by M.Div. Student Chris Godfredsen
I remember back in 2015 sitting in the WTS Admissions office telling the director at that time, Mark Poppen, that the reason I was applying was because I wanted to learn, but “I don’t really need seminary to change me.”
Well…I’ll admit it. Five years later, I am not the same person who had that conversation with Mark. I am a healthier leader, I’m more curious, and I am so thankful for the experience of attending Western.
As part of the distance learning Master of Divinity program, students are required to go to campus for a week in the spring and fall, which is called intensives. The first intensive week was a seminary-altering experience for many of us.
Rev. Dr. Chad Pierce was our Greek professor (I contend that God knew I would not have made it through Greek without Chad). During that intensive we translated sentence after sentence together, which led to a handful of us meeting over Zoom to continue that practice online. We logged in at 9 p.m. every Thursday the rest of the year and did the same thing when we took Hebrew and needed support from each other to learn that language. We studied together, lamented the load, and through it all, life-long relationships formed. One of us lost a mother during that time, so we were able to provide love and care, even via distance, through this practice. Any initial doubt I may have had about the effectiveness of an education delivered mostly online dissolved.
Another requirement of the M.Div. program is to go on an intercultural immersion trip. I chose to engage in a trip to the Borderlands—the U.S./Mexico border between Douglas, AZ and Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico.
Our hosts at Frontera de Cristo led us on a journey to taste and see what life on the border is like for border patrol and for migrants desperate to get to the USA for safety and opportunity. We learned of the ways ministries were working to save lives of migrants who had tried to get across the border but had been deported, and of others who were thinking of ways to provide jobs and opportunities to stay in Mexico and live good lives there.
Each morning when I enjoy a cup of coffee in my kitchen, I recall that trip and the coffee roasting cooperative that Frontera de Cristo started (justcoffee.org). When I purchase from them, I know I am supporting much more than just coffee! I may not be called to work at the border, but I can do my part to help those who are. The trip taught me how interconnected we all are and how much we need each other.
As this five-year distance learning journey winds down, there are many reasons I am grateful for the decision I made to enter seminary. Professors challenged me to own what I believe to be true. I learned from fellow students on the online discussion boards, and I even tried on some new ways of thinking in the process. They were all pretty gracious with me as I explored my faith and the reasons I have for believing what I believe. The real gift is that I now have relationships from coast to coast that will last a lifetime. And beyond all of that, I have a deepened love for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
Chris Godfredsen serves on the Synod of the Heartland staff as the East/West Sioux Classis Leader. He is a pastor to pastors and a catalyst for strengthening and starting churches. He is a Faithwalking Foundations facilitator, works with pastor networks, and assists pastoral search teams to ensure that congregations and pastors find the best fit in times of pastoral transition. He says he feels called to the work that he does, resourcing RCA churches in NW Iowa, but also trusts that God knows what is in store for roles like the one he fills in the RCA in the months and years to come.