Statistics say between 60-80% of teenagers will leave their faith in their first 3 years after high school. Colleges seem to be a 4 year heart and brain surgery that works to perform a faith lobotomy to create compartmental thinking. At Hillcrest, we have been working to create students who withstand these surgical procedures.
If someone were to ask you, “Who do you think is the most influential person in the world,” how would you answer? Would you think of the president, or a politician? Perhaps the Pope or a religious leader, a famous artist, musician, or sports figure? Deep within all of us is the desire to live lives that matter--dare I say lives of Eternal Significance so that the evidence of our having graced the planet impacts others long after we are gone. We all ask questions like, “Why am I here?” and “What difference does my life make?” In all that we do in this life that is routine or mundane, we can’t escape the deep desire to matter.
Our goal at Hillcrest Academy is to equip students to live and lead in such a way as to influence others for eternity. One such student is Julie Kasulis, a 2015 graduate if HLA has just completed her freshman year at James Madison University in Virginia where she is majoring in social work. I recently interviewed her, asking how she felt Hillcrest did at preparing her for life after high school. She felt HLA was most effective at getting her ready for the realities of college life in two ways:
“Socially Hillcrest prepared me to interact, befriend, and live with people from all different cultures and walks of life. Going into a college with 25,000 I was bound to [meet] people who were different from me and Hillcrest more than prepared me to love and to friend those people. Spiritually Hillcrest more than equipped me to live and be confident in my faith not just for college but the rest of my life. So many of the tough questions people are asking me I once asked, and thanks to Hillcrest, I have the answers for them or know where to point them to get the answers.”
The thing that surprised Julie most about attending a public college was the rich Christian community she found there. JMU is known as being a huge party schools and, at first, Julie found this fact and the sheer size of the student body daunting. But Julie determined to visit as many campus ministry’s Welcome Week Events as she could and was pleasantly surprised at what she discovered.
“I found not just one Christian community but many. It was intimidating and lonely at first feeling like the whole school was living a lifestyle I wasn’t going to live but once I sought out Christian groups I found some of the greatest people who wanted the same things I did, a God honoring life to know Him and make Him known.”
One group that Julie totally clicked with was Young Life, whose mission is “Introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith.” Before long, Julie became a Young Life College leader devoting about 15 hours a week to connecting with students on campus. Her main mission was to really get to know fellow students and befriend them. As a YL leader, she also helped with “Club” which met every Tuesday for an hour. She lead small groups and invited everyone she knew, also helping plan special events such as ice cream social and dances. As a bonus, Julie found some of her closest friends on campus through YL.
“Being a Young Life leader has shown me how God has given me a heart of compassion--one that breaks for those who don’t know Him. I can honestly say that without Hillcrest I definitely don’t think I would be equipped to lead others in their faith let alone be following the path of eternal life in college. Hillcrest has given me assurance in what He has to offer rather than what the world has to offer.”
Julie’s advice for new college freshman is trifold: First find a local Home Church, even if it takes awhile to locate a good fit and then get connected with some older mentors who can inspire and pray for you. Next, she suggests, get involved in Christian fellowship on campus so that you know you are networking with people who share your values and goals. And finally:
“Once you have a solid group of Christian friends, supports, mentors, etc. get involved with those who don’t know the Lord. I’m not saying alter yourself for them--be the God glorifying person you’re called to be--but don’t keep the good news of eternal life to yourself. Everyone needs salvation just as bad as you, Be involved in the lives of non-Christians even if it just means talking to them in class--you never know how God can work in that relationship.”