Goshen College is preparing to send a third group of 20 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors to Guatemala City in the summer of 2019 for Study-Service Theology Term (SSTT).
The study-abroad program in Guatemala is made possible by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, based in Indianapolis. Goshen College is one of 94 colleges and universities around the nation to receive a grant intended to give high school students interested in theology and ministry the chance to explore their future in the church.
However, Goshen is the only institution that uses this fund to take high school students abroad to learn in a cross-cultural context. Because of this grant, participants pay only $100 of the total cost.
GC started the SSTT program in part to ignite interest in seminary and the study of theology. With the decline of young people attending church and seeking to be leaders in the church, the Guatemala experience points to ministry as a possible vocation, said Keith Graber Miller, SSTT leader and professor of Bible, religion and philosophy at Goshen College.
At the same time, he said, students grow from cultural experiences.
“This is [about] learning from the rich history, the rich culture and the rich theological knowledge base in the Guatemalan context,” Graber Miller said. “The program is not about service.”
However, students are encouraged, but not required, to use what they have learned on the trip and participate in an internship within their own communities.
Although service is not the goal of the trip, that’s not to say service never takes place while in Guatemala.
Before the group's arrival in the summer of 2018, Volcán de Fuego erupted, killing 69 people and leaving many more homeless. The SSTT group, which was staying in Guatemala City, about 25 miles away, was able to help by organizing delivery of food, water and other provisions at a Ronald McDonald House nearby.
Since the main goal on the visit is to learn, students also participate in lectures throughout the two weeks, learning from Guatemalans and local community members.
“It’s a way of talking about discipleship in the 21st century and what that looks like,” Graber Miller said.
Talia Miller, a 2017 SSTT participant and a sophomore at Goshen College, described her learning experience as looking at Jesus and vocation in a contemporary context.
Along with discipleship, students learn about the relevant history of Guatemala. In addition to lectures, perhaps the most popular way of learning while in Guatemala is through daily field trips.
Groups travel throughout Guatemala City and beyond to visit local social service agencies, women’s organizations, fair trade stores and more. This is a way to contribute to the local economy in order to maintain a high quality of life for the citizens.
A highlight for Miller was visiting various sites outside of Guatemala City to see striking examples of wealth inequality. The group visited a landfill where they witnessed locals rummaging through garbage, then traveled to Cayala, one of the wealthiest areas of the city.
“We talked about wealth inequality and then we went out and saw wealth inequality,” Miller said. “We learned about injustice in Guatemala and then talked about injustice in our own communities, trying to tie those two together.”
Another 2017 participant, Cade Fisher, now a first-year student at Goshen College, saw value in conversations he had with local Guatemalans and learning from those who have experienced hardship.
When visiting women’s co-operative UPAVIM, the group learned more about the long-lasting civil war that took place in Guatemala, and its impact on individuals working at the co-op.
“It was so powerful to hear these stories from people who lived through such violence,” Fisher said.
These field trips, among other aspects of the study-abroad program, are just a few things to look forward to in the 2019 Study-Service Theology Term. Graber Miller encourages people from all races, theological backgrounds and walks of life to apply.
“Diversity has been the strength of the program…it’s open to people from any denominational group,” Graber Miller said.
Applications can be found at www.goshen.edu/sstt/apply/.