My sophomore year was a turning point for me in more ways than one. To me, it felt like the two year transition into American culture, coming out of Sub-Saharan Africa had ended. I had assimilated. I was ready to thrive. 

I set two specific goals for myself: I would make the Varsity Squad in soccer, and I would audition for the prestigious Chamber Choir. I signed up for my choir audition, and registered for soccer. Throughout that week of scrutiny I gave it my all. As I ventured home Friday, tired and sore, I knew I had done my best. Now I would rest, patiently awaiting what week two would bring.

Monday delivered a double blow, not seeing my name on either list. I was once again a JV soccer player, and a second rate Concert Choir member. That night I struggled with discouragement. I resolved if I was to be in Concert Choir instead of Chamber, and on JV instead of Varsity.

My efforts did not go unnoticed. Those two weeks set the tone for the rest of the year. I had  incredibly successful athletic seasons. And was part of multiple award winning Choral ensembles. I excelled academically, and worked every task to my utmost ability. I learned something that Friday. It’s always worth it to strive, even when faced with failure, because overcoming produces a virtue found nowhere else. Resilience.

I see Hillcrest as a sort of divine potter's wheel. The clay of my life was scrupulously collected throughout my years in africa, and now it has been refined, molded. It now has purpose and use. God has used Hillcrest as a place to truly begin to show me how I am His vessel.



Hillcrest's academic program is dynamic. Most classrooms are discussion oriented, where students learn concepts and practice dialogue. Because of the diversity of cultures present at Hillcrest, with students from Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and the United States, classroom discussion is robust. In this, students find unity in the person of Jesus Christ, while sharing varied perspectives from their cultures. Hillcrest is a safe place to share ideas and have them weighed against the Bible.



Hillcrest parents say their students receive a more diverse and integrated school environment than many of their friends in larger cities. This fosters a robust classroom, where differences of opinion are expressed as students learn how to form logical thoughts and are trained to communicate winsomely in an academic environment. Hillcrest students are prepared for the rigors of the University while building structures for form good thoughts and habits to propel deeper intellectual development.



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Inside of the dynamic environment of Hillcrest Academy students have godly character strengthened. Life in the dormitory, sharing living space with friends from around the world, means there will be conflict. Students are mentored to manage this conflict, building muscles to handle difficult things later in life. Athletics and Hillcrest’s clubs also provide opportunities for students to engage in the culture of Hillcrest while building good habits and strong practices to strengthen their character.


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Students leave Hillcrest prepared and ready to engage the next challenge. It is common to have seniors report that they’ve appreciated their growth at Hillcrest, and in their final semester share that they’re ready to exercise their mental, social, and spiritual muscles outside the Castle. Hillcrest students score high on standardized tests and many find the college transition easy following their time at Hillcrest.  


“To be in the ‘In-Crowd’ I had to be a ditz and a klutz,” Inga-Liese Hantho confessed, describing life at her former school.. High school was miserable.

Inga-Liese had friends at her old school, but they were often controlling and degrading. She was enslaved to the desire for their approval. Inga-Liese said she acted like a fake, putting on a face and doing things for her friends for  validation and popularity. “You don’t realize just how dysfunctional and detrimental these things are until you leave that situation,” she confided. Anger and resentment often tormented her; the destructive and inappropriate habits of her peers and friends was building a shallow identity that didn’t resemble the kind-hearted follower of Jesus she sought to be.

Inga-Liese eventually found that her only true friends came from the sports crowd. “I miss the teams I was on (Field Hockey and Swim), but I don’t miss the pettiness, the drugs or the alcohol,” she admits.  Like many others, Inga-Liese experienced a drastic and positive change in her life from the moment she started putting her clothes away and hanging up pictures of her friends, family, and her beloved dog in her new room at Hillcrest. She was on the verge of a  fresh start, and things were going to be different here.

Since first stepping foot in the Castle, the slight sadness of being away from home was hardly noticeable. The excitement of life at Hillcrest overwhelmed her. “I’ve been experiencing God, making friends, and living my life to the fullest,” Inga-Liese said with a smile. The presence of the Lord brought a change to her perspective, carrying  joy into her life, teaching her to do as Christ asks. She sums up some of the lessons she’s learning with a reference to James 1:19. She is developing a personality that is, “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” The physical weight of peer pressure, friend conflict, and bad decisions are gently being lifted off her shoulders, leaving her feeling light, free, and thankful for the Lord’s grace that she is finding in Hillcrest’s halls.

