Shared by Nathan Kocurek, Associate Pastor Student Ministries at Stonebriar Community Church,
the true story of Michaela, one of his former students.
The Gap Year is typically an academic year taken by a student as a break between high school and college. For Christian kids, the idea becomes a missional Gap Year. It can include a year engaged in a foreign or domestic mission effort, a year at a camp or retreat center, or a year at home in dedicated service to their home church or local service organization. The hidden benefit of this is the way it shapes the values of kids growing up in church. As students see others live out the Gospel, their target changes. No longer are youth group kids dreaming of getting out there to party their brains out in college. Instead, younger teenagers begin to imagine living a very different identity when they picture themselves leaving home. Students suddenly see themselves preparing for the heroic purpose of rescuing the lost and protecting the broken from isolation.
I recently asked one of my former students, Michaela, to share some of her Gap Year experience.
When I consider the countless times God has changed my plans to show me that His are better, my Gap Year comes to mind first. I planned to go to college, work in the medical field, and live with the comfort of others’ approval and financial ease. Instead, I found myself in the heart of El Salvador—a city booming with Latino flair, volcanoes, pupusas, and warm smiles—alongside 11 American strangers. For the next 9 months, we were to learn Spanish, build relationships with Salvadorians, grow in Christ, and volunteer at a different ministry each day of the week. Little did I know how God would use this time to so dramatically alter the trajectory of my life.
In El Salvador, God stripped me of my gods. Everything I could once count on was now nowhere to be found. My language, my culture, my family, my car, my wifi, my close friends, my paychecks, my independence, my spiritual supports, my familiarity of everything, my future plans, my phone, my alone time, my decision-making, my local Walmart—all gone overnight. I realized quickly how little I relied on God as my everything, and how much stock I placed in things apart from God. Through being stripped of my comfortable surroundings, spending 24 hours each day with 11 people I didn’t choose, and being a foreigner, God ruined me and my false foundations so that He could piece me back together and set my feet upon the Rock. For the first time, I needed Him.
Through my Gap Year, God challenged everything I thought I knew. I learned from people who spoke, thought, perceived, and looked different from me. I was forced to repeatedly ask myself: “Is this part of me because of my culture or Christ?” I made the sweetest of memories and friendships with teammates as we lived and served together. I became painfully aware of how much I had to learn from people whom I previously walked by without noticing. The world became a snapshot of God’s grandeur—more than 7,000 languages existing in the world because one language couldn’t express all that He is.
My current life looks vastly different than how I imagined it before my gap year, and it’s infinitely sweeter. One of the ministries my team served with reached out to college students through teaching English, which is now what I hope to do as a career. I married an international who shares little in common with my upbringing. We teach the Bible every week to international college students who have never heard of Christ in their hometowns. We hope to donate ourselves to welcome the foreigner and love the marginalized, sharing with them the One who left His comfort, His Father, His home to pull us close. I am certain that these desires were cultivated by all that God orchestrated in my life through my time in El Salvador.
If you are excited about other cultures, pushing back darkness, maturing in Christ, and gaining experiences of a lifetime, I highly recommend pursuing a Gap Year!
Michaela is a wretch-made-child by the grace of Jesus Christ! She currently studies TESOL at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. What gets her excited? Rich theology, camping, creative projects, languages, breakfast, and spending time with her husband, Kevin, and soon-to-arrive daughter, Trinity.