Ever have a hard time finding the words to describe an Incredible Experience?

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One of the hardest parts about working with young adults is actually being able to describe the impact we have on their lives.  For the last three weeks, I’ve been working with students at The KIVU Gap Year as they travel in and around the Middle East where they learn culture, conflict, and the ability to process their own view of the world.

These students are High School graduates who are on a year long journey before they enter their first year at University. And while some would ask, “Aren’t they just taking a year off school to play?”  Which causes me to go back to the research table and be honest about what they’re doing, what they’re learning, and how much value this program actually gives students to use in their future.

If being human could be quantified as easy as a Profit and Loss statement, I’d start giving you charts and graphs, but let’s be honest; Humans are dynamic creatures who are constantly changing and adapting to their environment. We’re all more than a pie chart and a line graph.  I mean really,  If I could give you a a statement like  100% of our students go on to get high salaried jobs after their time in our Gap Year; it would be an easy sell, right?

But how do you put a value on a student who gains a new perspective of the world?
How do you quantify the ability to form a faith perspective to tackle some of life’s hardest questions?
Or what of the ability to free a student’s mind from the regurgitation of information being taught in many high schools today into a brain with creative problem solving skills able to draw on experiences found in different cultures and differing situations?

What I found last week

After working with 20 of our brightest students, I found a wealth of transformation.  I went from engaging with students at the beginning of the year straight out of high school, to interacting with students willing to explore the world around them and see first hand how other people groups engage in their own cultures.  In short,  I found well-healed adults.

They were able to hold real conversations.
They weren’t afraid to explore BIG ideas.
And, They started living in this tension between what they thought they knew to be true, and how they can engage in real solutions to Big World Problems.

After working with High School students for the last 20 years, I’m ever more drawn to places where I can engage with students to help education be more about exploration than mere rote memory.

These kids are different than when they came to us back in September, In an unbelievable way.

The ability to see through the obvious

Our world is full of places where we get news about issues in a soundbite.  Our ideas are formed by the repetitive wrangling of the talking heads our chosen news outlets are force feeding us, and the shaping by those news agencies on the way we see the world is undeniable.  No matter what news outlet you subscribe to, all of them have a particular agenda in presenting the ‘facts.’

These students now have a skill set to see through the obvious soundbite, and engage with people-no matter who they are, where they’re from, what culture they grew up in, or what faith they claim.  They’re not afraid of challenging their own pre-disposed ideas for the individual stories on the ground of real people.  They’re able to ask good questions, and mine for good answers to see a comprehensive problem and live in a world where truth can seem so illusive.

For example, many of our students voiced differing levels of fear as they met Muslim families in the middle east.  They’ve been taught that Muslim = Violence and/or a threat to them as Christian.  But when they sit down for a meal with Muslim families, and have the opportunity to share their own faith perspectives, they see a world that’s not as easy as an A+B=C calculation.  They see through the obvious and fight for what will be a healthy gauge of what is true and what  is not true.

The broadening of faith

My goals for taking people to the Holy Land are simple:

1.  I want them to see where Jesus lived, taught, healed, and started to reveal the Kingdom of God
2.  I want them to wrestle with the religious tension on the ground as they talk with Priests, Rabbis, Monks and Lay-People
3.  I want them to be exposed to a story not often told on the news, and ask how Jesus may deal with the complex Middle East issues they’ll be living with for the next few decades.

It’s easy to take our faith from when we were young, right?  Our teacher or pastor told us something, and so that was that.  But when a student has the opportunity to challenge faith paradigms and live in the healthy discovery of their own faith, we see our students growing and thriving well after the program is over.

It’s hard to quantify spiritual growth.  We could report that every person prayed, or every person was baptized, but in the end human faith is something that dwells deep inside our souls.  I can tell you, students are being stretched and challenged to live out their own faith, and I’m confident God is going to use the time they invest to discover Him to develop them into precisely who He wants them to become.

So overall….

Last week was an incredible peek into the lives of some of the most brave students I know.
It surpassed all my wildest imaginations for a program helping students to challenge what they know and how they think.
I can’t wait to see how their time abroad is going to prepare them for whatever they have planned in the future.

You need to check it out.

Just click over to The KIVU Gap Year, and read a few blogs.  I’m confident it will surprise even the harshest of critic to see how these students are processing the world.

Let me know what you think

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