The Summer of ’78

July 8, 2018
Phil Johnson, Ph.D. 

There is something about SUMMER and MUSIC – those songs that create specific memories and the soundtrack of a particular time in your history.  Once in a while, you’ll hear a song that transports you back in time and for just a moment you try to bridge that historic moment to where your life has taken you in the present. That bridge gets longer each year – sometimes shockingly longer! This summer commemorates the 40-year anniversary of the hit musical movie, Grease starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. 40 summers ago, I was turning 15 years old and I was “Hopelessly Devoted” to Olivia Newton-John – even though my parents wouldn’t let me go see the movie. Actually, I wasn’t allowed to see any movies, lest I be corrupted. Oh, how the world has changed. 

In 1978, my world was small and simple. Jimmy Carter was president and I had no idea what that meant or didn’t mean. I remember my 8th grade civics teacher was absolutely in love with President Carter, his view of the world and apparently his past as a peanut farmer. She had a huge peanut on her desk that supposedly looked like the president.  I didn’t have a clue. I knew nothing. 

In the summer of 1977, things began to change for me. Our family moved to a small town in Western New York, near Lake Ontario. I was 14 and about to enter 9th grade. I began to have this tiny sense of self – a sense of purpose. I started going to a small Christian school that promoted memorizing the Bible and rewarded individual achievement (thank you, Mom and Dad).  I had teachers who believed in me (thank you Mrs. Tomkinson, Mrs. LeBlanc and Miss Trembley). Little by little my world began to change. I started to think that maybe what I did or didn’t do might matter.  

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In the summer of 1978 I started working at a summer camp outside of Annapolis, Maryland. I cannot overstate the importance of those summers on my personal, professional and spiritual growth. I started as a worker, washing dishes, cutting grass, cleaning the pool and flirting with the older girl counselors. I was so clueless and harmless, but apparently sort of funny. 

And then a scheduled camp counselor didn’t show up and I was asked to take his place – what an upgrade! I was to become the youngest counselor in the camp’s history. (Thank you, Camp Wabanna!) I was given a group of 5 year-olds to manage through their camping experience. (What were they thinking???!!!) However, the combination of someone believing in me, giving me an opportunity and then my taking that opportunity put me on a trajectory that would ultimately bring me to who I am today. The summer of 1978 was good for me. 

By 1979, global events were occurring that penetrated even my uninformed worldview – events that in retrospect, would go on to impact the world we live in today. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up Communism.  Today the US is in Afghanistan fighting the offspring of the very people we used to provide with weapons to fight the Soviets. You can trace 1979 all the way to 9/11 if you’d like.  1979 also brought the Islamic Revolution to Iran putting a spotlight on the frightening ideas of radical Islam that continue to inspire terrorists worldwide. By 1979, I was more aware of what was happening in the world – and the innocence of my summer of ’78 was, shall we say, interrupted. 

40 summers ago, I could not have predicted or envisioned the challenges and needs of our world today. (Just consider that in 1978 there were only 4.3 billion people on the planet. Now, in 2018, there are 7.6 billion.) I also would not have believed the places that I would go, the people I would meet, the places where I would be asked to speak and share my ideas, the revolutions I would see, the global changes I would witness or the threats to my life that I would encounter (I’m talking about you, ISIS – yeah, the FBI informed me).

I would also not have believed the love I would experience, (I’m talking about my extraordinary students and supporters from the U.S. Europe, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and too many other places to mention). I never expected the opportunities I’ve enjoyed to build into new generations of young leaders, many of whom are just beginning their journey into understanding the world, geopolitics, liberty and what God might have them do with their lives.

As I think back, 40 years, to the summer of 1978, I am deeply thankful for the life I’ve lived and the opportunities I’ve had to disturb the world, disrupt lives, redirect thinking and be a steward of Global Next. I guess there’s a reason that Global Next starts its international education programs for students at 14 and 15 years-old. For me, 15 was a year of profound personal awakening –  like someone had turned on a few lights. I want to turn on the lights for all of Global Next’s students and participants – of any age, in any place. A light that will be a reflection of Jesus in this world – a world that is, as I’ve said so often, broken by sin and so in need of a Redeemer. 

