A common question we receive in the KIVU Gap Year is regarding the faith emphasis in our program.
People ask, "What do you mean by faith?"
Or, "How is the program spiritual?"
It is one of my favorite questions to answer because we believe the spiritual aspect of our program is just as important as all the travel, internships, and college credit our students receive along the way.
We encourage students to explore the deeper questions inside of them. Who am I? What was I made to do with my life? What is my calling?
But the way our students find these answers is by going out into the world and meeting people and organizations who are already answering these questions for themselves. We do not bring you to our program to hold you hostage to our ideals. We do not ask you to sit passively in a classroom and allow us to open your head and fill it with our dogma. We invite you to go out and see the world for yourself. Explore what is out there and meet people along the way who will forever change you.
That is where our program becomes spiritual.
While most of the organizations our students work in are faith based, it is the relationships that they build in each country that do the most transforming. The world is our classroom and relationships are our professors. Each year, our class goes to a country that is predominately of a faith foreign to Americans. Our current students are immersed in a world of Hinduism in India. Our hope is that they will learn to dialogue with people who think and believe differently from them.
When you travel in the developing world, you enter a very spiritually saturated climate. Faith and politics are not divorced from each other. To be close-minded to engage faith would be to project a Western value of secular humanism that is foreign to the host culture. Thus, faith must be engaged in order to truly experience genuine immersion and reach a meaningful depth of relationship in the developing world.
We also want students to explore faith so that they can realize the positive ways in which faith can be used to build bridges to people rather than the commonly held view in the West that faith is destructive to peace building. Our students observe how faith has a remarkable way of producing social capital that is difficult to replicate in the public square. In the Philippines, our students watch an organization strategically address poverty alleviation to those living on less than $.50 a day by employing the local church. The pastor is invited into the process to host weekly gatherings and to hand pick the poorest 20 families in the community. Together they begin a sustainable 12 week program that lifts these families out of some of the most harsh aspects of poverty: hopelessness, despair, and isolation. The church and surrounding relationships thus become the center of sustainability in poverty allevation.
Thus, students are compelled to deeply engage the spiritual aspects of their lives while in our program. Not through a curriculum of dogma, but through a travel itinerary that takes them into the heart of humankind around the world. From there, our students are left to decide how faith and spirituality shapes their worldview and understanding of self.
We are always surprised with how our students respond to the impact of our program in very reflective and spiritual manners. Take these interviews as an example. We asked our students open ended questions about their 8 months of travel after returning to the States to complete the final week of the program. This is how they responded:
Fear and insecurity are common first responses when you find yourself considering a gap year. We all know the traditional well paved road from high school to college. We understand the clamor of anxiety surrounding college visits, college applications, GPA pressure, standardized test scores, and how to get into that prestigous college while snagging their best scholarships along the way.
I heard a student last week say, "Getting a 4.0 GPA just isn't good enough anymore. That is just average." Another student told me, "Most of my friends are applying to 25-30 colleges at least. I feel like I'm not trying hard enough if I only apply to 10."
That is the academic rat race. The ladder of success for high school students now shoots higher into the sky than many students can climb. But some students have figured out a different route and it is raising the eyebrows of admissions offices around the country.
Here is their non-traditional path:
Fall Semester Senior Year: Apply to their select colleges of choice.
Spring Semester Senior Year: Apply to their Gap Year of choice.
Late Spring Senior Year: Defer enrollment to their college of choice and begin their summer visas, vaccinations, and reading for their gap year.
Next Fall: Arrive to their gap year program, travel the world, discover oneself, and learn from other people, cultures, and organizations.
One Year Later: Arrive back in college refreshed, energized, and focused.
These students are coming on to the college campus as 19-20 year old global travelers with real world experience. They have a bigger understanding of themselves and a more realistic understanding of the global market. They are civic minded and service learners. In short, they are just different from the average incoming freshman. They think differently in the classroom and professors find that refreshing! They climbed a different ladder. They stepped out of the academic rat race and when they stepped back on to the track they found themselves running with a different pack.
The senior I met was right. Getting a 4.0 GPA isn't good enough anymore. But getting out in the real world with a global resume of experience before college could emerge as the new way forward.
Here is Kristen, current KIVU Gap Year student, teaching English in Rwanda.
