Austin Telenko: There is not a single part of this earth that He does not know and has not seen. So even when you think that you’re in a crevice or a part of the earth that He hasn’t seen, you’re actually so incredibly close.
Finding Faith In A World of Uncertainty: Austin and Marideth Telenko & Tom Rudelius – Episode #368
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. In our uncertain world, the quest for faith often becomes a beacon of hope and assuredness. Amid the constant fluctuations of the world, God emerges as a grounding force; offering us a sense of purpose and direction when navigating a path we’re not sure of. Even when the world around us is shrouded in uncertainty, faith can illuminate our path, fostering resilience, strength, and optimism.
Dancers Austin and Marideth Telenko met in New York, both pursuing dance careers. Barely a month into their dating life, COVID hit, and the jobs they had dancing fizzled as shows and studios closed. Temporarily relocating to North Carolina—and uncertain about their future—they sought God for guidance, and were led to an opportunity that changed everything. Tom Rudelius is a scientist who began studying the mysteries of the universe long before he would ever have questions about the God of the Universe. His twin brother, who had recently become a Christian, encouraged him to explore his faith; so Tom pursued the truth of the Gospel, very much like he pursued scientific truths, and was amazed by what he found.
Let’s start with Austin and Marideth’s story.
Austin: My name is Austin. I am a dancer/choreographer that is blessed to do it with my wife.
Marideth: I’m Marideth Telenko, the wife. We work together as a duo in choreography and entertainment, and we have so much fun doing all that we are able to do.
An Early Love for Faith & Dance
Marideth: I think Raleigh is the most amazing place you could ever grow up. I love Raleigh so much, but I grew up in church and in Christian school my whole entire life. I was really, really fortunate to have an amazing family and I’m so grateful for that every day.
I always knew that I wanted to be some sort of performer. I was always very drawn to like the stage and just sharing and being an artist. And I started dancing when I was fourteen, which is very late in a career for a dancer to begin dancing, but I immediately fell in love with it. And I trained in a lot of really foundational hip hop styles, then I fell in love with musical theater. I went to college for dance and choreography, and I graduated and I moved to New York.
Austin: And I grew up in a small little town in Pennsylvania called Elizabethtown, and I actually grew up as a Catholic, going to Catholic school until the fourth grade, and then going to Catholic church every Sunday. And I’m very grateful to have grown up in the Catholic faith. It was a great way to meet God and to know all the marvelous things that He’s done.
I started dancing when I was nine years old, and I actually wanted no part of being a dancer at first. My mom kind of—I always say forced, but forced in the best way possible, surrounded by love—signed me up for this dance class that I didn’t want any part of, and I came out of that dance class wanting to sign up for every other class they offered at the studio. And I pretty much haven’t stopped since.
I started teaching dance when I was sixteen and then moved to New York City in 2017. I’ve been doing it ever since, and now, like I said earlier, I’m blessed to be doing it with the one I love most.
Losing Sight of Who You’re Meant to Be
Marideth: Being a young performer, fresh out the gates, trying to navigate New York City is so weird. I had just turned twenty-one right when I moved to New York, I think, and it was just really difficult. There’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of noise and voices telling you exactly who you should be and exactly what you should look like and exactly what you need to do to get to where you need to go. And I think it’s really easy to sort of lose yourself in that noise, which is something that I struggled with a lot.
“There’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of noise and voices telling you exactly who you should be and exactly what you should look like and exactly what you need to do to get to where you need to go. And I think it’s really easy to sort of lose yourself in that noise, which is something that I struggled with a lot.“ – Marideth Telenko
Coming from the Bible Belt, I had never been in an environment really where I didn’t have Christian community around me, which was also hugely difficult. And I didn’t have church friends or a church or any kind of routine in my life where I was seeking the Lord regularly. And so I had really sort of gotten a little bit lost in my walk with the Lord.
And then, I booked a job where I met Austin. And so we really met each other when I was at that point in my life of feeling very sort of lost.
Austin: I think I had been lost for a little while until I met Marideth and I saw and felt something different in her. You know, listening to those voices that are all over, that are saying, “You need to do this, and you have to do it this way and you’ve got to look this way.” And looking at it now, I can say that God was kind of connecting me to her in that way, and I had not even known it yet.
