LEAD Wisconsin was a dream carried in Julaine Appling’s heart for well over a decade. As she poured her heart and soul into defending God’s plan for marriage, family, life and religious freedom in Wisconsin through WFA and WFC, she knew it was her God-given responsibility to someday intentionally equip the next generation to do the same.
In 2019, with the hiring of SharaLee Nichols as the LEAD WI director, Julaine’s heart-cry to invest in the youth of Wisconsin came into focus. SharaLee not only had a background in event planning, but she also had previous experience working with a faith-based civics program for youth and most importantly a fervent desire to see the young men and women of Wisconsin become effective godly leaders who engage the culture from a biblical perspective.
Together, with the support of the WFA and WFC staff, Julaine and SharaLee researched, booked speakers, gathered registrations, developed policies, raised money and prayed. Finally all those years of persistent prayer and extraordinary effort culminated in LEAD Wisconsin this summer, August 1-6, on the campus of Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown.
For six days 80 youth experienced what camper Josiah Scott called, “one of the best weeks of my year,” where they learned principles of a Christian worldview, public speaking skills and how a bill becomes a law. They also played tons of volleyball, ate some great meals and visited the capitol — twice!
Throughout the rest of this post, we’re going to discuss a few of the speakers who joined us, recap our legislative journey and highlight a few extra-circular activities from the week. So, keep reading!!
Of the many goals we had for LEAD Wisconsin, the one that out-ranked them all was for each camper to have a personal and active relationship with Jesus Christ. We realize (and take very seriously) that just because you grow up in a Christian home doesn’t mean you have a personal relationship with Christ. We are also critically aware that without this foundational and transformational relationship with the one true God anything good someone attempts will be empty and fall short of eternity.
With this in mind, we didn’t just invite good speakers, we invited speakers who were believers and whose messages would be seasoned with God’s truth.
Carl Kerby, founder of Reasons for Hope and deBUNKED, spent three days captivating the campers’ attention with humor and unapologetic apologetics videos hurled at breakneck speed. In his sessions campers learned that there is absolute truth, how media affects our culture and stand up for the hope that Christ has given us.
Having the founder of Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk, join us was especially exciting. His presence was made possible by friends of our ministry who know Charlie. Charlie built on a short presentation on Biblical leadership given by Bob Vander Plaats, Julaine’s counterpart in Iowa. After his session he stayed for a meet-and-greet to take photos with the campers. (We think pretty much every camper had his/her pic taken with Charlie! Watch the time-lapse HERE.)
Toni McFadden, the founder of Relationships Matter, shared her personal experience with abortion and how she now advocates against abortion through sharing her story and talking about why relationships matter. Not only were Toni’s sessions heart-felt, powerful and full of truth, but she was also eager to interact with the campers. She lingered before and after her sessions, as well as during meals, so that campers could ask her questions or chat!
These speakers (and all the others such as former WI Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly and former WI Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch) were a powerful facet of LEAD Wisconsin and shared an incredible amount of truth and insight.
Campers began their legislative journey for the week shortly after dropping their luggage off in their rooms Sunday evening. With one hand on the Bible and the other raised, they were sworn in as representatives. They met in assigned groups called a caucus throughout the week to discuss and create arguments for and against assigned bills.
All 10 bills discussed were real bills from the Wisconsin State legislature, one of which is now law.
On Wednesday, in the Wisconsin State Capitol building our teen representatives held their own public hearings, complete with lobbyists who presented statements in support of or in opposition to the bills. The teen representatives then asked the lobbyists and their own committee members questions about the bills. These hearings were presided over by state legislators, and many were attended by professional lobbyists.
The final day of camp found us in the Capitol again only this time we were on the floor of the State Assembly — this time to present and vote on their bills! Each camper addressed the body with a prepared speech advocating for their bill. (Watch the live replay HERE!)
