By KAREN MAHONEY KENOSHA NEWS CORRESPONDENT
Nearly half of graduating high school seniors go on to struggle with their faith in college, according to the Fuller Youth Institute. Despite summer mission trips, retreats and weekly youth groups, students find it difficult to remain close to God in the face of major life transitions.
What helps students develop a lasting faith that carries them through the challenges of adulthood?
Several area faith leaders offer sage advice for teens going to college for the first time.
‘Your life is not an accident’
The Rev. Josh Ortiz, Crossway Community Church’s Youth Pastor, spoke to graduating seniors during send-off night last May on these reminders: Remember where you’ve come from, remember who you are, and remember where you are going.
“Because God is sovereign, your life is not an accident. You come from a particular family and went to a particular school and participated in a particular church and experienced particular joys and hardships,” he said. “Seniors, all of this is part of your story. And under God’s sovereignty, all of this has been used to shape you. So, be a good steward of what God has given you, whether it’s the training you’ve received from your parents, the education from your teachers, care from your church leaders, friendships you have or the suffering you’ve walked through. Seniors, in God’s world, nothing is pointless. So, use what he has placed in your life to bring glory to his name and good to others around you.”
‘Study what and where your heart connects to’
Rabbi Tzali Wilschanski of Congregation B’nei Tzedek Chabad, looks at the college years as analogous to new home construction.
“For the first 17-18 years, the foundation has been laid and from this point on, the unique character shape and look of the structure gets defined. Just as in building, you cannot build in a way that would compromise the integrity of the foundation, it is important for each student to stay true and strong to their foundations,” he explained. “Do not allow yourself to feel pressured to break from your values. Allow your values to flourish, make a commitment to yourself to be active in religious life and to stay true to yourself.”
The Talmud states “a person should study in the place where their heart desires,” said Wilschanski.
“Typically, when we think of getting an education, the faculty that comes to mind is the brain, the mind. After all, you need to understand what you are learning,” he said. “The sages point out however, that there is a first step to be taken even before you open the books, and that is to make sure your heart is in the right place. Make sure you are studying in the right company and the right topics. Study what and where your heart connects to and feels right, and you will have great solid success.”
‘Take time to learn and grow’
At St. Paul Lutheran, the Rev. Karen Pahl encourages students to attend many activities in the beginning of the school year to meet new people, even if is uncomfortable.
“Remember to attend all your classes; college is a blessing and you get the opportunity to further your education,” she said. “Take time to learn and grow, ask questions in class, if you’re confused, get help quickly. As you fill your mind, don’t forget to fill your spirit. Get involved in your campus ministry program, attend worship, feed your faith, find a way to serve your community and continue to give of yourself. It strengthens you and helps broaden your life and your mind.”
‘Keep your balance’
As Iman of the American Albanian Islamic Center of Kenosha, Mafiz Rustemi said he can’t stress enough the importance of education.
“In high school, you may not have performed as well as you wished and sometimes you regret not getting a higher GPA, that’s now behind you and here is a chance with a clean slate,” he said. “Value your education, attend class, do not procrastinate. Sometimes you will feel overwhelmed and stressed. Manage your time wisely. Get involved in social events. Be active, but always balance between academic and social time. Keep your balance.”
‘Create and do things with excellence’
Pastor Brit Windel of DayBreak Church considers college both an incubator and accelerator in the college students’ life.
“You find yourself in new surroundings, new people, new ideas, new chapters that will pave a way for a future you couldn’t even begin to map out on your own. With that, there is great need for wisdom to be given to and lived out of by those heading into college,” he said. “At DayBreak Church, we take time to equip, encourage and expect great things from our college students.”
With wisdom, knowledge, truth, good judgement, holy living and the gospel of Jesus, Windell explained, college students are learning to discern the Good News for this moment: living on campus, having a roommate, taking classes and understanding their identity is not found in grades, but in the sonship/daughtership of God.
“We highly encourage them to stay connected to this body of believers or if going out of state, to find a gospel living, thriving community of people to live life with,” he said. “We expect great things out of them. We hold true that God has made us in His image and with that comes a huge expectation to represent him, to create and do things with excellence, to steward the time given and spent.”
It’s about people, relationships
First Christian Church pastor, the Rev. Brian Gorman explains to students that their future is determined more by good relationships than good information.
“Get the information, but all that piece of paper at the end will do is tell employers that you know how to finish something,” he said. “The people you meet and the relationships you build will play a larger part in the jobs you get and the opportunities that come your way more than anything else.”
As Carthage College Campus Pastor, Rev. Kara Baylor encourages students to put away their social media accounts and engage in their campus.
“Make new friends at your school and let your high school friends make new friends at their new college,” she said. “Go to the opening meeting of every club you are interested in and then decide which two or three you really want to join. Find your faith community, ask big questions about your purpose in the world and have meaningful encounters with people who are different than you.”