Act Five: The New Gap-Year Program

An Interview with Jon Berends

By: Renessa Visser, junior reporter

Taking a gap year presents students with an opportunity to learn about their giftings and how to share them with the world rather than immediately jumping into post-secondary education. My interview with Jon Berends uncovered the goals of Act Five and ways in which the experience is expected to impact the participants.

What sparked your dream for Act Five?

The idea for this program was born initially out of some of the Christian high schools in Ontario.  Educators were watching students graduate without a sense of where they were going, who they were, or how they might thrive when they leave home. They saw a lot of anxiety and uncertainty and saw how beneficial it would be to offer a program for high school grads to grow in their character and faith, as well as in their sense of purpose and direction, outside of a classroom setting. This idea took off among a group of high school leaders in October, 2017 before it was brought to Redeemer. Redeemer jumped at the idea, seeing an opportunity to work on a dynamic project alongside these high schools.

Once I was hired, the idea of “Act Five” as it is currently being presented developed through a variety of factors. A few great contributors were my experiences in high school, at camps, overseas and in Hamilton. And other factors stem from my own studies and good research coming out about the church, discipleship, education and emerging adulthood.

What will students learn and experience through the program?

Oh man. So much.

Students will have opportunities to learn about who they are, the Biblical story, and how they are part of it. They will have space to wrestle through their own life stories and learn from the perspectives of various groups of people with whom we will spend time over the yearthroughout downtown Hamilton, on the Six Nations Reservation, in Zambia, in Pittsburgh, and in the wilderness. They will learn how to canoe, how to build bikes, how to make dinner for fifteen people, how to garden, and why being a good neighbour is important. Through experience, they will learn where they can potentially see themselves in future workplaces and vocations, what kinds of habits they want to adopt that are important to being a disciple of Jesus, and how to be in communitywith all the highs and lows that accompany that.

I could go on, but those are some important takeaways. The biggest thing is that they are going to learn how to walk well into this next season of life… and have a ton of fun along the way.

How will this help them transition into postsecondary education?

Our hopes are that students will be led to walk well through this transition in their life, in all areasin body, mind, heart, and soul. We want students to learn to think well about themselves, their faith, and the world they live in; we hope they will have space to figure things out by being in new places and also learn to be part of a local community. We hope that through the second term, they will have a chance through to discern their next steps for study or otherwise, by getting 200 hours of experience—with rich mentorshipacross different fields in Hamilton.

I guess we hope students will finish Act Five with a sense of what they are doing next, but also why they are doing it, how they can do it well, and who they are as they head off to the next stage.

Anything else you want people to know about Act Five?

I am incredibly grateful to be developing and leading this new project. It has been a gift to be embraced by the Redeemer community as we work on this initiative, and I hope people will keep following along to see how this can grow to become a meaningful part of what we do here.