hannington Bahemuka, whose ideas for the recovery of his war-torn homeland were outsized only by his heart for its people. He inspired other Ugandans to dig deep, telling them that God had given them everything they needed to rebuild their communities.

“People walked for days to see us, and we saw a thousand patients in less than four days,” Brent said. “We used 50 percent of our medications on the first 25 percent of the trip, and Dave said, ‘We’ll just go loaves and fish’ (referring to Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000). We said, ‘All right, that sounds amazing. God will take care of it.’”

And He did: “We decided that we were not going to hold back, but treat every person the way they should be treated,” Nicole said. “And our very last patient got our very last dose of malaria meds. We had the exact dose we needed.”

The doctors left the churches where their makeshift clinics had been established with three large bags containing other medications. Loaves and fish. (To see a slideshow of Pinnacle's mission trip to Uganda in 2014, click here, and learn how God is guiding the Nedellas in their lives in this video.)

On the night before they left Bundibugyo, near Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Nedellas shared with the Pinnacle team for the first time their infertility journey. They cried together, and Pastor Derik Hines of Community Church of Joy in Glendale laid his hands on Nicole’s stomach.

“I’m not one who’s had a lot of healings manifested in my life, but as I began to pray, it went from me asking God to heal her to this really strong sense that God was telling me He was going to give her a baby,” Hines said. “God started stirring in me in a powerful way, and I was so scared, but I said to these two doctors, ‘I know God is going to give you a baby. He will place in you a baby before the first of the year.’ And I’m so thankful that it was actually Him speaking.”

Immediately after, the sky opened to a downpour. “And you could just feel God,” Nicole said. “There is nothing that will make you feel

God more than being helpless in Africa.”

Blessings abound at home

If Ugandans could trust God for their wellbeing, the Nedellas could try to trust His plans for them. But it was easier said than done. Once back in Arizona, the couple decided to pursue infertility treatments. A week before they were to begin, four days before the end of the year, Nicole learned she was pregnant.

The pregnancy was rough, plagued by pain and bleeding, and after going into labor at 26 weeks, Nicole was hospitalized and put on bed rest. With many prayers, the Nedellas’ long-desired blessing was born healthy on Aug. 15, 2013.

A gift from God

Jesse, whose name in Hebrew means “gift from God,” loves the two big beige dogs in his backyard, babbling his secret language to strangers and climbing onto his mom’s lap for reassuring nuzzles. He arrived in his Father’s time, and he was worth the wait.

“Jesse is my walking miracle,” Nicole said.

Contact Janie Magruder at 602-639-8018 or [email protected].


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