Each summer, the Imago Dei Leadership Forum (IDLF) student experience culminates with an amazing cross-country journey to Gettysburg, PA and Washington, D.C.
I would love to share snippets of our trip in a diary format to give you a flavor of this wonderful time together.
Day 1 (Saturday)
We spend 18 hours on our bus ride from St. Louis to Gettysburg, PA. It is a ideal time for students to bond and get to know one another—as we do trivia with prizes every hour on the hour! In addition, we watch films such as The Greatest Showman—which sets the tone of what it means to value others different than ourselves, treating them as image-bearers of God.
Day 2 (Sunday)
We start the day with a worship service at Middle Creek Lodge (located 10 minutes from Gettysburg). We enjoy a time of singing, individual (private) prayers of confession, and Scripture study. We observe how leadership discussions should always include the importance of character (v.19), courage (v.20), conviction (v.21), crucible (v.22-23), course (v.24), and a charge (v.25-28). These leadership traits serve as a key reference point, as we reflect on them with the various leaders we learn about and meet throughout the trip.
Gettysburg Visitors Center
We begin our tour of Gettysburg by spending time at the Visitors Center (http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org/10). We watch A New Birth of Freedom (a film narrated by Morgan Freeman) before experiencing the Cyclorama, the nation’s largest oil painting. We then hear from a park ranger who spoke on what it was like to be a Civil War soldier and the challenges soldiers faced in this time period. We finish up at the Civil War Museum—walking through the history of the Civil War—as we prepare for our time on the battlefields.
Day 3 (Monday)
The Battlefields of Gettysburg
Exploring the battlefields representing Day 1, 2, and 3 (July 1-3, 1863) of the Battle of Gettysburg help students envision what it was like to be a soldier in the exact surroundings were they fought, as we examine the strategies that helped the Union defeat the Confederates. We especially spend time on Little Round Top, exploring the courage and amazing leadership of Col. Joshua Chamberlain, and walking “The Long Mile” of Pickett’s Charge.
We end our day by watching Part 2 of the film Gettysburg, and the powerful scene of the Battle of Little Round Top—led by Col. Joshua Chamberlain. The students are always captivated by the fact they have walked the same ground where the battle was fought (and filmed!).
Day 4 (Tuesday)
After a devotional on the Apostle Peter and his courage and leadership, we view Part 3 of Gettysburg. As an aside, Director Ron Maxwell did a great job developing the characters of the film so you care when they die. He did not bombard viewers with blood and gore—which makes it not only more watchable, but moving too. Furthermore, these movie scenes were filmed on the exact ground we walk.
Gettysburg National Cemetery
Lincoln’s idea of a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” assumes a new meaning to the students, as they stand in the Gettysburg Cemetery, surrounded by markers of hundreds of soldiers, taking turns reciting lines from Lincoln’s 272-word speech. Students are inspired/impressed by our time here—especially how many soldiers were willing to give their lives so others could be free.
Arrival in DC
After leaving the Gettysburg Cemetery, it is time to head to D.C. to examine the powerful influences of media and government and the importance of moral leadership and Christian principles in these fields. Arriving at the National Mall, our students are able to walk around and enjoy views of the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial, the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Lincoln Memorial.
Our next stop is the Woodson Center. Founder and President Bob Woodson—a MacArthur Genius Fellowship and Presidential Citizens Medal recipient—meets with our students for over an hour! (http://woodsoncenter.org) Mr. Woodson is a man of great faith in Christ. He exudes humility even though he has advised various U.S. Presidents and leaders. He is doing amazing work in some of the most difficult schools and communities across the country that many view as hopeless.
Day 5 (Wednesday)
Our day begins early on Capitol Hill, as we meet with Congressman Robert Aderholt from Alabama. Robert takes us down to the House floor and allows us to sit in the seats typically occupied by congressmen while voting or listening to the State of the Union Address. It is amazing! When our students arrive on the floor, they are surprised to see the national motto “In God We Trust” in gold letters above the Speaker’s chair (not something you see during the State of the Union Address). Furthermore, they view a marble relief of Moses hanging directly opposite the Speaker’s chair—the only full-face portrait of historical lawgivers found on the walls of the House chamber. Finally, our students learn that the House and Senate have chaplains—both of whom open each session in prayer.
Members of Congressman Aderholt’s staff then lead us on a tour of the Rotunda, Statuary Hall and some other parts of the Capitol before it is open to the public. It is here that our students encounter six magnificent paintings—three of which capture significant religious events—the prayer service following Columbus landing in the West, the baptism of Pocahontas at Jamestown, and the Pilgrims (with an open Bible) praying before their departure from Holland to America.
We then move to the Russell Senate Office Building to participate in “Missouri Mornings” with Senator Roy Blunt. In addition to meeting the Senator, we meet with U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black. He is always the highlight for many of the students, for he is engaging, funny, deep, concise, and relevant. Chaplain Black shares his amazing personal testimony of being born in the poorest neighborhood in Baltimore to rising to his current position today. He is a man of great wisdom and very motivational. Attributing his Christian education to changing his life and preparing him for his future roles in the Navy and D.C., he encourages all of us to grow in wisdom, pray for the Holy Spirit’s power and presence, and be willing to go the extra mile.
