The journey after graduating high school seems straightforward to many: university or college, a job and then the rest of your life. Throughout his career in education, Jon Berends discovered that every well-worn path requires a few deviations.
“When it comes to a career, many young people are a long way from knowing what they should pursue;’ he says. “They go through the motions of education, but they aren’t really moving towards anything.”
Berends desired to provide an opportunity for young adults to take a break from traditional schooling, consider different pathways and give space for big questions about who they are and what they believe. The result was Act Five, a gap year program developed in partnership with Redeemer and five southern Ontario Christian high schools. The name references the six acts of the biblical story. The first four acts encompass the creation account through to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The fifth act is the time we’re living in now until the New Creation, which is the sixth act. Although the program includes mission trips and other impactful experiences, it primarily advocates spiritual growth through everyday activities as the students live, work and learn together in an intentional community.
Leading this demographic toward a life of engaged discipleship is who we are, and we’re excited to see the diverse ways we’ll be called to do this in the future.
“We want them to learn how to live their days well in community and trust that the answers to their big questions will come out of that,” says Berends.
In May 2022, it was announced that Act Five would become an independent organization by May 2023. Soon, Berends and his staff hope to be able to accommodate both gap year students and a more permanent residency program. “[The residency program] is built on the idea of having young adults who are working or studying in Hamilton commit to Act Five’s core practices by living in community … Leading this demographic toward a life of engaged discipleship is who we are, and we’re excited to see the diverse ways we’ll be called to do this in the future.”
Since taking on its first cohort in fall 2019, Act Five has experienced its share of trials and growing pains, especially throughout COVID-19. Despite this, seeing the program’s tangible effects continually reinvigorates Berends.
“There are countless moments where God has done beautiful things through our students. At the end of each term, I’m blown away by how much they’ve grown, the relationships they’ve made and the ways they’ve been inspired.”
Act Five’s board of directors recently received the important milestone of charitable status. While the relationship will look different, Redeemer will continue to partner with Act Five as they disciple young Christians for the sake of the Gospel.