Everything Changed When the World Shut Down
Marideth: The pandemic was an extremely transformative time for us in every aspect of the work and our relationship and our walk with the Lord, in our careers. We really came out the other side of the pandemic as changed people.
We had probably known each other for almost a year at that point maybe. I actually will never forget the day, we were all—a bunch of us and our friends—watching some sort of movie at my apartment in New York, and we were all sitting around and somebody got an email and it was like, “Oh my gosh, Broadway dance theater is closed.” And then someone was like, “Oh my gosh, I just got an email saying my work is closed.” And that night our phones were just blowing up with everything being closed and we knew that we were going to have to leave. And I remember being like, “Let’s just go stay in North Carolina for like two weeks while we wait this out.”
And then we genuinely were there for like a year and a half, which is absolutely bizarre. Our careers really just fell off. There’s no other way to explain it. It just ended, completely cold turkey. Everything shut down.
Austin: I will never forget, like, the very first days of being in North Carolina with Marideth’s parents, Marideth’s mom would constantly say, “If there’s one thing that you need to do during this time, because we don’t know how long it’s going to be, you need to come out on the other side different and changed.”
Marideth: I knew I had to put my eyes back on the Lord, and I had some very candid conversations with Austin being like, “Look, I realize this is not really the person that you met when you started dating me, but I have got to remember who I was created to be and who I am and start living in that again, because I have fallen so far off the path. And that’s not the path I want to be walking on.” It was really a risky moment of me being like, “This is what I have to do for my life, and if that does not align with you, that’s okay.” And I think that I really had to let him find it on his own.
“It was really a risky moment of me being like, ‘This is what I have to do for my life, and if that does not align with you, that’s okay.’ And I think that I really had to let [Austin] find it on his own.” – Marideth Telenko
Returning to Faith
Austin: I saw how much your parents spoke about the Lord. And we would sit down every Sunday morning and watch church from home. And I started seeing and hearing just how so many people just have this very intimate relationship walk with the Lord. And I had never experienced it like that before, which was really, really interesting.
Marideth: For Austin to see me reconnect with my personal relationship, my very personal walk with God, I think you got to see like, Wow, it’s interesting that you talk about Jesus like your friend and like your Father and you walk so intimately, personally with Him and spend like actual intentional personal time—which I think wasn’t a part of your routine. I’m speaking for you, so I’ll let you talk about that.
Austin: I remember Marideth was having a conversation with me, and I’ll never forget what she said. She said to me, “It’s like when you walk into a grocery store and you get a cart, but you decide to push the cart around with one hand. But then you pick up all your groceries and try to carry them with your other hand and don’t put them in the cart. You’re trying to juggle twenty different things going on, when you could just put them in the cart, and your life would be so much easier.” And she was like, “That is the Lord. You can put all of your necessary items, your good items, your bad items, whatever you have in your life that’s going on, you can put them in the cart—the Lord—and He will take care of it for you. He will carry them for you. He will deal with them the way that He sees fit.” And that just painted such a clear picture in my head.
And that is what really did it for me. It really made me feel like I could have that relationship myself, despite all of the crazy downs that I’ve had in the past four years prior. And yeah, it was just a really cool moment that I was able to kind of see and feel that I could have that same relationship that Marideth did and that her parents did.
Marideth: We’ve both had two very different journeys and walks with the Lord. And so to see him really find it on his own was so amazing.
Turning the Uncertain Into a Blessing
We started choreographing together and we started sharing it online. And it really just blew up in a way that we could never have even comprehended. It has been such an insane blessing, even just to get to do what you love with the person you love.
Austin: That alone.
Marideth: That alone, even if nobody was watching it, is such an insane blessing, but we have an incredible platform of seven million at this point, and it’s absolutely crazy that we get the opportunity to share what we love to do and who we are with people all over the world every day.
And so putting our faith and our careers in His hands, in the shopping cart—man, look at what the Lord does, because we would have never, ever in a million years thought that coming out of the pandemic we would be in the position we’re in.
