One of the most significant ways in which the PRM resources and builds relationships between rural pastors, congregations, a Grove City College is through through opportunities that allow students to spend time learning from and serving with rural pastors. As we've noted before in this blog, student-led mission trips, and service-learning projects consistently provide students with rich experiences in mentored ministry and experiential learning. Another way in which students can learn about rural ministry in a first-hand way is through the PRM's fully funded summer internships. For the second year in a row, these internships have proven to be an invaluable way of connecting college and church for the mutual edification of pastors, congregations, and GCC students.
Over the past summer, nine students from Grove City College spent the summer working as interns with PRM. Ellarie Persohn and Sydney Hanson stayed local to Grove City, bringing the college’s Bee Project to kids and adults at Rose Point Church. Down in Moundsville, West Virginia, Bion Arnold and Ethan Wilson served at the Moundsville Church of the Nazarene, helping with the youth there and running various events. Karis Halley was at First Presbyterian Church of Waynesburg working as an interim youth director while Ryan Miller assisted with the Kids and Youth Club at Mosaic Community Church in Jeannette. I myself was also in Jeannette, assisting the First Presbyterian Church with various aspects of their ministry. Talia Jones stayed at her home church in Knox, Pennsylvania, working both with Child Evangelism Fellowship and other ministries at Grace EC Church.
While many of these internships took place within a local congregation, some ranged more widely. PRM photography intern Gracie Turnbaugh traveled all around the Western PA region, talking to a diverse range of pastors and learning about their ministries while also serving as a photographer for PRM. As a PRM writing intern I have enjoyed having the opportunity to hear about all of the wonderful ways that God has used my fellow students in the service of His kingdom as we have come alongside these churches for the past few months. Reflecting on the internship experience, however, it becomes apparent that God has also been using this time to work on us as well and to equip us with hearts and minds more fully prepared to serve Him.
Lessons in Trusting God
One common lesson for us was the need to surrender our own plans over to God and trust that His will would be what was best. The book of James reminds us that we “do not know what tomorrow will bring,” and Isaiah reminds us that God say, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” Any time that things do not go as we planned them to, it is easy to become frustrated, but these are also opportunities to rely on God more and to trust that His ways are indeed higher than our ways. Karis shared that it was the “hard moments” and “quote-unquote ‘failures’” that she could see God teaching her. Even though having an event not go as planned was confusing and disappointing for her, she learned to be vulnerable and flexible and realize that “God had different plans.”
Being in this place she was able to notice one individual that she likely would not have otherwise and to invite him to eat with them, opening the doors for the pastor to have “an awesome talk with him about forgiveness.” Karis learned that surrender is important when it comes to serving God, saying “I need to be where He wants me, when He wants me, to let go and surrender to what He actually wants me doing.”
From my own experience, I would have to agree. The whole summer seemed like a lesson for me in trusting God, mostly because of all the situations that came up that I had no control over and had to rely on Him to see me through. I did not plan to have my internship interrupted by quarantining while sick or get lost on unfamiliar roads, but that did not prevent either one from happening. When my circumstances were utterly out of my control, though, I had no alternative but to trust that the Lord would take care of all my needs (which, of course, He did). Unexpected struggles are sure to arise in both in life and in ministry, but God always remains in control. As Karis reminded me, “He doesn’t abandon us.” And He never will.
“This summer I was faced with a lot of spiritual attack which required me to rely on the Lord and not myself,” Talia shared. “Because of this I experienced great joy and peace which enabled me to see the power and comfort that comes from drawing closer to the Lord.” Pointing to the promise found in Romans that “for those who love God all things work together for good,” she said that practicing laying aside her own expectations about things was “rewarding, because I was able to see how He did turn those things around for good.” As with any relationship, Talia said that “spending the summer being in close relationship to the Lord … built my trust in Him.” She also learned just how much she can rely on Him and how our doing so brings glory to Him.
Relying on God instead of trying to be self-reliant has also been important for Sydney. She said, “learning to lean on God in the moments that feel overwhelming has been so incredibly pivotal in the day to day.” Although her own family was going through a difficult time, she was encouraged by the widows that she spent time visiting. “All the women we visited were elderly and had lost their spouse several years ago but seeing the happiness and trust in the Lord after losing a loved one was truly inspiring to me,” she said. Ellie also said that she had learned something about relying on God from her experience this summer. She and Sydney were busy just with caring for the bees, as during the week that they went to Rose Point they also had 200 pounds of honey to extract from the hives. “We all thought, ‘Are we sure we can do all we agreed to?’” Ellie said, but “it ended up turning out wonderful. We were trusting in God’s provision after we decided to dedicate our time to do that.”
