Out of the 46 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors that applied for the Study-Service Theology Term, 20 of them will be traveling to Guatemala in June 2017 for the programs’ first term.Before leaving for Guatemala, the students will stay on campus for two days of orientation led by Jo-Ann Brant, professor of Bible, religion and philosophy.
After orientation on campus, the students will travel to Guatemala under the direction of Keith Graber Miller, professor of Bible, religion and philosophy, Ann Graber Miller, Peter Paetkau, senior, and Gloria Showalter, recent GC alum.
The SSTT group will spend just over two weeks in Guatemala, staying on the campus of Seminario Anabautista Latinoamericano (SEMILLA).
During the mornings, they will spend time studying Jesus’ life and vocation, reflecting on what vocation and calling look like in the Guatemalan context. In the afternoons, the group will be spending time on various field trips to places like the Mayan ruins and Lago Atitlan.
“In many ways,” Graber Miller said, “the program is set up very much like a mini-SST.”
The SSTT program was made possible through a grant from the Lilly Foundation. Nearly 90 other institutions across the country that received a similar grant are holding on-campus camps or two-week conferences on the theme of faith and vocation, but Goshen College wanted to do something different.
“That’s largely because I’ve seen the potential for growth and change that comes from placing students in a liminal space where they confront new realities, worldviews and cultures,” Graber Miller said. “My spouse and I have led nine SSTs, and we’ve repeatedly seen the ways in which our students have changed when they’ve been taken out of their comfort zones and exposed to other perspectives.”
The number one goal of the program is to get young people thinking about life from a theological perspective and to consider what their future roles in the church might be.
The students that will be traveling to Guatemala come from a number of different faith backgrounds. Four of the students are Catholic, two are Baptist, three are non-denominational, one is Brethren and 10 are Mennonite.
The group is also diverse beyond just faith.
“The first Study-Service Theology Term cohort includes 9 men, 10 women and 1 agender person,” Graber Miller said. “Four of the students are African-American, two are Asian, seven are Latinx and seven are White.”
The SST program’s 50 years of experience was instrumental in making the SSTT program happen.
“As an institution, we know how to do international education well,” Graber Miller said. “We wanted our SSTT program to build on Goshen College’s strengths. We were very pleased to be able to partner with SEMILLA in Guatemala.”
After the students return from Guatemala, they will spend another two days on GC’s campus for a reorientation. Then, they will return home and complete 40- to 80-hour internships with their home congregations or a local, church-based organization, as well as create an online portfolio. Once all of those parts are completed, the students will receive three Goshen College credits.
One of the challenges leaders might face is the difference between working with college-age students and high school students.
“That will bring its own set of challenges,” Graber Miller said, “but those of us leading the program feel energized by that challenge.”
Some of the students who applied to the program this year but weren’t selected will still be eligible to go in another year.
“We already have applications online for high schoolers to apply for the 2018 program,” Graber Miller said, “so we hope GC students will encourage their younger siblings, cousins and friends to apply.