Minute by minute the sky lightens, revealing tall prairie grasses bowing under silver frost. Empty milkweed pods with beards of snow-white seeds huddle companionably next to the skeletons of black-eyed susans. Faces among the crowd of Hillcrest students are now recognizable in the yellow light of day. The musicians are not alone but joined by dozens of teenagers who rose in the dark to greet the day with worship. They join all creation to praise the Creator in this perfect setting to begin the Lord’s Day.
Students shuffled between rows of chairs to circled groups Wednesday morning at Hillcrest. The groups were a small sample of the Hillcrest community. A junior high student sat amidst a student from Norway, one of Asia, and a handful of friends from the United States. There were over 16 groups meeting, led by a student from the senior class who would usher in the purpose of their gathering.
He cut his first teeth on the reins of his dad’s horse, wedged snugly between him and and the saddle’s pommel. Wyatt was on a horse before he could walk.
This is Wyatt Gilbertson’s third year at Hillcrest where he is a freshman. He sits quietly across the table from me now, blue eyes down, camo cap pulled low on his forehead. As soon as we start talking about the Minnesota State Fair, where he competed two weekends of last month, his face lights up. He talks of qualifying for two separate riding classes with two different horses and having to choose. He decides to take Ace, a 12 year old quarter-horse gelding down to St. Paul to compete at the state level. He tells of countless hours spent training for three minutes in the ring. Wyatt shows me the pattern he needed to memorize for the course which involved a bridge, a gate, and navigating narrow paths between parallel poles laid out on the ground. The horse must not nick the wood with his hooves. He must begin on a certain foot, pivot on a certain foot, move in very specific ways. Points are deducted for the smallest mistake. And they have just 3 minutes to complete the course. Ace has been trained to respond to the slightest shift of Wyatt’s weight, the least pressure from his knees or heels. Horse and rider must be in absolute sync and this does not happen without a lot of hard work.
Wyatt’s riding teacher, whose tutelage he’s been under since first grade, insists that four phrases never be used in response to his instruction or correction:
Wyatt pulls out his phone and shows me the video of his best ride, pointing out the significance of every intricate move, like an artist describing his favorite painting. Wyatt’s face is flushed and he smiles and laughs easily as we talk. Wyatt recalls the first time he met Ace. Ace was a young horse--unruly and willful. Wyatt was just a little boy and had to carry a whip with him when he was near Ace because the horse had a propensity to lunge and kick or bite. An accident a couple years later left Ace blind in one eye and it changed his demeanor. Instead of becoming more difficult and fearful, he became more mellow. Wyatt and Ace’s relationship also changed. Ace learned to trust his human and to work with him. In competition, no one in the arena knows what is going on behind the scenes. No one is aware that, with just one eye, Ace only has 50% of his field of vision. Half of his world is in total darkness. The horse needs Wyatt to “tell him” where the obstacles lie and he must trust him completely. There is leadership that Wyatt must provide. There is respect between rider and beast. Together they execute a wordless dance. Wyatt directs, Ace responds. Their first trip to State, they take 8th place.
The following weekend, Wyatt brings his two Australian Shepherd dogs; Kodie, a 9 year-old veteran of 5 consecutive trips to State, and an 11 month old puppy named Kacie to the show ring. Kodie completes a flawless performance a fraction of a second behind a tough competitor and is awarded Reserve Champion. And then Kacie goes on to wow everyone in her novice classes, placing 5th out of 16 in Beginner Obedience and 8th out of 19 in Pre-Novice Rally--pretty impressive for a pup! Wyatt attributes their success to the strong bond they share. Kacie adores Wyatt and never takes her eyes off him while working or playing. He is looking forward to the years ahead they’ll have to work together.
Wyatt’s favorite Bible verse is Romans 5:8. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus does for us what we could not do for ourselves when we did not deserve it. Likewise, in Wyatt’s work with animals he is able to do with/for them what they could never do without him. And the result is a beautiful picture of humility and trust, something we can all learn from.
Catch up on life at Hillcrest by digging into the the Current, Hillcrest's student newspaper.
The Lady Comets Soccer program is making huge strides this year, finding themselves in a place to finish with a .500 mark with only two games left. Their 6-6 record is currently marking them as the best Hillcrest team yet, and with two games left, the Comets are eyeing a strong run at playoffs.
Michael Lataweic was a Romanian orphan. Thirty years ago he sat in a cold crib in the middle of Romania wasting away. Untouched by human hands for nearly three years, Michael survived a culture of abortion, sustained life in a world where he wasn't wanted, and is now speaking out for life.
Michael is the son of a gypsy. His father pleaded for an abortion, but Micahel's mother refused. His dad walked out on his mom, and Michael was placed in a Romanian orphanage after his birth.
