Young people in North America are leaving the church in disturbing numbers. Sadly, the Army is not immune to this trend. Most youth leave between high school and university or when entering the workforce. These life transitions present alternative opportunities and relationships that compete with church attendance or being involved in God’s mission in the world.
Consider the consequences for a young adult who has to choose between sleeping in or attending a Sunday service, where they may not identify with the sermon or have any Christian friends. Secular worldviews and liberal education may also lead them astray without strong corps-based discipleship. Further logistical barriers like transportation and time make it a costly choice to attend a corps in a new city if the congregation isn’t prepared to accommodate college students.
The Salvation Army’s War College in Vancouver offers spiritual formation through community and mission during the student’s gap year, the time after high school when students wonder what to do with their lives. Statistics Canada reports that, of 8,500 high school graduates, only 50 percent started college or university right away. Many spend a year or two exploring other opportunities before their post-secondary education.
The War College (TWC)’s gap year program gives youth a valuable experience in life and equips them to be “warriors for Jesus.” They are formed holistically through a year of devotion, taking seriously the words of Jesus to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;” and, “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Here’s what that looks like at TWC:
1) Soul. TWC finds its pulse at the hub of prayer and intercession, the key to spiritual formation. This involves an inward journey of a deepening life with God and the outward expression of that life in compassionate service. We order our lives as people centred in prayer and the Word of God. Students are formed relationally. In a community comprised of faculty and the Army’s 614 Corps, they are given tools in communication, boundaries and conflict management. The studies are applied to real life: volunteering, roommate interaction and outreach. Our Christian Ethics class also enables students to relate to a post-Christian world with love and integrity.
2) Strength. TWC challenges students to keep a disciplined schedule and take care of their bodies as they encounter those living in Canada’s poorest postal code. Vancouver’s downtown eastside has living conditions similar to certain countries in the developing world, with neighbours who elicit our compassion. By sharing life with the marginalized, our students become humble servants through soulful reflection and the power of the Holy Spirit. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
3) Mind. This involves vigorously pursuing truth. Jesus embodied the truth of God and humanity in his incarnation. Having this platform of truth, TWC invites students to think biblically and accurately about the meaning of human existence. To help students develop a thoroughly Christian worldview, we explore faith in the context of secular ideologies. We offer courses in biblical interpretation, Salvation Army theology and worldview, and philosophy.
Lastly, the youth practice loving their neighbours. Living in the slums is a powerful example of Jesus’ model of incarnation. Like the slum sisters in early Salvation Army history, students make friends with their neighbours and offer spiritual and relational care. The effective integration of Salvation Army services in Vancouver means the students can walk with their new friends from street to shelter, shelter to detox and rehabilitation to housing. Hotel visits, parties and hanging out at re:cre8, the 614 Corps drop-in, are formative encounters that teach students to love as Jesus loves us.
Many parents fear that their children may never return to school after their gap year. But through TWC, this year can be used to equip our young people to do even better in post-secondary educational pursuits, discern passions and strengths, solidify their identity as a child of God and cultivate an unwavering commitment to Christ.
Salvationist young people in the Canada and Bermuda Territory, as well as those from other countries, are using their gap year to deepen their relationship with Christ, serve the vulnerable and discover their vocation in life. To participate in this challenging adventure, visit thewarcollege.com and click on Apply Now.
Jonathan Evans is the principal at The War College.