Cal Thomas and the Newseum
Our final speaker of the day is Cal Thomas—a syndicated columnist who appears in hundreds of newspapers, Fox News, and other media outlets regularly. Cal is an engaging, humorous, and insightful, speaker. When asked what makes a good journalist, he emphasizes the importance of reading good writers, knowing history, pursuing wisdom through reading the Scriptures, and getting advice from older people.
After our time with Cal, we tour the Newseum. It is such a fascinating venue! We spend time at the 9/11 exhibit, the Berlin Wall exhibit, the Broadcast Journalism Arena, the Civil Rights area, and much much more.
In the evening, we process the day’s conversations with the leaders and how they are seeking to honor God with their gifts and talents.
Day 6 (Thursday)
Our morning begins at Starbucks(!) at the historic Union Station. After filling up on caffeine and pastries, we walk to the U.S. Supreme Court—where we have a wonderful behind the scenes tour with a Justice clerk. Speaking of Courts, one of the major highlights of our tour is getting to play on the basketball gym located directly above the Court chamber—known as the “Highest Court in the Land!”
National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)
Words don’t express the powerful story and history that is captured at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). After our amazing tour of this museum, we are blessed that evening to hear Dede Winkfield, who makes what our students experience at the NMAAHC very real and personal.
Dede, a teacher at the National Presbyterian School in D.C. worked with me for 6 years at Fourth Presbyterian School in Potomac, MD. Dede’s family was very close to Dr. Martin Luther King’s family, for her mom was Dr. King’s assistant and oversaw his press relations for a number of years. (As an aside, her uncle was a Tuskegee Airman!) Dede speaks for over an hour about growing up during the Civil Rights Movement–being the first African American to integrate her private Catholic school in Albany, GA–and reflecting on her personal memories of Uncle Martin and Aunt Coretta. Our time with her is invaluable, and we are so grateful for her honesty and vulnerability.
Day 7 (Friday)
After breakfast at the Starbucks near American University, we head to the MLK, Jr. Memorial to kick-off our last day in D.C. Sadly, when the students visit the site honoring the great civil rights leader, they discover no mention of his faith. In fact, none of the 14 quotations of Dr. King referenced God (see my August 14, 2013 USA Today article entitled, “Where’s God in Celebration of MLK?” for more details). Nevertheless, we focus on the importance of Dr. King’s work and the milestone that he is the only non-President to have a national monument built for him in D.C.
We then travel to the Heritage Foundation, a D.C. think tank that works to promote traditional values. Focus on the Family’s Tim Goeglein (another student favorite!) speaks with our students. Tim, the chief lobbyist for Focus on the Family, wonderfully engages them on how to live as a Christian in today’s tough political climate and the importance of godly character—which he demonstrates from stories of Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency.
The Lincoln Memorial
Speaking of Lincoln, we transition to the Lincoln Memorial after our time at Heritage–standing in the footsteps where Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” To me, this is the most meaningful and moving part of the trip, as we bring racially diverse students and chaperones together to read Dr. King’s speech. Our vision for Imago Dei Leadership Forum is to train up a generation that treats one another as image-bearers of God—fulfilling Dr. King’s dream and God’s command to love others as we love ourselves.
Congressman Lacy Clay
Afterwards, we make our way to Congressman Lacy Clay’s office, who represents several areas of the St. Louis region. He is warm and candid, and we are grateful for his hospitality. He is very open and passionate about his beliefs, presenting a very different perspective from many of us in the room.
The National Gallery
The next stop of the day is the National Gallery, the art museum which is part of the Smithsonian network. My friend Susan Scola (a former docent at the Gallery and superb history teacher at Christ Episcopal School) gives us a thought-provoking Race & History Tour—concluding with the Shaw Memorial, which memorializes the 54th Massachusetts (the all-black regiment featured in the movie Glory!)
Our last stop of the trip is Fox News Studios. Our students are able to get a private tour, as well as read from the teleprompter and see themselves on TV. More importantly, they are able to hear from anchor Shannon Bream, who discusses the powerful influence of the media. She helps explain the difference between shows that do hard news vs. those who center around the opinion of the host. As a hard news anchor, Shannon shares the importance of her show’s role to try and present a balanced view of the news and provide voices for both sides of an issue when applicable. She is a very godly, talented woman—using her gifts and talents to be a great witness to Christ to hundreds of thousands of nightly viewers.
Day 8 (Saturday)
We board the bus and made the long journey home to St. Louis a fully bonded group. My prayer is that God will continue to use the moments and revelations from this trip—reinforcing St. Paul’s challenge to the church of Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” For as they apply this truth as image-bearers of God, they will be equipped to engage their generation for Jesus Christ.