I started in Boston at one of the oldest prep schools in the country, a place of deep historical roots where the very first public school was established in America in 1635.
I will end just south of San Francisco in Silicon Valley visiting some of the newest most innovative schools our nation has seen, a place where innovation and creativity are leading the way toward continued excellence in education.
Since, January 19th, I have taken our KIVU Gap Year program to over 1000 students, parents, educational consultants, college counselors, and college enrollment officers. I've sat in one on one meetings, group discussions, and endless conversations with concerned Americans who want the best for our rising young generation of high school graduates. I''ve learned a million things in between about where our culture is at today in the education and adolescent development conversation.
But one thing has been consistent from coast to coast. People are READY for this! The gap year concept is no longer falling on deaf ears. It is met with great excitement from people of all spectrums and all institutions. Granted their are plenty of questions/fears/reservations along the way (and I will begin to address each one in later blog posts), but they are all grounded in a real desire to push forward toward excellence in American education. People are asking the right questions, and I believe the gap year idea is providing some highly relevant answers to education reform.
Our goal at the KIVU Gap Year is to be the finest 8 month faciliated gap year experience that you can find in the United States. Through high level, purposeful programming, excellent internship experiences, wise oversight, and careful risk management, we desire to swing the doors wide open for high school graduates to gain a global resume of real world experience before entering their college of choice.
I look forward to unpacking more notes from my journey once this 3 week stretch comes to a close on Sunday. For now, it's off to the next meeting here in the San Francisco Bay Area!
It was a bitter, biting cold and windy January day in downtown Boston. The kind of day that makes you turn around and walk backwards when the headwinds cut through you and steal the warmth from your face. I had a few hours to kill so I parked at South Station and walked to an information desk to see about recommendations for siteseeing in the area. It was recommended that I spend some time walking the Freedom Trail enjoying the historical sites of Boston.
So I headed up Summer Street and cut through the tunneling wind and single digit temperatures to arrive at Boston Commons. Little did I know I was only a few minutes away from having an encounter with one of the great Founding Fathers of American history.
I had very little time and wanted to see as much as possible so I traveled with my guided map and planned on a cursory tour with little to no lingering. Before me stood the Massachusetts State House and off I went. To the bottom of the hill where I gazed upon the Park Street Church long enough not to impede the movement of the passerby. Around the corner I went with a lingering gaze up to the top of the church steeple. I told myself to keep moving, to stay warm, to see as much as possible. And then my eyes fell upon the Granary Burying Ground. It was a quaint cemetary nestled up alongside the church walls where it was reverently offerred solitude by means of a street side gate and fencing. It was here where they laid to rest the likes of Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, all those who died in the Boston Massacre, as well as the family members of Benjamin Franklin.
I worked my way through the burial ground and lastly found myself before the Franklin tombstone centered in the middle of the yard. I found myself taken back by an inscription written by Benjamin Franklin himself to which he paid tribute to his mother and father. He lauded his parents efforts to maintain a marriage for 55 years, to stay healthy all their years, and reputably raise 13 children without great wealth attached to their name. Then, Franklin said these words as if to me:
From this instance, reader,
Be encouraged to diligence in thy calling,
And distrust not Providence.
It was as though his words had spoken out of the past and into my present state as I stood before the marble stone.
Thy calling. Each one of us has something we are uniquely designed to accomplish in this world.
To diligence. We must work with persistance and perseverance towards this end.
Be encouraged. When we lose spirit and drive and are met with great setback, we must be urged to continue on.
And distrust not Providence. Although, many a time, we will feel as though we have lost our way, we must yet still believe in the Hand that is caring for us and guiding us still.
I had stumbled upon rich wisdom hidden on a tombstone from long ago. Benjamin Franklin's words had echoed into the future and met me along the Freedom Trail that cold wintry afternoon. I didn't make it too much further along the trail. I managed to arrive to the site of the Boston Massacre several blocks further down the road. But not without stopping to warm up for coffee at a Starbucks along the trail. The cold was getting the best of my excursion. But I had already found what I was looking for that day.
I was spurred on towards my calling by one of our Founding Fathers. And I was urged not to lose heart along the journey. But to trust that I am going somewhere and am moving towards some good that I have been called to accomplish. And it is Providence that will get me there.
Everyone's prayers in secret are the most important prayers in the world.
