Martin believes that exposure to poverty and suffering transforms students. “They have expectations of what church should look like,” she says. “But students see that even when worship takes place in old, abandoned warehouses, God is there. In the midst of great need, they find out that what matters most is faith and reliance on God.” 

Field education, also called contextual learning, is a core requirement for the three-year master of divinity degree (M.Div.). It is a student’s chance to test his or her call to ministry, to explore ministerial roles and identity, and to work closely with an experienced mentor. The goal, says Martin, is to match students with settings where all involved benefit. The broader benefit is thriving ministries.

The students assigned to intern in Kenya will first travel to Indianapolis, Ind., for a two-week orientation with alumnus Kevin Armstrong D’85 at North United Methodist Church, which has hosted numerous Duke interns. Armstrong is a leader in the joint  Indianapolis and Kenya Umoja Project, which supports AIDS orphans in the African nation.

“Usually, the seminary says ‘If only the church could be better,’ and the church says, ‘If only the seminary could be better,’” says Martin. “The relationship between Duke and North UMC exemplifies the hopes of both. Their work with Umoja enables our students to cross cultural barriers, being present in the midst of suffering and discovering God is already there.”

This summer, the church is sending its minister of mission and outreach, Brian Williams D’08, to Kenya with nine youth for two weeks. Their visit will coincide with the eight-week internships of the divinity students.

The Swahili word for “unity,” Umoja seeks sustainable solutions to hunger relief, safe housing, and education for children, many orphaned or otherwise neglected, in Chulaimbo, a rural area with Kenya’s highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection.

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