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Valley Forge Christian College: An exciting place to be

By Ken Horn with Katy Attanasi

An unseasonably brisk wind greets President Don Meyer and me as we walk across the campus of Valley Forge Christian College on a sunny April morning. As Meyer warmly greets students and workers it becomes clear that this is a campus with no wall of separation between leadership and student body. Indeed, it is a place where servant leadership is a reality, not just a catchword.

VFCC is also a campus in metamorphosis, and excitement fills the air.

The school is located on 84 acres of land in Phoenixville, Pa., a former steel town that has become a bedroom community of nearby Philadelphia. Two hours from New York and three from Washington, D.C., Phoenixville offers accessibility to major urban centers in a small-town setting.

This is an area saturated with history. Nearby is Valley Forge National Historical Park, a monument to George Washington and the troops that helped birth this nation during the Revolutionary War. VFCC’s history is rich as well. Started in 1931 as a summer Bible school under the leadership of J. Roswell and Alice Flower, the college was chartered in 1939 as Eastern Bible Institute with the purpose of training pastors, evangelists and missionaries. A series of mergers led to an increase in enrollment, and the name was officially changed to Valley Forge Christian College when the former Valley Forge General Hospital became the new campus in 1977.

An enrollment decline coupled with a rise in expenses caused many to think the school would have to close. But VFCC stayed open, thanks in part to J. Robert Ashcroft, late father of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who served as president without pay from 1982-85. Don Meyer became president in 1997.

Today the student body has about as many men as women and there is a growing population of ethnic minorities. The curriculum for each of the school’s 17 majors is crafted to integrate academics and spirituality. Last year, 77 percent of students were in church vocation programs. The remaining 23 percent were in education or undecided.

A preaching class is being held in the memorial chapel. A student presents his assigned message to a congregation of classmates sitting in pews. A video camera tapes his sermon, which tackles the subject of the image of God and the fall of man.

When he finishes, his classmates and professor offer constructive criticism. These are burgeoning preachers, far from polished, but improving their ability to communicate the gospel.

In a class on the prison epistles, Dr. Bruce Marino takes about 20 students through a PowerPoint presentation on Ephesians 6.

"It’s not how many Scripture verses you’ve memorized," Marino tells the class, "but how much these verses have penetrated you. The fundamental idea of spiritual warfare is that the battle has been won in you before you go out and win against others."

At 10:15, classes empty and students filter into the chapel. With its open beam ceiling, hanging canister lights and glass-front walls on either side of the platform, an abundance of natural light showers in. As praise music fills the auditorium, students sing, clap and raise their hands in worship. The chapel speaker this morning is Rusty Williams, a 24-year-old senior, who challenges the students to have genuine zeal in serving the Lord. As he concludes in prayer, the worship team makes its way back to the platform. Close to 70 students remain behind in prayer as music continues, kneeling at their chairs, in the aisle or at the front. Extra time is allotted after every chapel service to allow students adequate time for this before their next class.

Ministry is one of the school’s top priorities. It has been intentionally woven into the fabric of chapel services, classes, off-campus activities and residential life.

A third of the student body participate in L.I.F.E. (Leadership, Integrity, Fellowship, Evangelism), on-campus groups that adopt four things: a missionary, a local pastor (to pray for and serve), an on-campus service project and an off-campus outreach.

There are voluntary ministry groups for the whole student body. Up to 100 students minister in major cities each week. Music and drama teams travel during summers. Ministry is also built into more than 70 of the academic courses. Philosophy students are required to talk with atheists, and other classes feature ministry overseas or in Teen Challenge centers. Even athletic teams are involved in ministry. Head men’s basketball coach Jon Mack, a four-time NCCAA All American, has taken players on outreaches to other countries. All students are required to complete an internship and a leadership project in a local church or para-church ministry. Music students are encouraged to move beyond just learning music into developing sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

Lee Rogers, 22, just graduated from VFCC. He studied pastoral ministry and is headed into youth work. When he was in the seventh grade, Rogers learned to juggle, and honed his talent working at Hershey Park as an entertainer during the summer. VFCC ministries have given him plenty of opportunities to use his skill — gathering crowds and teaching Bible and life lessons at college-sponsored outreaches. "Comedy is a great communicator between Christians and non-Christians," he says. "If people are open, then they are willing to hear what you have to say, even if they don’t agree with it."

Eventually, he plans to train a street ministry team to juggle. "My calling is youth ministry, but one of my visions is to use my talent in my calling," Rogers says.

Students agree that one of VFCC’s greatest assets is its faculty. Professors have formed a tight-knit team that strives for close relationships with students.

"The faculty is very friendly," says Larissa Harrison, a senior elementary education major. "It’s almost a family atmosphere, not just with the faculty but also among the students."

For Jessica Yeager, 24, teachers have become a strong Christian influence. "It has been really great to see the life of Christ lived out through our professors," she says. "In their day-to-day life I can see their passion. The leadership at VFCC really cares; they want to help you, to serve you."

Faculty members are very involved in ministry as well. Director of Church Relations Donald Hawkins heads Shepherd Staff Ministries, educating congregations about the challenges of a pastor’s life and role. Others travel in a variety of ministries.

Progress seems to be written across the face of the campus, which, in the past few years, has seen massive development — and a 30 percent rise in enrollment.

"We are in the middle of a miracle," Meyer says. "None of us could have, in and of ourselves, made what has happened in these last four years take place."

Since Meyer’s arrival, the school has remodeled five dormitories and a student center, built a research center including a new library, demolished 27 old buildings, and doubled the size of the cafeteria and chapel. The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently certified their education program. This year they are offering new majors in Christian ministries, theological studies, counseling and psychology, and music education.

Though campus developments are exciting, VFCC is more concerned with its mission than its building projects. "We are committed to quality of excellence in every area of the institution," Meyer says. "We are committed to our students. Our mission is to prepare individuals for a life of service and leadership in the church and in the world." In that way, the vision passed down from the founders has remained unchanged.

At VFCC students are really mentored, rather than simply taught — and because of this, servant leaders are being reproduced. These, in turn, are carrying servant leadership into the church and the marketplace. The quality training and relationships that characterize Valley Forge Christian College are paying dividends for God’s kingdom all around the world.

Ken Horn is managing editor of the Pentecostal Evangel. Katy Attanasi is a staff writer.

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