Seminarians study sustainability at Merry Lea

January 30, 2019 | Focus On Education | Volume 23 Issue 3
Jennifer Schrock | Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center
Benjamin and Rianna Isaak-Krauss sit in front of a pocket prairie at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center’s Rieth Village in Indiana. (Merry Lea photo)

A vision for incorporating sustainability into seminary education came to fruition in the fall of 2018 when two students from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Ind., joined the Sustainability Leadership Semester at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen (Ind.) College.

Benjamin and Rianna Isaak-Krauss are the first AMBS students to take advantage of an agreement between the two schools that allows them to incorporate the hands-on, interdisciplinary semester into their academic programs.

Like the rest of their cohort, Benjamin, who grew up in Bammental, Germany, and Rianna, from Winnipeg, participated in an eight-day canoe trip and explored the local watershed through weekly field trips. The married couple took the same courses on water resources, environmental policy, ethics, sustainability and problem-solving, and they lived in Merry Lea’s student housing. 

The Isaak-Krausses, who have a longstanding commitment to the earth that intertwines with their faith, said they valued learning from scientists and other practitioners who work with environmental issues daily.

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The agreement that allowed them to participate grew out of a collaboration between Merry Lea/Goshen College and AMBS. When Merry Lea executive director Luke Gascho taught a course on creation care at AMBS in 2013, he saw firsthand the students’ interest in sustainability. Rebecca Slough, then AMBS’s academic dean, also recognized that both institutions could benefit by offering place-based experi-ential learning on sustainability to seminary students.

What insights did the students gain? For Rianna, prior experience as a canoe trip leader for an adventure-based youth ministry deepened her encounter with the Elkhart River Watershed during a canoe trip last fall.

“We’ve always used the land as a backdrop for relationship-building or Christian formation or another purpose,” she said. “Here, on this trip, the focus was on actually paying attention to the land and river. It made me realize how I had previously objectified the landscape for my own purposes.” 

Benjamin mentioned wrestling with values in his Faith, Ethics and Ecojustice class: “We don’t often think about why we care about something. Nor do we spend time thinking about what our place is in making change. The course challenged me to think about what sustains me, what is driving me to do the work I do, and how I relate to others in that.” 

Adapted from a longer Merry Lea article.

Benjamin and Rianna Isaak-Krauss sit in front of a pocket prairie at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center’s Rieth Village in Indiana. (Merry Lea photo)

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