“Putting our faith and our careers in His hands—man, look at what the Lord does, because we would have never, ever in a million years thought that coming out of the pandemic we would be in the position we’re in.” – Marideth Telenko
I think that once this platform sort of fell into our lap unexpectedly, we have had to step back and really dedicate a lot of prayer time to that and have a lot of conversations with each other about that, because it is really hard to navigate an industry where you are in the spotlight and also live a very sacrificial life, where you’re laying down your life and picking up the cross of Jesus every day.
We always try to make sure that the light shining through us is brighter than the light shining on us.
“We always try to make sure that the light shining through us is brighter than the light shining on us.” – Marideth Telenko
This time has been navigated for us through so much prayer, and conversation with each other too. I think that praying together is so important in any relationship, and that’s something that we have had to really navigate.
We also spent so much time in the Word separately, and then coming together and talking about what God was was saying to us and and doing in our lives was so important for us to kind of maintain a balance of seeking the Lord on our own and then coming together and saying, “What’s the Lord doing in our lives separately, and what is the Lord doing in our lives as a couple and through our career?” And so it has just been really a thick prayer journey of figuring that out and navigating it and honestly still is, for sure.
Austin: I’m reading from Jesus Listens from July 4th:
Your Love has conquered me and set me free! The Power of Your Love is so great that it has enslaved me to You. I am not my own; I was bought with a price—Your holy blood. Because of Your amazing sacrifice for me, I want to serve You with every fiber of my being. I know that my service is woefully inadequate. Nonetheless, when I yield myself to Your will, You bless me with Joy.
Because You are perfect in all Your ways, I can give myself wholeheartedly to You without fear that You might take advantage of me. Actually, being conquered by You protects me and makes me truly free. You have invaded the innermost core of my being, and Your Spirit is taking over more and more territory within me. As Your Word teaches, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. I rejoice in the freedom I have found in You, Jesus. And I surrender gladly to Your conquering Love!
In Your powerful, loving Name,
Narrator: To keep up with Austin and Marideth, follow them on TikTok @Cost_N_Mayor.
Stay tuned to Tom Rudelius’ story after a brief message.
Spreading Hope With Samaritan’s Purse
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Immersed in his physics studies at Cornell, Tom Rudelius never thought much about God until his brother, a new convert to Christianity, challenged him to explore faith. To placate his twin, he reluctantly began exploring the Bible and the life of Jesus. Now a postdoctoral researcher in theoretical physics at the University of California Berkeley, Tom traces his journey to unexpected faith.
Tom Rudelius: My name is Tom Rudelius. I’m a postdoctoral researcher in theoretical physics at the University of California Berkeley. My research deals with string theory, quantum field theory, and early universe cosmology. And starting this fall, I’ll be a professor of physics at Durham University in England.
A Scientist Examines Christianity and What He Believes
My twin brother Steve has always been my best friend growing up. Even today, he’ll be the best man at my wedding coming up this December. And Steve and I were raised in a very loving but also very non-religious family. So we never went to church. We never read the Bible. And most of what Steve and I knew about religion came from watching cartoons. And growing up, I was pretty indifferent to the whole topic of religion. I think Steve was, too.
Our freshman year of college, I went to Cornell, he went to Northwestern, and one day in spring of that year, he told me that he decided to become a Christian. And so this is very surprising to me. I knew he’d been having some conversations with some Christian guys that he’d met there, but I certainly never expected him to actually become a religious person, and when he first told me this, I was worried. I was afraid, first of all, that Steve was going to change and I was going to lose my best friend and that he was just going to become someone totally different.
I think Steve’s reaction in those early conversations that we had really started to change some of my perception of religion and religious people and set the groundwork for the spiritual journey that I would shortly thereafter go on myself. I found out pretty early on that for Steve, religion wasn’t just about a list of do’s and don’ts, and you do these things and then you go to heaven or you don’t do these things and then you go to hell. For Steve, the question that actually had really pushed him towards faith was just a question about life after death. It wasn’t so much about looking down his nose at me, it was just he wanted to know, Is there hope for life beyond the grave or is this world just all there is and we’re going to die and that’s the end of it?
There was no question in my mind that he still loved me and cared about me and that I wasn’t about to lose my best friend. My journey started with conversations with Steve and a lot of the questions that he asked me [were about] what I believed about God and the afterlife and the meaning and purpose of life. And a lot of these questions I realized I just hadn’t thought very much about at all. So conversations with Steve, which ultimately led to me tagging along when he went to church a few times.
