Bridge Street Mission School Strengthens, Deepens Faith

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

BSHOP Mission School cutline No. 1Ryan Waalkes is Bridge Street House of Prayer’s director.Bridge Street House of Prayer's Mission School is not intended for young people who prefer to chill in a coffee shop with their friends or check out the latest Facebook posts. It's deeper and more satisfying than all of that.

Rather, BSHP's Mission School is an eight-month discipleship program that immerses students ages 18 to 29 people into a life of mission. They learn what it truly means to hunger for Jesus, affirms BSHP director Ryan Waalkes.

Scant idle time for right reasons

This is accomplished through three phases that entwines biblical teaching, fervent prayer, intentional community, and urban ministry – both locally and internationally. The Mission School equates to roughly 50-plus hours a week of ministry, which leaves scant idle time, but it's worth it for the right reasons, Waalkes said.

"What we're finding is the trends among young people getting out of high school and going into college is that they have a crisis of faith and walk away from the church," Waalkes said. "All of our students thus far have said their faith has been strengthened and deepened. They come out of our school with a greater passion to serve God."

Some parents hedge at the idea of their children taking what is essentially skipping an academic year they would have spent in college — sometimes known as a gap year. Waalkes urges mothers and fathers to see the BSHP in a different light.

It's a bridge to next phase in life

"A gap year implies you're taking a year off," Waalkes said. "We're saying we're having students for a year in mission, a year growing in their relationship to God and we see that as a bridge to their next phase in life rather than a break in a year in a young person's life.

"Parents shouldn't see our school as a threat to their son or daughters' education," Waalkes added. "The majority of our students, 90 percent, have gone on to college afterword. Colleges are seeing gap years as a very common practice and so a lot of young people enrolled in college at our school get a deferment for a year, they get their scholarships deferred for a year. What studies are showing students who do a gap year excel academically beyond their peers who don't have a gap year and there's a less attrition rate at the college level because have had an year to develop their devotion to Jesus and that sets them up for success in their next phase of life.

"Our school is a benefit to long-term education."

The Mission School also makes it possible for students enrolled in Kuyper College or Calvin College to earn transfer credit.

"We just started a partnership with Kuyper College and College Calvin. Students can earn transfer credit through our school," Waalkes said.

Ministries offered through BSHOP

Bridge Street House of Prayer was founded in 2005 after God called Waalkes to live and minister to this area of Grand Rapids. The name of the ministry is based on Isaiah 56:7, because BSHOP is where the hurting and outcast can experience the presence of God.

Geographically, BSHOP's West Side boundaries extend from Butterworth Street to the south, Richmond Street to the north, the Grand River to the east and to the west, Valley Avenue.

BSHOP ministries include youth discipleship, after school tutoring and discipleship program, seasonal neighborhood events, summer weeklong mission-focused neighborhood engagement programs involving area youth groups and a coffee shop at 1054 Bridge St NW named the Pavilion that's based on Psalm 27:5 ("In the time of trouble, he will hide me in his Pavilion.")

Then there's its Mission School. All its students live in an apartment building the ministry owns during what it calls the formation and sending phases.

'They're experiencing very intentional Christ-centered community," Waalkes said. "A lot of learning and development happens in community living, as well as a lot of prayer every day during multiple prayer gatherings."

Three phases

BSHOP's Mission School is divided into three phases.

Phase one is spiritual formation, which runs from September to the December. Learning is not limited to the classroom, Waalkes said. It includes biblical teaching and urban ministry, meaning students have opportunities to tutor children, coach soccer, lead after-school programs and serve coffee in the Pavilion coffee shop. Speakers for phase one include qualified pastors, ministry leaders and experts in their field.

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Phase two is a two-month global mission, which runs January-February. Half the students minister in Guatemala and the other half in India.

"Really the primary purpose is to serve the mission of our international partners," Waalkes said. "We try to partner with local indigenous ministries we think we can serve both in Guatemala and India at schools and academics to teach English and Bible and some prayer activities."

Phase three runs March-April and is simply dubbed "sending" which has students take everything that they have learned and experienced during the first 6-months, and translate that into a strategic action plan to move forward.

"The goal is to have an action plan at the next phase of life," Waalkes said. "Students can chose one of three focus tracts in the third phase: leadership tract (helping to develop their leadership potential in any setting), global missions tract (cross-cultural missions work, especially among unreached people), and then community development, or urban ministry.

"We try to give our students an experience of learning," Waalkes said. "Everything we do is preparing them for effective Christian witness after the school."

Tuition for the eight months is $8,000.

Waalkes said what's he's observed joined with the feedback he receives from students and parents is a clear indication BSHOP's Mission School

"What we've found is our students thus far are more in love with God, more committed to their faith and more committed to mission when they went to our school," Waalkes said. "They are having a deepening of faith."


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Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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