By Joella Ranaivoson, M.Div student at Calvin Theological Seminary. She served as a live-in leader for Facing Your Future 2014.
“I’m fairly certain that without Facing Your Future, I would not have gone into ministry, and Encounter Church would not exist. As a result, several hundred people would not have a church they call their home today,” said Dirk VanEyk, a church planter and lead pastor at Encounter Church in Kentwood, Mich. Twelve years ago as a high school student, at the recommendation of his youth pastor, VanEyk looked into the theology and ministry program at Calvin Theological Seminary and participated in a program called Facing Your Future (FYF). It turned out to be an unforgettable experience.
For Laura de Jong, who has finished her first of four years in the M.Div. program at Calvin Theological Seminary, FYF was six summers ago. It was “incredibly formative for some of the fundamental things I believe and ways I live my life,” de Jong said.
“It was the first time I’d come across the idea of spiritual disciplines or incorporating a rhythm. . . . I still remember discovering the idea that being busy means you have less capacity to love.”
Three weeks of living in college dormitories with peers and taking a trip to Turkey is what drew Sarah Steen Schreiber to FYF 13 years ago as a high school student, but the opportunity to explore vocational ministry was also compelling.
For Steen Schreiber, who now finds herself back on her old stomping grounds as the newly appointed assistant professor of Old Testament at Calvin Seminary, having mentors—Christian adults walking with her and speaking truth into her life—and the friendships she formed with her FYF peers were the striking points of the program.
She has come full circle and now serves as one of the FYF instructors. So what is this program that has been so formative and important for these individuals who began their journeys in and toward vocational ministry while still in high school?
FYF coordinator Jessica Driesenga, a Calvin Seminary M.Div. grad and Ph.D. candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary, names four goal areas for FYF: theological, vocational, spiritual, and relational. The expectation is for FYF participants to experience growth in each of these—both as individuals and as a community.
Students nominated and selected for FYF are high school juniors and seniors in whom their Christian leaders have seen gifts for leadership, service, and perhaps vocational ministry. After being accepted into the program, FYF students begin their journey.
First there are books to read: books on Reformed theology and confessions, on spiritual disciplines, and on story.
In early July, they arrive at Calvin Seminary. The first 10 days are spent living on campus in a residence hall and “doing life” like a seminary student. They sit under the teaching of seminary professors, engaging topics from Missio Dei to eschatology to the Apostles’ Creed to CRC church governance. They also learn to practice spiritual disciplines in small groups with their peers, led by a live-in leader who is a current Calvin Seminary student.
During this on-campus segment, they also engage with the city of Grand Rapids. The first Sunday morning is spent in worship with a local congregation; other congregations in the area provide lunch and dinner each day back on campus.
The first 10 days culminate in Bridge Day, a day of outreach and engagement in downtown Grand Rapids. Students practice and witness the connection between theology and ministry in the classroom and life on the street.
During the second 10 days of FYF, students participate in an excursion. Divided into three groups and led by two live-in leaders, they travel to another part of North America to engage a ministry context different from what they know, serving with and learning from a pastor and a church community.
FYF 2014 students traveled to Austin, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Roseland in Chicago, Ill.
The Austin group witnessed and explored what ministry looks like in a post-Christian and eclectic society.
In Salt Lake City, where Mormonism is the dominant religious and cultural tradition, the group engaged in Mormon-orthodox Christian dialogue and ministry with a local church.
The Roseland group learned what it means to be ministers of reconciliation in a racially taut environment on the south side of Chicago, formerly a significant CRC enclave.
Of the several books each student and leader reads before FYF begins, one is specific to the context of the excursion she or he will take. This helps prepare them for what they will encounter when they are outside their comfort zones.
The idea of high school students thinking and engaging deeply in all manner of theological topics may sound forced—until you sit with some FYF students and hear them pondering together the “intermediate state,” or what it means to live and work for the coming kingdom of God, or racial reconciliation in divided communities.
Then it becomes clear that, although FYF participants are young, their roots go deep, their experiences in God’s world and Word are broadening their hearts, and their longing for and questions of God are keen.
FYF provides both space and a place for young people who are interested in theology, leadership, service, and vocational ministry to be with like-minded and often like-hearted peers. It is three weeks of learning, practicing, playing, and living with people who may become good friends for years to come.
This was true for Derek Buikema. “The people were incredibly significant. I hadn’t experienced that depth of friendship before FYF,” Buikema said. Even though the friendships were forged 11 years ago while he was in high school, he still keeps in regular contact with his two closest friends from FYF. Buikema received his M.Div. from Westminster Seminary and is now the preaching pastor at Orland Park CRC in Illinois.
The program has a tangible impact on participants. FYF alumni have gone on to pursue theology in their undergraduate and graduate studies and are pastoring churches or ministering in other vocations.
To Driesenga, the facet of the program that stands out is its emphasis on discipleship. From practicing spiritual disciplines with small groups that provide both accountability and encouragement, to living together in a residence hall, to eating, worshiping, and being in lectures together, the program is built on the notion that life as Christian community, “participating in the life of the church,” facilitates faith formation and growth.
The students selected for FYF are often mature beyond their years, as well as curious and inquisitive about God, faith, and life. They get to explore these things together for three formative weeks.
But lest anyone think it a dour kind of summer endeavor, students and leaders also love FYF because it’s fun.
“Often, theology and theological study can be presented as dull, bookish, and overwhelmingly serious work,” Driesenga said. “Theology is serious, but it’s also fun! While we take God seriously in this program, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
For Adrian de Lange, a recent Calvin Seminary graduate, FYF was an opportunity to wrestle with his future. “I left FYF with a much clearer sense of God’s leading and with serious excitement for God’s work in the world and for my ability to be a part of it!” he said. De Lange recently accepted a call to serve at New Life Church in Grand Junction, Colo.
While FYF is especially well-suited for students with gifts and callings for vocational ministry, young people who want to work in other fields also pass happily—and beneficially—through the program.
When Lauren Riemersma was an FYF student in 2008, she wrestled with a sense of calling to both health care and youth ministry. Today, she has achieved her B.S. degree in nursing and is pursuing a master’s degree in youth and family ministries at Calvin Seminary and is actively seeking where God would use her next.
Ben Hoekman took the FYF journey in 2013 and will begin his second year of undergraduate study at Kuyper College this fall. FYF “played an incredible role in helping me discern my calling for ministry,” Hoekman said. “I am incredibly excited to see where God is going to lead me in my future.
“While God has not seemed to lay out my calling piece by piece for the exact vocational setting I’d like to work in, FYF has encouraged me to broaden the spectrum of these possibilities, allowing me to discern a number of ministry settings where I can be made available to use my gifts for his kingdom,” Hoekman said.
This is the goal of FYF: to give young people a place, space, and time to build relationships with other students in community; to deeply engage theology and ministry and to experience it on the ground in different contexts; and to discern where God might have them serve.
Students grow in Spirit and in truth,and at the end of the three weeks are eager to give themselves to God’s service. It’s a wonderful thing.
The above article, “Where Are They Now” by Joella Ranaivoson originally appeared in the September 2014 edition of The Banner. Reprinted with permission.