June 25, 2020
It can be extremely difficult for evangelical youth and young adults to navigate contemporary Canadian society while remaining true to their faith and values. Various societal pressures combined with the many other challenges that arise at this stage in life—developing a strong sense of personal identity, choosing a career, making decisions about important relationships, and others—can make young people feel overwhelmed and discouraged. Through its eighty-year history, Emmanuel has helped many young people address these issues and build a foundation for a solid and Christ-centred future. For the last eight years, one faculty member who has played an integral role in this area of service is Mark Walther, the chief student development officer, an experienced student-services expert whose passion for supporting young people has led him on an international journey.
Mark began student-services work in Christian higher education twenty-six years ago, after graduating from North American Baptist College (later Taylor University College) in Edmonton, Alberta. His initial plan was to stay in the province and work as a teacher, but a different path opened up when the male residence director of his college announced that he would be leaving his position. At the advice of another staff member, Mark applied for the position and was hired. In that role, he quickly found a passion for helping young people to learn about themselves and to grow in their faith.
To prepare further for this kind of service, Mark moved to South Dakota and earned a Master of Arts in Educational Ministries from Sioux Falls Seminary. During this time he was involved with student services at Sioux Falls College. He then relocated to Ontario, where he became connected with Heritage College & Seminary and served as the coach of the school’s hockey team. He was later hired as the College’s dean of student services, a role in which he could coach students in a more personal and spiritual way. In 2012 he transitioned to Emmanuel Bible College, where he has served ever since.
Mark’s passion is still primarily about helping young people. It’s not about “Bible college versus anything else,” he says. Rather, he gladly works at Emmanuel Bible College because he has found that the school makes a tremendous difference in the lives of teenage and young-adult Christians, as it also does with its more mature students. He believes Emmanuel provides a safe environment and can also offer much-needed challenge and discipline for students.
For him, helping students is not a matter of channelling them into traditional ministry careers, such as church pastoring and overseas missions, and then supporting them strictly in relation to that role. He maintains that all Christians are called to ministry, whether their profession is in law or plumbing or something else, and in keeping with the College’s education approach, he believes that an Emmanuel education can help young people prepare for effective service to Christ regardless of their career choice. Thus, his approach to supporting students is highly flexible, taking into account the various needs and goals of students. In many cases this involves a great deal of listening to students as they express their concerns and questions.
The message that all people are called to ministry is one that Mark tries to communicate not just to students but to parents of young people as well. He notes that some parents don’t want their child to be called to ministry and thus are resistant to the idea of him or her attending Bible college. But since all people are called to ministry, and since Emmanuel can help prepare young people for whatever kind of ministry God leads them to undertake, the College offers a valuable service that can help young people further develop the faith that their parents and pastors have worked so hard to encourage. To such parents Mark says, “We’re here for you. We’re here for your youth.”
Over the years, Mark has seen some fantastic results as he has employed this highly personal approach to student services. He has supported young people in embarking on Christ-honouring careers, making decisions about further education, choosing spouses, and taking many other important steps in life. For him, other highlights have been participating in student-led worship-music nights, competing in hockey games, and hearing from graduates and learning about how God has used them.
Twenty-six years later, Mark hasn’t lost his drive. In the midst of the pandemic he has been keeping in contact with students and finding creative ways to encourage a positive attitude during this challenging time. Current circumstances may have presented some obstacles, but Mark is keen to take on new challenges. For him, it’s part of what it means to follow Christ and to build up the church’s young people.