Staff Highlight on Linnea Hultberg

An interview with Linnea Hultberg ’18, this year’s recipient of the Howie Rich Faithfulness in Ministry, La Vida Leadership Award.

Natalie and Linnea

What was your first reaction when you found out you were the recipient of the Howie Rich Faithfulness in Ministry, La Vida Leadership Award?
Relief! Abby had texted me and asked if I could come to the office. All day I had psyched myself into thinking I had accidentally done something wrong, so it was a relief to realize I wasn’t in trouble (although I don’t know why that was my initial expectation). My second reaction was a mixture of gratefulness and disbelief. La Vida is comprised of so many amazing individuals, so I am quite honored to have been chosen for this award.

Why did you initially choose to get involved with the La Vida Center?
I loved my experience in the Adirondacks as an incoming freshman, and I really wanted to be involved with that ministry to help facilitate a similar experience for other incoming freshmen. The community I witnessed amongst the La Vida staff was also a huge draw for me.

Linnea working for Adventure Camp

What leadership skills have you learned through working for La Vida?
I think La Vida exemplifies servant leadership so well and has definitely taught me how to be a servant leader. I also think La Vida has taught me that leadership can often take the form of encouraging others to develop their own personal leadership style and then giving them the space to practice it. For me, this has often looked like leading by example at first, but then taking more of a backseat role to empower others to lead. I have also been able to learn about the more logistical side of leadership and how to balance that with the relational. I’ve learned how to delegate, teach, make decisions, act proactively, nurture those I’m leading and encourage others because of my role as a leader.

Linnea with her Co-Sherpa Stephen and group leader while on their Compass La Vida Expedition.

Why do you think doing ministry in an outdoor setting is so impactful?
So much of the Bible takes place outside, whether it’s the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, or Jesus teaching on Mount Sinai. There is something about being outside that brings people together and makes a lesson so much more visceral. Experiences are impactful. Learning about creation while being in creation. Getting a small taste for what it must have felt like for Jesus to be tempted by the devil in the desert while He was fasting. Reading about thunder in the Psalms while hearing it overhead. Doing ministry in an outdoor setting allows us to connect to what God has been doing for centuries in a way not fully experienced while indoors.

How have you grown spiritually through the La Vida program?
I have been challenged to view God in a much more tangible way through working for La Vida. I have been challenged to put my trust in Him countless times, to invite Him into everything we do at La Vida, to look to scripture for guidance as much as I look to a map. I have been challenged to saturate everything in prayer—and really ask for things—not just say stuff because we’re supposed to. I have been encouraged to develop my understanding of my faith and put it into practice through planning devotionals in a number of settings. I have been challenged to integrate my leadership with my faith. In short, La Vida has been integral for the growth of my spiritual life while at Gordon.

Linnea and ADK summer staff on a day hike

What ministry opportunities have you been a part of outside of Gordon and La Vida?
In my time at Gordon, I have also been a volunteer with my church’s high school youth group (because of Rich Obenschain, so not completely outside of La Vida), which has been the biggest blessing.

What is your favorite La Vida memory?
That is so mean to ask for a favorite memory! There are so many. I think many of my favorite memories are of observing participants when they don’t think I’m watching (which sounds so creepy when it’s typed out). There was one trip in the Adirondacks where I was upset a few participants hadn’t started dinner yet after asking them to retrieve water from a nearby stream. When I went to get them moving, I found them praying together over one of the people there right next to full pots of water. Talk about a reality check! Another time, I remember viewing my group stop in the middle of the trail on their finals day to recite the group covenant together as a form of encouragement. At Adventure Camp, there was a group of really capable thirteen-year-old girls who completed an element without any help from the counselors while yelling “We’re so efficient when there aren’t any boys!” What a joy and a privilege it has been to view people growing of their own volition, without any help from me.

Linnea on one of her many Discovery weekends

How will you continue to implement your leadership skills after graduating from Gordon?
God will lead me wherever He wants me to be after Gordon. Hopefully that is into a career as a clinical psychologist where I can specifically implement many of the relational aspects of leadership: asking people questions, creating spaces where people feel comfortable opening up and sometimes just taking time to sit with people. However, even if this isn’t where God leads me, I am confident that skills like being proactive, quick and confident decision-making, encouraging others, and stepping in to fill a need will serve me well wherever I go, regardless of career, position or location.

