Summer Project Alumni Tell Their Stories

3 women talk about how their summer mission trip 30 years ago was a turning point.

Joe P.
Photo courtesy of Karen Fenz

“We don’t want you to look back at this as the best summer of your life, but we want you to see it as the summer when things started to change,” Kirk Brower, director of Cru for Christ’s Lake Tahoe Summer Project 2010, said on the first day. “We want it to be the first summer of your next life.”

Lake Tahoe is one of Campus Cru’s 200 locations on 6 continents. More than 3,500 students participated in the United States and internationally in 2010.

Carol Sunderland

Ocean City, N.J., hosted a project for the 46th straight year this summer. Carol Sunderland attended the 16th Ocean City project in 1980.

Carol said that a project was perfect for her the summer after accepting Christ as a freshman at Western Michigan University.

“I was like a sponge,” she said. “I wanted to grow and learn.”

Carol learned a lot about what it meant to be a Christian and how to live that way every day. She said that one major area of growth was the willingness to share her experience with Jesus in her normal life.

“The project helped me be bold with my faith,” she said.

She remembers a few organized outreach activities that made the importance of talking about Jesus click.

The project started with a big tug-of-war match on the beach one day as an activity that got people outside of the project interacting with Carol and the other students.

Carol was also part of creating a multimedia project for the local movie theatre. The multimedia project was meant to get the students thinking about creative ways of making a comfortable environment for people anywhere in their faith.

Again, it was a way to invite people in Ocean City to something other than church or a Bible study -- something appetizing to anybody.

Carol also said that she learned things in her small Bible study groups and during fellowship with other students that have stuck with her to this day. She said the project laid a good foundation for students to live out their faith outside of a weekly service.

“I feel like [the project] was great training,” she said. “It encourages young people to stay grounded and connected with a local church.”

Karen Fenz

Cru also puts on a summer project in Honolulu, Hawaii. The students spend a month and a half in the University of Hawaii dorms.

Karen Fenz attended her 2nd summer project in Honolulu in 1975 before her last year of college. She said that the experience made her take her faith to the next level.

She knew it would be difficult because after this last year of school, she would have to make decisions about her future. She said this project was instrumental in her decision.

Karen said that she really appreciated the openness of her mentors on the project because she realized that they were still just people. Just like her, these people had problems that they were dealing with, but they were letting God take control.

“I realized, if God can use them, God can use me.” Karen went into full-time ministry after she graduated.

Becky Drake

Myrtle Beach, S.C., hosts 2 summer projects, and the southern beach project has been going on for almost 40 years. Becky Drake went to the South Myrtle Beach project in 1983.

When the students took over leadership positions midway through the project, the directors named Becky as group leader of her apartment. She said that the confidence in her and pressure of the position pushed her to a new place.

“I saw God use me in ways I never had before and I knew then that I wanted my life to make a difference,” she said.

When she graduated, Drake worked in the corporate world while leading Bible studies at her alma mater. After 3 years, she went into ministry with Cru.

About 30 years later, Carol Sunderland is teaching blind children at a school in Seminole, Fla., while Karen Fenz is still working in ministry with Cru, and Becky Drake left full-time ministry to spend time with her husband, a pastor.

Each path is different, but each of them looked back at summer project as a summer that helped lead them to where they are. It was not just the best summer of their lives; it was the summer God taught them where He fits in their lives -- in the center.

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