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