In celebration of La Vida’s 40th anniversary, we initiated a La Vida student leadership award. The award is named after Howie Rich who was known for his faithfulness in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with high school kids. He was the Young Life Area Director in Danvers, MA from 1970 to 1999 and then became the pastor of Union Congregational Church in Magnolia until his death in 2009. Howie took four groups of high school students on extended La Vida expeditions during his ministry with youth and was known for his belief that “God calls us to be faithful not successful.”  Howie has served as an inspiration to many of us as a servant leader and we want to keep his influence and memory alive through this leadership award.

Partner with us by giving a donation to La Vida to help continue this award and other scholarships 

Sign up your youth group for a La Vida Adirondack Expedition

Bring your group to the Gordon College Challenge Course


The First La Vida Patrol

Pastor Tuck Knupp and the First La Vida Patrol
by Rich Obenschain

In February, I had the chance to interview Pastor Tuck Knupp who was on the first La Vida patrol in 1970. Tuck and Steve Oliver took part in the first eastern Young Life training program which was housed in northern Virginia. Part of this training included going on the original Adirondack Expedition for the La Vida program which was being established at Young Life’s new outreach camp, Saranac Village.

Tuck filled me in on many facts about that first La Vida “patrol.” It was called a patrol because much of the philosophy and methodology on experiential learning came from Outward Bound. This is what they called their extended expeditions. The first La Vida experience included rock climbing on Mount Joe near the ADK Loj, hiking in the High Peaks and canoeing on a number of lakes and rivers. It included a three-day and three-night solo and a 10-mile run back to the Young Life camp, complete with a “Heartbreak Hill”. There was only one expedition that first summer in 1970.

The first patrol was led by two men, George Sheffer Jr. and Jim Koontz. Both men had been involved with Young Life, and George spent most of his career working at Young Life’s Dale House in Colorado Springs. The goal of that first patrol was to test out many of Outward Bound’s educational components and see how Young Life could add the important emphasis on faith development. Another goal was to do some reconnaissance of the Adirondacks so, in future summers, La Vida Sherpas would know where to take groups.

There were around 16 or so participants in the first group who were between 22‑30 years of age. Tuck remembers that it was a very diverse group, including African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Caucasians and one Native American. Participants were intentionally from both urban and suburban areas because La Vida wanted to minister to young people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Many young men from urban areas had been sent on the program by Dean Borgman and Bill Milliken, who were working with kids in the Lower East Side of New York City. One young man named Carlos even brought his German Shepherd on the trip.

After that expedition, Tuck and Steve were given the responsibility to promote La Vida to Young Life areas and recruit kids to participate in the program for the purpose of character development, discipleship and training in servant-leadership. They represented La Vida at divisional staff meetings and helped to develop a La Vida leadership program designed to train group leaders who would bring kids each summer. In the early days of La Vida, Sherpas didn’t travel with the groups­­­­­. They met them for outfitting, framing the experience, the ropes course and rock climbing, solo and 10-mile run.

Tuck came back for two more Young Life summer assignments in 1973 and 1974 to serve as the La Vida director for half the summer. After La Vida, Tuck completed his M.Div. and D.Min. at Fuller Theological Seminary. He served as the area director for Young Life in Richmond for 18 years and worked another seven years as Development Director for Rockbridge Campaign while living in Williamsburg. After Young Life, Tuck served as senior pastor of Swift Creek Presbyterian Church in Moseley, VA and now serves at Hope Church in Richmond, VA.

We’re very appreciative of men like Tuck who saw the potential for ministry through the La Vida program and helped to give it structure and a great reputation for impacting the lives of young people.

Pastor Tuck Knupp

The Theology of Fundraising

By: Bryn Clark

Recently there’s been a word floating around the Center that used to send chills down my spine: “fundraising.” Talking about money is somewhat of a faux pas in today’s society: let’s discuss the weather, sports, news, politics, even our personal lives…but finances? The norm is to, quite literally, mind your own business.

Because of this, asking someone for money is about as terrifying as many of our high ropes elements. Yet, as a ministry that seeks to provide a broad array of people with life-changing experiences, additional funding is necessary to cover costs.

Which makes fundraising a necessary evil, right? Well, I used to think so. But I’ve come to see fundraising less as a means by which we reach our goal and more as an opportunity for ministry itself.

The Bible is emphatically clear about our use of earthly resources: the Levitical code evolved around communal resourcing, particularly when it came to caring for the poor, and fiscal generosity is given more airtime in the New Testament than purity. Jesus himself elaborated on financial godliness numerous times in His parables and teachings. All of these instances carry the same message: our money is not our own but God’s.

Most of us would say we agree with this statement though the reality is that few of us live this out in our day-to-day lives. But our vocation as human beings -whether we’re accountants, teachers, stock brokers, engineers, or doctors- is to be people of God dedicated to building Christ’s kingdom.

