Hillcrest: Multiplying New Disciples

Ruth came to Hillcrest Academy in Fergus Falls, Minnesota as a Junior, bringing with her a well-marked Bible, since she had been following Jesus from childhood. She had been brought up by godly parents who gave her access to the teaching of God’s Word at church, Sunday School, VBS, and Youth for Christ at her Stanwood, Washington high school.

During her two years at Hillcrest and under the caring influence of dedicated teachers and staff, Ruth’s love for the Word deepened and she grew in faith and her trust in Jesus. As she looks back over those two years, she believes that the strongest influence on her faith in those years was Pastor Omar Gjerness. He taught Ruth’s senior Bible class, and he often preached in chapel and at special services where she traveled on “gospel teams” on the weekends. The students sang, and he preached, often with deep passion and heart, especially when calling the lost to trust in Christ as their Savior. On those long road trips they would discuss many things, and it was his love for the Word that stood out to her, and she was encouraged to study and cherish it.

Later Ruth would marry the love of her life, Bruce Vallevik, a Lutheran Brethren pastor. Ruth taught Sunday School, women’s Bible studies and children’s Lighthouse Bible Club for years, eager to pass along the love of the Scriptures.

Still later, she served for thirteen years as National Director of Women’s Ministries for the CLB. Ruth says, “My greatest joy was teaching the Word, along with writing the book, Rooted in the Word: A Lutheran View of the Life of Faith, a tool to disciple women. The Word has been my anchor, has brought hope in times of trouble, correction and encouragement in my walk of faith, and joy in the sure foundation of Christ’s salvation. I will be forever grateful for the grounding years at Hillcrest, and especially to Pastor Gjerness. He is now home with the Lord, and someday on the other side I hope to give him my thanks personally!”

Some three decades later, a young student from Norway traveled to Fergus Falls to participate in a new partnership between Danielsen Skole in Bergen, Norway and Hillcrest Lutheran Academy. Oystein was a quiet young man with an easy smile and desire to make the most of this one year in the US. He joined the football team, a totally new sport to a Norwegian teen. He made friends with his classmates, and as they saw his character and faith, Oystein was elected to student leadership as the Junior Class Chaplain. God began to work in his life, and he sensed a call to make disciples. He went on to attend Bible school and seminary. In 2004 Oystein Gjerme and his wife Gina planted SALT, a church in Bergen that has now planted six additional churches in Norway. SALT has sent 171 missionaries to nearly 1,000 towns and villages in northeast India, most in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, but also in the capital Delhi, Rajasthan and West Bengal. Oystein says, “My experience at Hillcrest 30 years ago has made a lasting impact on my life. The emphasis on building community on many levels, with the Word of God as the authority for life, has been instrumental to how I do ministry today."

There are common threads to these and countless other stories about discipleship at Hillcrest. Threads of joining with families to raise up children to love and serve the Lord. Threads of partnerships with the CLB churches and other denominations around the world who see the value of Hillcrest in the spiritual maturation of their congregants. Threads of partnerships with mission organizations and our CLB seminary as we seek to unleash our students into the world as disciple makers.

How do we do this at Hillcrest?

  • Discipleship at Hillcrest is always centered on God’s Word. One thing I love about Hillcrest is that the Word of God is not an “add on” to education that somehow makes it “Christian.” Rather we view the Scriptures holistically, where God’s Word is interconnected to the whole experience at Hillcrest in the classroom, in chapel, in athletics and arts, and in the residence halls. Our desire is to train up a generation of believers, from preschoolers to seniors, in the Word of God. Our students memorize Scripture and process what it means all along the way. They talk about God’s creation and the good, the true, and the beautiful, and seek to understand the world he created as they pursue academic excellence.
  • Christian discipleship is a lifestyle approach to walk with another Christ-follower in their journey of faith. It is part of an intentional mentoring relationship where a more mature believer shares their wisdom and experiences with another disciple. Hillcrest’s faculty and staff have made concerted efforts to be intentional about opportunities to share life together. It is common to see teachers and staff around the table in the dining room, or after class or practices talking about life, sharing faith, encouraging students to walk in faith, and praying with them as they share struggles and joys. It is common to have students visit homes to share a meal and more often than not have conversations around faith.
  • Discipleship always gives the opportunity to serve others. I recently spoke to a group of freshmen girls who want to spearhead a movement to sponsor wells through the CLB Living Waters well project. Discipleship at Hillcrest gives students opportunities to serve according to their gifts on worship teams, mission teams, serving the elderly and the unborn. We love to give students opportunities to grow “spiritual muscles,” with mentors who guide and shape hearts and minds.

So this is our discipleship model: To share the Word of God in such a way that faith is alive and central to all we do and who we are. We point to the cross of Jesus as our hope, our strength, our comfort, and the source of our mission to the world. We listen and speak. We encourage and admonish. We laugh together and we cry together. Together we are making disciples of all nations.

Rev. Brad Hoganson is President of Hillcrest Lutheran Academy in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

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