WEB EXCLUSIVE: In the fighting spirit
Creativity with campus ministries at Goshen Collegeby Kathryn Birky
Wednesday evenings in the Yoder dormitory of Goshen (Ind.) College last semester were fight nights. Fifty students crowded into the second-floor lounge, pulsing in a ring around two boxers. Levi Yoder, the sophomore who organized the event, described the tentative first few blows.
For the mostly Mennonite students, it was "unnatural for people to hit each other." After the first blow to a face, though, the opponents lost any reservations and dove in, pummeling their aggression away.
"They just started duking it out," Yoder said, laughing. The matches were over in a matter of a couple minutes.
"Certain events brought the floor together--and one of them was boxing nights," Yoder continued. "For a little while you could forget about everything else ... plus, it was always fun to see the underdog win."
Yoder is one of Goshen College’s eight new ministry leaders. Known around campus as MLs, the other team members take their own approaches to community building. One collaborated with a resident assistant to plan a weekend retreat at a cabin, and one hosted tea and backrub parties. Another encouraged her floormates to participate in an intergenerational quilting project with the College Mennonite Church, Goshen. Some have volunteered with food drives or baked cookies for children’s welfare centers. Yet others arrange weekly Bible studies and coordinate campus worship nights every Wednesday, which draws about 20-30 people.
Yoder, who sensed that "some people's egos were getting bruised" last semester, now leads a small group on Wednesday evenings instead.
Tamara Shantz, the assistant campus pastor, said, "I'm really excited about the diversity of gifts that the team brings."
MLs are similar to the ministry assistants at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va., and Hesston (Kan.) College. At Goshen, their purpose is to "serve the residence halls encouraging a community of spiritual care, hospitality and dialog," the college Web site states. "They provide programming that nurtures the spiritual lives of students and they promote on-campus and off-campus opportunities for spiritual care."
In previous school years, a few students would help with chapels, worship nights and small groups. One of those leaders started to guide some intentional conversations with students about improving spiritual life at Goshen.
Shantz said, "They realized that ... spiritual formations were mostly in informal conversations."
Shantz and Bob Yoder, the campus pastor, knew that growth happened in residence halls and in late night interactions.
"Formal settings make it less easy to be open," Shantz continued, "and if Bob and I show up, it's immediately formal." They are working on developing an environment that is open to spiritual life and makes it "part of the fabric of what it's like to be on campus."
They decided to appoint ministry leaders in the residence halls, a complement to resident assistants.
"Someone to go talk to about life and someone to process it with--one more person in addition to the RA," Shantz said. "The shift was to be less programmatic and more about presence."
Levi Yoder echoed Shantz: "Because it's a brand new thing, it's whatever we as individuals want to see happening ... My goal was to be a presence for people to come and talk to."
People do drop by Yoder’s room to talk. However, he said, "The girls have had more one-on-one contact; girls just by their nature tend to talk more and be more open about their feelings--especially when it comes to religion."
Yoder was challenged to come up with events that could gather a substantial turnout. "Doing common activities together is a lot less common for guys," he said.
Heather Zimmerman, a sophomore ML from Guam, leads a prayer group on Monday evenings. It is called E4 after Ephesians 4, and it meets for about an hour. "Everyone shares and strengthens each other," she said. "Last night we had a good-sized group ... we talked about testimonies."
Zimmerman described her decision to take the position: "They had little coffee meetings last year, and I just wanted free coffee, so I went." She and a few others suggested that they should have someone on each floor specifically for ministry. When a friend told her later that the positions were actually going to exist, she said, "I heard about it and thought, 'whoa' ... I was just there for the free coffee, but they listened to my voice. I applied and asked God, 'Let them hire me if you want me to do it.'" She was hired.
She contrasts her position to a resident assistant’s. "If someone’s been drinking, it's the RA's job to visit their room and say, 'You're getting written up, dude,'" Zimmerman said. "I'd rather be like, 'Why are you getting hammered all week?' and give them someone to talk to."
She continued, "I see people's lives change. It changes you more than the people you talk to. I ask myself, 'How am I going to see God make a difference in my life and other people's lives today?'"
Each of the MLs is paid $500 a year to work a few hours per week.
"I know I put in way more than that," Zimmerman said. "They're not even just people on my floor, but I talk with them for maybe three hours every day. People are so important and Goshen is about community ... I meet the quota too quickly and I can't just get cut it off."
Next year the MLs will get rooms to themselves as well as a stipend, because the team has realized that it would be easier to have confidential conversations without roommates around.
They also receive free training, starting with an intensive three-day orientation in the fall. Shantz said that part of it is learning to recognize "that we all have different expressions of faith, both on the team and in the residence halls. People have different ways of articulating faith and they're all valid."
The MLs also studied the logistics of their jobs, like knowing when to refer students to professional counseling. They met with Char Hochstetler, the campus counselor, to learn to recognize symptoms of depression and anxiety. They did activities to practice listening skills and to prepare themselves for the situations they may encounter. "It was exhausting," Yoder said.
The MLs are also Safe Zone-certified, which Yoder described as "training to respond to people if they're questioning their sexuality." After the orientation, the MLs met every couple of weeks with the campus pastors.
The pastors used a formal application procedure with interviews and references to gather students from a variety of fields: business, communication, music, Spanish, theater and others. Shantz noted, "Making MLs on different floors available to everyone is an ongoing challenge."
Finances and male applicants are the main hurdles she faces--they don't have the money to place an ML on every floor, and they can't find enough male students to hold the positions next year.
Students who want to serve as ministry leaders are proof of the program’s success, Shantz said. "Applicants are doing it," she said, "because of the impact that MLs had on them this year."
- Green shoots rising in a resurrection garden
- Easter in Baghdad
- Once for all
- Let morning come
- WEB EXCLUSIVE: A stranger hugged me
News stories, digests and Meno Acontecer
- Erland Waltner, pioneer of GC-MC integration, dies
- Open letter calls for 'radical hospitality'
- WEB EXCLUSIVE: In the fighting spirit
- Bethel must reduce budget by $1 million
- Mennonite Mission Network to reduce spending
- CLC proposes new Leaders Forum
- Details of The Corinthian Plan released
- Chicago Dwell unit focuses on advocacy
- MC Canada fiscal year ends with deficit
- New leaders for denominational ministry
- MWC representatives report increased interest of youth
- Former Bluffton president Neufeld dies at 83
- Indy church breaks ground for church addition
- AARM changes name to Resource Partners
- Lancaster Mennonite High senior dies after car accident
- Community shapes us
- Easter chaos
- MLK and the struggle for a better world
- The mystery of resurrection
- The Corinthian Plan
- The Corinthian Plan II
- The Corinthian Plan III
- Keith Harder responds to The Corinthian Plan letters
- Intentional communities
- Payback for Paraguayan Mennonites
- Former Ten Thousand Villages store explains
- Appalled by column on adoption
- Reverse church growth?
- Why end The Shack debate?
- Why publish the names of givers?