Kyra Butler ’12 wasn’t sure what she would say as she approached the two homeless 17-year-olds sitting on a bench in downtown Portland on a frigid Tuesday night last winter.
The Warner Pacific Christian Ministries major was attending an outdoor church gathering as part of an internship with Home PDX, a ministry that reaches out to (and is comprised primarily of) homeless people. One of the male church leaders had approached the apparent runaways, a boy and a girl, but they refused to talk to him, so he asked Butler to give it a try. She quickly learned of the dire straits in which these two kids had put themselves.
“They opened up to me in five minutes about how they [had] run away from a group home and had nowhere to go and nothing to help support them, and my heart broke,” Butler later wrote in a personal reflection about the experience.“I knew they shouldn’t have run away, but they were stranded in Portland when it was 28 degrees outside, and I was scared for them. That night, I learned how to call for assistance...I also learned how to provide them with the resources they needed to survive, at least for the night, and was able to get them to a shelter safely. That night was the most real, engaging, and growing thing I have faced in a really long time. And I feel like I am better equipped for youth ministry because of it.”
“[Christ] has called us to make relationships with those in need – to share the gospel with them through our love, to listen to those in need and make them feel worthwhile.” - Jacob Hess ’13
Christian Ministries intern
Butler’s internship came as the result of a strategic redesign by the college’s Religion and Christian Ministries (RCM) Department to better train students to minister in challenging, urban contexts. Bolstered by a three-year, $290,000 grant from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust received last year, Warner Pacific has been able to partner with a number of local ministries to mentor interns, introducing them to non-traditional approaches to ministry and helping them identify their personal call to ministry.
“We asked,‘What do we want students to learn in these internships?’” said Dr. Jess Bielman ’00, Warner Pacific’s Executive Director of Contextualized Ministries and the author of the Murdock grant. “It seems like a basic question, but when we looked at our school mission statement, we think our job is to prepare students for an urban Northwest, 21st century context. How does that inform the situations we put our students in?”
The revisions to the Christian Ministries (CM) internships were part of a complete overhaul of the Religion and Christian Ministries curriculum completed last spring.The changes came in the wake of recommendations made by a special blue ribbon panel the college convened in 2009 to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Among many recommendations, the panel gave top priority to giving students practical ministry opportunities that were more in keeping with Warner Pacific’s emerging identity as an urban college.
“We’re trying to get [students] to have a variety of expressions of Christian ministry, not necessarily to convert them all to these types of ministries, but somehow to hear their call in the diversity of the experiences.” - Jess Bielman '00
“In the past, I think this department was known for intellectual rigor,” said RCM department chair Dr. John Johnson. “It prepared students for seminary. What the blue ribbon panel said was,‘You’re doing a good job with that, but how are you preparing students for practical ministry?’”
At the time, internship placement was essentially a student’s decision. Often, students would arrange an internship at a church where they were already working or volunteering. The blue ribbon panel felt internships should tie in better with the college’s urban mission.
“Students could do pretty much what they wanted for internships,” said Johnson. “The blue ribbon panel didn’t think that was training. How does that connect with the urban recognition of the school? We really felt we needed to expose our students to a more focused view of ministry.They didn’t know what was out there.”
Propelled by the blue ribbon panel’s recommendations, Bielman wrote the Murdock grant as a blueprint for a plan to create strategic mentorship opportunities for RCM students.The Murdock grant would provide stipends for local ministers to host WP interns, effectively increasing the options for internship sites.
“The Murdock grant basically bought us access,” said Bielman. “We’re trying to get [students] to have a variety of expressions of Christian ministry, not necessarily to convert them all to these types of ministries, but somehow to hear their call in the diversity of the experiences.”
This past academic year saw the first implementation of the RCM internship redesign through two sophomore-level classes called “Exploring God’s Call” and “Experiencing God’s Call.” The courses were created to help students identify their inherent personality traits and strengths, examine various Biblical “calling” narratives – such as the story of Abraham or the Apostle Paul - and finally, examine larger questions about what ministry looks like.
“It is really asking the question,‘Who are you and who has God created you to be?’” said Johnson. “The second piece is ‘What does scripture say about call?’The third is,‘What does ministry look like and how do we interact with the church?’”
To compliment the classroom study, students completed separate, six-week observational internships with distinctly non-traditional ministries, including Home PDX, a community development organization called Second Stories, and a small church that meets in two Portland pubs. (A fourth internship site was with high school mentoring program Young Life.)
In many cases, students had never encountered these approaches to ministry and it stirred ample conversation and reflection.
“We tend to have preconceived notions about people,” said CM major Max Scholtan ’12.“Though stereotypes are there for a reason, I think we’ve all learned in our lives that ... when you meet and really get to know somebody, that stereotype pretty much breaks down.”
Read the rest of this article on The Experience Magazine blog.