Micahel's ethnicity pushed his crib to the back of the orphanage. Children were held during feeding, as bottled were propped-up in his crib. The lack of human touch stunted Michael's brain development. At three years old, Michael was deemed obsolete by the orphanage.
A world away, Jennifer Lataweic sat on her couch flipping channels. The 1990 news series 20/20 started reporting on orphanages in Romania. Jennifer was captivated. She watched the entire program. Her heart broke, stirring a passion inside her. She resolved to start an organization to make an impact. The Eastern European Children's Fund is saving lives today, and started because someone flipping channels turned a news story human.
Jennifer's sister, Judy, brought food, diapers, clothes, and toys to Romanian orphanages in the following years. She found Michael wasting away in an iron crib. She tried to rehabilitate the children in the orphanage. Her work brought many small children from the brink of death to meet benchmarks for adoption.
Judy periodically moved crib-to-crib to awaken new life in the rows of neglected children. She walked the final row of cribs, small mouths agape with eyes staring into the distance. That's where she met Michael.
Judy bent over the iron crib to wrap her fingers around Michael's lifeless body. She was the only person to hold Michael in three years.
Judy worked with the orphanage to rescue Michael, realizing his stunted development pushed him closer to an asylum. Asylums in Romania are places for children with special needs who are left to die after their third birthday. Judy took action.
Judy traveled home for Christmas. Lights blinked on the Christmas tree as Judy and Jennifer sorted through pictures from Judy's trip. Jennifer stopped to hold Michael's picture, unaware of his tory and his sentence to death in an asylum. Jennifer determined that Christmas that Michael was her son. She was going to adopt him and save his life.
A long battle ensued, one that Jennifer walked eight times. The Lataweics have twelve children, eight adopted from situations similar to Michael's. The cold crib grew to a distant memory as Michael started a new life in Minnesota. Treatments and continual love opened doors for Michael. Violin lessons provided an expressive opportunity. After the lessons Michael would trade Vivaldi for folded hands, praying outside a nearby abortion clinic to stand for children who can't stand for themselves.
Michael's consistent protest directed a resolve to oppose what happens behind the walls of abortion clinics. Hours standing for live caused Michael to question why he was saved from the Romanian orphanage. Sensing God calling him to something bigger than protesting, Michael started counseling families considering abortion. He has been used to save twelve babies in his five years of sidewalk counseling.
Michael now travels to abortion clinics regularly. His mission is peaceful protest in speaking for life in communities where abortion numbers rival kindergarten enrollment. Michael's story shows that even the most unwanted people in the remotest areas can do amazing things if they're given the chance.
With 2:07 left in the first, after a 5 yard 4th down conversion by Thomas Zwiers, Hillcrest set in for a 1st down play on their own 44 yard line. When the ball passed from Zak Zwiers to Thomas Zwiers the offensive line met Laporte with a different sense of urgency. As Thomas faked a run, turning to Sam Ihrke for a smooth handoff, a hole opened on the left side. Ihrke sprinted toward the hole. A quick step toward the middle set the Laporte defenders back a step as Ihrke continued to bounce to the outside. He sprinted 44 yards for Hillcrest's first score of the year.
It was a busy day in the net for Walker-Hakensack-Akeley (Walker) when the Comets came to town Thursday Afternoon. The Comets boarded the bus for the two hour trip shortly after lunch for their 3:30pm tip-off. Where some teams might have tight muscles and have a hard time getting going, Coach Rod Jensen had his team running from the bus to launch 46 shots on the Walker goal before the Comets boarded again with their eighth victory this season, the fifth shutout for first-time keeper Bill Bui.
Someone knocked on my door. I wiped my tears away, working to sound happy as I said “come in.” It was Tina Hellum, and I didn’t realize how much I needed a hug until I was given one. I started bawling. Tina asked what was wrong. Somehow, through the tears, I told her. She hugged me and told me it was going to be ok. We prayed. Our time together lasted about an hour and I started to see that God is my refuge, and he’s using my friends to show me.
Hurricane Irma hit my house last week. A tree crushed part of my home and our dock washed away. My parents sound stressed and tired, and I feel terrible because I’m not home to help with cleanup.
I feel helpless and not in control. God knows I struggle with control, and I believe He is teaching me a lesson in this moment. After I spoke to my parents about the Hurricane last week, I went up to my room crying, feeling like God was giving me too much in teaching me this lesson. I hoped and prayed that no one would notice I went to my room crying.
After Tina knocked on my door, gave me a hug, and started talking to me, I was able to speak through my sniffles. She asked if we could pray, and that prayer was one of the most beautiful prayers I have been a part of. In our prayer time I realized that God sees my pain, and He hates it. He sees the hurt, and He feels it. I believe He will use the hurt and pain and make good and beauty come from it.
