Written by Marek Kowalsky, in paid partnership with Great Commission Bible Institute North. 

For those of you who have just completed grade 12, what are you feeling as you enter the summer? Excitement? Anticipation? Are you looking forward to starting your post-secondary journey?

This summer should be your time of celebration. Instead, many students are feeling something quite different. How about confusion? Anxiety? Hesitation? The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cloud future planning with uncertainty. 

We all want to remain optimistic as vaccines roll out and the summer months approach. At the same time, we know that the 2021-2022 school year likely won’t be what we consider “normal”. Colleges and universities in Canada have been forced to rethink the ways students learn and live together throughout this pandemic.

Why Consider a Gap Year?

Plans for the fall of 2021 may vary from one college or university to another. What happens if the effects of the novel coronavirus continue to drag on? How much normalcy can we truly expect this fall?

Without clear answers, some families have considered postponing enrolment in college or university for this year. They are weighing the benefits of a “gap year”: simply taking the year off to wait. Their hope is that our communities and schools will recover and things will be better come 2022.

If you’ve never considered it before, a gap year might seem like a lost or wasted year. On the contrary, it can actually present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. With a proper attitude and a plan, a gap year can be a time for deeper preparation, valuable life experiences—and you can have a lot of fun while you’re at it! 

A Unique Gap Year Program in Canada: One-year Bible School

GCBI North (The Great Commission Bible Institute) is a Bible school offering an 8-month discipleship program ideal for students who want to make the most of a gap year. GCBI North is a ministry of Renew Church, a multi-campus church serving communities in the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario, Canada. This gap year program provides students with: 

  • A solid foundation in the Bible—dig deep into the Bible and study it cover-to-cover
  • Hands-on ministry experience—participate in the local church with a focus on your area of interest: Leadership, Worship, Children’s Ministry or A/V Tech
  • Residence experience—form lifelong friendships living in close community with fellow students
  • Personal discipleship—receive mentorship from GCBI faculty, pastors and Residence Directors

Just because it is a Bible school doesn’t mean you have to be aspiring towards full-time ministry to enrol at GCBI North. In fact, most students enter the program with other plans. The program is designed as a stepping stone to further education in pursuit of individual career choices, whether in ministry or not. What attracts students to this gap year program is the chance to study the Bible in depth and gain life experience at the same time. During their year of study, students also develop their faith, character, and convictions before they begin the next chapters in their lives.

2020 graduate Chad Fugere said that he would definitely recommend GCBI North to students who feel they are entering a transition period. He says, “It will definitely help mold you, and help in making future decisions for your life. It’s going to build a foundation for your faith as well, and it’s going to create memories that will last a lifetime.”

What attracts students to this gap year option is the chance to study the Bible in depth while developing their faith, character and convictions before they begin the next chapters in their lives.

What makes Chad and his fellow classmates so enthusiastic about GCBI North? Here are three things that make it a great gap year option:

1. A Solid Foundation in the Bible

The Bible Experience

The school year begins with the intensive and unforgettable “Bible Experience.” Classmates read the Bible cover-to-cover together over a period of just 8 days. While it may sound daunting, GCBI North grads point to it as one of the highlights of the year. Elizabeth Reda says, “It was something that bonded all of us together at the very beginning of the year even though we didn’t know each other very well. It gave us a shared experience.”

The GCBI North Academic Program

After the Bible Experience, students enter into their regular schedule, attending classes three days per week at the GCBI North classroom in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. The schedule is designed to allow students to maintain part-time jobs while keeping up with reading assignments and homework.

Classes are built around the in-depth teaching of GCBI founder Randy Smith, Ph.D. With over 35 years of experience pastoring churches and studying the Bible, Dr. Smith has incredible wisdom to share. He also lives in Israel for part of the year, and brings that cultural experience into his teaching. 

