A Mission of Understanding

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 15, 2007; 12:00 AM

This is an extended version of a story printed Jan. 15 in The Washington Post.

Danny Leydorf's world was about to be turned upside down, and he couldn't wait.

The extroverted teenager had shined at the mostly evangelical Annapolis Area Christian School since kindergarten, but now he wanted to test his faith in a more diverse world. With hopes of becoming a lawyer or politician, he badly wanted to understand people who didn't think like him.

"I feel like I exist to be interacting," the lanky, towheaded 19-year-old said eagerly one day last summer, shortly after his graduation, "and part of that is just getting out there."

So he'd deliberately picked a large, secular college: the University of Maryland. But the week before he was to leave, the wider world dealt him a blow.

"I hate evangelical Christians," read the Facebook.com profile of his roommate-to-be, who had seemed so perfect on the phone. He loved politics and "The Simpsons," like Leydorf, and they even had the same views about how to set up the room. Could it still work?

That was to be just the first of many challenges and unexpected twists Leydorf has faced this school year as he plunged into the mainstream. He's gone from student body president back home to outsider. He struggles with when to talk about God and when to keep his mouth shut. He wrestles with how Jesus would define tolerance.

As atypical as he sometimes feels, Leydorf is traveling an increasingly common path for graduates of private evangelical schools, institutions that sprung up in the 1970s specifically to shelter students from the broader culture. In decades past, graduates of the fast-growing movement often went on to religious schools or overseas mission work.

But today's young evangelicals live in a less tidy world, where Capitol Hill and Wall Street are considered mission fields and evangelical leaders are taking more diverse positions on issues including global warming and homosexuality.

Since last spring, The Washington Post has visited with Leydorf as he has sought a toehold in the new, more diverse landscape.

So there he was at 2 a.m. one November night, hashing out the blurred lines about abortion and gay marriage with his two roommates, in the dark, in their bunk beds.

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