PRICHARD, Alabama – Rolando Mitchell was an English education major until he spent a summer working as a QuadW intern. The program's mission work and intensive Bible study convinced the Dayton, Ohio, native to switch to social work.
"I plan to work with the prison re-entry program," said Mitchell, 21, a junior at Alabama State University. "These kids need fathers."
On Tuesday, he was handing out water to young day campers, thirsty from tug-of-war at Whistler United Methodist Church in Prichard.
Mitchell is one of 47 QuadW interns working in five cities across the U.S. this summer. The QuadW Summer Missional Internship gives college students a chance to be transformed through eight-week mission work and intensive spiritual study. Sixteen of the 47 interns are in the Mobile area, which is headquarters to the program. The other cities include Montgomery; Pine Bluff, Ark., Kansas City, Kan.; and Kansas City, Mo.
"(We're) hoping to produce people who understand and practice church in a missional, incarnational way," said Rev. Don Woolley, a United Methodist minister who heads up the program. "Some will go back and change majors. Some will surrender to a full-time vocational calling."
The internship, now in its sixth year, grew out of Woolley's desire to provide a transformational experience for college students, communities and churches. It's patterned after the Forge Mission Training Network, which uses nine-month residencies to train adult leaders to be missionaries in their communities in North America, Australia and Europe.
Forge was founded by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, authors and leaders in the missional church movement. In fact, the QuadW internship is the first expression of Forge in the U.S., said Woolley.
The funding comes from the QuadW Foundation, which gives the program its name. The QuadW Foundation was created by Mac and Lisa Tichenor of Dallas to honor their young adult son, Willie Tichenor, who died of cancer but had a heart for missions. QuadW stands for "What Would Willie Want?"
QuadW interns help churches re-engage their own communities, Woolley said. Congregations provide meals and housing in Sunday school rooms or parsonages, while ministers and laymen support the interns in their Bible studies and worship. Also, students return to their hometowns, hopefully transformed by the experience.
"Some joke that I send them out to be a thorn in the side of their own churches and campus ministries if those churches and campus ministries are inwardly focused," said Woolley, who answered his own call to ministry while working as a chemical engineer.
The students aren't necessarily Methodist. The four running the day camp at Whistler UMC have faith backgrounds ranging from Catholic to Pentecostal. Mitchell, who says he didn't grow up attending church, describes himself as "just a follower of Christ, for real."
Adrienne Williams of Tuscaloosa is back for her third summer as a QuadW intern. The University of West Alabama senior said she has "grown in God" as a result of her experience – something she tries to pass along to the children in her care.
On the first day of camp at Whistler UMC, for instance, Williams found herself counseling 10-year-old Beauty, who had arrived that morning angry and defiant. "She had a lot going on, and she was broken inside," recalled Williams, who said she pointed the girl toward a mirror. She told her, "When you look in the mirror, you see God."
"Ever since then, you can see a change in the way she acts," said Williams. "There are many stories like that."
On Tuesday, the interns were directing campers to write answers to the question: "How can God's love change the way you think?"
One young camper read his aloud from a red paper heart: "God can change the way we think by a spiritual bond that respects others."
During their own eight weeks, the interns will read the Gospels, read a book called "Sentness: Six Postures of Missional Christians" by Kim Hammond and Darren Cronshaw, and meet several times a week.
On Monday nights, they discuss their readings; on Thursday nights, they lead their own worship, and on Sundays they meet with "accountability groups," in which they answer questions about their experience. In their free time, the interns reach out to the neighborhood; this week they baked and delivered bread.
"Every part of this program changes you in some type of way," said Williams.
Methodist founder John Wesley would be proud, Woolley said. "Wesley was extremely missional in his approach to building the Church," he said. "A lot of people in the missional church movement point to John Wesley as someone who got it right.