!Explore logoParticipant reflections

By Siana Emery for AMBS

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — The following reflections come from three of nine teenagers from across the U.S. who participated in !Explore: A Theological Program for High School Youth during the summer of 2018. !Explore is an annual program hosted by Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana. Since 2004, the program has provided a context for nearly 170 high school students to explore theology, ministry, spiritual practices, service, and relationship-building.

Each summer, !Explore consists of a Congregational Experience, a 100-hour internship in the youth’s home congregation; and a Group Experience, which brings participants together on the AMBS campus for two weeks of theological exploration, community building and personal growth. Each student chooses a theological question, three practical ministry skills and a spiritual practice to explore throughout the program. See the program details page for more information.

Linda Moyo

Linda Moyo, Explore 2018 participantLinda Moyo is entering her freshman year of college and hails from North Newton, Kansas. She’s part of Faith Mennonite Church in Newton. Her father, Ron Moyo, a 2018 graduate of AMBS, encouraged her to apply to the !Explore program. Her pastoral mentor was Rachel Siemens (MDiv 2007), lead pastor at Faith Mennonite.

In one phrase, how would you describe the Group Experience?
“An overwhelmingly welcoming family”
“Exploring, craving and loving God together”

What was your Congregational Experience like? How do you feel the Group Experience strengthened or built upon skills from the internship portion of !Explore?
“My main focus [during the Congregational Experience] was helping to plan Sunday school for intergenerational groups. I also focused on my spiritual practice, which consisted of five days of water fasting and social media fasting, which made my experience of being around the other !Explore participants even greater. I felt community and a sense of belonging.”

What would you say makes this program unique and special?
“[!Explore] allows people with the same goals to come together. They recognize their differences, but they all want to strengthen their connection with God and their leadership skills within their community. It’s a great foundation for the next step in our lives. I feel like I wouldn’t be who I am today without this small program. I have a new understanding of my faith and God and what my purpose and calling is.”

What was a highlight from the Group Experience?
“One thing that pops up is just the conversations we had together and the family environment. It was just so amazing. We were so comfortable with each other from day one. We grew together and supported each other within our different opinions and faith, and it made the experience that much greater.”

How do you expect this program will impact you going forward?
“!Explore has given me a whole new lens to see the world and to view God. A quote on my mind the whole time was, ‘We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.’ I feel like being in !Explore allowed me to step out of seeing things as I am. This will allow me to grow as a person in whatever God’s calling for me is.”

What surprised you during the !Explore program?
“It wasn’t my choice to do !Explore. My dad found it, and I felt I had to do it. I wasn’t very excited. It wasn’t until every participant and the leaders were in this little chapel and were sitting together that I said to myself, ‘Right now I am putting one foot in. I am going to be here for two weeks. I might as well dive in and see where God and these people take me.’ I surrendered and let go. !Explore has been a time in my life when I am fully myself. At !Explore they saw my whole self and all the sides of me. I learned to accept all the sides of me.”

What do you want to tell future participants of this program?
“For any future participant, don’t just put one foot in. Dive in and get the full experience. You will not regret it. These few weeks are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In the moment you won’t realize how fully meaningful this experience is. Go in faith and enjoy the ride.”

Photo: Linda Moyo of North Newton, Kansas, speaks during a chapel service led by the !Explore youth for the seminary community on July 13 as part of the program’s Group Experience at AMBS. (Credit: Jason Bryant)


Miguel Santiago

Miguel Santiago, 2018 Explore participantMiguel Santiago of Souderton, Pennsylvania, is entering his junior year of high school. His youth pastor, Mike Ford, associate pastor of youth at Blooming Glen (Pennsylvania) Mennonite Church, informed him about !Explore, and after looking into it, Santiago felt that the program was one he was called to do. Ford served as his pastoral mentor during the Congregational Experience.

