Sarah Kaczka may have been at summer camp, surrounded by friends during the last summer before she headed off to college, but there was no fun to be found. She felt dead, frustrated, bitter, completely apart from God.

That senior year of high school had been a tough one for Sarah. She had been stressed out constantly by an overload of classes and college applications, and the stress had taken a toll on many of her relationships with friends and family. As a result, her spiritual life had gone south. “My spiritual life had been pretty dead, and I was just going through the motions of a lot of things,” she recalls.

As a sort of “last hurrah” before they all went off to college, Sarah’s friends from church suggested they all go to summer camp together in July. At first, she was hesitant, fearing that her recent attitude would put a damper on the trip, but after some prodding she decided to go.

Her attitude did not change at all once she got to camp. “I wasn’t really feeling it. I was like ‘I don’t want to be here,’ just kind of had a bad attitude about it. I love my friends, but I just wasn’t spiritually there and I wasn’t feeling God anywhere in my life.” Her friends tried their best to pick her up, but she was not having any of it.

photo 1 (320x240)Then, towards the end of the week, her group had a worship night. At that point, something clicked within Sarah, and the presence of her church family and the constant feel of warmth around her began to pick up her spirituality. “I just felt my spiritual life reviving. By the end I was feeling a million times better, and just happier.” Sarah felt a pick me up from her sudden willingness to talk about her problems and stresses with her friends and leaders, and as she returned home, she says she felt “recharged.”

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As she now attends a Christian college, Sarah says that she is really grateful for the experience she had this past summer. Since before this experience she had not found being surrounded by Christians to be a helpful or uplifting way to find God, attending such a college was worrisome. However, her time at summer camp taught her that the people we surround ourselves with can have a much greater impact on us than we know. “It was amazing how much being around my Christian friends lifted me up.”

Now she is encouraged by where she is at Wheaton College, one of the top liberal arts schools in the country.  At Wheaton, she is surrounded by Christians constantly, and it has created a beneficial atmosphere for her to thrive. Her friends at Wheaton have taken on a similar role that her friends in high school had, being a calming influence, allowing her to be open, praying for her, checking to make sure how well she has been doing in a stressful freshman year.

Attending a Christian college can be a difficult task for many people. Some find it to be a discouraging environment to be around since the assumption is that people act a certain way. This inevitably leads to people putting on a façade of holiness. A lot of students have felt unable to be themselves in a Christian college environment, especially early on. Fortunately, Sarah has not encountered such a problem for herself. “I know people complain Wheaton…how there’s a lot of ‘going through the motions’ and fakeness, and there is that, too, but I have found genuine community here, as well.”

Another issue that often befalls the small Christian liberal arts college is the force field that can be put up around the campus and the outside world. Sarah admits that she has found it more difficult to stay in tune with what is going on in the world now that she is in what her school calls “the Wheaton Bubble.” As such, she says, “sometimes you have to be another Wheaton word, intentional, about going outside the bubble sometimes. I still have a lot of non-Christian friends that I keep up with and I think that’s good for keeping me back down to Earth.”

Freshman year can be a difficult road for a lot of people, especially in the high-stress academic rigors of a good liberal arts school. But Sarah has found that surrounding herself with the right group of people can make all the difference in someone’s attitude, and she has thrived in her first semester of college because of it.