Here at Students International, we do our best to be a holistic missions organization that provides students and adults with open doors to serve in vocational ministry short term as well as longer-term. SI is not just a short-term missions sending organization. Our trips range from one and two weeks to summer internships to semester and a gap year program as well as full-time staff. We’ve seen God be so faithful as we seek to be on the forefront of missions and meet the needs of the coming generations – there are exciting things on the horizon!
Over the last few years, we have seen a changing trend in missions and in the hearts and minds of early college students, which prompted us to start Global Bridge: our gap year program. The research we’ve done and stories we’ve heard tell us that many students are not ready for college at 18 or 19 years old, and they often are searching for a way to serve and to learn simultaneously. Experts are calling this life stage “extended adolescence.” They want to do something that matters and become more globally aware before they make seemingly permanent choices toward majors and careers. They want to be free to go and see and do, but are not ready to make a four or sometimes even a two year commitment to a university or college. Students International’s awareness of this trend birthed our program, which is entering its third year this fall.
Global Bridge (which you can read more about here) is a program offering both missions experience and college credit within the time frame of a 9-month school year. Our program is currently running in Guatemala with dreams of making it available in all SI countries in the future. Global Bridge students go through intensive language school, choose their online college courses and work in a ministry site during their time in Guatemala. This offers students the ability to minister, go to college and travel abroad all at the same time. Also integrated into our program is leadership and discipleship training, something that students wouldn’t normally receive as college freshman at a university. This piece of our program has proven to be life-changing for students. We are also learning that the decisions students make their first year of college can change the course of their college career or even their life – for better or for worse. These are pivotal years in a student’s development and we strive to provide the best foundation possible for them during this critical time. They have the opportunity to experience so much life outside of their comfort zone, while getting credit, serving the people of Guatemala, learning Spanish, building cross-cultural relationships and getting training, guidance and mentorship.
The majority of our students come out of this program with a new sense of purpose, an expanded worldview, an excitement for what’s next and maturity in their faith that wasn’t there before. I had a recent Global Bridge graduate tell me,
“I did a year of college, but it felt pointless. I was majoring in business with no purpose in mind and it felt so empty. I spent nine months in Global Bridge and truly discovered God’s purpose for my life – helping create and run a sponsorship program for students in impoverished countries. I now am back in the states and finishing college, majoring in business or communications with purpose. I finally have something to channel my work towards and it makes a huge difference in how I view my education.”
This is the fruit of a gap year program. While some programs offer college credit and some do not, we have chosen to include it in our pilot program in Guatemala. This allows students to maintain their focus on school work while studying independently through our online programs. It also gives them the opportunity to be caught up with their peers when they return and continue their education.
The feedback from students who did Global Bridge this past year was that it was a life-changing experience for them and 100% of them would recommend it to graduating high school students. Some of the things they said were:
“It opened my eyes to poverty, God’s heart and godly relationships.”
“Bringing students here, getting them involved in communities, speaking truth into their lives and offering college courses – it’s perfect. It allowed us to grow into our own people by leaving our comfort zones, having to rely on God and giving us the opportunity to explore deeper who we are and who God is.”
Some may initially wonder if the discipleship aspect of the ministry is necessary or even that beneficial, but it is one of the areas where we saw the most growth as well as where students responded with unanimous positivity about that part of their experience. There is no substitute for one-on-one mentorship relationships and the positive impact they have on young people. Here’s what some of them said:
“The SI staff were a huge blessing. They played the role of my parents. They care so much about us and it was clear in all they did. They were always there if we needed help, quick to fix something if it was bothering us and shared their love endlessly… They have such a huge desire to see growth and transformation and served as huge motivators and encouragers this year.”
“Having them to talk to helped me beyond belief. They were there to listen and give feedback if needed. They were always willing to meet with us, even if it was arranged last second. It was obvious how much they cared for us and our well-being. I felt so comfortable opening up to them and knew I could always reach out to them if I was in need. They were understanding, caring and so sensitive to whatever it was I was going through. I’m so thankful they were here for me.”
There are many organizations across the nation doing these programs well and we are grateful to partner with the Joshua Wilderness Institute at Hume Lake, the LIFT Discipleship program at Camp of the Woods and the Vanguard Gap Year program at Wheaton College who bring their students to one of our countries to do an occupation-based short term trip as part of their gap year. It’s been a gift for us to plug them into ministries but also for us to learn from them as they disciple students. Students can only dream as big as the story we offer them and we see that gap year programs have been a pivotal part of inviting them into a bigger story. For a growing percentage of young adults, a traditional college experience at eighteen is not the best story for them and we feel privileged be on the forefront of a new narrative for them.
We have a team of twelve students just arriving in Guatemala this month. While there is so much unknown for them as they begin the year, they are hopeful and expectant of what God will do in their lives. This is why they want to go:
“I knew right away from my first short term trip with Students International that mission work is what makes me come alive. Global Bridge will allow me to share my love for missions and attend college at the same time. My hope for this journey is a deeper relationship with Christ, with the Guatemalan people and with my team.”
“There are countless reasons I’m excited about this journey! I absolutely love SI’s vision to bring together short and long-term missions and this year will really allow me to bridge that gap for myself. I’m really excited to expand my love for God’s world, to understand culture in a deeper way than ever before, to build relationships with the Guatemalan people and to have the community and support of my Global Bridge team and staff in the process. I know God will do great things.”
We covet your prayers for the twelve students who have just arrived in Guatemala, for their families and for those they’ll work with in Guatemala. There will be an abundance of stories to be told of God’s faithfulness, growth and changed lives of these students. We believe that Global Bridge will continue to have a profound impact on the careers, families, worldview and faith of those who choose to say yes.