High school graduation can be a daunting hurdle on the road of life, and once overcome it leads to even bigger questions: Where am I going? What do I want to do with my life? What career or education should I pursue? In recent years, society has placed an increased importance on jumping from high school to college without any hesitation, but is this the right decision for students who don’t yet know where their interests lie? Marty Guise, now the president of the non-profit Lay Renewal Ministries in St. Louis, Missouri, was once a good student seized with doubts about the prospect of higher education. His solution? A gap year.
“I wouldn’t say the freedom was the catalyst,” says Guise, recalling his decision to take a year off after high school graduation. “I just really didn’t want to mess up. I didn’t want to go into school and then decide a year later this was not what I wanted to do with my life.”
Spending a six-month gap year in war-torn El Salvador where he lent a much-needed hand in work projects centered around a children’s home, Guise gained a new perspective on life. “I realized I need enough to live on and that was it. I became much more compassionate and understanding; I became much more flexible.”
It was a lesson he shared with teens who flew in from the states to volunteer their help — letting them know that the simple luxuries they were used to, like hot water, weren’t as plentiful, but that they would be able to make it through. Explains Guise, “A lot of us are spoiled, so having someone from the U.S. there to bridge that gap — it helped ease the tension.”
When he finally returned to the states, Guise says he couldn’t help but wonder why everyone back home had changed so much — until he realized he was the one who had undergone the dramatic transformation. Deciding that the longer he waited to start college after his gap year, the harder it would be, Guise enrolled at University of Missouri – St. Louis (St. Louis, Missouri) on a part-time basis and worked full time in the medical records department of an area hospital.
After completing his degree in education, an act inspired by his time spent in El Salvador, Guise realized that though he still wanted to work with children, he wanted to find another way of giving back to others. He spent a year-and-a-half studying at a seminary, and then worked in a Christian bookstore before finding himself at Lay Renewal Ministries. That was 12 years ago, and now Guise, as president of the non-profit group, is dedicated to its mission of helping churches understand how they can best reach out to others.
While Guise didn’t stick to his original plan to work as an educator, one thing’s for certain: had Guise not reached out his hand to children in El Salvador in 1989 during his very valuable gap year, he wouldn’t be able to help others do so today.