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Faculty-Funded Scholarship Makes Bethel Affordable for Adult Learners

Faculty-Funded Scholarship Makes Bethel Affordable for Adult Learners

In Fall 2016, Samantha Heffelfinger CAPS’17 (left) and Earl Miller CAPS’16 (right) received the Christian Ministries Scholarship, which recognizes adult learners in the Christian Ministries program with “inspiring stories.”

Many students in Bethel’s College of Adult & Professional Studies (CAPS) programs boast nontraditional academic backgrounds and unique professional journeys. But the inspiring life stories of Samantha Heffelfinger CAPS’17 and Earl Miller CAPS’16 earned them special recognition among Christian ministries faculty, who selected the two students to be the first ever recipients of the Christian Ministries Scholarship last fall.

The scholarship is funded with the honorariums earned by multiple Christian ministries faculty at their speaking engagements. Laura Gilbertson, a full-time faculty member in the Christian ministries program who also serves as program director, says the unique idea was the “brainchild” of a retired CEO who attends her church. “I was teaching a theology class…and [after class] I was telling him about how I love my job, I love serving Christian ministries students…but that I really wish there was some way I could help them [financially],” Gilbertson says. “And he was like, ‘well, lets start a scholarship.’”

After the idea was born, Gilbertson lined up a few additional speaking opportunities and worked with Bethel’s Office of Development to officially create the scholarship in November 2015. Its purpose statement declares that the fund was established “to honor the inspiring stories of perseverance and faithfulness among the adult learners in the Christian ministries program who are committed to serving Jesus Christ.” With its first recipients, the scholarship met its mark.

Heffelfinger, a 2016 scholarship recipient, knew she wanted to pursue her ministry degree after a personal tragedy placed her in a position of compassion and authority to help others. At the end of 2012, Heffelfinger gave birth to a stillborn son. She describes the nine-day delivery as “one of the most painful processes”—emotionally and physically—she has ever gone through. But she didn’t go through it alone. “I remember the Lord just giving me comfort,” she says. “My mind couldn’t fixate on me. I was constantly thinking, ‘there’s other people going through the same thing and they don’t have a God like I have.”

After that, Heffelfinger says the Lord continually put women in her life who had gone through similar experiences, and were seeking comfort. Those encounters served as the final push for her to pursue her four-year degree, and she enrolled at Bethel University in 2014. Not only did that decision lead to important discoveries about herself and her faith, but Heffelfinger says her practicum was “essential” toward helping her meet her ministry goals. “[Bethel] is my first step on a long road,” she says. “But it’s been a really good first step and it’s giving me the confidence that I can go on to the next.”

For Miller, the other scholarship recipient, becoming a Bethel student wasn’t as much of a first step as it was the culmination of many steps leading him down a new path. From the age of 20 to 26, Miller was incarcerated. But it was that very experience that led him to develop a personal relationship with the Lord. “During those times, the Lord was blessing me in His word richly, he was developing me, and he was working on my character,” Miller says. “I committed a crime, I served my time, and I knew that I wanted a different life.”

Now, 10 years later, Miller says the Lord is using him in “mighty ways.” Not only is he a licensed elder at Grace Apostolic Church in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and Chairman of the Brotherhood department for the Minnesota Wisconsin Dakotas District Council Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, but Miller also works as the Men of Rafiki program coordinator for the Volunteers of America—a position that allows him to minister to men in prison.

“It’s given me an opportunity to go back behind those walls and encourage those men that they can be successful,” he says. “God is good, He’s rich, He’s blessing.” And for Miller, coming to Bethel has been a blessing beyond what he could have imagined. “First and foremost, the relationship [with my peers at Bethel] has helped me to know and confirm that the love of God even with individuals from different cultures and backgrounds is real,” he says. “Since Bethel, I have seen tremendous spiritual growth. It’s been a tremendous spiritual awakening!”

Both Miller and Heffelfinger say they are grateful to Bethel for financially supporting them on their educational journey. As a mother of four, coming to Bethel was a big financial commitment for Heffelfinger, and Miller acknowledges that, prior to receiving the scholarship, he wasn’t sure how he would pay for his final semester of college. “I had a hold on taking my fall 2016 courses due to a balance I couldn’t afford,” he says. “I will be eternally grateful to the donors!”

Today, Miller is enrolled in Bethel’s Master of Divinity program (M.Div.) on a path to become a pastor. Heffelfinger hopes to also pursue a seminary degree and become a chaplain. Christian ministries faculty have high hopes that continuing the scholarship in fall 2017 will garner similar success stories—inspiring others to pursue their dreams and be world-changers.

“As Christian ministries faculty, we love our students. We absolutely believe in them, and we are inspired by them. It’s an honor to not only teach them but encourage them in other ways too,” says Gilbertson. “That’s why I believe so strongly in scholarships for CAPS students. They’re already doing awesome work, and it’s an opportunity to encourage the great things that God is already doing through them.”

If you would like to donate to the 2017 Christian Ministries Scholarship or another scholarship to help make a Bethel education more affordable, please contact the Office of Advancement at development@bethel.edu or 651.635.8050.