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Seminary Internships Include Cross-cultural Experiences

Debbie Jin (left) on her internship in the Sultantate of Oman, with her friend Tamanna.

Calvin Theological Seminary students completing Master of Divinity degrees do Cross-cultural InContext Learning internships as part of their 600 credit hours. The 200-hour internship, which many fulfill during their summer breaks, gives future pastors an opportunity to be in a setting other than their own. 

“This is about being a good pastor,”said Geoff Vandermolen, director of Vocational Formation and director of the Doctor of Ministry program at the seminary. “You’re always going to be involved with people who are different from you. This is about being engaged in a world that is different from yours.”

Vandermolen said students select a placement that is ethnically, economically, and/or ecumenically different from their majority experience. He said the internship gives students a chance to consider questions such as how the gospel sounds when it’s spoken from a different denomination or what leadership looks like in places of worship that are not Christian Reformed.

InContext Learning partners include prison settings, church plants, homeless shelters, and countries overseas. Students contribute to the design of the work they’ll do in each placement, making goals for what they’d like to observe, achieve personally, and achieve in ministry engagement. Next they come up with strategies to accomplish these, and finally they complete an assessment, reflecting on what happened and what changes they see in themselves because of this experience. 

Debbie Jin is entering her third year at Calvin seminary. She did a one-month internship with the Al Amana Center in the Sultantate of Oman in January. “My internship was life changing,” Jin said. She completed trauma healing training sessions as well as made prison visits, attended InterFaith dialogue, led children’s ministry sessions, and visited local Muslim families and mosques to learn about their faith. Jin already had experience from multiple cultures. She is Korean Chinese, was born and grew up in China, spent five years in South Korea in university studies, and now spent almost three years in the U.S. 

She said the Oman internship helped her understand that ministry has many different forms. “It helped me to break my stereotype of mission and be able to respect and appreciate (other cultures). Mission and ministry are so diverse and strongly affected by their contexts.”

Jin’s internship was unique because while the Sultanate of Oman welcomes missionaries, they are not to do any evangelical work, and the Al Amana Center was the same. “I have never imagined that a form of ministry that was not directly asking people to convert to Christianity could also be a kind of mission.” Jin went on to explain that the Al Amana Center’s focus emphasizes the reconciliation of relationships. “It’s quite typical to see Christians hanging out with other Christians, but at Al Almana Center, Christians and Muslims are good friends.” Jin said that the friendships could happen in part because people were willing to listen. “I think when I listen first, people are more willing to listen to me. When I respect others first, people are willing to respect me.”

Jin said she returned to the U.S. with a deeper willingness to listen to others and an understanding that while the “Christian bubble” can be comfortable, Christ’s followers ought to communicate and connect with the world. 

After Jin graduates with her M.Div., she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. “My end goal is to become a person who knows the Word of God, then teach and preach the Word of God and the heart of God while traveling the world.”


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