To be honest, Brian Waidelich expected a summer camp experience during !Explore, a threeweek program introducing high school juniors and seniors to Christian ministry.
Long before he returned to Pettisville with hot pink hair, 16 new friends, and a stronger faith, he knew he’d been mistaken.
“It was such an infinite experience within those 18 days,” said the 2007 PHS graduate.
“I’ll probably look back on this as one of the better experiences of my life,” agreed Mike Ruth, a 2007 Archbold graduate.
Waidelich, Ruth, and PHS senior Rebekah Maldonado- Nofziger joined 14 other youth in the July 9-26 group component of !Explore, sponsored by Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind.
Although program components like investigation of theological questions and inner-city service highlighted behind-thescenes aspects of Christian worship, participants were in for a whole lot more.
!Explore began with a threeday cabin campout in Mirror Valley, Mich., at the Amigo Center, where participants quickly became amigos (friends) in an experience Rebekah compared to orientation.
“Everyone just bonded really well and became really good friends by the end,” said Mike.
The new friends explored theological issues through professor mediated small group discussions and individual researching during the program’s next section, held at AMBS.
Since each student concen- trated on one issue, Rebekah, who was interested in multiple questions, said she enjoyed hearing thoughts on various issues during discussions.
“We could at least listen into what they were figuring out or researching,” she said of fellow participants.
Rebekah’s focus was world hunger and the response- or rather, silence- of wealthy countries. Mike sought to understand God’s wrath, and Brian studied pacifism in a violent world.
The questions were complex. “I didn’t really come to a whole lot of answers,” said Mike.
But research stimulated consciousness of the issues. After her studies, Rebekah desires contentment with what she has. “I think God wants us to live with just enough. Not too little or not too much,” she said.
“This is all God’s. We’re not taking any of this with us when we go to heaven.”
At the end, the youth shared their findings with the group.
“It was a lot of meeting new people and experiencing what it’s like outside of Archbold,” said Mike. “Just kind of opening your eyes to what goes on in the world.”
Besides meeting !Explore youth from as far as Canada, the group met a variety of people during daily community service projects through the Door program (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) in urban Chicago.
The youth cleaned, interacted with children in a bilingual school, helped inner-city garden, and packaged food packets for the homeless.
They stayed at First Church of the Brethren, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had an office.
The service was enjoyable, said Brian, but it was difficult to form “real connections” with others since projects changed daily.
He said routine activities like riding the “L” in Chicago provided chances to connect with city natives.
Mike enjoyed experiencing an alternative worship style during a visit to Sonida de Alaban- za (Sound of Praise), a Spanish speaking church where worshippers spoke in tongues and had demons driven from their bodies.
“It was so different than anything I’ve been used to,” Mike said.
“The conclusion we came up to at the end,” said Brian, “was that we just have to be respectful of people’s faith. They’re not doing anything wrong, it’s just way different.”
The group joined over 100 worshippers clustered around a song leader for a Sacred Harp acappella song service in Goshen, Ind.
Brian said people from all over drive to the singings, which feature Sacred Harp hymnals with old-fashioned shape notes.
“You just start singing your voice out,” said Rebekah. “It’s incredible.”
“The sound is so immense,” said Brian. “By the end, everyone’s voice is gone.”
The group attended the potluck lunch and three hours of singing, only half the typical service. “We weren’t that hardcore,” Brian said.
The group worshipped in a more traditional style with two chapel services, complete with music and meditations that they planned and carried out for AMBS staff.
“I learned a lot,” said Brian, “about how church works behind the scenes.”
!Explore closed with a spiritual disciplines study at the Amigo Center.
The high schoolers supplemented the Indiana group experience through 100-hour internships with pastor mentors in their home congregations. Upon completion of both aspects, scholarships are awarded.
Internships involved helping with church programs like Vacation Bible and Sunday schools, playing worship music, visiting the elderly and sick, and attending meetings.
“I kind of shadow the pastors,” said Mike. He works at Zion Mennonite Church, Archbold, three days every week, rotating his assistance among pastors Ron Guengerich, Mona Sauder, and Jessica Schrock- Ringenberg.
Of course, the experience involves the youths’ preaching.
“I practiced it almost 50 times, it seemed like,” said Rebekah, of her co-sermon at North Clinton Mennonite Church, Wauseon, with her mentor, Gary Blosser.
“I’m kind of a shy person, but when I got up there, it was fine. I loved what I was talking on.”
Brian completed !Explore after a sermon at West Clinton Mennonite Church, rural Wauseon, the Sunday after his return. Rick Stoner was his mentor.
Mike finishes after a sermon this Sunday, Aug. 19, and Rebecca has under 10 hours remaining.
“It impacted me quite a bit,” said Brian of the experience. While praying afterward, he said, “I realized for the first time that I wasn’t doubting what I was saying at all.
“I think my faith grew quite tremendously.”
!Explore, Mike said, “opened my eyes.”
“It gave me more perspective in the world,” Rebekah agreed. “Instead of just looking at myself and where I’m at today, I think it helped me look at the world as a whole.
“It’s not just about me,” she said. “First of all, God, and then others.”
The tight network of new friends is a bonus as well, said Brian. He and Mike even met future classmates who will attend Goshen (Ind.) College with them next year.
Rebekah, Mike, and Brian don’t plan on directly entering the ministry, at least not now.
But, Rebekah said, “you don’t have to be a pastor to show God’s love and what he does in your life.” She plans to study nursing and politics after graduating.
Brian, who wants to teach, said, “I think any job you do can be an opportunity to minister.
“Any moral job at least,” he added, wryly.