NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Before deciding what they want to do with their lives, many students would jump at the chance to experience careers firsthand – which is precisely what Bethel College junior Daniel Klaassen, Whitewater, and senior Mayeken Kehr, Goshen, Ind., did this past summer in the Ministry Inquiry Program (MIP).
MIP started in 1987 at Bethel, which has had at least one student in the program every summer since. MIP allows students with an interest in pastoral ministry to spend 11 weeks working at a church and performing multiple pastoral duties.
“Basically anything you can imagine a pastor doing, I did – with the exception of weddings and funerals,” said Klaassen. “I got to do everything from answer the phones to reading to leading worship to visitations.” Klaassen interned at Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church in Wichita with pastors Lois and Tom Harder.
Lois Harder admits she and her husband were a bit skeptical about mentoring a student for a whole summer.
“Dale [Schrag, Bethel’s director of church relations and MIP coordinator] called us,” she said. “He knows us and our congregation and knew it would be a good fit.”
Nevertheless, she and Tom “thought about it long and hard before we agreed. We felt like it would be a big responsibility supervising a student in this position.
“But then Daniel came, and he was very self-started and very interested in learning,” she continued. “He was delightful to have around. There was no hand-holding, and we were surprised by his abilities and competence. The congregation received him very warmly.”
Klaassen was also surprised by how much he learned through the program.
“I decided to do the program largely from the influence of others – mainly Dale Schrag and my sister [Hannah, 2004 MIP participant],” Klaassen explained. “It was also because I felt a calling in my life to be involved in the church in some capacity, so this was an opportunity to explore that from a pastoral standpoint.
“It surpassed all my expectations, with how much fun I had and how much I enjoyed everything I did,” he continued. “I didn’t expect to build the amazing relationships I did and find a congregation that I can feel comfortable at and call home.”
Kehr participated in MIP at Belmont Mennonite Church (BMC) and Belmont Mennonite Fellowship (BMF) in Elkhart, Ind., under pastors Larry Rohrer, Amanda Schrock-Yoder and Russell Jensen. BMC is a traditional Mennonite congregation of about 150 members that meets every Sunday morning while BMF meets in the evening and is comprised of about 30-50 members, generally from lower-income families not raised in the Mennonite church.
Like Klaassen, Kehr also performed a wide range of pastoral duties.
“I taught Bible school, which involved making lesson plans and decorating rooms, and gave sermons,” she said. “Preparing for sermons is a task in itself. I also attended committee meetings and did visitations – basic pastoral duties.”
Schrag also played an important role in piquing Kehr’s interest in MIP. “I chose to go in the program halfway because I had been externally encouraged by Dale and halfway to get rid of inward calling, which is not what happened,” she explained. “I went into it expecting to inquire about ministry, and what I got out of it was much more than I expected.
“I think that not only was I affirmed in gifts, but I was given intentional time to think and spend time with God, and that is always a powerful experience,” she continued. “It was a blessing to be at Belmont. I also had a lot of support from my home congregation [Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship in Goshen]. I have been very blessed.”
Rohrer described Kehr as “a delight to work with” at BMC.
“Dale Schrag called us and invited us to consider the option, knowing that Maya was from the Goshen area and looking for a wide range experience like she could get at Belmont,” he said. “She was very well received by both [BMC and BMF]. This meant she had to have the flexibility to function in both congregations, and I thought she did a masterful job of that.
“She was quiet with us but carried depth of spirituality that was much broader than her years,” Rohrer added. “I believe the membership picked up on that and observed that rather quickly.”
Although Kehr now feels a stronger calling to pastoral ministry, she said her immediate plan to be an English and Spanish teacher has not changed.
“I’m still planning to teach,” Kehr said. “The calling [to ministry] hasn’t gone away – it’s gotten stronger – but I want to be sure it’s the right thing. I’ve also learned to recognize that my life is a ministry.”
Like Kehr, Klaassen plans to continue with his original plan of being an elementary school teacher.
“My career plans haven’t changed – I still plan on being an elementary school teacher in the near future,” Klaassen said. “But it’s a nice backup plan. It’s made me want to look for a way to combine the two –teaching and ministry – in some way, so I’m on the lookout for that as well.
“I grew so much over the summer in so many different ways,” he added. “One of the things that I found most meaningful was the affirmation I felt that maybe I have a call for this, but that’s also been kind of confusing, questioning my own choices and career path.”
“This summer was another affirmation that no matter where you go, God puts people and experiences in your life that shape you and show just how many wonderful people there are,” Kehr said. “It was meaningful and it was holy. Not sure I can articulate the reasons why, but God’s in it. God’s always up to something – God’s mischievous like that.”
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.