Called to Move
This article appears in the spring 2020 issue of STILLPOINT magazine: “Generation Gordon.”
On May 28, 2017, “God dropped the blueprints of an idea in my lap,” says Deborah Sullivan ’20.
She didn’t know it at the time, but those blueprints would lead her to invent her own major, travel to Los Angeles for an entrepreneurial workshop, intern at a nonprofit in Boston and at Gordon’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, join a Social Venture Challenge team, mentor the winning team at Elevate Leadership Lab and run a theatre ministry at her church—all in preparation for launching a fine-arts camp for teenagers.
Receiving blueprints for the camp wasn’t the first (or last) time she felt God speak to her in a deeply personal way.
“When I was younger, I felt abandoned by God. I thought that if he was there, he wouldn’t let all this bad stuff happen,” Sullivan remembers. But during a healing service at her church, “I heard this voice say, ‘Your life is in my hands, and you don’t have to worry anymore.’ That was the first time I felt God and knew that he had been there and was protecting me through everything.”
And she’s made it her life’s work to guide other teens to that same realization.
Through art, spoken word, writing, videography, dance and music, Sullivan’s vision is to “build a community of collaboration for students who struggle with loneliness, depression and suicidal thoughts,” she says. “I want to bring joy to people whom others assume could never have joy, and for it to be a living testament of the transformative power of God.”
The camp, Sullivan says, will be a lot like the inevitable dance circle that forms during every wedding reception. “Everyone is cheering on the person in the middle until they feel confident and excited enough to bring someone else into the circle with them.”
The concept was inspired by her own experience on the drama team at her church, “where we’d tell stories through our movement and emotions, and it helped me process what I had been through, like divorce, death and perpetual uprooting. It was part of my healing.”
Now, Sullivan devotes every Thursday to planning and praying about her camp, which she recently named Move—“not just because it’s active art, but it’s also moving people from one place to another in their understanding of life, God and their purpose.”
But before the blueprints for Move came into focus, Sullivan was struggling with listlessness. She was in a gap year between high school and college, unsure about her next step. “Deborah,” her dad wisely offered, “you’re not stuck. You’re in a slingshot. It feels like you’re getting pulled back and everyone’s in front of you. But you’re actually getting pulled back so you can launch forward.” In retrospect, it may have been an understatement.
At Gordon, Sullivan designed her social impact major—a mashup of Christian ministries, psychology and entrepreneurship—through the Kenneth L. Pike Honors program. She remembers God telling her, “‘Doing Pike isn’t just about you. It’s about paving a path for other students.’ And that’s literally what happened.” Her academic model is now being used as an official concentration within the Christian ministries major, and dozens of students have enrolled.
“I know for a fact that teenagers are going to change this world,” Sullivan says. “I’m just glad I get to be part of it and see people’s lives being changed.”