For my readers in the summer of 2018, I hope you’ll take a brief look back over some of the years (and the summer songs!) of your life. Bridge a few gaps, connect a few dots and hum along to the radio (OK, to Spotify, iTunes or YouTube). Remember where you’ve been and look forward to where you’re going. 


*Global Next is an international educational and leadership organization that strives to help people live better stories, grow their leadership skills and understand the world in context. To learn more, visit us at: 

*Dr. Phil Johnson, the “Globalnexter,” (pictured with his beautiful granddaughter, Camila – taken on July 4th) is the founder and president of Global Next. He is Facetune_04-07-2018-13-41-08someone who is very interested in the world’s stories, provoking the stories of others and continuing the sorting out of his own story. To learn more, click HERE.







6 thoughts on “The Summer of ’78

  1. Dear Phil, Since discovering your blog last year, I have enjoyed tracking your travels and digesting your thoughts on life and the world. What a surprise to be part of a 40 year old memory! The world has certainly been turned upside down in my lifetime. I have two memories of college that have stuck with me…..actually they were more like warnings. The first concerned the word TOLERANCE. The prof warned that, while tolerance in a vacuum sounds like a good thing, as people demanded, expected, and legislated tolerance in society, it would drastically change the social structure and impact us as Christians. Biblical truth and tolerance could not be meshed and if one were to be given precedence over the other, the world would say it had to be tolerance that won. How true that turned out to be! Absolute truth has been spurned in favor of tolerance and we see the impact everyday. The second warning was about the impact that Islam would come to have. My first exposure was probably when Cassius Clay converted and became Muhammad Ali and when the newspapers began to report on the number of jail inmates that did the same. I knew they had not found the Truth they were seeking, but never envisioned that the day would come where they would be militant in their efforts to convert the world to their truth…..or else.

    Several years ago, I met a young man (Shaun Frazier?) at Cedarville who mentioned he had had a teacher named “Dr. Phil.” In our conversation, we finally realized you were a connection we both shared. That was my first inkling of what you decided to do with the rest of your life. Now I follow along through the words on your blog, and I admire you for your bravery and your passion to impact the world and the next generation for Jesus. Be careful out there, Phil, and God bless as you continue to walk the path He has set before you.

    With fond remembrances, Nancy Tomkinson/Mrs. T


    1. Mrs. T!!!! What an absolute pleasure to hear from you – and thank you for this incredibly insightful post. Now I’m going to quote you in an upcoming course I’m teaching at a school in Florida next month. 😀 Your recollection of your professor’s warnings is stunningly accurate – thank you for sharing that with me.

      And you must know – I must remind you of the impact you’ve had on my life. Thank you for investing in me and sharing your wisdom with me. I have wonderful memories of those years at WCA and it shaped me in ways I continue to appreciate. 😀

      With deep love and gratefulness –

  2. Thank you for this word Phil. May the Lord continue to bless your family and ministry while keeping y’all safe. I appreciate you.

    Till later,
    Pastor Jon :: CBC Borgfeld Pastor
    Church office – 2376 Bulverde Rd, Ste. 108 Bulverde, TX 78163
    t 210.876.4058 c 210.275.0068 e

    From: The Global Nexter
    Reply-To: The Global Nexter
    Date: Sunday, July 8, 2018 at 11:22 AM
    To: Jon Stautzenberger
    Subject: [New post] The Summer of ’78

    globalnexter posted: “July 8, 2018 Phil Johnson, Ph.D. There is something about SUMMER and MUSIC – those songs that create specific memories and the soundtrack of a particular time in your history. Once in a while, you’ll hear a song that transports you b”

  3. Phil, it was great to read your blog and catch up on your life’s accomplishments and growth. I enjoyed your writing!

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