Despite suffering a serious concussion in the second week of school, an injury that will likely affect her for the rest of her life, she says she is learning, growing, and loving every minute of her time at Hillcrest. She concluded, “God taught me patience through dealing with my concussion, and he opened my eyes to see all the little joys that He has placed in my life that I wasn’t able to see or appreciate before.” Her faith, her strength, and her character have flourished in the time that she’s spent here. Her ear-to-ear grin radiates as she concludes, “I do not regret coming to Hillcrest, because it is truly is equipping me with the capability to live a life of eternal significance.”




Hillcrest is a premiere boarding school because of the way God works on our campus. Students from around the world unite at Hillcrest for one main objective: to grow in their understanding, knowledge, and practice in following Jesus Christ.

Through Hillcrest’s dynamic academic, athletic, and student life programs students not only build good habits and an ability to attend college. They hear the Gospel daily, through classes, in chapel services, and in the dormitory program. Students from around the world engage in the Gospel-centered community at Hillcrest, building a foundation for community that rests in the nature and glory of God.



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Hillcrest’s Chapel program is a primary heart beat for the school. Students meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to unpack the theme for the school year. Students share testimonies, pastors and youth pastors give teaching, and faculty and staff share stories related to the Biblical theme that the school is working through during the year.

Formations Weeks


Spiritual Formations Week is a century-old tradition that formed around a concept called Prayer Day. In the early 1900’s Hillcrest students were moved by the Spirit to pray for their classmates. A revival broke out and classes were canceled as students gathered with faculty and staff to pray and seek the Lord. Hillcrest has conducted days of prayer, canceling classes to devote time to teaching, training, and practicing prayer and refocusing attention to Christ. Hillcrest humbly continues this tradition with focus, vigor, and commitment, helping students understand the role prayer plays in the life of the believer.


Jongkyu (JK) Lee stepped into Hillcrest not knowing how God would change him. He left South Korea focused on academic performance, choosing Hillcrest Academy as his path to an American university. He arrived with his sister in January of his sophomore year. JK’s wry smile and mischievous personality instantly made him the center of fun, but sarcasm and wit didn’t overshadow his true desire to learn. It wasn’t long before Hillcrest’s distinct Christian program and a new group of friends began to present a Biblical perspective which called JK’s atheistic reasoning into question.

JK’s Junior year brought on an impasse in his worldview. Concepts from english, history, and biology began to connect with his biblical studies, spurring questions about human origins suffering. JK’s background in atheism had trained him to approach these questions with logic and reason, which ultimately pointed him towards a deeper investigation of Christianity.

Dorm in-hours provided many opportunities for weighty conversations with friends. Even after lights-out, JK found his mind turning, often sneaking down the hall to continue discussions he started earlier. He was conflicted. He knew Christianity made sense, but he wasn’t swayed.

The restlessness in JK’s heart revolved around one verse, Psalm 14:1, heard in his Proverbs class. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” He didn’t believe he was a fool—he was intelligent.

JK’s senior Bible class forced action on his haunting thoughts. Principal Isaac introduced profound ideas to the class on a daily basis, calling for original thoughts from the class as they wrestled to make sense of the world. The Kalam Cosmological Argument led JK to shudder. His rational mind raced to make sense of the complexity of the universe. The naturalistic explanations he used to embrace no longer offered satisfactory answers.

JK kept his slow slide towards Christianity silent for much of his senior year. Close friends noticed a gentle softening in his spirit. He treated staff with more respect. He grew chivalrous and cared deeply for his female friends in the dorm. He signed-up for the Dominican Mission experience most seniors look forward to. His friends didn’t know, but the senior mission was logical for JK after the Holy Spirit’s work in forming his faith.

During the second day of the Senior class’ Dominican Mission, Gregg Preston asked the group for a volunteer to share a testimony at the evening church service. Students were busy packing backpacks with ministry resources when JK confidently walked to Mr. Preston’s bedside and said, “I’ll do it, Coach.” Startled, Mr. Preston looked JK in the eyes. Unsure of JK’s testimony, Gregg said, “JK, remember when we left that we said there is a difference between a testimony and sharing the Gospel. A testimony is telling someone the work of God in your life.” JK nodded his head with a resolute look that gave Mr. Preston confidence. The two boarded the bus to the church where JK would grab a mic and stun his classmates in sharing his testimony. Later in the week JK was baptized in the ocean, another public declaration of the Holy Spirit’s work in his life.

