Julie Miller leads a group in song at a rimside evening worship service. Also leading were Jen Crouse and Amanda Hicks.
Eleven students are assigned to Grand Canyon Baptist Church through the 30-year-old Innovations program organized through the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.
Young people affiliated with the Southern Baptist denomination and in college or up to one year post-graduation are invited to apply and, if they meet criteria, are assigned as needed. The program here operates under the auspices of the Baptist Student Ministry at Northern Arizona University.
Most work for Delaware North at the General Store, while two work as summer missionaries for Grand Canyon Baptist Church. They all participate in ministry programs within Grand Canyon Village.
Meanwhile, another 31 students are working with Grand Canyon Community Church through a program called A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP), which started 50 years ago at Yellowstone National Park. Applicants can be undergraduates of any age and come from more than 40 different Christian denominations. They are placed in one of 36 national parks, forests or recreation areas throughout the United States.
These students are employed through Xanterra and are stationed on both the North and South rims, as well as at Desert View. Much is expected from participants in both programs. They are expected to assume leadership roles and set appropriate examples.
The ACMNP group is responsible for 18 of the Community Church’s 31 services a week – 14 in Grand Canyon Village, two on the North Rim and two at Desert View. They also assist at the church’s other services.
“They have a ton of responsibility,” said Community Church pastor Ed Purkey. “They not only lead music and prayer but they also have to preach or give a devotional message.”
The Baptist church group was tasked to develop and oversee a range of youth and community service programs from scratch. These include morning camps for kids, a basketball camp, English as a Second Language class, get-togethers for international employees and groups for youth and teens.
“They just gave us some guidance about what they wanted and we had to come up with the plans and activities,” said Rachel Tarver, who attends Texas A&M University and is one of the full-time summer missionaries.
While it’s hard work, the students welcome the one-of-a-kind opportunity.
“It’s my first time out west and it’s beautiful,” said Jessica Bond, who joined the Innovations program through the Baptist Student Minsitry at the University of Georgia. While her original request was for an overseas assignment, she was pleased to end up here.
“I have a heart for international ministry,” she said. “I didn’t get an international posting but I do work with international cultures.”
Breanna Chabot, who attends Gordon College in Massachusetts, was following in her mother’s footsteps by joining the ACMNP.
“My mom did this,” she said. “She was at Desert View on a ministry team.”
The employers are also glad to have the students each year.
“The students provide great customer service and inspire us to follow their example,” said Delaware North’s human resources director Patrice Armstrong. “We look forward to their arrival each year."