An interesting aspect of the SOT graduate program is its mentor programs. Students are split into groups of two and assigned to a mentor who meets with them once a month during the school year. My particular mentor is Mike Neelley who works in pastoral support and discipleship at Tierra Nueva in the Skagit Valley. Labeled ‘The People’s Seminary’, Tierra Nueva shares the liberating news of Jesus Christ with farmworkers and immigrants in the Skagit Valley.
As my mentor, Mike tells me experiences that he has had in ministry; we carry a dialogue concerning the complex theological issues presented in class with the hope of finding their practical applications in ministry. In addition, my fellow student (who also share the same mentor) and I have the opportunity to experience Mike’s ministry first-hand. I have been particularly moved by our times of prayer as we seek God and hope to find direction as we all continue down our paths of ministry.
It has also been a blessing to meet some of Mike’s friends at Tierra Nueva. The last time we visited, we met a young man who has struggled with drug use throughout his life. While in prison, he met Jesus and has been forever changed by the encounter. Even though trials and temptations litter this man’s path, his deep and abiding love for Jesus Christ is something that I wish to someday have. I considered it an honor to share the room and worship with him. From soaking prayer at New Earth Refuge – the faculty retreat facility – to participating in worship with Tierra Nueva, I am able to understand how theology is applied within a particular context.
The mentor with which I was connected through the graduate program was Reverend James Kearny who is the lead pastor at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church. I, honestly, was skeptical that I would be able to connect with an “assigned” mentor, being that the meeting was more required than organic. But, the truth is, that James is exactly who I have needed to help me contextualize my education in light of the church, as well as drawing out the particular spiritual gifts that the Spirit is exemplifying through me. It has been such a gift to meet with James once a month, be able to voice theological and spiritual struggles that I am having, have him convey wisdom and even some of his own hardships of his own for my and Josh’s (another student who James mentors) benefit. It has truly been a blessing to me to have a mentor assigned to me based on my desire to pursue pastoral ministry after SPU; the program really did intentionally strive to make this partnership what it has now become: a benefit and a blessing to both mentor and mentee.
- Raoul Perez