The pressure to figure out what’s next is intense as high school comes to a close. A lot of young adults have a nagging uncertainty, worrying about falling behind or wasting a year while not yet ready to jump into a three or four-year program.
What if these students had the chance to breathe, explore future pathways and learn more about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus?
This need was seen by a group of Christian high school principals. A growing number of their schools’ graduates were unsure what to pursue, unprepared for the next steps or wanted to experience new things as a pause from traditional schooling. The principals wanted to direct these students to a program that would offer the break that they needed but would still fill that time with purpose.
The group approached Redeemer as a university that is also deeply committed to the wider Christian education endeavour. A partnership was created between Redeemer and five area Christian high schools: Woodland Christian High School, Hamilton District Christian High School, London Christian High, Toronto District Christian High School and Smithville Christian High School. In May 2018, the partners appointed Jon Berends as the new program’s director. Since then, Berends has been developing the program, bringing to bear his years of experience as a teacher and chaplain in Christian high schools.
The result is an eight-month Christian gap year program, called Act Five and led by Redeemer. The program offers the time and space for young adults to explore who they are, where they’re going and how their faith fits into a rapidly changing world. Newly graduated high school students will have the opportunity to ask big questions like: “What is going on in the world and where is God in all of it? How does my faith apply to my daily life, my work and my neighbourhood? What are my gifts and passions?”
For the first Act Five cohort, the goal is eight to 10 students, who will begin the program in September 2019. Each participant will encounter new experiences and interpret them with the support of a community that learns, travels, works and worships together. The students, along with program staff, will live in a Hamilton neighbourhood. The Act Five home will be the central base for meals, classes, events and fellowship.
By creating regular rhythms of study, worship and prayer, the program will provide a year that is deeply transformative for students who are transitioning into adulthood and making choices that will shape them for years to come. Research shows that students who complete a gap year program are better prepared for post-secondary education, for the workplace and for engaged lives in our cities and churches.
Throughout the year, Act Five students will travel to a variety of settings and communities. Students will take on three outdoor canoeing and camping trips with Coldwater Canada, attend the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburg, work with EduDeo Ministries in Zambia and, with the guidance of Ohsweken Baptist Church, learn from communities within the Six Nations reserve.
From January to April 2020, Act Five participants will live and serve in Hamilton. Students will participate in two nine-week field placements (for about two days each week) with not-for-profit organizations, local businesses and tradespersons in the city. 541 Eatery & Exchange, A Rocha Ontario, New Hope Community Bikes, CityKidz, RE-Create Art Studio and Indwell are eager to consider field placements for Act Five. Placements may also include opportunities in healthcare, social work, carpentry, music, education, architecture and more — depending on each student’s gifts and talents. In their field placements, students will experience Christian vocation first-hand, under the supervision and guidance of mature Christians who are living out their faith in diverse contexts in Hamilton.
Overall, the new gap year program is helping young adults to find their place in God’s story. That goal is represented in the program’s name, which comes from the six acts of the biblical narrative. The first four acts span the moment of creation through to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In the sixth and final act, the story ends. We are all in the fifth act, where there is no perfect script. In the Act Five gap year program, students will be called to live out their faith — to practise it — knowing what came before and looking forward to what comes next.