The Goodness of God's Community
In addition to growing us through our relationship with Him, God has also been shaping us through relationships with other people. Ethan shared that he has gained “a better understanding of how God works through communities,” and that “a lot of the time it’s not necessary to look outside of the community you’re in to see both where He is working as well as where He wants us to be working.” For myself, I was surprised at just how important the relationships that formed over the course of my internship were for me and was very blessed by getting to know the people in the congregation I was serving with. I also learned about the importance of building relationships with the people we minister to through my experience with VBS this summer.
Bion said that for him, “a continued takeaway is how important it is to have a relationship with those you are evangelizing to … getting to know them and walk along side them.” In working with younger kids, who are mostly served by female volunteers, he has had the opportunity to be a male influence for them and provide an example for “the young men,” as he called the nine-year-old boys he has spent his time with.
Ryan has also been building relationships with young people this summer through the Kids and Youth Club, many of whom do not have a loving home situation. He told a story about one family in particular that all of the adult workers have come to know and love over the past few years, and who they have been praying would be able to come to church on Sunday morning with their mother – which finally happened one Sunday this summer. Ryan said that this mom was amazed to see how much her kids were already loved at that place when she saw how he and the other adults welcomed them. Since a number of the kids at club are dealing with trauma, walking alongside of them has not always been easy, but this training has equipped Ryan with a greater understanding of how to help these kids. He also knows that such work truly does make a difference and will bear fruit, even if that fruit comes about long after we are there to see it.
The Joy of Bearing Fruit
Jesus sent out His disciples that they “might go and bear fruit” (John 15:16), and as we join in ministry one of the most exciting parts has been opportunities to see fruit develop from it. Although Karis had expected that no fruit from her ministry would be evident until after she was gone, listening to the testimonies given by two of the people in the congregation she served on her last day with them enabled her to see that it had been fruitful already. She told me they “were really edifying and made me realize it had impacted them, and I was just so encouraged by that.” Karis was excited to see this, saying “God was actually using my teaching there to impact people.”
Bion saw the evidence of fruit earlier in his experience, during the West Virginia teen camp for the Nazarene Church. During an altar call one night many of the youth seemed to resound with what the speaker had said and many went up front. “Seeing people go up and pray and being able to go up and pray with them- that was really cool,” Bion said.
While Ethan was initially discouraged when the youth he was teaching were having trouble grasping his lesson, in reflecting on it he saw that their questions ultimately made it “a really great time of getting to clear things up about what we believe and just getting to talk about Jesus.” In a 24-hour prayer initiative, Talia was also able to see “the Holy Spirit really tugging on hearts and turning people to Himself,” as well as receiving a direct answer to a prayer of her own, which she said “was really phenomenal” and helped to reinforce her own trust in God. “I personally experienced how fiercely God loves me, and how I can fully depend on Him for anything,” she told me.
Flourishing in the Local Church
All in all, we have been blessed by our time here. “Right from the beginning I could tell it would be a good opportunity,” Gracie said, “it was all God that this internship worked out for me.” Having already served with PRM on an ICO trip this spring, Bion thought that becoming an intern as well would be a good way to confirm God’s call on his life. “I was already under the impression that this program was really good, and it is,” he said. Ryan called his internship this summer “one of the best things I’ve ever done.” He added that “I wouldn’t have chosen to do children’s ministry on my own, but it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.” Ellie also went into the summer a little intimidated by the thought of speaking to kids, but doing so inspired her to continue to do so with a program for elementary schoolers this fall. While I already knew that ministry to kids is where my heart is at, the things I did this summer further confirmed that for me. It was very uplifting to hear others affirm for me my particular role in the body of Christ. Karis also was blessed by watching how her gifts and the gifts of others were able to come together through the small church focus of rural ministry. “I love to see God’s activity in a local church body,” she said, and especially how she was able to observe the individual parts of that body all unique yet combined in purpose. “I found it really encouraging to be part of a local church like that,” she said.
Emily is a PRM writing intern also partnering with First Presbyterian Church of Jeannette to gain firsthand experience in ministry. She is a lifelong resident of southwestern Pennsylvania.