If we take the image from Nehemiah of the Israelites rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, we can begin to imagine what it looks like for us all to have multiple roles, a variety of resources, but one calling and, more importantly, a common proprietor. It would be ridiculous for an Israelite to think that he possessed ownership over specific parcel of the wall; the king is the one to whom all things truly belong. We the builders are just stewards, given the task of using the resources we have to complete the kings’ decree.

Many of us at La Vida have expressed, in relation to fundraising, a fear of being disingenuous, the lurking, accusing voice that tells us we’re leveraging relationships to get ahead in life. It’s important to name that fear then counter it with the Biblical reality that all of us, those who give as well as those who ask, are together gifted with the task of building God’s kingdom. It would be commonplace for one Israelite to say to a co-laborer “hey, could you hand me a couple of those bricks you have there?” Likewise, when we begin to see all earthly resources as God’s resources, we drift away from the idea of ownership, into that of partnership. Any Christ-centered fundraising endeavor is a partnership in God’s kingdom.

As we move into this next exciting, thrilling chapter of the La Vida ministry, we’re looking to expand our partnerships as we expand this ministry. We believe that God has given us the task of building Christ’s kingdom through La Vida’s multi-faceted ministry: whether it’s climbing a rock wall, meditating during a solo, ministering to children as close as Wenham or as far as Iceland, La Vida experiences present our participants with life-changing encounters with Christ. This is a combined effort, one that is neither assigned nor expected to be done alone. With the calling of kingdom partnership comes the calling to learn how to humbly ask for more bricks.

Interested in learning how you can financially support the La Vida Center? Visit our website for information on how to give. 

La Vida Staff Highlight: Alumni Working in Wilderness Therapy

By: Braedan McKee

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)

These words, written in the book of Isaiah about John the Baptist, remind me that our God rules over all the earth. No location is too remote for His notice, and no person who calls on His name can fall beyond the reaches of His great compassion! I had the privilege of spending the last two summers working as a guide for the La Vida program. During these months, I discovered the power of spending time in the wilderness. Simply being removed from distractions in the midst of God’s creation often helps me put my life back in perspective. I can think about my relationships with others and my relationship with my Creator with renewed clarity. The lessons that I learned in the Adirondacks have stayed with me and inspired me to seek out ways that I can share my experiences and passion for the outdoors with others.

After graduating college in May, my journey led me to southern Utah, where I took a job as a field guide for a wilderness therapy organization called Legacy Outdoor Adventures. This year-round program is set in the midst of the forbidding beauty of desert canyons and snow covered mountains. These locations allow the healing power of the wilderness to help clients who struggle with substance addiction and/or mental and emotional issues. As a guide, I spend five out of seven days outdoors, doing my best to make every adventure safe, fun and meaningful. Although this is not a Christian program, it is based on the 12 step model from AA which emphasizes the importance of calling upon “God as you understand him.” Because of this, I have been able to have many meaningful conversations with both clients and guides as we share our experiences and search for the truth.

It is incredible for me to reflect on how God has used my experiences with La Vida to prepare me for this type of work! As a Sherpa, I learned technical skills that equipped me for outdoor living, as well as soft skills that I am continuing to build upon as I mentor clients who are facing incredible struggles. More importantly than anything, my time at La Vida taught me to rely on Jesus for strength. When I am walking with my Savior, He provides the patience, hope and compassion which teaches me to love others unconditionally, the way that Christ loved me. Although this work is often difficult, the reward of seeing clients grow in a positive direction makes the challenge more than worthwhile! God never promised me that it would be easy but He did promise that He would never leave or forsake His children. Again and again, I have seen Him uphold this promise, even as I continue to explore the edges of my comfort zone!


Braedan worked for the La Vida Adirondack program as a Sherpa for two summers. Braedan received his degree in Environmental Science in 2017 from UMass Lowell .

Joel Cox’s Trip to Nepal

By: Joel Cox ’16

I’ve watched countless YouTube videos of people going out into harsh mountain environments, but the sheer rock faces with snowy summits always seemed inaccessible. I had only experienced mountains in New Hampshire and New York that never went above 6,000ft and were more defined by the number of trees than the exposed climbing. I was understandably awed and in disbelief the first time seeing the Himalayan mountain range with peak after peak slicing through the sky and the exposed rock looked as unconquerable and challenging as I had hoped. It felt like being in those videos I would watch. Every day the pre-dawn view of the mountains was consistently breath-taking.

