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Students gain ministry experience across the country

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – This summer, four curious Bethel students traveled to four vastly different communities in Texas, California, Iowa, and Illinois to explore the pastorate.

Senior Caleb Regehr, Whitewater, participated in the Ministry Inquiry Program (MIP) at San Antonio Mennonite in Texas. A service trip from the previous summer influenced Regehr’s choice of location.

“The Hispanic aspect was the driving force behind where I went,” he says. “The year before, I had gone to Nicaragua and pretty much fallen in love with Hispanic culture, language, food, everything – I wanted to relive that and become a part of it in some way.”

Regehr was able to work with DOOR-San Antonio (DOOR stands for Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection), where he found some of the most meaningful connections.

“[I enjoyed] working with the staff, who were pretty great,” he says. “Every time there was a group from Kansas coming I got really, really excited, because I love Kansas and I love Kansas people.”

Cultural diversity was one of the congregation’s greatest strengths, but it also brought unexpected challenges, Regehr explains.

“It is extremely difficult in a church that’s about 50-50 Hispanic and white,” he says. “I had never even thought of that – the questions and the power struggle that comes from that. It is very, very real and very difficult. I didn’t expect to learn anything about that and it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t at all.”

Naomi Graber, junior from Elkhart, Ind., also witnessed the joys and challenges of diversity and integration. Graber’s MIP experience took place at Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Ill. Graber met the church’s lead pastor, Cyneatha Millsaps, at Bethel in the fall of 2009, when Millsaps was pastor-in-residence for several days. Graber was fascinated.

“[Cyneatha] came to our New Testament-Paul’s Letters class, so we were asking her about her views on Paul and things like that,” Graber says. “She talked about the vision that she had for the early church revival that’s going on in the broader church and the importance on integration – the value in an integrated setting and the difficulties.

“I think that part of what drew me in with [Cyneatha] is the way she spoke with a realism and an idealism,” Graber continues. “She’s very to the point and yet has the desire for such greatness with her community.”

The community is currently in transition. Millsap’s vision for the church is radical and it “goes beyond the reality of where the church is right now,” says Graber. Even so, there was much for Graber to glean from the congregation.

“There’s so much wisdom in the church, so many stories, so many awesome things that have happened,” she says.

“It was sad to not go through the whole journey with them – I only saw one small part of it,” she adds.

For Sarah Pohl, junior from Moundridge, it was also difficult to leave her MIP placement at First Mennonite Church of Reedley, Calif.

“The overall acceptance – it wowed me,” Pohl says. “I have never felt that much acceptance in one place. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry. You felt a part of a family and that was really hard to leave. I’ve never been in a place where it’s been so hard to say goodbye.”

Pohl participated in and enjoyed Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s Explore program as a high school student, so.MIP seemed like a natural progression for her.

“I’m not sure if I want to be a pastor or not,” she says, “but I know it’s a direction my life can take. I know it’s an opportunity for me to grow as a person and for my faith to grow. Plus, it’s a wonderful opportunity to travel.”

While at First Mennonite, Pohl led Vacation Bible School, gained experience in peaceful conflict resolution and counseled at Camp Keola.

One of Pohl’s most memorable moments occurred at camp. After a camper was left unconscious by a collision in a soccer game, the camp prayed together for three hours. The camper regained consciousness before ambulances arrived and fully recovered afterward.

“It’s amazing how this community can come together in prayer,” says Pohl.

The act of prayer was a highlight for John Miller, senior from Partridge, whose MIP experience took place at Christ Community Church in Des Moines, Iowa.

“Learning that I didn’t and still don’t know how to pray was very significant,” he says. “I had the assumption that if I prayed sincerely and spontaneously then that was what prayer came down to. I think that it does to a degree and that’s significant and incredibly important. But I also think there’s something to be learned from the disciples who said, ‘Jesus, teach us how to pray.’ They didn’t have the assumption that they knew how to pray.”

Miller has no immediate intention to become a pastor, he says, but he continues to focus on prayer, leading fellow Bethel students weekly in praying the Divine Office from a Catholic prayer book.

Graber preached two sermons at Community Mennonite Church and received most affirmations for both. At this point, she says she is hesitant to enter formal ministry.

“I feel called to play an active part in the church and I love knowing how the church works,” she says. “They tell me I preach good sermons, but we know that’s not the primary role of a pastor.”

Graber plans to formally pursue work in the field of her primary major, psychology.

Regehr says he was surprised by the outcome of his MIP experience.

“I made it pretty clear that I was going into the program hoping and expecting to hear God calling me away from pastoral ministry and that did not happen,” he says. “I now feel very clearly that God is calling me to pastoral ministry. I’m not sure what that means, but the next step is seminary.”

MIP is a joint program of Mennonite Church USA and the MC USA-affiliated colleges to help college-age young adults consider pastoral ministry as a vocation. Students are placed in Mennonite congregations although they do not have to be Mennonite to participate in MIP. Bethel College has had at least one student in MIP every year since the program started at Bethel in 1987.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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