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What do a minor league baseball game, an Episcopal monastery, and a wooden schooner have in common? They’re all places where teens entering high school are learning more about their relationship with Jesus Christ and his church, and having a blast along the way.

The program has been offered by Providence Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Mich., for the past five years.

Brad Laninga, director of student ministries, leads students through several experiences that illustrate important aspects of discipleship. Students learn the importance of working together as the body of Christ on a high ropes course.

A West Michigan Whitecaps game and a spiritual gifts inventory illustrate the contribution of each individual to a greater goal. “As much as there has got to be teaching, we need to find ways to provide hands-on experience,” said Laninga.

An overnight trip to St. Gregory’s Abbey teaches the group about spiritual disciplines. “Fasting” from phones, iPods, and other devices, students spend time in solitude and learn the importance of finding a sanctuary in their everyday lives. “Since I left the abbey,” said Autumn Lochridge, “I’ve given up more electronic time and am spending more time talking to God by myself.”

The final experience is a two-night excursion to Northern Michigan. Students visit a vineyard while reflecting on John 15. “All of a sudden the light goes on,” Laninga said, “because they’ve seen how they need to be pruned to create a world-class grape.” Students later set sail on an historic schooner in Grand Traverse Bay. “The wind is invisible but is working all around us and doing important things, just like the Holy Spirit,” said Robyn Ellens.

The aim for all these exciting experiences is “stirring up interest in [students’] faith and local church,” Laninga said, “helping them to see the importance of staying connected to the church throughout their entire life.” For these young people, it’s also just plain fun.

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