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Dec 18, 2002

Called to Ministry?

A new program at Calvin College will help students decide if they're called to work in Christian ministry.

The Jubilee Fellows program has selected 12 Calvin students who over the next two years will get both instruction and hands-on experience that, it is hoped, will kindle and fan a flame for ministry that is just beginning to burn.

The Jubilee Fellows Program will help combat a serious shortage of Christian ministry workers across almost all Christian religions. Locally estimates are that one in eight Christian Reformed churches doesn't have a pastor, while the ministerial vacancy rate in the Reformed Church of America is 20 percent.

Shirley Roels, who directs the Lilly Vocation Project (of which the Jubilee Fellows is a part) says that while Calvin's Reformed tradition affirms God's call to people in all occupations, Christian communities need ministers in order to continue growing in the faith. "If you don't nourish the roots of the tree, eventually the branches will look a little weak," she says, "and the leaves will be pretty sickly."

So the Jubilee Fellows program hopes to address the problem early on with some interesting initiatives.

In the spring 2003 semester the newly selected Jubilee Fellows - Nathan Brink, Joy DeYong, Sarah DeYoung, Ben Fox, Emily Huck, Anna Hunsberger, Dean Kladder, Dorothy Lee, Kristin Kuzera, Nathan Sytsma, Patricia Sully and Jeremy Vecchi - will take a seminar style class taught by Chaplain Dale Cooper and Cindy Holtrop of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. There they will learn about the nature of Christian ministry by reading Scripture, studying church history, and examining the lives and works of great Christian leaders. In addition, each Fellow will do an in-depth study of a particular pastor and present his or her findings to the class at the end of the semester.

Then in the summer of 2003 each Fellow will intern for 10 weeks at a church somewhere in the U.S. or possibly in another country. Living situations for the student will vary, but Calvin will pay for transportation to and from the internship site and will contribute up to $1,000 towards living expenses. At the end of their internships all Fellows will receive a $4,000 stipend.

Finally the Fellows will reconvene at an August 2003 retreat where they will lay out plans for the following school year, plans that will include such things as a ministry related service project as well as one-on-one work with Cooper, Holtrop and others to make decisions about attending seminary or following God's call in other ways.

The Fellows will have plenty of informal education as well, regularly meeting for meals and more with pastors to discuss and learn from their experiences as hospital chaplains, urban ministry leaders, youth pastors and more.

The students who have been selected are excited to begin. Below are their profiles.

For Nathan Brink, a sophonmore from Bellflower, Ca., the Jubilee Fellowship will not be a testing of the waters but just going deeper. Brink’s high school activities included leading 4th and 5th grade youth group, feeding the homeless, going on mission trips to Mexico, and planning worship at Rosewood Church (Bellflower, CA). Last summer he interned with a junior high outreach program, and he’s currently a youth group leader at Madison Square CRC (Grand Rapids, MI).

A philosophy major, Brink loves to address life’s big questions. “Logical presentation and understanding of different worldviews … is a crucial skill which any person in ministry must have,” he says. One of the questions he’s most interested in is how to make the church more multicultural, and as a participant in Calvin’s Mosaic floor and Multicultural Student Activities Board he’s already finding answers.

“In my own life and in many lives around me, I have had the opportunity to see the redemptive and transformative power of the gospel,” says Brink. “The spirit has placed in me a heart for the lost and a burning desire to make a difference for the kingdom.” Though he’s not sure exactly what the coming semesters as a Jubilee Fellow hold for him, he says he is certain that “God will provide me with the experience that will teach me the most."

Joy DeYong, a junior from Geneva, Ill., used to think that to be a minister you had to be pretty near perfect. But experiences like leading her high school youth group, going on mission trips to Texas and Mexico, and being a Residence Assistant have taught her that the most important part of ministry is simply following God's call. "It's about perseverance, running the race of Christ, and fighting the good fight, even when you feel like you can't make a difference," she says.