And then a big part of it also was Steve gave me a few books to read about Christianity, including the New Testament. And I remember the first time he tried to give me the books, I told him, “Look, Steve, I have trouble finding time to read books that I want to read, much less time to read books that I don’t want to read.” That was just where I was with religion. It just didn’t seem like something that was that important to me at the time, and it wasn’t the sort of place I wanted to invest a lot of my time and effort. But the more I talked to Steve, the more interested I became.
I started reading Letters from a Skeptic, which played a big part in getting me interested in faith. It was a correspondence between a son—a pastor Dr. Gregory Boyd—and his father, Edward Boyd, who was a skeptic. And I remember every time I would read one of Edward’s letters, I really resonated with all of his skepticism, all of his objections, all the questions he had, and when I read Greg’s responses, I wasn’t always convinced, but I was surprised at how much Greg had thought about it. His answers were surprisingly thoughtful and it made me start thinking, You know, maybe there really is something to all of this.
I think the biggest thing, though, was when I started reading the New Testament. I started with the Book of Matthew, the first book in the New Testament. I actually found it to be really interesting, even if I wasn’t convinced by some of the miraculous elements the first time I read it, there was something really special and compelling and captivating about the figure of Jesus that made me want to keep learning more.
Reasoning Through Jesus’ Miracles
I think something that really bothered me was the idea of miracles. I realized I didn’t have so much trouble believing that there could be some sort of God, you know, some sort of larger meaning and purpose, some sort of sort of higher intelligence behind everything, but to me, at the time, I thought of miracles in the same category as, like, magic and leprechauns and unicorns and the tooth fairy. And I just felt like, How can I, as a person who believes in science and reason, how can I believe in miracles?
I think that science tells us how the world works in the absence of supernatural intervention, but it doesn’t tell us whether or not supernatural intervention is possible in the first place. I think part of the reason why people tend to have issues with miracles and in particular the miracles of Jesus, the miracle of the resurrection, is that they tend to view miracles as sort of like these spontaneous breakdowns of the laws of nature, a departure from the way that the world is supposed to be. But to Jesus, actually, His miracles weren’t a breakdown of the laws of nature or a breakdown of the way that the world is supposed to be, but actually they were a restoration of the world to the way that it’s supposed to be.
“I think that science tells us how the world works in the absence of supernatural intervention, but it doesn’t tell us whether or not supernatural intervention is possible in the first place.” – Dr. Tom Rudelius, Ph.D.
The world isn’t supposed to have evil, and so Jesus casts out demons. The world isn’t supposed to have disease, and so Jesus heals the sick. The world isn’t supposed to have death, and so Jesus raises the dead and ultimately conquers death through His resurrection.
If we’re going to talk about Jesus’s miracles, we should really talk about it through the lens of the Christian worldview. If the Christian worldview is true, then the miracles of Jesus aren’t just these random acts that happened for no good reason, but they’re actually a key part of the whole story of what God was doing through Jesus. And in Jesus, we see really the hero that the human story demands, the hero who remains uncorrupted, who miraculously triumphs in the climactic moment of history as evil and death defeat themselves.
“If we’re going to talk about Jesus’s miracles, we should really talk about it through the lens of the Christian worldview. If the Christian worldview is true, then the miracles of Jesus aren’t just these random acts that happened for no good reason, but they’re actually a key part of the whole story of what God was doing through Jesus.” – Dr. Tom Rudelius, Ph.D.
But as I look back now, I think that the biggest thing to me, the biggest obstacle to faith, wasn’t a question about miracles. It wasn’t, How could a loving God allow so much evil and suffering? All these sorts of questions that are legitimate questions, I think, but ultimately, the biggest thing that was keeping me back was just this feeling like it wasn’t that important to me. I always figured if there’s a Heaven, you know, I’m basically a good person, I’ll probably go to it. I just didn’t see the reason to make this huge leap of faith, to devote all of my time and my efforts towards this God, even if He did exist.
