Blog Alumni

The Grand Canyon as a Mission Field

By Linda LaFrombois on Monday, June 17, 2019


While nestled in the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, a 24-year-old woman prayed to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior. She had just heard her rafting guide, Jon Albert ’96 G’11, share the wonders of the God who created the breathtaking wilderness surrounding her.

Their conversation continued. And after talking more about what Scripture says of the life of a believer, the young woman asked her rafting partner—her father—if he would be willing to baptize her right there in the Colorado River.

To Albert’s surprised, the father confessed that he had not yet given his life to Christ. When Albert explained what it meant to be a Christian, the gentleman prayed to receive Jesus as his Savior. He also asked Albert to baptize him in the river.

Moments later, the brand-new believer baptized his daughter.

Prepared for Ministry

Albert received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern in 1996. After serving in local churches in various capacities, including as senior pastor, he returned to Northwestern, earning a master’s degree in Bible and Theology in 2011.

Today Albert is executive director of Canyon Ministries in Flagstaff, Arizona.

“My time at Northwestern is a huge piece that God used to prepare me for what I’m doing today,” says Jon. “The skills I received to develop curriculum and communicate God’s word is directly used as share the incredible message of who God is at Grand Canyon.”

Canyon Ministries provides river trips, guided hikes, and rim tours through the Grand Canyon with the goal of transforming lives through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As they lead guests through the stunning landscape of the 271-mile canyon, Albert shares a narrative that weaves the geology of Grand Canyon into the biblical history of our past, the biblical account of our present, and the biblical instruction of what our future is.

The tours draw thousands of people from around the world each year—from as many as 24 countries. And lives are being changed.

New MA in Ministry Leadership

This fall, Northwestern will launch a new Master’s of Arts in Ministry Leadership (MAML). The accelerated program aims to equip leaders to make a difference wherever Christ sends them, whether in for-profit, nonprofit, church, or parachurch organizations—or the wilderness.

Part of the purpose in launching this MAML is to contribute to raising a young, new generation of pastors who are equipped and prepared with the biblical knowledge and leadership skills they need to make an impact for Christ’s kingdom.

“We designed this program to increase that leadership capacity for people in a variety of life contexts,” explains Dale Lemke, Chair of Christian Ministries, “so they know how to, with confidence, take their faith, go into the world and communicate effectively, and design strategies to make an impact wherever they’re sent.”

Equipping a New Generation of Leaders

Barna recently conducted a study on the state of pastors in America. In that study, he found that there is a graying of pastors. He paints the picture of the need to raise up a new generation of Christian leaders.

Part of our purpose in launching this MAML is to contribute to raising a young, new generation of pastors who are equipped and prepared with the biblical knowledge and leadership skills they need to make an impact for Christ’s kingdom.

Albert’s contagious passion for reaching hearts with the truth of the Gospel is matched by his unmistakable commitment to the local church and to equipping this new generation to impact the Kingdom wherever God leads them.

“We have a generation ahead of us that has laid a foundation that we need to be honoring and following. God talks about that as a cloud of witnesses,” says Albert. “And we have a generation behind us that is expecting us to carry that on and make sure that we are laying that foundation of faith.”

This is the heart of the Northwestern’s new MAML program. Designed to completed in only 18–22 months, the MAML will equip graduates with core competencies in spiritual formation, biblical interpretation, and organizational leadership. In addition to core courses (24 credits), students can choose from one of seven different areas of ministry emphasis, tailored to their specific area of calling (12 credits).

Learning how to dig in and understand the cultural context in which MAML graduates will lead is a key part of the program.

Offered fully online or in a blended online/on-campus format, the MAML is flexible for all learners, whether studying full-time, working in ministry full-time, or using the degree as a foundation for further study, such as Northwestern’s Master of Divinity program.

“The new Master’s of Arts and Ministry Leadership at the University of Northwestern is filling an incredible need within the kingdom today—equipping young people to be prepared to influence others in the name of Christ and for the advancement of the kingdom,” says Albert.

Serving the Church and Impacting the Kingdom

Like his love for the wilderness, Albert considers equipping the next generation to lead the church and advance the kingdom to be part of his DNA. And it’s something he and his wife, Kathleen, have woven into the fabric of their family.

Kathleen has greeted guests and coordinated trip logistics with Canyon Ministries since their family moved to Arizona to join the organization in 2013. Their older children, Miranda, 22, and Monte 20, have also served in the ministry.

Monte, currently studying business management at University of Arizona, is leading trips with Canyon Ministries this summer and plans to join the ministry full-time when he graduates.

The entire Albert family, including Melodie, 15, has also been deeply involved at Harvest Bible Chapel in Flagstaff, including serving on the worship team, developing and leading men’s and women’s ministries, and teaching Sunday School classes.

Reaching the World with the Gospel

More than six million people visit the Grand Canyon every year from all over the world. The Alberts are awed and humbled by the opportunity they have an international impact for the kingdom in the stunning southwest landscape right here in the United States.

But far more magnificent to them than the beauty and majesty of Grand Canyon are the hearts transformed by the wonders of God and truths of Scripture the Canyon Ministries team have the opportunity to share.

“Proclaiming the wonders of God is a privilege,” says Albert, “but it’s also an expectation that God has given to his people. If God’s people won’t proclaim who His is and the wonders of who he is in the places that he’s placed us, then who is going to?”