The Nepal Crew

Throughout the trip, the surrounding landscape progressed from rainforest to coniferous and then eventually to a more tundra-like vegetation as we entered the Sol Khumbu region. As the environment became less accommodating to our human needs, we followed suit and adapted our appearance to be less human as well. We’d cover our eyes with fully reflective “glacier glasses”, don heavy mittens as opposed to gloves, cover our mouths with buffs, and lace up our pointy crampons. After also putting on our heavy, misshapen parkas we appeared, like our environment, alien and aggressive.

Glacier travel to Island Peak

For a time, I could “handle” the consistent discomfort and even abstractly appreciate the inhospitable ambivalence of the landscape. I loved the feeling of awe of God’s creation and the perspective and humility that it forced upon me. We summited Imja Tse (Island Peak), and I was energized by the challenge and the prolonged exposure to both the weather and the landscape. Once we returned to our camp and began travelling to our next objective, however, the exhaustion began to set in. I had lost a good amount of weight from not being able to eat enough and I was also losing my comfortable, pensive, objective outlook on the situation.

Taking a break before the final push

A book I read recently described beauty as danger + distance. For example, I can appreciate a storm if I’m far away or safe inside a house. I also can go for walks on the beach and enjoy the beauty and power of the ocean as I stand on the shore. However, if I actually go out into the ocean, or step outside my house into a storm that “beauty” quickly becomes personal and costly. That raw experience often brings out equally raw emotions and character traits that stay hidden in more comfortable situations.

Joel finishing the last bit of Island Peak

As we slowly returned to lower elevations and went back into the rainforest, I was so grateful to see mud instead of dust, and older village women instead of hardened, hairy alpinists. The air honestly felt heavy with oxygen and toward the end of the trek our whole group ended up covering a consistent 4,800ft ascent with only a few scattered 5 minute breaks. Dropping elevation felt like walking through your front door after a long trip and you can feel stress and tiredness drop off of you. We shed layers, took off our glacier glasses, and started joking and hanging out again.

Ice Climbing on glacier

We finally made it back to Kathmandu, and after eating whole pizzas, ice cream, and sleeves of Oreos, I felt myself relax and let go of the “survival mode” mentality. It reminded me of a story in the La Vida journals about a man who tried to copy a couple that walked out into the rain and didn’t hunch their shoulders or try to avoid the rain. They just accepted it and walk calmly and relaxed. They were able to differentiate between the reality of discomfort and choice of suffering. I feel like I’ve had to learn this lesson over and over, but I’m grateful to learn it again in another context.

Crossing a crevasse

I am glad to have gone out into the mountains and that I had to face physical and personal challenges. Maybe next time I can relax some and remember to lean into gratitude and appreciation instead of just trying to minimize my own suffering. Hopefully someday I could embody that mentality: “It was simply rain falling as rain should, and I, another phenomenon of nature, was sharing the space in which it fell… I got no wetter than I would have otherwise, and if I did not actually enjoy the wetting, at least I was free of my own tension. I could even smile” (Tom Robbins, Book of Readings).

Contemplating Ama Dablam for next trip

La Vida Quad Break Trip

By: Blake Denman ’18, La Vida Intern

Quad break this year included a trip up to La Vida’s Base Camp in the Adirondacks. A group of students, staff and La Vida alumni headed to Lake Clear, NY to get the property ready for the coming winter. The first day, after (unintentionally) almost making a detour to Canada, the group arrived just in time for a yummy dinner prepared by Nate and Amber. The next morning, work began on the Algonquin building.

The cabin has been in disrepair for years and was used principally for storage. Gordon College and La Vida recently received a grant to fix up the building and use it to board students who are part of our new Summit program. As part of this work, the bowed foundation needed to be straightened, which meant new foundation footings needed to be dug below the structure. This is where the spry college students came in – several holes were dug below the building, with access gained through cuts in the floor. When the holes were deep enough, wooden forms were placed in and filled with concrete. At the same time, others were demolishing the outdoor staircase and digging postholes for a new handicap accessible entrance to the building.























On Saturday, work on these tasks continued along with splitting and stacking wood, Nate teaching some stumps a lesson with the stump grinder, and an outside group fixing the foundation on the Armstrong (Men’s) Cabin. Once the afternoon rolled around, students headed out for an excursion near Paul Smith’s College to climb St. Regis Mountain. Foliage and weather conditions were perfect and made for a great hike, with a beautiful view of the lakes region and the high peaks beyond, plus a 360-degree view from the fire tower on top!

