SEND trains 21st century missionaries

By Dave Kurtz

Sunday, November 20, 2011, 12:30am

She attended a meeting about the new SEND North America program in Kendallville and came away “really excited,” she said.These students attend the new SEND academy in Kendallville. Seated, from left, are Ashley Ruppert, Elizabeth Church and Tim Kruse. Standing are Ray Olivarez, left, and Nick Wilson. (Photo by Dave Kurtz)
KENDALLVILLE — After a year-and-a-half in college, Elizabeth Church of Fremont said, “I was going to take a year off and decide what God wanted me to do.”

Now, Church has completed two months in SEND, which stands for Servants Equipping New Disciples. She and four other students will spend a total of 10 months in the academy launched by Church Doctor Ministries of Corunna.

Inspired by a movement in Sheffield, England, SEND aims to teach young adults how to be missionaries to North America and reach 21st century people with Christianity.

“Right now, I have no idea what’s going to happen after SEND, but that’s OK, because God knows,” Church said.

Nick Wilson of Waterloo went to high school with Jon Hunter, son of SEND founder and “church doctor” the Rev. Kent Hunter.

Wilson traveled with Jon Hunter to Sheffield, England, where his friend studied in FORM, a training program that provided the model for SEND. Wilson said he saw how his friend “grew in his faith and Christian life.”

“I just kind of wanted something like that for myself,” Wilson said. “I think by the end of the year … I’ll find a strong calling from God.”

Tim Kruse of Auburn also visited Sheffield, came away impressed by “the fire that’s happening over there” for God and wanted to bring it back home.

In SEND, “I’m going to be learning how to be a follower of God in the 21st century context … where God can be everything to me,” Kruse said. “I know that at the end of these 10 months, I will have learned how to have God’s mission control my life.”

The fifth SEND member, Ashley Ruppert, of Akron, Ohio, had finished two years of college and was looking to study abroad when she learned about SEND.

“The second I looked at it, I knew this is where I needed to be,” she said.

Although SEND found only five students on short notice for its first year, Kent Hunter said his goal is to recruit 25 young adults for the 2012-2013 session.

SEND students attend classes Tuesdays and Thursdays in Kendallville’s Destiny Family of Faith, a storefront church on the city’s north side. Volunteer pastors teach the sessions. Many come from Kendallville and surrounding communities, but others travel from several states away.

Thursday afternoons and evenings, the students participate in mission outreach projects. On one recent excursion, they visited a prayer ministry and chapel at Lighthouse Apartments in Kendallville.

“A complete eye-opener,” Olivarez called the visit.

“There were people there who actually let us pray for them — lay hands on them,” Church said. “You don’t have to go over to a Third World country” to find a mission field, she added. “It is here in your own town.”

Once a month, the students take a longer weekend trip. In Toledo, Ohio, they worked alongside members of Threshold Community, SEND leader Josh Humberger’s home church, providing bread and hygiene products to homeless people and praying with them. They also took part in “Love Toledo Day,” giving away candy and water to everyone who passed them.

This weekend, the students will work and stay overnight in a rescue mission at Holland, Mich. Humberger said he hopes the experiences will demonstrate possible mission careers. In the second half of their year in SEND, the students can become unpaid interns for mission projects of their choosing.

The students live in WestEdge Mobile Home Community of Auburn — two women in one home and three men in another. They see the neighborhood of more than 500 families as their “mini-mission field.” Church and her roommate, Ruppert, have rebuilt a swing set and raked leaves for their neighbors.

“We want to build connections,” Church said. “The biggest part of being in this is sharing the joy of the Lord.”

The SEND students have nicknamed themselves the G-Squad, for God Squad, she said.

SEND students pay $5,000 in tuition, but they can’t do it themselves. Each student must obtain 10 sponsors to contribute $50 each month.

Olivarez didn’t know how he would find those sponsors. When he first heard about SEND at a church service where Humberger spoke, Olivarez was living in the Lenawee County Mission, a homeless shelter.

“I knew God was calling me to mission work. I was praying that God would get me out of this homeless shelter and into a mission field,” Olivarez said. His pastor told him to trust God to find a way to pay for SEND. Now, Olivarez said, he doesn’t even know the names of half of his sponsors.

Olivarez hopes someday he can take SEND to Australia. He’ll get a chance to expand his horizons overseas in the spring, when SEND will conclude with a 10-day mission trip to a village in Guatemala that has not been reached by Christianity.