Max Olwa might be 9,000 miles from home, but he knows he’s in the right place at the right time.
The inaugural year of Multnomah's MA in Global Development and Justice (MAGDJ) is in full swing. The program, launched last fall, equips students for a lifetime of fruitful service in the vast world of justice initiatives, poverty alleviation, disaster response and compassion projects. I'm happy to highlight this program, especially in light of the two justice-centered events MU hosted last week: the Global Missions Conference and the Justice Conference Portland. The MAGDJ ties in beautifully with Multnomah's holistic approach to the world's toughest problems. I sat down with Intercultural Studies Chair and Director of the MAGDJ, Dr. Greg Burch, to find out more about this dynamic degree.
Burch earned his bachelor's degree at Multnomah in 1994, and then immediately jumped into global development work in Venezuela. He ministered to homeless youth for several years before moving to Costa Rica to teach at a seminary.
One day, he received an email from MU's Intercultural Studies Chair, Dr. Tom Kopp, who asked him what he thought a globally-focused graduate program in humanitarian studies would look like. Many students had been asking about such a degree, and Kopp wanted to turn their hopes into a reality.
Burch sent Kopp his thoughts. The program never got off the ground, but when Kopp retired from Multnomah two years later, Burch applied for his position. He got the job, and moved with his wife and two kids to Portland. As soon as he began working at MU in summer 2012, Burch threw himself into crafting a program proposal for an MA in Global Development and Justice. The board and accreditors approved it, and a new major was born.
Students received the program with open arms. Karen Sele says she always knew MU was an intentionally Bible-based university, but she wasn't prepared for the personalized care and customized teaching the MAGDJ program gives her: "I'm impressed that the most intensive assignments are flexibly structured to complement each individual’s focus," she says. "The members of our cohort bring a valuable tapestry of backgrounds, experiences and views to our discussions. After only one term of learning and supporting each other, we’ve developed a deep community of friendship which will extend beyond this program as we come alongside God in his work of restoration here and around the world. If God is calling you to this kind of work, Multnomah is a fabulous place to prepare!"
Sele and her classmates will completes 300 hours of internship before graduating. Burch is currently helping students find their ideal internship matches; he's compiled a list of organizations they can work for, and is busy writing several letters of recommendation. His students are applying to International Justice Mission, World Relief, Samaritan's Purse and several other well-respected for-profits and nonprofits. "We do a good job of networking with organizations who can hire our students after they get their degree," he says. "I want my students to go all over the world after they graduate."
Burch says his students are very different from one another, but they're all earning a MAGDJ degree for the same reason — they have a deep desire to help others and to make the world a better place. "These students are amazing," he says. "They're so passionate about reaching out to people on the fringes of society."
But it takes more than passion to work in the field. Early burnout is a common issue. "Many people only last about two years when they work with a group like at-risk youth," says Burch. "But I want our students to be able to serve a lifetime." Burch and his team of professors make it a priority to train students in the art of soul care, self-care and spiritual formation, "so they can serve in a quality way," he says.
Although Burch dreams of growing his program, he's more concerned about making sure his students are equipped to tackle anything that comes their way. "I'm not numbers-focused," Burch says. "I want to mentor my students and walk with them."
There are other global development and justice degrees out there, but Burch recommends MU's program for a few good reasons: "It's faith-based and truly holistic," he says. "We incorporate spirituality into the curriculum. We want the people we help to develop in their relationship with God and grow in their leadership abilities. A lot of programs just focus on the financial aspect, but humans are whole beings, and we have more than economic needs."
Burch says there are more jobs in this field than anywhere else. More than 1.9 billion people live on less than $1 per day. Sixteen thousand children die from curable diseases each day. "If you're looking to get rich, then this type of work isn't for you," Burch says. "But if you're looking to serve people and see lives change — this is it."
MU will also offer a part-time MAGDJ program at its Reno-Tahoe site beginning fall 2014.