There is not one prayer that requires more trust than another. There is not one unmet desire that is of more value than another. We are all quietly longing for something more. And that something seems impossible to become a reality in its current state.
When I was a senior in high school, I didn't know how to find the right college of choice for me. But I ended up at the right school. When I was looking for a change of location in my first job after college, I had no clue where or how that door would open up. I also didn't know if my desire was genuine or selfish, but a door did eventually open to make the right change at the right time. When I knew it was time to leave that next job, I had no justification for why it was time...I just knew it was. I had no plans on the table, but in that season of uncertainty, I grew in the only manner I could: trust.
The season of uncertainty is the most important part of my journey towards what I desire. It forces me into dependence. It demands of me faith. It causes me to wrestle with motives. It refines me over time. It is consistently unsettling. It leads me to where my desires finally intersect with God's. It is usually only in hindsight that I realize all these things.
A man onced asked Jesus to heal his son, if he could. His son had been 'sick' since childhood. His sickness was outside of anyone's control. The father hoped, desired, and longed for his son to have a different life, but at this point his desires were unmet. There was a thick cloud of uncertainty surrounding him when he asked Jesus to answer his most important prayer in the world. "Make my son better, if you can."
Jesus said, "'If you can'? Everything is possible for him who believes."
The father replied in all his honesty, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" He was in the deep fog of uncertainty and all desire, hope, and trust were being tested. His questions in the darkest moments must have been as such:
"Is it even possible for my son to get better?"
"Should I just accept things as they are?"
"Perhaps this is simply my son's fate."
"I am ready to give up all hope for my son's healing."
Over the course of time, our unmet desires test us deeply. And I am learning that my unbelief will always need some helping in my seasons of uncertainty. The questions I ask of God need not be couched with doubt, but they will always be settled in uncertainty. Uncertainty of my request. Uncertainty in outcomes. Uncertainty even in my own motives.
What is certain is that He can help. But I am learning that the fog of uncertainty is the very thing I must learn to embrace. Therein lies the excitment of all the story. "How will this tension be resolved?" My prayers may not lead to immediate answers or increased clarity in the moment. But they can always lead to increased trust in the One who can...and does. His record in my own life always seems to put him on the winning side. Yet, that victory is often won in the way I least anticipate.
I am much like the father who asks of Jesus, "Help us, if you can."
May he help me in my unbelief as I wait in seasons of uncertainty.
Who are the men in your life?
That was the question repeatedly posed to me by my mentor in college. He said that I always need to be a guy who pursues other men in my life. Men who know me through and through. Men who can ask me the hard questions of life.
It was some of the most sound advice I've ever received.
We all want to be surrounded by people who know us well. But we want them to come and find us first. We want them to pursue and initiate with us. The result is that many young men and old find themselves stuck in self-pity waiting for someone to come alongside them. I constantly have to remind myself to be the initiator, to start the process, to simply ask.
I sat with a wise gray haired mentor this morning at breakfast who reminded me of these truths. We don't meet on a weekly basis. I don't formally call him my mentor. We're not going through a curriculum together. We're just doing life together. And I know that I need older men in my life to help me become a better man myself.
I am thankful for all the men who have stepped into my life whether by my initiating or not. And to all the men out there both young and old who are reading this blog, I have the same question for you that my college mentor would ask me, "Who are the men in your life?"
If you can't answer that, pick up the phone and call someone. Ask them to meet you for coffee, b'fast or lunch. Share life together. Every man needs it.
This past weekend, I joined Denver K-Life for their Fall Retreat in Estes Park. From 2006-2009, I worked with these same students in south Denver so I know how hard it is for them to commit to a full weekend retreat away from academics, sports, and a million other duties pulling for their time and attention.
I was impressed when 100 students and leaders showed up Friday afternoon and packed out an entire chartered bus and several suburbans in order to get away for a weekend together in the mountains. After everyone loaded the bus, the staff came around and collected cell phones. You should've heard the arguments and ensuing debates as high school students tried to convince the staff this was a bad idea. But before the bus and cars drove off the lot, everyone was unplugged from their devices!
That's when I knew this could be a BIG weekend.
For 12 years now, I've seen the consequences of unplugging yourself from the world in order to solely focus on the community of people around you and your common desire to follow Jesus.
