School of (Solid) Rock
How I gave up my college plans to become a discipleship guinea pig – and loved it
Story by Evelyn Jorgensen, Photography by Sarah Swanson June/July 2015
When I was a junior in high school, I wanted to be a journalist. Specifically, I wanted to be a missionary correspondent—I dreamed of writing for a Christian publication, sharing stories of missions that people would otherwise never hear.
That summer, I visited Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and immediately knew I would go to school there. Everything about it felt right, and I was excited about my future as a bulldog and a journalist.
My senior year I focused on making my goal a reality. I wrote for my school paper and yearbook and got an internship with my town’s newspaper. I felt great joy in the work I was doing, which reaffirmed my plans. I worked hard and was ecstatic when I was awarded an academic scholarship to attend Drake.
About a month before I was to finalize my plans to enroll there, Brian Alnes, director of Lake Beauty Bible Camp in Long Prairie, Minnesota, spoke at my church. He was promoting the camp’s ministries, including a brand-new discipleship program called Solid Rock that was starting in the fall. Mostly, I tuned out what he said.
Yet when he mentioned that the program would include a trip to Israel, he caught my attention for a moment. I was fascinated with the Middle East and began thinking, I should make it a point to go to Israel someday. I daydreamed about traveling as he talked. By the time he finished, I had only one thought about the program: That would be great for my boyfriend. My fall plans were already set. I thought his presentation had no relevance for me.
Within a few days, I began to feel uneasy about my college plans. The Holy Spirit stirred up feelings of unrest within me, and I knew God had something different in store for me. Four days after hearing Brian’s presentation, I was driving with my mom and said to her, “I have a sort of crazy idea. I’m not really serious about it yet, but I just want to run it by you.” I told her about my doubts and how I was thinking about enrolling in that never-done-before, not-quite-100-percent-worked-out-yet discipleship program.
It turned out that my mom had also been thinking the new program would be great for me. Hearing that was the assurance I needed.
In less than a month God tore up my road map and gave me a new one—yet I felt an overwhelming peace about it. I made the decision to leave behind my scholarship at Drake in order to be a guinea pig in a new discipleship program.
In the Gospel of Mark we see Jesus calling his first disciples, Simon and his brother Andrew. The gospel writer describes their response: “At once they left their nets and followed him.” For three years, twelve disciples followed Jesus, learning his teachings, witnessing his miracles, and going out in his authority. In a way, my calling felt similar. I knew I was following Jesus by going to Solid Rock
On August 26, 2014, eleven of us showed up at Lake Beauty with absolutely no idea what to expect. In those first few days of orientation the other students and I began to get to know each other. We lived together in the dorm-style lodge. I shared a room and a bathroom with the other girls; the five boys shared a similar space. For the next nine months, we would prepare our meals and eat together and take all our classes together.
When we arrived at camp that first day, we each received our own study Bible. One of our first assignments was to read it for our class, Introduction to the Bible. Although we had all semester to finish, we actually read the entire Old Testament in about three weeks. The reading load was challenging—some days I was reading 100 chapters a day, spending four or five hours just doing my Bible reading. This task gave me an overall picture of the biblical narrative.
That fall we also took Church History, a writing class centered on holistic life development, and a class that prepared us for our trip to Israel. Our professors were mostly academically credentialed Covenant pastors who traveled to camp to teach our classes. In the spring North Park University faculty taught one of our courses online.
Although our Holy Land class met weekly in preparation for our trip, the other fall classes were more uniquely scheduled. Our teachers came to camp for several days at a time and taught intensive versions of the course. Each week a different class met. Sometimes the schedule was difficult to juggle—it demanded good time management—but the benefit was that it allowed us to form relationships with our teachers.
Our schedules became more regular during the second semester when we took Introduction to Theology, Environmental Ethics, Jesus of Nazareth, and Personal Finance. Every class met weekly.
Our weeks were spent in class, and our weekends were spent helping with camp retreats. In the fall we ran the ropes courses, led trail rides, and helped with other various camp activities. As the weather grew colder, retreat participants did fewer outdoor activities, but we continued to serve their meals.
Most of my time outside of class and serving was spent doing homework, but we also found time to do a lot together, taking advantage of the camp resources, including canoeing, kayaking, and horseback riding. We went on outings to nearby towns, and when one person went shopping, almost always someone else accompanied them. The kitchen was also ours to use, so often we baked sweet treats or ate ice cream at night. And we watched a lot of movies! Second semester we also began doing a weekly chapel together.
In October we traveled to Israel and Jordan for two weeks, visiting the settings of biblical stories and walked in the very places Jesus walked. Many places were more touristy than I expected. Churches have been built over nearly every significant site, which seemed to emphasize the place itself rather than what happened there. Some of my favorite places were away from the most popular—and crowded—historic sites.
At the shepherds’ cave near Bethlehem our group sang “Silent Night” together. More than the Church of the Nativity with its tapestries and marble covering the location where Jesus is thought to have been born, the cave offered us a better understanding of the simple place where Mary and Joseph went. Similarly when we received communion at the garden tomb, I felt much more connected to the reality of Jesus’s death than I did at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where we were surrounded by hundreds of people pushing to get in.
The night we arrived at the Sea of Galilee, a group of us went swimming. At first, it felt like any other time swimming—until I stopped and thought about the fact that Jesus walked on the very water I was now in. The next day we took a boat tour and our guide said to us, “This is probably the only place Jesus was where they cannot build a church.” There in the middle of the sea, I imagined the view looked very similar to the way it appeared to Jesus and the disciples 2,000 years earlier. I came away from the trip with a more concrete understanding of biblical stories and my faith.
When we showed up at Lake Beauty, some of us assumed Solid Rock would be a fun, relaxing year at camp. Some of us assumed we’d be doing outreach in the community. But we soon realized that although our experience would include aspects of those things, Solid Rock would not be a typical “gap year”—and we would not be taking a break from academics. By the end of the year, we had earned as many as twenty-seven college credits. Because our curriculum was developed through a partnership with North Park University, all of our credits will transfer there. And we had the opportunity to apply to transfer credits to other partnering colleges and universities.
The vision of Solid Rock is “to partner with young adults in their journey of following Jesus through life-changing education and experiences.” It is a yearlong discipleship program for young adults eighteen to twenty-five who want to deepen their faith and discern God’s plans for them through extensive learning and self-examination.
“Solid Rock is for students who want a safe place to look at themselves and see who they are as an individual and where Christ fits into their life,” explains Nancy King, who directs the program. It’s not just for students with no idea what they want to do in the future. It’s also for students who might already have a plan in place.
“It is our desire to create a place where Scriptures come alive,” Brian Alnes says, “where students can experience life in community and grow into the individuals God has created them to be.”
There are so many parts to the year that I could point to and say, if only for this one thing, the whole year would be worth it—the trip to the Holy Land; the knowledge I gained from our studies; applying that knowledge to my life; and the community Solid Rock provided me. During the year I worked through some personally difficult things, and people came alongside with me in important ways. They became a family to me.