A vision for the education and development of future humanitarian leaders has reached a milestone with the spring graduation of three Assemblies of God students destined for a life of service.
Preston Spadaro and Anna West are the first students to graduate from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, through programs offered by its Center for Compassion; Cassidy Trotter is the first student to graduate from North Central University in Minneapolis with its new major in Humanitarian Leadership.
Both AG schools have partnered with the Springfield-based compassion and disaster-relief organization Convoy of Hope for the development of the new programs, according to Wayde Goodall, vice president of Convoy’s Hope Education Network .
“The mission of the Hope Education Network is to train and educate students to think, communicate, and solve human needs through faith-based compassion ministry,” Goodall says. “These three grads are the first of many to come.”
Goodall is developing a network of partners, churches, and universities that share a common culture of compassion, while also providing a platform to learn from each other. Other partners include Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida; Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas; Trinity Bible College in Ellendale, North Dakota, and starting in the fall, Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington.
The genesis of the program came from a series of meetings in 2015 that led to an agreement between Convoy of Hope and Evangel University to increase student involvement, scientific and academic research, and develop a formal pathway for training and experience.
The success of those efforts raised more questions with Convoy’s founder, Hal Donaldson.
“How do we raise up a generation of young people who understand and live the theology of Christ-centered compassion?” asked Donaldson. “How do we produce graduates across every academic discipline who live and emulate the compassion of Christ, who have career opportunities with organizations like Convoy of Hope, and who are equipped to help develop communities with economic sustainability?”
In 2018, Evangel partnered with Convoy to formally create the Center for Compassion, expanding the learning and service opportunities available to EU students campus wide. That pilot program has served as a model for additional schools that have since been added under the Hope Education Network.
Evangel started with a focused minor in Community Relief & Development, designed to be paired with any of the 70-plus academic programs “across every academic discipline.” Starting this fall, Evangel will offer a Community Relief & Development major as well, both with in-person and online formats.
In 2019, North Central University partnered with the Hope Education Network to offer a new major in its School of Pastoral Studies, under the direction of professor Lon Flippo.
Trotter had been working toward a major in psychology, but two years ago she added the new Humanitarian Leadership major to her schedule.
“As a result, she has been able to combine her knowledge of helping people with a ‘boots on the ground’ mentality,” says Flippo. “She has a great heart, but until she discovered our new program, she didn’t know how her passions were all going to fit together.”
Trotter, a native of Rockford, Illinois, will graduate this spring with that double major and a practical vision for her future.
“To be in courses that are teaching hands-on experience — this is how it is going to relate to my life and this is how I will navigate those situations — is really cool,” Trotter says.
Incoming first-year students at Evangel start their university experience with a Community Day of Engagement, a partnership with Convoy held the first weekend of school each fall.
Those first days of service impacted West, who is from Nashville, Tennessee. She now has completed her major in Intercultural Studies at Evangel, along with three minors: Biology, Biblical Studies, and Community Relief & Development.
Her life goal is to help rural communities, and the Community Relief & Development minor provided insight into the ways Convoy of Hope has helped lessen both the immediate and long-term damage of natural disasters.
“All aspects of my studies relate to this in different ways, from meeting spiritual needs in times of crisis to recognizing and addressing environmental issues that cause food and water insecurity,” West says.
Spadaro came from Burlington, New Jersey, with his eyes on a Nonprofit Business & Social Enterprise major and added the Community Relief & Development minor when it became available.
“I found it to be complementary with the calling in my life,” Spadaro says. He believes the program pushed him to think critically about what the Bible says about compassion and service. “I took classes that I would not have taken, like Theology of Compassion, and that gave me a much broader perspective on the topics being explored.”
Following law school, Spadaro looks forward to a career that will help fulfill Convoy of Hope’s vision — as do West and Trotter — with the ability to understand and live the theology of Christ-centered compassion.
Photo: The network’s first three graduates are (from left) Preston Spadaro, Anna West, and Cassidy Trotter.