Equipping Humble Servants: Covenant College and the Chalmers Center
“I have always known that I wanted to find a career that would let me tangibly serve people and fulfill God's call of caring for others,” shares Kristin Owen, a 2013 graduate of Covenant College’s Department of Economics and Community Development. Hannah Weichbrodt, a fellow 2013 community development graduate, chose to attend Covenant for similar reasons. “The community development major seemed to combine my interests in the issues of justice, poverty, and international relations, and I knew the professors’ expertise was incredible.” What neither one knew, though, was that their decision to attend Covenant would place them on paths that would intersect with each other, rural villages in Togo, and the Chalmers Center.
The Chalmers Center has the joy of being a part of the Covenant College community. Though Chalmers is a legally separate entity from the college, the economics and community development professors at Covenant are all part-time staff at Chalmers. In the community development program, students learn principles and methods of holistic poverty alleviation. As they study both the systems and individual choices that contribute to poverty, they are trained in how the reconciling work of Christ can be embodied in economic development strategies and the verbal proclamation of the gospel.
|Kristin and Hannah with Savings Group Members|
During the summer after their junior year, all community development students are required to complete an internship in the development field. In 2012, Kristin Owen and Hannah Weichbrodt spent their internship researching the impact of Chalmers’ gospel-driven, church-centered savings groups in Togo. In these groups, participants study scripture, share life together, learn principles of biblical stewardship, and save their financial resources. Observing and researching these groups gave Kristin and Hannah concrete experience with the realities of fieldwork. “After sitting in the classroom for three years, I could not wait to go on my three-month internship in Togo,” Kristin explains. “My summer ended up looking very different than I expected, but God used it in transformative ways to supplement my education.”
For Hannah, the internship provided valuable perspective on both the daunting scale of poverty and the value of development work. “My internship helped me understand how little can be done, but also how great an impact the little things can have. The limited nature of our work, in terms of its duration and size, made the overwhelming nature of poverty clearer. However, the effects of Chalmers’ savings groups on members' lives, both in the areas of social relations and spiritual understanding, were extremely encouraging. Members would tell us how being part of the groups allowed them to have friends, to connect with others, and to feel more valuable as people.”
But the experience also proved to be personally transformative for Kristin and Hannah. In Hannah’s words, “The community development program, as well as Chalmers’ staff, impressed upon me the need for constant learning and humility.” Reflecting on the past four years, Kristin shares, “I think God used my time at Covenant and in West Africa to break me of my need for success and perfection. I realized I can't do anything by my own ability, no matter how stubborn, diligent, and persistent I am. I can only offer myself and my work to the Lord for His use, and pray that by His power, He will accomplish His work.”
Kristin and Hannah have graduated, but this year’s community development juniors are now interning across the globe. For the next several months, students will be serving in places such as Peru, Columbia, Tanzania, and Kenya. In the United States, students are working with a variety of organizations, including Jobs for Life and Advance Memphis. Two students are also continuing Hannah and Kristin’s research in Togo, providing valuable insights as Chalmers refines its savings group ministries.
This fall, Kristin and Hannah will once again be using their gifts in the development world. But their time at Covenant and with Chalmers will continue to shape their work. “Sometimes, when I say that I was a community development major, people think I just majored in ‘helping people,’” Kristin explains. “But it was so much more than that. My whole way of thinking about poverty has shifted. I stand ready to be used by our great God and make His grace known. ”
To learn more about Kristin and Hannah's research findings, read our November 2012 Mandate, “Gospel-Driven Transformation: Savings Groups in Togo.”