The consequences are devastating:
-people have to look each other in the eyes
-you have to carry on long conversations
-you start to talk about meaningful things
-you start to learn more about each other
-you start to learn more about yourself
-you hear God's voice better because you remove the noise of life back home
-you become honest and open
-you develop true friendships
As I opened the weekend with the students, I asked them to raise the bar of expectations. I asked them to allow each other the freedom to be themselves. I asked them to allow each other to ask any question they like and accept it. I asked them to commit to confidentiality and not allow what they share to come back to haunt them in the hallways on Monday morning.
When we set the bar high and allow students the freedom to be themselves, to ask the hard questions about faith and life, and to commit to sharing our lives with each other without judgment, I continually find that students will rise to the occasion. They are looking for a place where they can be free, where no question is taboo, where no one will spread lies or slander you after finding out who you really are and what you really struggle with.
At the end of our weekend, I saw a group of senior guys wake up at 6:30am to share with each other their honest struggles. I saw a student come up to me in tears the final morning and say, "Thank you! I need to hear everything you said." His heart was starting to be set free when he realized he didn't have to hold everything in but could share his struggles with others.
I was reminded this weekend of the devastating consequences of developing REAL GENUINE HONEST community. It sets us free. It helps us see the tangible presence of Christ. He is found in the love we have for each other. We are freed to love God all the more. Don't get me wrong. It is definitely hard. It definitely awakens our deepest fears. It can bring us to tears. It leaves us vulnerable when we can't hide behind our phones or a busy schedule. But I consistently see that genuine community is what we all desire. It's okay for it to get a little messy in order for it to get real. Because we can finally realize together that all of our lives are messy.
We don't have to live this life alone!
No one should settle for this kind of life. We can "unplug" from all the screens and schedules that distance us from truly knowing one another. We can enter into community with each other. I saw 100 students and leaders from Denver K-Life do it this weekend. I see 1,000 students and staff do it every summer at KIVU. We just have to be willing to set the bar high and go there together.
My sister sent me a link to the following article on Dick Wesp, my former choir director at high school in Cincinnati Ohio. He passed away quite suddenly this week. He was a wonderful teacher and made a great impact on all the students that came through in his 57 years of teaching. A few years ago, I was reflecting on his influence in my life around the holiday season and I felt the need to write him a note of appreciation. Below is the correspondence we had in the winter of 2009. It was 10 years after I graduated high school. Mr. Wesp, thank you for all the wonderful memories you made for us. You are truly a teacher who changed lives and I hope that truth has been confirmed now that you are in a better place. You will be missed by more people than you will ever know. You've left a legacy behind you and instilled songs inside our hearts that will never leave us.
Dated December 13, 2009
"Mr. Wesp, This is Luke Parrott, one of your students who graduated in 1999. I just wanted to say a special thank you to you this Christmas season. You planted songs in my heart for my four years of high school choir that will never escape me. Especially those for this time of year. I am blessed to be able to carry a bass note and join a group of carolers spreading the warmth of Christmas to those all over our little town here in Durango, Colorado. This all because of your tremendous dedication and patience. You planted beautiful songs in my heart. My fondest of memories come from the christmas concert we would perform each year. Little things like singing the 3rd verse of ‘Silent Night’ while building the power of the song with a crescendo into “Son of God (breath), loves pure light (no breath). Radiant beams from...” Or walking into the auditorium singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. And never remembering all the words throughout rehearsals. But it was always such a powerful experience during the concert. Most appreciative am I of a little song you taught us that has become my favorite Christmas song of all time. One of which most of my friends and family have never heard. “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”. Singing that song down at Taft Theatre with the Symphony Orchestra was a memory I will always recall around Christmas. I just wanted you to know this Christmas what a blessing your work has achieved in my life. The power of these songs will never leave my memory. Because of you there is always a beautiful song carrying in my heart, especially this time of year. The songs you chose always drew me closer in to the beauty of what Christmas is all about. The joyful birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for hiding these melodies in my heart. I wish you a very merry Christmas, Mr. Wesp.
His response Dated December 14, 2009
Many thanks for your email. Your comments mean a great deal more to me than you will every know. As one of my close friends always says, you never really know what things that you say and do that have a lasting affect on students. Thanks for sharing your memories. Hopefully, we're still creating meaningful memories for students. Thanks also for the picture of the Parrott's. May you all ave a wonderful Christmas and the best year yet in 2010.