And so for me, the moment I became a Christian wasn’t the moment that I sat down and I did this calculation and decided that Christianity was more likely true than false. It was the moment that I realized that I actually needed these things that the gospel Steve had been telling me about offered, things like forgiveness and hope and eternal life and the Holy Spirit, these sorts of things that just seemed like religious buzzwords to me the first time I heard them. It was when I realized that, yes, I too am a sinner, that I too have done a lot of things I’m not proud of, that I too am in need of all of these things, that’s when Christianity really started making sense to me.
“The moment I became a Christian wasn’t the moment that I sat down and I did this calculation and decided that Christianity was more likely true than false. It was the moment that I realized that I actually needed these things, that the gospel [my brother] Steve had been telling me about offered, things like forgiveness and hope and eternal life and the Holy Spirit.” – Dr. Tom Rudelius, Ph.D.
Gaining a New Perspective on the Bible
I think the thing that really changed my perspective on the Bible—the key realization—was when I stopped reading it as just a bunch of individual lessons that are independent of one another. And when I started to appreciate the overarching narrative, the overarching themes that tied all of Scripture together, and what that really is, is really the story of our world. A story of people living in a world with pain and evil and suffering in exile from God and wondering, Where is God in the midst of all of this? And that’s really the story that we’re all living out. That’s the story that you see from page one of the Bible with Adam and Eve rebelling against God, to the very last page of the Bible and the Book of Revelation, where God wipes away the tears from all eyes, from all faces. And so to me, it’s when I started appreciating that overarching narrative in the Bible and how it fits onto my own experience that the Bible really came alive for me.
“And so to me, it’s when I started appreciating that overarching narrative in the Bible and how it fits onto my own experience that the Bible really came alive for me.” – Dr. Tom Rudelius, Ph.D.
I study cosmology, the history of the universe, and from that perspective, the universe has been around for billions of years. It’ll be around for billions of years. And in that perspective, we humans have just been around for like a fraction of a second, and someday we’re all going to die out, and that’ll be the end of it. That’s the story that cosmology has to offer, and that’s a pretty depressing story, right? That’s a really tough story to actually live into. That’s what makes it actually so incredible, the gospel of Christianity, that God would look down at us, just this tiny little planet, a seemingly insignificant species, and He would actually decide to become one of us and to come into our world and to suffer and to die so that we could have life.
“That’s what makes it actually so incredible, the gospel of Christianity, that God would look down at us, just this tiny little planet, a seemingly insignificant species, and He would actually decide to become one of us and to come into our world and to suffer and to die so that we could have life.” – Dr. Tom Rudelius, Ph.D.
And so I think for me when I look at just science alone, I think that it can be depressing. That’s why to me, it’s so important for me to have my faith, for me to have my devotional time. I have a little book right next to my bed right now, it’s like 365 days of devotionals for depression and anxiety, and that’s something that’s meant a lot to me in the tougher times of my life.
Jesus Listens, June 9th:
I bring You all my feelings, including the ones I wish I didn’t have. I confess that fear and anxiety often plague me—tempting me to focus on myself instead of trusting in You. Blazing missiles of fear fly at me day and night; these attacks from the evil one come at me relentlessly. Teach me to use my shield of faith effectively—extinguishing those flaming arrows.
Lord, please enable me to keep affirming my faith, regardless of how I feel. I’ve seen that when I persist in declaring my trust in You, my feelings eventually fall in line with my faith. Help me to persevere in trusting You and living close to You; then fearfulness will gradually lose its foothold in me.
In Your faithful Name,
Narrator: To learn more about Dr. Tom Rudelius, Ph.D., checkout his new book Chasing Proof, Finding Faith: A Young Scientist’s Search for Truth in a World of Uncertainty, at your favorite retailer.
If you’d like to hear more stories about navigating an uncertain world with faith, check out our interview with Dr. Myron Rolle.
Next week: Dennis Quaid
Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from actor Dennis Quaid, beloved for his roles in films like Footloose,The Parent Trap, The Day After Tomorrow, I Can Only Imagine, and many others. Dennis shares about his latest artistic and spiritual pursuit—gospel music—and what it’s meant to him to uncover Christ’s love for himself.
Dennis: I went around the world in my twenties, I had a video recorder. And my question to just random people would be, Who is God to you? But I read the Bible, this was back in the 90s, and I was really struck by the red words of Jesus, which really brought me around for the first time of having a personal relationship with Jesus that I don’t think I had really understood before, because I was trying to handle things myself.