By Caroline Anderson*
International Mission Board
Taking a gap year is an appealing option for many recent graduates, and studies show growing numbers of students are choosing to pursue other interests before starting college. Significant influences in students taking gap years include the desire to travel, experience new cultures, take a break from school, gain life experience and volunteer.
The International Mission Board’s Nehemiah Teams program is providing an opportunity for students to take a gap year to serve on the mission field.
Nehemiah Teams offers summer missions opportunities for students to serve among unreached people groups, and this fall a new initiative called NT365, an IMB gap year, will be launched for high school and college graduates, ages 18 to 23.
Great Commission roles
NT365 is designed to help students discover God’s purpose for their lives and discern their role in fulfilling the Great Commission.
Jess and Wendy Jennings founded Nehemiah Teams in 2004 while they were living in Southeast Asia. The Jennings are now the student strategists for the Southeast Asian peoples region.
Jess said NT365 will utilize programs already in place to offer an opportunity for high school or college graduates to be involved in cross-cultural missions.
As part of this new IMB gap year, students will attend Advance Operations Training (AOT) which is designed to disciple, develop and commission students to serve. The Jennings have been conducting this three-month training in the Philippines since 2012. Through the training, Jess and Wendy have trained 72 young adults: 65 Filipinos, one Indonesian, three Nepalese and three U.S. Americans.
NT365 will also involve the existing Hands On program. Hands On provides an opportunity for students and young adults to serve overseas for a semester. Jess said many Hands On requests go unfilled, and NT365 will allow more Hands On requests to be met with student missionaries.
Students will serve in Southeast Asia in as many as four countries. Students will begin by attending the Advance Operations Training in the Philippines for three months. The students will join young adults from other Southeast Asian countries. At this training, the students will serve with their cohort in two deployments in two different countries for four to six weeks.
Jess said the spring NT365 participants will fulfill a Hands On job request in a fourth country.
During the first three months, young adults will be involved in church planting in villages close to the training site, Jess explained. For the two short-term mission assignments and Hands On assignment, students will fill a specific request made by IMB personnel. Jess said this aids IMB workers as they move toward reaching their people groups with the gospel.
“As a church planter and long-term missionary, our number one goal for this IMB gap year is that students will fit into the field strategies of the company (IMB) personnel requesting them,” Jess said. “Nehemiah Teams is very intentional in meeting field needs to impact the unreached.”
Jess said Nehemiah Teams also places a strong emphasis on investing in young adults.
“We are intentional in helping students grow in their walk with the Lord, become world Christians and then moving them to obey the Great Commission for life,” Jess said.
NT365 provides extended opportunities to extend Christ’s witness.
“What excites us the most can be summed up in one word: MORE,” Jess said.
Jess said he is excited about more options for students, more time to spend with the students, and more impact in and through the lives of the students.
George Siler, the student team manager in the IMB’s mobilization department, spoke to the value of the program.
Investment in future
“Many young people are questioning the traditional path of pursuing higher education right after high school, especially when they have uncertainty about all the career choices, the cost and the results,” Siler said. “This IMB gap year puts together the elements of mission service, cross-cultural experience and Christian education in a surprisingly affordable package. This is a gap year that is a great investment of your life, not a postponement.”
Jody Dean, associate professor for Christian education and senior associate regional dean for extension centers at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said the seminary and Leavell College are partnering with Nehemiah Teams to offer course credit through the school’s mentoring program and involvement in NT365. Students at Leavell College can earn 18 credit hours, and students at NOBTS can earn 22 credit hours.
Sandy Vandercook, professor of English and education and associate dean at Leavell College, said NT365 provides an excellent opportunity for students who may not be ready to immediately move from high school to college.
“They may not yet know what they want to study, nor may they have a direction for their careers. A gap year can provide invaluable experience related to skills of living in general, particularly since they will not be living at home,” Vandercook said.
Vandercook served in the IMB’s two-year journeyman program in Brazil from 1988 to 1990.
“There’s something about making hard decisions, taking care of the “little” things that someone else may have done for them, making their faith their own and doing their initial college education in a non-traditional format that “grows” a person,” Vandercook said. “Even though some of these skills and attitudes are not academic or cognitive necessarily, such “adulting” can help students with readiness for a more traditional learning experience when the gap year has been completed.”
Tentative dates for NT365 are Aug. 28, 2021, through July 30, 2022. Students should apply by June 15, 2021. Apply now.
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