March 11, 2009 | Myrna Anderson

Every year, the Lilly Vocation Project gives 12 students the opportunity to discern their vocation for Christian ministry.

Until recently, Josh Kuipers, a Calvin junior studying religion, anthropology and Kiswahili, had not considered a calling to ministry.

Shifting focus

“For the longest time I wanted to be a lawyer and politician. God really broke my heart and called me to a life of surrender and service. I spent some time in Mexico and a year in Kibera, Kenya, searching for God and his calling on my life,” he said. “There was no moment where formal ministry became a focus. It was a slow shift, moving away from a focus on anything else.”

Kuipers will have the chance to explore his ministerial calling as one of the 2009 Jubilee Fellows.

Every year, the Lilly Vocation Project gives 12 students the opportunity to discern their vocation for Christian ministry. This year, along with Kuipers, the project has named the following students as fellows: Nick Baas, Rachel Bergman, Jonathan De Ruiter, Brandon Haan, Kate Oswald, Katie Pruss, Charlotte Sandy, Tracy Ver Merris and Philip Vestal.

Looking at the possibilities

“It’s young people taking a look at ministry,” said Calvin chaplain emeritus Dale Cooper, a co-leader of the Jubilee Fellows. “It’s also young people who probably wouldn’t look at ministry at all.”

The students chosen as Jubilee Fellows will spend spring semester being mentored for ministry by Cooper and his wife Marsha and by co-leaders Ren and Elsa Brookhuizen. “We study what is God’s longing for the church,” Cooper said. “We study the role that people play in the church—gifts and position. We talk about the church in whatever age we find ourselves. We talk about the history. And then we talk about the discernment process.”

Ministry realities

When summer arrives, the fellows apply what they have learned via internships in congregations throughout the U.S. and Canada. These internships allow the students to experience ministry up close and hands on. “It takes a look at church ministry in all its joys but also its sadness and disappointments and occupational hazards,” said Cooper of the internship experience. “It’s fraught with blessings and difficulties, like all vocations.”

Most important, he added, the internships allow students to discern whether ministry is right for them. “It helps students to discern what is best,” said Cooper in reference to Philippians 1:10: “So that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”

Many types of ministers

In the seven-year history of the program, around two-thirds of the Jubilee Fellows have gone on to seminary; others have pursued Bible translation and other ministry options. Still others choose to be more committed and active members of their various congregations. All of these are successful outcomes, Cooper said.

The Jubilee Fellows program was founded in the 2002–2003 academic year through a five-year grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. When the grant runs out in the spring of 2009, the Jubilee Fellows will come under the auspices of the new department of Congregational and Ministry Studies. Cooper is grateful for the college’s continued support of the program.

The next generation

“We are partners together in transmitting this,” he said. “Those people who raise that money and the people who use the money are all putting their gifts together to say, ‘What are we doing for the next generation?’”

One member of that generation is eager—and flexible—about where his calling might take him. “In the future I could see myself involved in anything from pastoral training in Africa to working at a soup kitchen to preaching Sunday mornings,” Kuipers said.

Meet the 2009 Jubilee Fellows

Nick Baas
A junior from Grand Rapids, Mich., majoring in religion, philosophy and Greek, Nick has been interested in ministry since his participation in the Facing Your Future program at Calvin Seminary. He is grateful for this chance to use his gifts in a community and is thankful for those who have supported him as he finds his place in the kingdom of God.

Rachel Bergman
Rachel is a junior from Orono, Maine, majoring in psychology. Rachel, who plans to pursue both a master’s degree in social work and a seminary degree following graduation, is particularly interested in working with families.

Jonathan De Ruiter
A junior Greek major from Alger, Wash., Jonathan spent the early years of his childhood on the mission field in the Dominican Republic. He is eager to use the gifts God has given him to serve Him and His people during this coming summer and plans to attend seminary following graduation.

Brandon Haan
Brandon Haan is a pre-seminary student from Lansing, Ill., majoring in both English and religion. Although Brandon is unclear of exactly how he will serve God in the future, he is confident that the Jubilee Fellows program will help him to discern God’s calling. Brandon, who serves as a resident assistant in the Beets-Veenstra residence hall, is excited for the many opportunities to be like Christ to others.

Blake Jurgens
A junior from Byron Center, Mich. majoring in philosophy and Greek, Blake sees ministry as not just a hobby, but a passion. His plans after college include attending seminary and earning his masters of divinity. He hopes that Jubilee Fellows opportunity will allow him to gain hands-on experience in the field of pastoral ministry while gaining a better perception of the body of Christ here in North America.

Josh Kuipers
Josh is a junior from Abbotsford, B.C., and is an interdisciplinary major in religion, anthropology, and Kiswahili. He feels a specific calling to serve the hurting and marginalized of this world. Josh is excited for the adventure that following Christ brings.

Kate Oswald
Kate is a junior psychology major from New Providence, N.J., whose future plans include grad school, seminary or foreign missions. Her hope for life is that she would always be growing in her faith, fully utilized by Christ and purposeful in her actions. Kate is grateful for the opportunity Jubilee Fellows is providing her and is eager to experience serving in an American church setting. 

Katie Pruss
A senior nursing major, Katie came to Calvin from Saline, Mich., near Ann Arbor. She has joined the Jubilee Fellows program to grow as someone who can minister to the soul as well as the body. Katie dreams of starting a ministry in rural Africa and spreading excellent healthcare along with the good news of the gospel. She feels strongly that there are no ordinary people and hopes to know the heart of God and others more deeply through Jubilee Fellows.

Charlotte Sandy
Charlotte is a junior psychology and religion major from Birmingham, Mich. A transfer student from the University of Michigan, Charlotte came to Calvin in order to study religion and have opportunities that would help her discern her call to ministry. Charlotte is passionate about teaching people the Word of God, and she is excited to explore that in the Jubilee Fellows program. Her specific ministry interests are youth and family ministry, pastoral care, counseling and community.

Tracie VerMerris
Tracie, a junior from Dorr, Mich., majoring in music in worship and vocal performance, has a passion for both music and worship. Tracie is excited to be part of the Jubilee Fellows program to explore her gifts and interests, and she hopes this will be a valuable learning experience in worshiping God and serving a Christian community.

Phil Vestal
Phil, a junior from Manhattan, Ill., first came to Calvin to study physics, but—after feeling God’s call to ministry—is now majoring in religion. After Calvin, he plans to attend seminary to work towards a masters of divinity. He is extremely excited to preach and bring the Good News to people all over the world. God has also given him a heart for the poor and a passion to spend some time serving the least of these, whether it is at home or abroad.

Elsa Prince-Broekhuizen and Dale Cooper

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