Relationships, faith grow in M.Div. residency
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
They came to Phoenix a little wary, a little apprehensive, wondering how their online experience in the College of Theology’s master of divinity (M.Div.) program at Grand Canyon University would translate to their first residency.
They left as more than just colleagues or even friends. As Jason Waldrep, a Phoenix native who now lives in Honolulu, said near the end of six days with his 20 new brothers and sisters, six days of worshipping, singing and sharing meals and laughter and life stories, “This for me has been about the importance of relationships.”
The three- to four-year curriculum was begun last year with the idea of giving students the proper tools to better serve their churches, Christian organizations or missions. They had gotten to know each other a little online through discussion questions, but now they were going to put faces with names and learn much more about life in general and this group in particular.
“I was doubtful how it was going to go, actually seeing and meeting people, wondering if we all were going to be able to get along and really be Christlike to each other,” said Waldrep, a worship leader at a Honolulu church and chapel leader for a nearby school district. “I didn’t know what to expect. But the best thing about it was coming together, starting to get to know each other and worshipping together.
“After about a day, my heart was so touched by the fact that everyone here was on a journey, just like me, and everyone here had a story, just like me, and everyone here was seeking the Lord’s will, like I am. And I started getting a heart for my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I started realizing these are people I’m going to know for eternity. It changed my perspective.”
Most of the stories began with incredible trials and tribulations that turned into inspirations. Many of the participants talked of being touched by God in miraculous ways they never expected and, once they surrendered to God’s will, feeling newly energized to fulfill it.
“It’s so amazing because people bring in their experiences. They bring in their cultures. They bring in their daily walk. They bring in their emotions sometimes,” said Selina Gimbal of San Jose, Calif., a worship and youth leader who also is a University development representative for GCU. “There were people on Day 1 I thought I wouldn’t get along with, but now there’s a unity.”
George Hodges, an interim pastor in Flint, Mich., whose goal is to create a multicultural church family, said the unity of the residency helped him create a vision for his plan, which also includes a prison ministry he has begun.
“This whole residency has been a blessing to see people from different cultures and different states coming together and being like-minded with a love of the Lord and to be in this atmosphere of not being judged,” he said. “Sometimes people judge you according to what you’ve been through, but I thank God that He doesn’t judge me for what I’ve been through, and He uses what we go through to build us up and be the people He wants us to be.”
Dr. Pete Charpentier, the GCU assistant professor who served as the residency leader, said the six days accomplished “everything we set out to achieve,” particularly in opening their eyes to “keeping the big picture in front of them.”
“We want them to get information in an academic setting, but we also want them to be able to look at it in the real-world setting,” he said. “We want them to be able to connect to hearts and to lives.”
Another residency is scheduled for August, and more than twice as many people are signed up. If the reactions of the first 21 participants are any indication, they’re going to have an equally moving experience.
“It’s rigorous, it’s academically challenging, but it’s also spiritually challenging,” Gimbal said. “I literally have been in tears because it’s an alive course context — alive and full of life. It has been life-changing.”
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.