High School Students Explore Spirituality and Leadership at Summer Institute

High School Students Explore Spirituality and Leadership at Summer Institute

MOUNT OLIVE-   Twenty-four high school students from nine different counties in North Carolina recently had the chance to explore God’s calling in their lives at The Challenge: Exploring God’s Call, a theology institute at the University of Mount Olive.  The purpose of the institute was to encourage young people to explore Biblical theology and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.

The students experienced a taste of college life, living in the dorms, attending workshops, and socializing together.  During the week-long event, they had daily scripture readings, shared testimonies, participated in team building exercises, and visited a nursing home. In addition, they applied their learning by creating a laboratory church from scratch.  They will re-visit the concept from time to time as they grow and develop in their leadership.  Students also studied and discussed The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.


Barrow Chair of Biblical Studies and Director of the Institute Dr. John Blackwell said, “We used the literature of C. S. Lewis as a point of reflection on the call of God and we studied the Bible and theology in ways that were substantive and relevant to the lives of youth and the world in which we live.”

UMO students, laypeople, and clergy members shared their testimonies with the institute participants and helped them to understand God’s calling for them. There was plenty of time for recreation, including basketball, Frisbee golf, and water activities.  Participants were also involved in music, drama, and art activities.

Leaders of the Challenge reported the students bonded almost instantly and were able to share the deepest parts of their lives.  Coordinator of Church Outreach Sharlene Scott said, “It was interesting to see the individual teens growing with the group, making friends, and learning from each other. Perhaps the most important lesson learned is that God has a plan for everyone.”

Participant Savannah Seay of Clarendon said, “I enjoyed coming together with people my own age and worshipping God.  We were given the freedom to express the callings we already have in our lives.  The feelings and emotions that were expressed were genuine.”

UMO Student Intern Kailyn Cottle of Deep Run said, “Every moment was filled with excitement, laughs, great conversations, music, and honesty. Never have I met a group of people that are so genuine and so open with such strong desires to serve the Lord. This experience made me realize that even when life is hard, God provides and shows up in unexpected ways.”

UMO received a $269,509 grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. to conduct the institute, which is proposed to operate for four years with increased participation each year.  Over the four-year period the students will have the opportunity to visit Cragmont Assembly at Black Mountain, Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, and Washington D.C.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company.  The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development.  The Lilly Endowment’s religion grant making is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians.  It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Research Triangle Park, Washington, Jacksonville, and in Smithfield at Johnston Community College.  For more information, visit old.umo.edu.