Why a Christian Gap Year Will Give You the Spiritual Foundation You're Looking For
If you're anything like me, as I was finishing high school I had plenty of potential options in front of me.
This buffet of options was both exciting and overwhelming… What if I made the wrong choice? What is the most crucial thing for me to pursue now? What is a wise use of my time and money? The list of questions seemed endless. Eventually, the idea of spending a year to invest in my spiritual formation seemed like a more worthy investment as the end of grade 12 approached.
Spiritual formation is a never-ending pursuit to be made more and more into the likeness of Jesus. This life long pursuit is a challenging and yet life-giving journey, and in my experience, those first years after high school often end up being the most important in building life-long faith. For me, it was the combination of learning about God at Briercrest College and then in the summer months embracing adventure and challenges while tree planting in northern BC that shaped me.
Thankfully, I no longer tree plant. When people ask me what I do for work now I often struggle to know how to answer this simple question. I usually fumble through some answers about how I work at a Christian camp with college students, helping them grow in faith, leadership, and ministry development. I then talk about the trips we get to do like surfing, sailing, ocean kayaking, skiing, caving, and backpacking…
By this point usually the person asking me starts to say things like, “Oh wow, that’s unreal!” It is kind of unreal, however, by far the most exciting part of getting to lead the Kaléo program is watching young men and women be captivated by Jesus and his Kingdom and end up being transformed.
Taking time to gain that solid foundation gives shape to all the remaining questions: What degree do I go for? What career should I pursue? Where should I live? Who should I marry? Spiritual formation is not simply just making sure you know a little more about the Bible and God. It is encountering who God is and who He has made you to be.
Now, it needs to be said, that growing in your faith can certainly be done anywhere. However, there are certain elements that are needed to really push us into deep spiritual growth. Things like wise faithful mentors speaking into your life, being challenged and pushed outside your comfort zone, opportunities to learn and put that learning into practice, and a supportive accountability community around you. Investing in a year to grow deeply in your faith may be the most important thing you ever do.
Mentors that challenge you
The value of mentors and their role in spiritual formation is tremendous. It is not an uncommon occurrence for a student to come into my office and begin unpacking their thoughts or feelings. Having a mentor available to help process and understand your limitations, gifts, passions, areas that need work, or how to grow your relationship with God can be so impactful. With a smaller class size, typically around 25, students have ample opportunity to spend time with their leaders or other camp staff on a regular basis.
Being pushed outside your comfort zone
Our students will tell you that outdoor adventure at Kaléo is more than an out-trip: it's a chance to change your view of God for the better.
Each year, students go backpacking for three days and summit a mountain. On the final steep ascent, one student struggled and told me she didn’t think she could reach the summit, even though we were a mere 15 minutes away from the top. We sat down, caught our breath, and I told her that she needed to dig deep, to find whatever remaining energy she had, and not to forget this moment.
Though exhausted, she started hiking with newfound energy and determination, pushing through the challenge and pain. She was greeted at the top with many cheers and high-fives. She learnt something on that mountain that day: she was able to persevere longer than she had before. Throughout the year, she would be forced to trust in God for provision even when it seemed impossible. She learned to find perseverance in faith that year.
Having a healthy and supportive community takes work and vulnerability. It is one thing to have a good roommate, but it is another thing to have close friends who seek to help you grow, comfort you when you’re down, and propel you into worship or thanks giving. It is very common to hear from alumni of the Kaléo program how impactful the community and friends were during Kaléo and in the years following. These relationships continue on afterward, offering accountability and support regardless of what happens next.
Practicing what you learn
It is one thing learning and pondering the different teachings of Jesus but it is an entirely different thing actually having to do them. During our two-week mission trip to East Hastings in Vancouver, our group of students would meet and pray with people living in the streets. Although intimidating at first, through this experience, students build confidence and reliance on prayer to love people in practical ways.
The right conditions for growth
These types of experiences are just a glimpse of what the Kaléo Program offers students. Eight months, relatively speaking, is just a sliver of one's lifespan—and yet a gap year program like Kaléo can truly result in rich spiritual formation that can take a lifetime elsewhere.
Here on Vancouver Island, the trees can grow into giants. The conditions all are contributing factors to their impressive growth. Similar to the old growth forests, it has been said that Kaléo is a greenhouse for growth. It has the right environment to really allow students to grow.
Is a gap year program like Kaléo right for me?
In a recent study on faith development in young adults, mentorship, gap year programs, and camp ministry were key to young adults remaining in the faith (source: Renegotiating Faith). It is no surprise that so many pressures are placed on young adults asking them to have their futures decided as they exit high school, with still so much life in front of them: these years are so important. When students apply for the Kaléo program, one of the main reasons is a deep desire to gain a solid foundation.
Gap-year programs offer such an amazing opportunity to grow in your faith. But often, one of the drawbacks to taking a gap year is wondering how this will work toward your future college studies. This is where the Kaléo program has found its sweet spot. It is still very much a gap year program, but you can gain credits from Briercrest that can transfer or simply continue on to Briercrest for more Christian education—allowing you to get that gap year program experience without putting your academic future on hold.