Dr. Smith’s lectures are delivered through a video-based curriculum. This format made it easy to adapt and complete the school year in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 outbreak. When lockdowns were necessary, classes moved to the GCBI residence and continued uninterrupted.

Classroom discussions and assignments are facilitated by the local pastoral team of Renew Church. This teaching team brings life and ministry experience into the class to help students apply a biblical worldview to their lives. The pastors and staff of Renew truly care for students and provide guidance both inside and outside the classroom. 

2. Life Experience and Discipleship in Community

Discipleship During a Gap Year

More than just a Bible school, the GCBI North program has been designed as a “life learning laboratory.” Its goal is to develop godly character in young men and women and see them become disciples who make disciples. 

GCBI North is committed to helping its students develop into passionate followers of Jesus Christ—young people who will impact our world with his gospel. To accomplish this, each individual is mentored throughout the year by spiritual coaches. 

Ministry Experience and Internship

Students are also assigned an internship at one of Renew Church’s four campuses in Mississauga, Milton, Caledon, and Cambridge. When the church has been unable to meet in person during the pandemic, students have participated in Renew’s livestream services, children’s programming and online presence. 

Internships are structured around each student’s area of interest and gifting in the following areas: Leadership, Worship, Children’s Ministry and A/V Tech. Students receive a mix of in-class teaching, workshops, and real-life ministry experience.

This aspect of the program is a valuable learning opportunity for those considering a career in ministry. For students planning to enter the secular workplace, the internship is a time for discipleship and character development. Many of the skills students learn – such as leadership and organization, or technical skills – are transferable to other fields. Learning to serve your local church and your community will benefit you no matter where your future takes you. 

Friendships and Community in Residence

GCBI graduates attest that the greatest benefit of the Bible school is the close community and friendships formed while living in the GCBI residence. “The friendships that were built … it does create something that will last outside of the program. It will always feel like family. That’s one of the most valuable things I’ve gotten out of it,” says Fugere. Classmate Tim Pugh agrees, “I feel like it’s a second home to me.” 

Students are housed in a modern and well-appointed residential home in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, a short drive from the GCBI classroom. Students share the house with Residence Directors Maggy and Kevin Laton who impart valuable life skills, provide mentorship, and foster a fun living environment.

3. Readiness for COVID-19 in 2021-2022

The GCBI program can easily adapt to the evolving government guidelines required to combat the COVID-19 crisis. Such flexibility is made possible by:

  • Limited class size of 10 students
  • Video-based curriculum 
  • Online learning tools
  • Private dorm in a residential home

Residence Remains Open

When the government of Canada began its response to the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, GCBI North quickly adapted. Faculty and Residence Directors Maggy and Kevin immediately instituted quarantine procedures to protect students from exposure. Students continued living and learning at the GCBI house. That nimble approach has continued ever since, adapting to the changes caused by second and third waves of the pandemic.

Graduation During a Pandemic

The classes of 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 were even fortunate to preserve their graduation ceremonies. The events were broadcast in live-stream formats for friends and family to watch online. You can check out the 2020 graduation ceremony on the GCBI North website

What’s next for you?

None of us could have expected the circumstances we find ourselves in on the cusp of yet another school year affected by COVID-19. As you consider your own plans, you may be feeling a mix of emotions. Be encouraged! If you ask any of the recent GCBI North grads who completed their year in the midst of the pandemic, they’ll tell you that not all is lost. On the contrary, these strange and unpredictable times we are entering into might actually open up an opportunity that you would never have discovered otherwise.

If you are interested in learning more about GCBI North, visit our website or contact Executive Director Mitch Van Rassel, 416-737-7476 or mitch@renewchurch.ca.

About GCBI North:

The Great Commission Bible Institute was formed in 2015 by a team of pastors, Bible teachers and missionaries in Sebring, Florida. In 2018, Renew Church formed a partnership with GCBl to open a Bible school campus in Canada. GCBI North exists to train young people in God’s Word, that they may be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

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