Outside of working hours, the group ate rejuvenating meals together and hung out around the wood stove that heated Marcy (Main Cabin) at night. Mornings included a devo, worship, journaling and solo time. Evenings were for relaxing and games – if we didn’t choose to sleep instead! Students enjoyed unbelievably nice weather, had the opportunity to relax taxed minds, and learned to understand a little better the value of work and the identity of God as a worker. Everyone had a great time and appreciated the opportunity to spend a long weekend with godly friends, old and new, and to help give future students the ability to enjoy such a beautiful place.

La Vida Center Staffing Changes

There have been a lot of changes happening within the La Vida Center in the last year. Gordon College’s Vice President for Student Life, Jennifer Jukanovich, has been working with our team and with consultants from KME3 to assist us with a strategic plan and to help put new staffing structures in place. Please read the following update from her!

New Vision/Mission
As La Vida nears its 50th anniversary in 2020, we felt it was time to review where La Vida has been and what its vision should be for the future. Many people say La Vida is one of Gordon’s best kept secrets. In a time when studies show young people have increased anxiety and less resilience, we believe La Vida can speak into our culture in even greater ways. Below please find our new vision, motivation and mission statements.

Our VISION is to be the premier institute of outdoor experiential education that develops servant leaders who are equipped to transform their communities worldwide.

Our MOTIVATION; The gospel of Jesus Christ compels us to help individuals, groups, and organizations “take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:19)

Our MISSION is to catalyze character formation, cultivate community and develop servant-leadership skills in individuals, groups and organizations through outdoor experiential education.

As we have worked toward defining our vision, motivation and mission, we have been encouraged by several large gifts that will allow us to make some systemic changes in our staff structure, while also undergoing a strategic plan as we gear up for the 50th anniversary.

Staff Realignment
La Vida has been on very solid ground under Rich Obenschain’s leadership for over 40 years. La Vida has grown in its impact through the Adirondack and Discovery programs for our students, by adding the Adirondack Leadership Program, Adventure Pursuits, the Rock Gym and Adventure Camp, which serves 700 youth from our community each summer. In the last two years, we’ve also acquired the Compass Program from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and received funding in partnership with the Chapel office from the Lilly Foundation to create a new program called Theology Matters. As part of our discernment, we are working on a strategic plan for La Vida, but a common refrain is that we cannot pursue growth without empowering our staff. Thanks to a generous donor, we’ve not had to tap into Gordon operational dollars to pursue this realignment.

Rich Obenschain, Founder
Rich’s new title reflects his role as the Founder of La Vida at Gordon. His leadership is being redirected toward securing La Vida’s foundation and empowering its future. Practically this means Rich will be moving toward educating and empowering new leadership, representing Gordon and La Vida to alumni and donors, recruiting new donors, writing the history of La Vida, and making preparations for a 50th celebration.


Abby Stroven, Senior Director
Abby has stepped into a senior leadership role as Senior Director, where she will be overseeing daily operations and the strategic plan. Leading Adventure Pursuits the last five years, Abby doubled its revenue and expanded its impact to working with groups from Boston College, Harvard University, Veritas Forum, numerous local schools, the ROTC program and business corporations. She came to La Vida after spending seven years working with an adventure education retreat center called El Refugio located near Quito, Ecuador.


Nate Hausman, Director of Education and Program Development
Nate’s role has been expanded to Director of Education and Program Development, overseeing Discovery, looking for new opportunities to expand our educational opportunities at Gordon and abroad, such as a new partnership with Young Life. He will also be overseeing the leadership of several of our educational programs like Theology Matters. Nate has been directing the Adirondack Programs for 18 years and will be looking to hire someone to assist in the daily operations of base camp.

Sarah Shannon, Director of Adventure Pursuits
Sarah Shannon will replace Abby Stroven as the new Director of Adventure Pursuits in January, after serving as a part-time assistant director of Adventure Pursuits the last two years.




Bryn Clark, Director of Theology Matters
Bryn came to Gordon from the Seminary where he was directing the Compass Program. He now oversees the Theology Matters summer programs, consisting of Compass and Summit, while also working with the Chaplain on Equip.




Michael Hill, Director of Adventure Camp
Michael has served as Director of Adventure Camp since 2013 and will continue in his leadership of our summer program.




Kate McMillan, Office and Finance Manager
Kate will continue to serve as our Office and Finance Manager. Kate has been instrumental in managing our budgets and overseeing all purchasing and billing needs for our various programs.




Amber Hausman, Outdoor Education CORE and Marketing Coordinator
Amber has a new title that reflects some of the new responsibilities that have been added over the years. She oversees registration for our La Vida and Discovery courses and has taken on more with our social media and marketing needs.



We are excited for all that is in store for La Vida!