ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) – Alisha and Joshua Garber infuse two Anabaptist values, hospitality and reconciliation, into the lives of their students at LCC International University in Lithuania.
The Garbers, mission associates with Mennonite Mission Network, bring their nurturing ministry to the students they mentor at the university. They’re about to start their third year at LCC International, a Christian university started in 1991.
Alisha Garber is the director of community life and dean of discipline, while Joshua Garber will be the spiritual formation coordinator after two years of being the resident director.
“We prefer to lead from behind or beside,” said Joshua Garber. “I try to be a sounding board, and be very transparent. I like to remove myself from a position of power over a student and instead say, ‘Hey, let’s go on a bike ride,’ or ‘What’s bugging you or going on in your life?’”
Alisha Garber is excited to implement a restorative justice model for the disciplinary process that encourages mentorship. In her role as the dean of discipline, she noticed that the system, which involved punishment through fines, didn’t teach students to make better choices. Instead, it taught students to avoid consequences. Or if they had enough money, they simply had a check ready before they threw a party, said Alisha Garber.
This year, there won’t be fines, and when violations do occur, an adult will walk alongside the offenders and talk about what their goals are, and how to redirect energy into positive goals.
“The students really bought into this, so next year we’re going full force with a restorative justice model,” said Alisha Garber. “In a culture where everything is unequivocally right or wrong, and where the students most likely grew up in a place that was corrupt, this will not be easy. So hold us in your prayers for that.”
She understands the struggle that students will go through as they shift from a punitive model to a model of grace. She didn’t grow up Anabaptist, and had worked as a military counselor for six years.
“With the soldiers I dealt with before, I was very legalistic in the way that I bossed them around,” said Alisha Garber. “In my time working in Lithuania, I’ve seen that things are never absolutely wrong or absolutely right. You want it to be, because that’s easier, but it never is. Applying grace in radical ways has been a gradual process for me, but a very important process.”
In Joshua Garber’s new role as spiritual formation director, he said that he is looking forward to being able to accomplish his goal to be in a position where he can talk more deliberately about his faith.
“I also have five students who are incredibly passionate about this same thing,” said Joshua Garber. “They told me that they wanted to join the team because they wanted to transform the campus. And that’s very exciting to me.”
He told his spiritual life team that this next year will be about going to the people. They’re going to try to implement an incarnational ministry, which is an approach of being like Jesus to the people you connect with regularly, and using your gifts to minister.
When the Garbers first arrived on campus, the university was hosting a summer language institute, organized by Mennonite Mission Network worker Robin Gingerich, where students can learn English. They noticed that there were only a few people on campus and they were all isolated.
Since they had just moved from an intentional community, their first thought was that they needed to organize a potluck so that everyone would get together, said Joshua Garber. The potluck brought together faculty, staff and students, who didn’t usually do things together outside of the classroom.
There was one student, Ejike Nnamdi Nwosu, who liked the idea so much that he started to host his own “Underground Potlucks” once regular classes started.
“There were kids from all over the university, who have nothing in common, who don’t even hang out together, and they’re eating together, and talking and sharing their lives,” said Joshua Garber. This was a change from the typical dining culture at the school where a student would usually take their food into their room to eat.
The Garbers also noticed a change in Nwosu’s behavior. Before, he wouldn’t pray in public and would ask Joshua Garber to pray before the meals. But now, two years later, Nwosu asks the blessing for the food.
“As Anabaptists, I think that God is calling us to be a positive voice in this conversation that is happening in Europe,” said Joshua Garber. “We are a new voice, at least to the students, in the faith conversation happening on campus.”
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Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.