This has been one of my favorite classes by far at seminary, partly because it connected theory and theology with practice, and that’s how I learn best,” says David Van Berkel, one of 10 students who took the “Travel Course in Urban Ministry” last summer with missions professor Pieter Tuit.
“Talking with church planters, visiting ministry sites, and seeing the great needs in the New York City area was both inspiring and challenging,” Van Berkel adds.
For two weeks in June, he and his classmates from Calvin Theological Seminary learned from urban church planters and community developers in the New York metropolitan area, including Ramon Orostizaga, Trevor Rubingh, and Albert Sideco in Jersey City, N.J.; Andy Sytsma in Haledon, N.J., and John Algera in Paterson, N.J.; Joseph Byun in Flushing, N.Y.; Mark Reynolds, Ben Spalink, and Steve Wolma in Manhattan; Al Santino in the Bronx; and Johnny Alcevedo in East Harlem, N.Y.
Students wrestled with how to contextualize the gospel in a changing urban culture, whether to try to assimilate immigrants into that culture or work to maintain their ethnic ways, and whether to focus more on the urban poor or the urban rich.
They also learned that Christians are not alone in their urban missionary efforts. Visits to a Hindu temple and a mosque introduced them to people working to convert North Americans to other religions with as much passion as the Christian church planters they met.
At Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, known for its church-planting ministry under the leadership of Tim Keller, students worshiped with 5,000 people. They also attended an unforgettable prayer service at the Brooklyn Tabernacle.
They were exposed to ministries in African American, Chinese, Hispanic, Filipino, and Korean communities; and their learning was enhanced by the diversity within their own group, both in their programs of study and ethnic backgrounds.
Seminarian Mark Van Andel reflected, “One of the most beneficial aspects of the class was the diversity of cultures and backgrounds among our classmates. It was such a valuable gift in the midst of interacting with so many cultures throughout our travels.” He described the course as “not just a mental exercise . . . but a character-developing opportunity.”
Tuit spoke of his own learning, noting that, “It is great to teach students when you are with them 24/7. It gives you the opportunity to integrate Bible, theology, history, practical theology, ministry skills, and character right where it is needed.”
Van Andel agreed: “I learned a lot of facts, confirmed some presuppositions, and gathered new insights. But more than that, I experienced Christ through the members of the class and the professor.”
About the Author
Rev. Kathy Smith is senior associate director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, adjunct professor of church polity at Calvin Theological Seminary, and adjunct professor of congregational and ministry studies at Calvin University. She is a member of First CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.