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The Community as Your Classroom

The Community as Your Classroom

Urban Scholars at Moody Theological Seminary Michigan gain a real-world education through inner-city ministry.
  • December 31, 2021

After serving on a mission trip in Uganda, Alecia Hinston was now in catch-up mode. The 2019 Michigan State University graduate had missed orientation at her new school, Moody Theological Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Alecia was a recipient of the seminary’s Urban Scholars full-tuition scholarship, but she hadn’t yet selected the ministry she would participate in as part of the scholarship’s graduation service requirements.

Flying out of Entebbe International Airport in Uganda, Alecia began studying her options as her flight crossed the Atlantic Ocean en route to MTS Michigan for the fall semester.

“Through Urban Scholars, you get connected to one of eight to 10 different ministries that are located in Detroit, and you commit to volunteering for at least 30 hours each semester,” Alecia said. “I was reading the ministry descriptions on the plane. When I read about the CareNet Pregnancy Center and how they work with women who have unplanned pregnancies and other difficult situations, it sounds weird, but my heart was burning. I have a burning passion for women to know and love the Lord. I thought to myself, I have to do this.”

At CareNet, Alecia helped numerous women not only decide to keep their unborn babies or give them up for adoption but gain the support and resources many of them needed to parent their infant children. Eventually CareNet hired Alecia for a full-time assignment when its client services coordinator went on maternity leave.

Alecia graduated from MTS Michigan in December 2021 with a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies . . . and a heart fully devoted to ministering to women in need thanks to Urban Scholars.

“We have a client graduating in two weeks from the CareNet program, and I first saw her when she was a few months pregnant,” Alecia said. “Just to see her one-year-old daughter visit CareNet was one of my favorite things. To see how much this woman has grown and how much she feels CareNet is a family to her is a huge blessing. The women are like my friends. I’ve learned a lot from them.”

Impacting Detroit, one student at a time

Stories like Alecia’s are common for Urban Scholars at MTS Michigan, a small and thriving seminary that is home to 100 graduate students on its Plymouth, Michigan, campus. The scholarship program launched in 2014 with a unique purpose: to combine theological training with community service in Detroit’s socioeconomically depressed neighborhoods.

“The goal was to increase Moody’s impact on the city of Detroit through the program,” said Dr. Brian Tucker, dean of faculty at the seminary.

In seven years, 34 students have completed the scholarship program, with 15 students presently involved as Urban Scholars during the 2021–22 academic year. Each of the current students is benefiting from a grant provided by the Lloyd and Mable Johnson Foundation. The grant supplies students with full tuition assistance for their participation as Urban Scholars.

“These students all have demonstrated a desire to serve and be used to meet the needs in the community,” Dr. Tucker said. “The majority of the students would not be able to attend without the financial award that the foundation has graciously given over the years.”

Stretching students outside their comfort zone

Earning this generous funding requires students to be accepted as Urban Scholars after finishing a rigorous application process. In addition to meeting the seminary’s general admissions requirements, applicants for an Urban Scholars scholarship must write an essay explaining how they hope to apply their MTS theological training to their ministry service in Detroit. They must also exhibit academic excellence, a strong commitment to urban ministry, a prior record of community service, and demonstrated potential for community leadership.

Once accepted, Urban Scholars students must take at least 18 credit hours of graduate-level courses each academic year, with students participating from a variety of master’s degree programs, including Divinity, Ministry Studies, Biblical Studies, Biblical and Theological Studies, and Biblical Spiritual Formation and Discipleship. They also must volunteer for a minimum of 30 service hours per semester over a three-year period in MTS-approved ministries in Detroit.

The service agencies partnering with the Urban Scholars scholarship program pursue a gamut of different missions in ministry to the residents of Detroit: a pregnancy resource center (CareNet), youth and children’s ministry outreach (Hope House), addiction recovery (Life Challenge), evangelism (Cru Inner-City Detroit), neighborhood revitalization (LifeBUILDERS, Durfee Innovation Society), and Christ-centered education (Westside Christian Academy and Charlotte Mason Neighborhood School).

Treasuring her volunteer service

MTS Michigan student Treasure Bishop performed her service hours for the 2020–21 academic year in the after-school program at Central Detroit Christian. CDC uses education, employment, and economic development opportunities to transform individuals into caring, confident citizens who promote peace and sustainability in their communities.

“Leaving there, the staff was so sad,” Treasure said. “To me, it felt like I was just coming there to help with the after-school program. But in their minds I had really been a blessing to them, and they kept telling me that throughout my time there.

“Working in an after-school program, some of those students didn’t have a meal when they went home. You’d pack up food for them to take on the bus on the way home. To get to see the students learn something new each day and get to know them was great. They are a ball of energy. I love youth, and I want to be a teacher, so it was cool to get that experience at CDC.”

What made Treasure’s time at CDC—and this school year as a volunteer with Durfee Innovation Society—even more rewarding was the opportunity to give back to her hometown.

“Getting to help people in Detroit has been awesome,” said Treasure, who enrolled in the Biblical Spiritual Formation and Discipleship master’s program at MTS Michigan after graduating from Kennesaw (Georgia) State University. “Being from Detroit and getting to be part of my own community and working with people in my own backyard is very special to me. Having that experience here at Moody has really been transformational for me.”

Impacting whole neighborhoods—and students’ futures

Dr. Tucker said the dedication of students like Treasure and Alecia in the classroom and in the community is making an eternal difference. Urban Scholars not only prepares students for career vocational ministry but impacts underserved families and entire neighborhoods through Jesus Christ.

“The intended outcome of the program is that we will address the economic, family, and spiritual challenges of the community,” Dr. Tucker said. “We do this through the hands of academically well-trained and committed Christian leaders.”