We believe the mock legislature campers navigated throughout LEAD Wisconsin was important for them to better understand how government really works and to see how constituents have a say in the laws that are passed. We look forward to the day a camper will attend a real public hearing and advocate for their desires and rights where proposed laws are concerned—or maybe one day we might have one of our LEAD WI alumni elected to the state legislature!
Extra-Curricular Activities: Feats of Strength + Prayer Night
We couldn’t have six days without some fun competitive games and intentional prayer, could we? Of course not!
On Tuesday we had what we called “Feats of Strength.” Feats of Strength included three stations: relay races, minute-to-win-it and Micah’s station. Campers were divided into teams and took on the challenges together, including competing for taking the coolest team photo!
Points were calculated and at the end of the week three teams were awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals carefully and diligently created by the LEAD Wisconsin crew and put on the winners by Olympic Champion Ben Peterson who also spent the week with us!
On Thursday night, Dave Gerry, owner of the Princeton Clubs, shared his story of following God and being an ambassador for Christ in the business sector. After his session Dave challenged the campers by asking them if they were building their own kingdoms or Christ’s. Then he invited campers to surrender their lives to Christ. Many campers joined each other at the front of the room to pray with Dave, a staff member and each other.
And the highlight of the week? Three campers gave their lives to Jesus for the first time! That right there made all the work, all the time, all the expense worth it.
We had a blast playing games on Tuesday, but it was the privilege of a lifetime to witness the work God did in so many campers hearts Thursday night. Yes, we prayed for Him to move in powerful ways, but we know what happened that night was because of God’s goodness and for His glory. We are humbled and rejoice that God found fit to make Himself real to campers at LEAD Wisconsin!
LEAD Wisconsin and YOU
Prayer, perseverance, and investors — that’s what made LEAD Wisconsin 2021 and everything that happened in those six days possible. As we look back on what God has done so that we can look forward to LEAD Wisconsin 2022, we would like to invite you to join us in one of four ways:
- Prayer. Please pray that what the teens who attended LEAD Wisconsin in 2021 learned would impact the rest of their lives for God’s glory. Pray for the staff as we recover, that God would renew our energy, health, and vision to breathe life into LEAD Wisconsin 2022. Lastly please pray that the Lord would show us which speakers to invite for LEAD Wisconsin 2022 and prepare the hearts of each camper to receive what God has for them.
- Financially investing. There’s no way around this — hosting LEAD Wisconsin is expensive. The registration fee each camper pays covers only half of what it actually costs for them to experience this week. Additionally, many campers attend because we can offer financial assistance, including full scholarships. When you give to Wisconsin Family Council, you are making it possible for us to equip youth, through LEAD Wisconsin, to become effecting godly leaders who engage the culture from a Biblical worldview.
- Spread the word. By God’s grace WFC’s LEAD WI is creating positive change in the lives of the campers who attended, and we don’t want anyone who needs this program to miss it in 2022. If you know of a church, youth group or homeschool co-op that would be willing to have us share about LEAD Wisconsin, please email SharaLee at email@example.com.
- Follow us on social media (Facebook, LEAD Wisconsin, and Instagram, @lead.wi). There you will find photos of campers, encouraging reminders and important updates!
Needless to say, we are grateful for the dream God put on Julaine’s heart and that she faithfully carried it for so many years until the timing was right. We are thankful for God uniquely equipping SharaLee to bring this vision to fruition. And we are humbled to have worked alongside a crew of volunteers who saw the value of equipping youth to be effective godly leaders who engage their culture from a biblical perspective and stewarded that mission with tenacity and intention!
In closing we would like to leave you with a few lines from our theme song from the week:
I have a destiny I know I shall fulfill
I have a destiny in that city on a hill
I have a destiny and it’s not an empty wish
For I know I was born for such a time as this
Long before the ages You predestined me
To walk in all the works You have prepared for me
You’ve given me a part to play history
To help prepare a bride for eternity
I did not choose You but You have chosen me
And appointed me for bearing fruit abundantly
I know You will complete the work begun in me
By the power of Your spirit working mightily
I have a destiny I know I shall fulfill