This past spring international student minister, Mike Krajnak, took a group of seven students through Wilberforce Academy’s Redemptive Change Agents program. In this Q&A he shares his own experience as well as some advice to others who might be interested in taking their students through the program.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the journey was the direction the students chose to go with their change project.
What is your background and how did you come to try the Redemptive Change Agents study with your students?
I work with International Friendships Incorporated and reach out to international students here in Ohio. I’ve volunteered for them since 2010 and then I came on staff last year. I’m actually coming from a professional computer career, but this past year I felt called to step into ministry full-time.
As for the study itself, I’m running a discipleship training program for some of our students and we always want them to have a social project that they spend time putting together and thinking through. Bob suggested that we just fold the Change Agents study into this, and it seemed like a good fit.
How did you prepare your students to engage with the study?
Before the first lesson we watched the 1-hour YouTube movie The Better Hour together. Most of them had never heard of Wilberforce and had no idea what it was like during that period in time, both with slavery and the difficulties in making change. The movie helped them put things in context.
(Note: an additional option is to watch Amazing Grace, if your group has more time.)
What demographic of students were you working with?
We had seven students from China, Thailand, and India. There was a mix of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and one of the students joined us remotely via Google Meet Up. There was also a variety in spiritual maturity: some had been Christians for a long time, others for only one or two years. I would say that their English level was fairly high.
What was your relationship to these students prior to starting the study?
Each of these students had become involved with our discipleship training during the past year, so we were taking a group of students we felt we already knew fairly well for our first run with this study.
We always want to have a social project for our discipleship students to take part in, and dovetailing that with the Redemptive Change Agents Study worked well.
How did the students come up with the societal issue that they would seek to address?
I made it clear from the beginning of the discussion that the project they chose had to be something meaningful to both the American and their own cultures so they could take it back home and it would make a difference.
They started brainstorming after the third lesson. Some of the ideas they came up with didn’t cross all cultures and some felt too big for them to address in the time we had available. Through a series of votes, the students decided that a concern they all shared and that they could actually do something about was abortion.
Once the students chose the societal issue they wanted to address, what steps did they take to make sure they truly understood root problems related to the issue?
We visited Heartbeat, an organization that specialized in preventing abortions, as well as watched the movie Unplanned. They also spent time discussing what they knew about the abortion crisis in each of their home cultures.
Ok, so now they had a deeper understanding of root issues…how did they come to a decision about what to do for their actual project?
The challenge is that Wilberforce did some great stuff, but it’s many years ago and we’ve got to make the bridge between what was happening back then and what is happening now.
Some of the ways that Wilberforce got through to things are not going to work in dictatorships, so they had to say, ok, we can’t hope that some like Wilberforce comes up and makes a stand. This has got to be done a totally different way.
We asked, “What did Wilberforce do?” The answer was that he actually started by educating people…the common people. So they decided that a grassroots project focused on their peers would be best.
Ultimately, they chose to design a relationship seminar that would help people make better decisions in their relationships. The goal of this was to get closer to the heart-root of the problem, instead of chopping at the stems and leaves above the surface.
The seminar would also specifically address the issue of abortion, in ways aimed to connect with their international peers.
What do you feel helped your students become so excited about taking on this project:
I really think that because we started by watching the movie about Wilberforce, and then went on to watch Unplanned, these stories helped really make them on fire about actually doing something practical.
What suggestions would you give to someone just preparing to take students through the project?
Start with the movie to give them context, and before or after that give some background information on the politics of the issue of slavery as well as how government worked at that time, as many international students come from non-democratic cultures. (It might help if you read a little about England’s system of government ahead of time so that you can answer some basic questions they may have.)
We did need closer to two hours to get through the materials. This may depend on how many people you have as well as their English level. We had a group of seven, which necessitated more discussion time.
Also be prepared to explain what “the better hour” means, as for some it was not immediately clear.
It can also be helpful to share a more recent example of a change agent from a non-western country. (One to consider: social reformer and Christ-follower James Yen.)
Do you think that this is a program you would do again?
Yes, we are considering doing in this next school year as part of our discipleship program…I felt that we did a pretty good job of covering the materials last time and had some great results from the students, both in the discussions and the process of working on the project.