ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — This summer, nine teenagers from across the U.S. participated in !Explore: A Theological Program for High School Youth, eager to strengthen their leadership skills and further develop their personal faith. Since 2004, the annual summer program hosted by Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana, has provided a context for nearly 170 high school students to explore theology, ministry, spiritual practices, service, and relationship-building.
“!Explore has given me a whole new lens to see the world and to view God, ” said Linda Moyo of Faith Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas, a participant in this summer’s program who is now a freshman at Bethel College in North Newton. “A quote on my mind the whole time was, ‘We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.’ I feel like being in !Explore allowed me to step out of seeing things as I am. This will allow me to grow as a person in whatever God’s calling for me is.”
!Explore features two main components: a Congregational Experience and a Group Experience. During the Congregational Experience, which consists of a 100-hour internship at the youth’s home church, participants work with a pastoral mentor on three practical ministry skills of their choice, such as preaching, leading worship, teaching Sunday school or offering pastoral care. They also choose a spiritual discipline to practice for the duration of the program, such as journaling, Lectio Divina or fasting. Moyo, for example, focused on helping plan Sunday school for intergenerational groups, and her chosen spiritual practices consisted of five days of fasting on water and also from social media.
The Group Experience, which took place July 3-18 at AMBS, brings the students together for two weeks of theological exploration, community building and personal growth. While living at AMBS, the students discuss and research theological questions they posed when applying for the program; learn from AMBS faculty members about worship leading, preaching and pastoral care; and participate in local service and outreach projects. The youth also pray together daily and prepare a chapel service for the seminary community. The Group Experience includes time for discussions with AMBS faculty and event pastors.
This year’s participants, ranging in age from 16 to 18, found that the Group Experience portion of !Explore not only enhanced the skills they acquired during the Congregational Experience, but also allowed them to forge strong bonds with like-minded peers.
Moyo said that upon arriving in Elkhart and gathering with the group in the AMBS chapel, she allowed herself to dive into the Group Experience head first and found that she could be fully herself.
“We were so comfortable with each other from day one,” said Moyo. “We grew together and supported each other within our different opinions and faith, and it made the experience that much greater.”
Looking forward, Moyo said, “For any future participant, don’t just put one foot in. Dive in and get the full experience; you will not regret it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Go in faith and enjoy the ride.”
This year’s !Explore participants and their pastoral mentors included Sasha Dyck and mentor Mandy Yoder (MDiv 2003) of Belmont Mennonite Church in Elkhart; Elizabeth Eby and mentor Jane Stoltzfus Buller (MATS 1994) of Walnut Hill Mennonite Church in Goshen; Jonathan Lopez and mentor Pedro Castillo of El Shaddai in Elkhart; Linda Moyo — daughter of Ronald L. Moyo (MDiv 2018) — and mentor Rachel Siemens (MDiv 2007) of Faith Mennonite Church in Newton; Peace Muhagachi — daughter of current AMBS students Amos and Esther Muhagachi — and mentor Tyler Hartford of Pleasant View Mennonite Church in Goshen; Thalia Neufeld — daughter of Jonathan (MDiv 2005) and Melanie Neufeld (MDiv 2005) — and mentor Amy Marie Epp (MDiv 2005) of Seattle Mennonite Church; Julien Ricou and mentor Nelson Yoder of Frazer (Pennsylvania) Mennonite Church; Miguel Santiago and mentor Mike Ford of Blooming Glen Mennonite Church; and Elaina Youngberg and mentor Brenda Hostetler Meyer (MDiv 2006) of Benton Mennonite Church in Goshen.
The 2018 !Explore participants will be eligible to receive a $1,000 scholarship to AMBS in the future.
To learn more about !Explore or to apply for the 2019 program, see ambs.edu/explore.