Jessica Driesenga is in her fourth year of the M.Div. program at CTS. She is currently the director of FYF and was also influential in planning and executing portions of Gateway this year. She sat down with Kerux co-editor John Medendorp earlier this semester to get her perspective on how things went this year.
KE: So, Jess, for those who don’t know, what is FYF?
JD: Facing your future is a summer program for high-school juniors and seniors. In the past it’s been directed specifically toward students who were considering ministry as a vocation, and although that certainly still flavors the program, that is not the only group we draw from these days. It is an intensive 3-week program that seeks to grow students in 4 areas: Theologically—we want them to learn to reflect theologically on the wold and grow in their theological knowledge and language. We want them to grow in their ideas through interaction with their peers and calvin faculty. Vocationally—whether that be discovering the next steps in the college search process or settling in a major or thinking through where God is calling them next. Spiritually—that they grow closer to God through this time. And Relationally—through interaction with their peers and the six seminary leaders. Those goals are pretty evident throughout the whole of our program.
KE: And does it cater mostly to Grand Rapids high-schoolers, or is there a broader base?
JD: There’s a broader base. We are open to any student affiliated with the CRCNA, so of course we get students from Grand Rapids. But the CRC has roots in a lot of other places, too. We once had a student from Nicaragua, and often get students from all over North America. This year we had students from British columbia, Ontario, Alberta, California, Kansas, Florida, Wisconsin—all over.
KE: Do most FYF participants end up going on to seminary?
JD: About 60% end up in some sort of seminary, and about 30% generally end up at CTS.
KE: What does the program look like for the students?
JD: The program starts out with ten days on campus, and in those days they have a normal schedule of morning chapel, which they lead, and then a morning session on some sort of various theological and/or ministry-related topic, where a speaker (generally from CTS faculty) comes in. They then have time for theological reflection on that topic, and then lunch. And then another session, once again facilitated by a CTS faculty member, and more theological reflection. In the afternoon they have time together with a small group to learn and practice spiritual disciplines. An hour is set aside for what we call “Space-to-God time,” an individual quiet devotional time. After dinner there is a fun grow-together community thing, then night devotions.
Over the next ten days they travel to various places to experience real-life ministry, jumping to live in a church in a particular context, and learn and serve there.
KE: Where did you go this year?
JD: We went to Dearborn for a day with the whole group, and we visited a mosque and the Arab-American friendship center. It’s a christian organization which teaches literacy to new immigrants. It generally services Muslim women, but also some muslim men. And then we eat really good food and go to the Arab-American museum.
After Dearborn they split up into 3 groups, which went to Toronto, Austin, and Portland. The group that went to Toronto, Ontario was hosted by Friendship CRC and worked primarily with Seeds of Hope, a day camp for children in the area. The group that went to Austin, Texas was hosted by Sunrise church and worked a lot with the homeless population in Austin. They shadowed Mark Hilbelink, the head pastor of Sunrise, and spent a lot of time mentoring students and being mentored themselves. The third group went to Portland, Oregon and was hosted by Christ Community Church and spent a majority of their time in service with Bridgetown Ministries, a place that seeks to minister to the needs of the homeless in the city in more ways than just food—they work to provide these people with some dignity and care that they don’t really get anywhere else.
KE: This is your third year being involved with FYF. How did you feel about it compared to previous years?
JD: I felt good. Matt Cooke and I have done quite a bit of thinking about the program and about the things that have been done before us. This program had a great base, and I feel like we added a little bit of structure and a little bit of fun for this year. We’re a great team and this year was a great year. I think we’ve helped define the focus of the program, which helped us pick great students, and this year’s students were just an exceptional bunch of young people who were eager to dive into a series of though questions and ponder them as a group.
KE: Unless I’m mistaken, being an FYF leader can count as a XCI for MDivs. Is that right?
JD: Yes. That is right.
KE: What kind of people do you look for in the hiring process?
JD: Oh, you know, good people. We look for competent leaders who are passionate about high-school youth, are equipped to dialogue theologically, have a good understanding of what it means to be reformed, and are eager to discuss some of those hard questions with the youth. We look for people who will be a good team together. We hire six live-in leaders and want them to be a cohesive team. We look for people that are fun, that enjoy learning and hopefully can pass on some of that joy to their students. We look for people who will be good small group leaders and good mentors to their students. And we look for people who are willing and ready to dive in with both feet to a crazy adventure for a few weeks.
KE: Any other comments about FYF?
JD: I think FYF rocks and people should tell their churches to nominate students.
KE: Changing gears to orientation and Gateway, how did you end up in charge of that?
JD: Ronald Feenstra asked me to.
KE: What made you say yes?
JD: I like Ronald Feenstra.
KE: In what way was this year different from previous years?
JD: I don’t know that I can speak to that super-well. I know Gateway from its first year and I know it from this year. There were a couple of good changes that have been made. I think one of the good things about this year was a slight (and it was slight, but it was an important) emphasis on building camaraderie and community among the students. We took some time out for them to get to know their fellow students who will be their classmates and peers in ministry for as long as they are in ministry. We were really trying to communicate that CTS is a good place to be, where we take learning seriously, but enjoy being together.
KE: What were some highlights of this year?
JD: I think building things with marshmallows and toothpicks was a great time. I really enjoyed the “impossible molecule” that was built, the faculty lunch, and giving the students opportunity to get to know the faculty outside the classroom. I also enjoyed hearing so many positive comments about the hermeneutics class. I remember that class fondly and am glad that the new students are soaking it in as well.
KE: Any words of wisdom for incoming or returning students?
JD: Yeah! I think that often we dwell on what could be changed about this place, and granted, this place isn’t perfect, so there are things that could be changed. But I think that can hinder us from celebrating what we have here, and really relishing in the rich heritage that is here for us, and enjoying the community here. So, yeah, take school seriously, learn a lot, but love this place! It’s a good place, full of good people.
KE: Thank you.
JD: Thank you.