Summer School

For Lance, a high school student in Miami, Fla., summer vacation usually means shooting some hoops, enjoying the waves at South Beach and helping his mom take care of his younger brother and sister — but not this summer.
Instead, Lance was in a classroom at Fuller Seminary talking with other high school students and Fuller faculty about how the Bible, the Christian tradition, culture and their home churches can influence how they think and live in today’s world.
Lance is one of 30 soon-to-be high school seniors who participated in the Student Leadership Project (SLP), a partnership between Young Life and Fuller Seminary that gives students a taste of seminary life and challenges them to examine and grow in their faith. For the past three summers a generous grant from the Lilly Foundation has made it possible for a total of 90 teenagers to participate in the SLP. 
Learning for a lifetime
In order to be accepted into the program, students like Lance must demonstrate a commitment to walking with Christ and the potential for leadership among their peers, in addition to receiving the recommendation of their Young Life area director. Once selected, students begin their SLP experience in the summer with two weeks on Fuller’s campus in Pasadena, Calif., and a week in the mountains of Colorado or northern California.
During the first two weeks, the schedule moves forward at breakneck pace, with students participating in daily class discussions led by Fuller faculty members Rob Johnston, Cathy Barsotti and Chap Clark, the director of the SLP, as well as a former Young Life staff member and a current volunteer leader.
When they’re not in class, students watch and discuss movies with Hollywood producer/screenwriter Craig Detweiler and visit urban ministries where the concepts they’ve learned in the classroom are put into practice. And of course, because it’s Young Life, there is some just plain fun involved, too — like playing ultimate frisbee at the Rose Bowl, watching a Dodgers game and sightseeing around Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Students also worship together, participate in small groups and spend time alone with God. And much like at Young Life camp, there are late-night cabin times during the SLP, when adult leaders help students talk about their experiences of the day.
During the third week, the pace slows significantly, and more time is devoted to reflection as students consider what their lives will be like when they return home after the SLP.
New eyes
As this year’s participants returned home, they began to look at life differently than before. “I have new perspectives on everything I look at now,” said Sam, an SLP student from North Carolina. “Nothing that I look at is the same.”
For Colby of West Point, N.Y., his SLP experience deepened his desire to follow Christ — even though it may involve hardship he’s never encountered before. “I want to see God transform me to be more like Christ, even though it will hurt,” he said. “Just like exercising, I’m sure it will involve pain, but only with the struggle and perseverance will we grow.”
‘Waiting to pop’
But the SLP doesn’t stop there. At the end of the summer portion, each student is linked with a mentor from his or her home area, usually a Young Life area director. Mentors and students meet regularly throughout the school year in order to continue the journey of following Christ and learn what it means to be a Christian leader. The following February, students return to Pasadena for a weekend to debrief, share, challenge each other and celebrate the work that God has been doing in each of their lives.
Kate, an SLP participant from Florida, is already celebrating the change she sees in her life. “I have seen myself become a more patient person with my parents and family,” she said. "And I am like a little bubble of information for the Lord waiting to pop to share it with anyone who will listen.”
Cliff Anderson, co-director of the SLP and vice president of Training and Strategic Resources for Young Life, said SLP kids like Lance, Sam, Colby and Kate are those who will, in the future, be “taking their place in leadership in our mission and in the church.”
Although the program’s original three-year grant will run out at the end of this year, Anderson and others are actively seeking the funding that will allow the SLP to continue in the years ahead.
Discipled leaders
For Lance and the other 89 students who have participated over the past three summers, the SLP has taught them more about following Christ wholeheartedly and leading others in a life of discipleship.
That life of discipleship has already transformed Lance, even before his SLP experience. His Young Life leaders were SLP participants two years ago, and last summer, they invited him to come with them to Windy Gap, Young Life’s camp in North Carolina. That’s where Lance started to follow Christ.
This year, it could have been just an ordinary summer for Lance. But his SLP experience has prepared him — and the others who have gone through the program — for a life of leadership for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Arika Theule-Van Dam and her husband, Chris, were leaders with the SLP all three summers. Chris is the area director for Eastern Ottawa Young Life in Michigan. Information about the SLP is available online at