“Christianity was the most consistent to its teachings and went along with the morals I have so I could accept it well,” JK recalls as he thinks back to his conversion. He notes that Christ has remade him and his desires during his time at Hillcrest. ”I had to give up pursuing pleasure. That was the main struggle, we don’t want to give up stuff Christianity doesn’t agree with.”




Hillcrest offers a rigorous and challenging academic program. Students who attend Hillcrest may use secular text books, but teachers are well versed in founding all knowledge on Scripture. This often means that the Bible is found side-by-side with texts like A Tale of Two Cities, Hammurabi’s Code, and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Students see the world as designed in their science, mathematics, history, and social studies courses. They often use college preparatory textbooks that don’t outline or highlight a Biblical perspective. Students are trained to pick apart ideas, identifying assumptions and logical fallacies in arguments, while holding tightly to facts that are highlighted in texts. It is common for students to say that their history or english courses feel like a Bible class, and their Bible classes feel like a study of History and English. Hillcrest integrates various disciplines inside each classroom, offering a robust and well-rounded program that challenges students to think outside the box and apply knowledge.

Hillcrest also sees a direct and inseparable link between knowledge and virtue. Where students study gender theory and climate change in the upper level classrooms they wrestle with logic and identity. Students are growing in a world that is more multi-cultural and diverse in connections and conflicts in thought and ethnicity than at any time in history. It is important for students to see that the various thoughts, ideas, and identities can be unified and restored in the person and character of Jesus Christ. In this academic and spiritual endeavor of acquiring knowledge students are challenged to develop wisdom. The application of their knowledge is consistently held to a Biblical standard inside the Hillcrest learning and living community. Students have virtue forged as they understand the purpose and design of learning is wholly linked to worship, an action that transforms not only our minds to better thinking but our hearts to greater living and loyalty.


Apologetic Classrooms

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Hillcrest works to hold an open posture in the dialogue of ideas. Because students attend from around the world there is a vast diversity of thought. It is common for an economics classroom to hold students who benefit from a capitalist, socialist, and communist government. Where students from the United States might naturally dominate a conversation, students from Norway and China also have opportunity to share perspectives. Classrooms therefore focus on logic and order, helping students think through the web of ideas to come to build an organization for their thoughts using strong forms of thought and communication. Students build a reasoned defense for beliefs, and at Hillcrest the entire program centers on a Biblical foundation.

Life Readiness
- Not Simply College Preparatory

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Hillcrest has a strong history of equipping students with a foundation in Biblically-based thought. Our students do well in college, prepared for the academic rigor and social and emotional challenges they’ll face. However, Hillcrest has a greater benchmark than simply holding a banner that students attend college. At Hillcrest students are challenged to develop mental toughness. Being located in Minnesota, students experience highs and lows, not only in temperature and climate but also in emotion, faith, and academic progress. Going through difficulties builds muscles to handle challenges later in life, and in Hillcrest classrooms students are trained to navigate difficulties. Hillcrest has a benchmark not only of their 18 year-old graduates, but our 28 year-old alumni.


Luke Bowman is a coffee loving man who was born and raised on the plains of Jamestown, North Dakota. Growing up as a pastor’s kid, Bowman was deeply rooted in the scriptures from a young age. He has been confident in his relationship with Jesus since he can remember.

Luke had known about Hillcrest his whole life. He never expected coming here to become a reality. That changed at the end of his sophomore year. Cracks of light began to appear.

At an Inspiration Point family camp Luke saw a presentation given about Hillcrest and he began to consider attending. The tipping point of his decision was another presentation given at YC15. He sensed God was tugging on his heart. “All these things softened me up to His will.”

“I came here not really knowing what to expect.” If anything has exceeded Luke’s expectations, it has been his teachers. Luke is most grateful for the teachers’ willingness to speak the truth. Coming from a public school, Luke had become used to teachers not being allowed to speak about religious beliefs. They weren’t allowed to speak about total truth. “Here, teachers speak what they believe and they are sincere.”

The biggest lesson Luke will take away from his time at Hillcrest is this. “When you create a culture of free thought, you restrict people. But when you create a culture of freedom you empower people.”