DeYong sees a number of parallels between her Sociology and Political Science majors and her call to ministry. "Much of ministering to people is about finding out who they are and what makes them behave how they do. I feel like I am learning a lot of innovative ways to understand people and their motivations from both of my majors," she says. They also relate to her interest in global justice-DeJong hopes her summer internship will be overseas.

Serving a congregation and learning from them and alongside them is DeYong's ultimate goal. "I accepted this fellowship with the intent to serve others; any benefits to myself are a bonus, but not my motivation," she says.

The call to ministry has brought Sarah De Young, a junior from Kalamazoo, all over the world. Participating in a mission project in Mexico, an educational trip to Israel, and a semester in Honduras have all helped De Young to realize "the necessity of standing at the crossroads of culture and testifying to what God has done and is doing."

De Young, who is majoring in Spanish and English secondary education, hopes to work with education programs or leading worship in a Hispanic Church. "I am very interested in extending my knowledge of the Hispanic culture and learning…how the churches that I have attend can partner with the Hispanic church to build the global church," she says.

But ministry is not limited to one area of life for De Young, who tutors for Calvin's religion dept., participates in a small group Bible study, leads a group of first year students in an orientation program, and provides home care for a 100 year old man. "Our whole lives are called to be testimonies to the One we serve. As I consider the future, I want to place myself in the center of His will so that I can serve Him with my whole being," she says.

Ben Fox, a junior from Petoskey, says all Christians should feel called to ministry, but that one's vocation can vary over time in type and application. He's already applied his desire to minister in a number of ways: Fox has participated in Calvin Seminary's Facing Your Future program and in Who's in Charge, a teen drama troupe; he's sung in the Youth for Christ choir and lead dorm worship services as a Spiritual Activities Coordinator; and he's currently a Residence Assistant.

A political science major and psychology minor, Fox is particularly interested in actively relating his faith to international affairs. "International ministry cannot be limited to being a missionary," he says. "The mission field encompasses all aspects of life, from governmental relations, religious NGOs, and international initiatives that require a faithful and integral leader."

Fox is looking forward to the Jubilee Fellows' seminar-style class as well as the prospect of a summer internship abroad as ways to help him get a clearer idea of where and to what God is calling him.

There’s no question about the importance of ministry in Emily Huck’s life. “I feel really passionately about it…I feel God has been pointing me in this direction,” she says. She’s been involved in her church’s youth program for years, helping lead summer trips, working with small groups, and interning with a student ministries program for two summers in high school. Now she helps out during the summer and other breaks. And at Calvin she’s lead dorm worship and Bible studies with friends.

“I’m deciding between being a minister in a church or doing ministry in some other way,” says Huck, a CAS major. Especially interested in women’s ministries, Huck is minoring in gender studies as well as in religion, and she’s on the Sexual Assault Prevention Team at Calvin.

“I’m really excited about the mentorship and the group of people,” the Eden Prairie, Minn., native says of the Jubilee Fellowship. She’s looking forward to discussing important religious issues with peers who share her interest, and to interning in an unfamiliar church. “It will be really great to be taken out of my comfort zone this summer,” she says.

Anna Hunsberger, a junior from Holland, says "The main thing that attracts me to [ministry] is my passion for Christ and His church. This may sound generic, but it really is the bottom line." That passion lead her in high school to get involved with Turning Pointe Dance Ensemble (a Christian ballet group) and Young Life.

Since then she's served on a work crew at a Young Life camp in North Carolina, helped build a Young Life camp in the Dominican Republic, and lead a high school Young Life group in Virginia (she went to James Madison University before transferring to Calvin this year). In her first semester at Calvin she has joined Knollcrest East Serving Others, a residence-based service group.

A sociology major, Hunsberger hopes to connect the ideas of ministry with solutions to problems in society. "There is so much poverty, inequality, discrimination, and abuse, and it's easy for churches to get caught up in the safety of itself, but what really needs to happen is for us as a body of believers to face up to these issues," she says.

