Simon Gomersall—Director of Activate (Gap Year Program) at Trinity College Queensland—sat down with students towards the end of the year-long program to reflect on their experiences. Activate is for people between 18 and 30 years who want to study theology and apply their learning in real-world contexts. Students complete a Diploma of Ministry, undertake numerous life-skill programs, develop ministry skills and engage in mission experiences in Australia and overseas.
“Activate is such a great year,” says Lize van der Merwe, an Activate student from Toowoomba staying at Raymont Residential College in Auchenflower, Brisbane. Trinity College Queensland is located in the Uniting Church Centre on the same site.
“There is a holistic approach to everything you do. There’s a lot of pastoral care involved but they (Trinity College) also care about your learning and your relationship with God. We make many relationships with the whole college community, not just the Activate crew, where you feel so deeply invited in, cared for and loved.”
Activate students take their formal academic subjects amongst the wider college community, mixing with people from all walks of life and at different stages. They engage in subjects such as Spirituality for 21st Century Disciples; Introductions to the Old and New Testaments; Evangelism, Conversion and the Mission of God; Introduction to Christian Leadership; Introduction to Christian Thought; and Beyond Sunday, emerging with a nationally accredited Diploma of Ministry.
Lucy Kammermann, a school leaver from Cairns, says that the Activate experience helped her understand much more about her faith.
“Starting the year I was really intimidated because there were all these big topics, and honestly, it’s made me question a lot of my own ideas, like whether I really believe what I think I believe. But coming to the end of the year and all the experiences we’ve had, I think I understand a lot more what faith really is and how I can share that with others.”
Her studies did raise more questions, Lucy adds, but “good questions”.
“Before, I was a lazy Christian. I believed what I believed because of what my parents told me. I hadn’t really asked big questions. And it was a lot, at first, coming into theological studies. Because it’s not just academic, it’s questioning what you believe, life and death stuff.
“Coming out of it, I’ve learned so much. It makes so much difference to really understand why you believe things and the significance of those things: how big, powerful and good God is! I’m just starting to comprehend the amazing things he’s doing. You really get to see that in Activate. It brings a new light and perspective. It brings more depth to the reasons I hold my faith.”
Germaine Kaskol is a 30-year old personal trainer who joined the group in the mid-year intake.
“I can see the big picture now,” says Germaine. “I came into the program saying, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. Where am I going?’ But I wasn’t looking at the big picture, just at what was in front of me. I feel like I better understand God’s big picture now and am getting better equipped, so I’ll be ready when God calls me.”
Nineteen-year-old Emma Williams, who is considering continuing at Trinity to convert her Diploma of Ministry into a bachelor’s degree, says, “I don’t really know how to express how I’ve changed. I know I’ve changed. I’ve definitely been grounded in my faith, which has impacted all aspects of my life. I feel more humbled from the Thailand and Aramac trips—having those opportunities, to see so many different things, has blown my mind!”
Emma is referring to two key mission-based events in the Activate program.
In first semester, the students undertake a short-term mission experience to support the work of a school chaplain in an outback Queensland town where there are no functioning churches. They teach RE classes, run lunchtime and after-school programs for students, meet with and learn from local Christians and reflect on the unique challenges of people in smaller and isolated communities.
In second semester, the students fly to Thailand for a mission exposure experience which includes serving a local Thai church, assisting with ministries to neglected and disabled children, serving elderly slum residents, visiting detainees in Bangkok’s infamous Immigration Detention Centre and running a party for sex workers through a local ministry supporting women exiting the bars.
With accompanying academic reflection and assessment, the trip fulfils the requirements for one academic subject. But the opportunity to share and serve in practical ways is equally transforming for the students.
Lize comments, “I’ve loved all the skills that we’ve been learning. I’ve gained the capacity to share my faith at my residential college and have had so many conversations. The training and sessions that we have done have allowed me to shape my testimony and I’ve been confident to share that many times, planting lots of little seeds.
“I’m now able to openly talk about why I am a Christian. If it wasn’t for Activate, I wouldn’t be feeling so strong. What we’ve done has equipped me for those conversations.”