In one phrase, how would you describe the Group Experience?
“An experience that was very meaningful, very challenging and definitely worth it”

What was your Congregational Experience like? How do you feel the Group Experience strengthened or built upon skills from the internship portion of !Explore?
“Our church is going through a lot of change right now and embracing more of what the youth want to see. I’ve been providing leadership in different forms to communicate to youth and adults. I’ve been leading youth worship times, for example. Coming back from the Group Experience, I have a new perspective and ability to lead well. It’s broadened my view.”

What would you say makes this program unique and special?
“One thing I found really special was that it really gives you an opening to see different aspects of church leadership and be involved in that more. The Group Experience also gives you a chance to experience different cultures, like at the homeless shelter. It gives you an opportunity to talk to people at the seminary and gives you a chance to answer theological questions through discussions with professors.”

What was a highlight from the Group Experience?
“Each of the different event pastors led their own session. It helped us form closer bonds with them, and the things that they chose to discuss were very meaningful.”

How do you expect this program will impact you going forward?
“It just helped broaden my perspective and helped teach me new skills on how to deal with different situations. !Explore also helped lay a foundation of different ways to look at theological questions or issues.”

What surprised you during the !Explore program?
“When we went to the Group Experience, I did not expect to form such good bonds with the people there as quickly as we did. That allowed us to experience things better together and have a much stronger experience overall. I enjoyed the days on campus at the seminary. They were a lot more meaningful than expected.”

What do you want to tell future participants of this program?
“Go in with open mind and don’t be afraid to step out and push yourself a little bit. Talk to new people and be open to changing the original plan that you lay out at the beginning.”

Photo: (l. to r.) Miguel Santiago of Souderton, Pennsylvania; Elizabeth Eby and Sasha Dyck, both of Goshen, Indiana; and Jonathan Lopez of Elkhart, Indiana, lead music during a chapel service led by the !Explore youth for the seminary community on July 13 as part of the program’s Group Experience at AMBS. (Credit: Jason Bryant)


Thalia Neufeld

Thalia Neufeld, 2018 Explore participantThalia Neufeld, who is part of Seattle Mennonite Church, has been aware of !Explore for a long time, as her father, Jonathan Neufeld (MDiv 2005) used to work for the program. A rising high school senior, she felt that it would be a good experience for her. Her pastoral mentor was Amy Marie Epp (MDiv 2005), pastor for discipleship and children, youth and their families at Seattle Mennonite.

In one phrase, how would you describe the Group Experience?
 “Building an intentional community where the whole group supported each other, got to know each other and were vulnerable with each other”

What was your Congregational Experience like? How do you feel the Group Experience strengthened or built upon skills from the internship portion of !Explore?
“I really enjoyed working with the congregation. I feel more connected to them now. The !Explore research makes me feel more prepared for sermons, and hearing other people’s perspectives has given me nice guidance.”

What would you say makes this program unique and special?
“I’ve never had that kind of experience before where you can get so close to a group of people. It’s priceless. I will always have those friendships now. It’s such an incredible opportunity. I’d recommend it for everyone.”

What was a highlight from the Group Experience?
“We did these circle talks where we’d discuss what we want to do in the future and what our fears were. We’d share those things and say, ‘I support you in your endeavors.’ There was an amazing atmosphere of support.”

How do you expect this program will impact you going forward?
“We met lots of different people, and that gave me more perspective for my life going forward. The research was also helpful for me in developing my faith and becoming more of leader in my congregation.”

What surprised you during the !Explore program?
“I think maybe I expected it to be more strict and less like a community, like more of a camp feeling and less just time to get to know each other and to spend time together doing what we enjoyed. I didn’t expect that we’d form such a strong bond.”

What do you want to tell future participants of this program?
“This is a priceless opportunity. Be in the moment and enjoy the community.”

Photo: As part of their Group Experience, !Explore participants use resources from the AMBS Library to research a theological question they have chosen to focus on during the summer program. Pictured is Thalia Neufeld of Seattle, Washington. (Credit: Jason Bryant)

See also “!Explore participants gain new perspectives, community of support” and reflections from participant Sasha Dyck of Bethany Christian Schools in Goshen, Indiana.