Dean Kladder, a junior from Holland, believes "God has blessed me with certain leadership gifts and has also blessed me with a voice to sing." Kladder has toured both nationally and internationally with choirs including Calvin's Cappella Choir. "Combining the two creates something I am passionate about, especially when it comes to a worship setting."

In high school Kladder was on planning committees for his church youth group (Christ Memorial) and high school chapels, and at Calvin he plans for and participates in LOFT (Living Our Faith Together, Calvin's on-campus Sunday night worship service). Right now he's also a Worship Apprentice-a position funded by the same Lilly Endowment Grant that's funding the Jubilee Fellows.

Kladder plans to use what he learns studying the mass media as a communication arts and sciences major to help him find better ways to integrate technology into worship. He hopes to eventually teach about worship practices and to be a worship director in a "vibrant congregation of people who are counter-cultural, cross-cultural, and have a broad understanding of what it means to worship, regardless of style, taste or preference."

"I am excited about being a part of a potentially long-standing program at its genesis, to mold and make the program into a powerful time where 12 students learn about their vocation, a true calling from God," Kladder says of being a Jubilee Fellow. "No other college or university has anything close to a class that allows you to explore your future."

Kristin Kuzera, a junior from Williamston, Michigan, is attracted to a career in ministry "because my faith is the center of my life, and if my job can be to do what the core of my being is about, I think that would be cool."

She put that faith in action in high school by helping lead her youth group and going on a SERVE project to Minneapolis, and at Calvin by being a Spiritual Activities Coordinator in the dorms.

As a Jubilee Fellow Kuzera will get a chance to explore God's world in a different way than she normally does, since she's a physics major. "I've always wondered what it would be like to work in the church, so I'm excited about getting to pursue this interest during the internship part of the Jubilee program," she says.

Kuzera is leaving the possibility open of going on to graduate school for physics, but she says,"I'm also strongly drawn to ministry. Jubilee will give me a good feel for what the Christian ministry vocation, and then I'll go from there."

Nathan Sytsma, an English major and junior from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, is also an accomplished poet and violinist. He plays violin in Calvin's orchestra and in private lessons, helps students improve their papers at the Rhetoric Center, and is a member of the Writers Guild. He has also been playing for church worship teams since his early teens, and this year he's become involved with planning and doing readings for Calvin's Jazz Vespers services.

"I am interested particularly in worship and the arts-liturgy, music, poetry-and I would be very excited to help foster a richer experience of God through these things," he says. Sytsma says he is especially interested in studying and working with the intersection of language and worship. "It could be really cool to write for the church, perhaps even for liturgy." He's also considering academic possibilities such as studying and formulating Christian literary theory.

Sytsma isn't sure if being a full time church minister is his calling. "However, I love the church in all its various expressions, and I believe that God has intended for this real community to carry his presence in the world," he says. As a Jubilee Fellow he is looking forward to learning about aspects of the church he hasn't had as much experience with-such as social justice programs-and to meeting other students who feel called to ministry.

Jeremy Vecchi, a senior from Leechburg, Pa., says "I just do my best to follow God one step at a time." Vecchi has followed those steps through quite a variety of experiences. While attending Pittsburgh East Christian High School he helped lead chapel and went on mission trips to Mexico and Haiti. In college he's been involved in numerous worship activities, including leading prayer groups and dorm hymn sings and playing guitar for Calvin's Jazz Vespers.

"I think the whole of humanity is only too painfully aware that there is tremendous need in the world," says Vecchi. Though not sure of the exact way that he'll help meet that need, he is certain it will include teaching people about what he finds out about theology and faith through his studies as a Religion major and through further studying he hopes to do after college. An avid rock n' roll fan, Vecchi also looks forward to using his guitar as a tool for ministry.

"I want to be just one more active member of the Body of Christ. And I think for me that might involve doing some full-time ministry along the way," he says.

~written by media relations student writer Abe Huyser-Honig

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