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Hillcrest and Virtue

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There are characteristics that our culture exalts. Kindness, charity, and respect are some easy ones that come to mind. These characteristics come from underlying beliefs and values that undergird our culture. At Hillcrest these values are identified wholly in the imprint of God that each human bears. In being made in God’s image all of us hold certain characteristics that reflect God. In strengthening character Hillcrest doesn’t forge new identities for students, but helps them hone and identify the God characteristics that they are all endowed with. Classes, dormitory life, and extra curricular activities all forge strong environments to hone virtuous characteristics for students. In resting everything on a Biblically-based foundation Hillcrest identifies, encourages, and shapes students to represent their Creator.

Forming Muscles

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Habits drive actions. At Hillcrest we work to form and build good habits for students. More than simply good actions, at Hillcrest these habits are often referred to as muscles. We desire our students to hold muscles for academic engagement, spiritual exercise, and cultural participation. We see that there is an expectation that the life of a Christian will bear fruit. This fruit comes from knowing and abiding in Christ. At Hillcrest our program is centered around building muscles for students to abide in Christ. Attending Hillcrest can be a shock to the system for some students, where secular schools haven’t enabled them to talk about their faith. At Hillcrest, students talk about faith in nearly every class, building muscles of exercising a Biblically-based character.


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Victoria Synstelien tucked her chin inside the collar of her jacket -- the wind whips hard in the streets of Fargo in November. Victoria stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a circle of Hillcrest students singing Amazing Grace. Above them a sign read “Red River Women’s Clinic,” North Dakota’s lone abortion clinic at the time. It was here that Victoria received a voice for the voiceless.

Victoria sang softly in front of the abortion clinic. The song sheets provided by Pastor Rich Iverson led the students through a series of hymns and Scripture readings. Speaking truth in front of a place of confusion made a strong impression on Victoria. She built a reasoned defense for the pro-life position in class at Hillcrest, but getting on the streets stirred something eternally significant in her soul.

“The beauty of what Hillcrest does in praying and singing outside the abortion clinic often gets a negative view from the pro-choice side because of the pro-life extremists,” Victoria said. She’s a junior at a State University now, and is excited that Hillcrest still takes students to sing and pray at abortion clinics. “Standing out there made it more real. In class it was a discussion, but singing on the street made abortion more real.”

With a Biblical grounding in defending the right to life, and forming strong muscles to stand and pray for life with Hillcrest staff and students, Victoria is setting out to engage her college community to care for women and children.

Victoria works in a childcare facility down the hall from her college classrooms, caring for the children of staff and students from her University. She played an integral part in reviving the campus Students for Life group, serving as the President for the campus-recognized organization. Their leadership team is taking strong steps in ministering on their campus and with local crisis pregnancy centers.

“College campuses are a huge target for abortion, but unless you’re on a campus, as a student, it’s hard to help,” Victoria noted, sharing the importance of the mentorship she receives from the local centers that care for women in unplanned pregnancies. “The organizations really can’t do much [inside college campuses without student support]. We’re not mainly focused against abortion. We’re supporting people in crisis pregnancies, helping them see there are more options than abortion.”

Hillcrest’s Biblical training instilled a strong foundation for Victoria’s pro-life passion. Trips to the abortion clinic set a structure to minister to those facing crisis. And through continued support and encouragement from faculty and staff, Victoria is housing a caring community where she connects with people in challenging positions and speaks life into difficult situations.



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Challenging Missions Experiences

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Hillcrest’s senior mission trip is not simply a mercy experience. Where some schools will hold a capstone experience for students to experience a foreign culture, Hillcrest holds an evangelism trip that challenges students. The Senior class mission experience to the Dominican Republic is part of a decades long emphasis on getting students to foreign cultures to share the Gospel. Students are armed with a Bible and evangelism tools to communicate the Gospel to people on the streets. These challenges encapsulate the training students receive in the classroom, where they are pushed to link everything in creation to the glory of God.

Training in Evangelism

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Hillcrest not only equips students to share their faith in the classrooms and through chapel, but pushes students to express their faith in public places. The Evangelism club is the most direct way Hillcrest students are trained and equipped to share their faith. Students go through a series of trainings and experiences that put them on streets in Minneapolis and Chicago where they strike up conversation to understand people and share the love of Jesus. Using their apologetics training, students highlight proofs and examples of God in the world. In learning how to hold meaningful conversations, students build muscles to listen and work to hone discernment on how God is speaking to individuals as they share their story. Students humbly and prayerfully exercise linking people’s stories to the Gospel, equipped with habits and experiences in evangelism.