At school this week I had a hard time focusing. The lessons I learned through my prayer time with Tina didn’t completely resolve my stress. In class I began thinking how the stress of fixing and rebuilding our home must weigh on my father, who already works hard to enable me to attend Hillcrest. My mother and brother are bearing additional stress without me home to help. I somehow felt responsible for the stress on my family. This bothered me throughout the day. Finally, I broke down in tears. I left class to talk with someone. I ended up talking with the school nurse.
Mrs. Venberg, the school nurse, helped me realize that the stress wasn’t my fault. She reminded me that God has me here for a reason. I realized that if my parents need me at home they will tell me. God has me here for some reason, and I believe this is only a small part of what he is teaching me here.
Mrs. Venberg and Mrs. Heikes prayed with me after I talked with Mrs. Venberg in her office. During the prayer I felt a calming sensation. I felt at peace, like a weight was lifted off. I believe Jesus is comforting me as I finally gave him all of my pain and all of my worry. I feel content and grateful.
I am realizing how great God is at Hillcrest. He is loving and kind. He teaches us lessons through the biggest and smallest things. I have sensed God close to me, wanting to hold me and through sorrow and pain. God is my refuge in the storm.
There were near tears shed at the 10 minute mark when Maria Jennings found a crease in Crookston's defense, slipping through with a few taps of the ball, dribbling to meet the Crookston goalie. Her shot in the lower righthand corner of the net sent a swell of cheers and screams from the Comet box. Jennings ran, hands covering her mouth, to midfield as she worked to compose herself and reset for the ensuing possession. The special moment was captured with hugs at midfield as Jennings found the strike from the defensive position, scoring a rare goal from the back line that kept Senior Paige Schultz safe from Crookston defenders for most of the day.
The Lady Comets entered Tuesdays game following a rough week on the road. Being shutout in Bemidji and East Grand Forks, the Comets stepped onto the field with a heart to reset their season, looking to fight their way back to .500 in a three game homestand starting Tuesday against Melrose.
“She really stressed that Hillcrest was a great place to further your faith,” Tina said. Through prayer she decided Hillcrest seemed like a good place for her.
The Lady Comets took control of their season Monday in a very aggressive game versus Melrose. In a strong statement early in the game, Hillcrest fought to maintain control as Melrose worked to push the Comets down.
Minutes into the game it was clear the Comets were fighting for something more than simply possession of the ball. Looking at their 2-3 start on the year, Hillcrest worked to out-maneuver Melrose to create open lanes of attack. Through a series of back-and-forth possessions, Mackenzie Foss won a ball and dribbled through a host of defenders to put the Comets up 1-0 early in the game, making a strong statement for the Comets' season.
Minutes before intermission, Melrose controlled the ball at midfield, working to setup an attack. With the Comets positioning their defense, attacking the ball in an effort to strike on Melrose, the Melrose midfileder slipped past the Comets' front line to put a 50 yard strike on net. The ball curved past Paige Schultz in a dazzling shot that left many Comets in awe as Melrose took the lead.
The game continued with a wearisome pace, as HIllcrest worked to continue control of the game. Through a series of crisp passes, Emma Kvalheim found a seam off a pass from Mackenzie Foss, to put the Comets back up 2-1, a score they would defend through the final whistle.
The Comets are now 3-3 entering a difficult match-up Tuesday.
Hillcrest is proving to be a high-flying offensive powerhouse again this year, scoring their 40th goal in their 5th game of the season. The 14-2 victory over Melrose was a quick strike that opened the door for HIllcrest to continue their enhancement as a team with eyes on State.
What could be more inspiring to Christian parents, churches, teachers, and schools than to see young people catch for themselves a passion to reach their own generation with the gospel?
Jenna Castro's return to the Comet field was met with hugs and high-fives as she joined new teammates, a former coach, and a nearly 100 year legacy of female sports smiles at Hillcrest Academy. Joining Underwood sophomore captain Kindra Peterson, the Castro-Peterson tandem is likely to be an X-factor to push the Comets into a longer post-season this year.
I heard from another student, a 2017 grad whom I had encouraged to seek out a Christian club for support. “A” told me that she had already done so but that she was confused and disappointed to learn that the Christians she had met were just as prone to partying as everyone else on campus
Hillcrest is starting at square one. The goal is to drive Christians to see the story as if it was for the first time they heard it, rediscovering old truths in a new way. Former President Joel Egge called this, "making the familiar unfamiliar."
Hannah will start her high school coaching career at Hillcrest in a program that is in a rebuilding stage. Hannah brings a great deal of expertise, having served as a student-coach for the Hawkeyes following an injury that cut her collegiate season short.
A simple verse was stated, but little explanation given. The student had read the verse earlier that morning, but hadn't taken time to unpack the significance of God directing his thought process and actions through it. Coach Preston urged the young men to dwell on the context of the verse. After an initial pause, the silence was broken as comments flowed around the circle like popcorn popping. Some students drove deep into the relevance of the verse while others started tying in God directing their life, using the verse as a springboard.