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For GSU senior Sarah Willis, internship is all about 'calling'
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Sarah Willis, a senior psychology major at Georgia Southern University, is pictured in the Botanical Gardens on campus. Willis says the place holds a special place in her heart. She's signed on for an internship with Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah. The pairing of church and student are, as Senior Pastor Ben Gasden says, a "God thing." (Photos by Scott Willis/Staff)

What started out as a “God thing” has become a meaningful internship for one Georgia Southern University senior.

Sarah Willis is a psychology major at GSU, and is originally from Knoxville, Tennessee. She has been at Georgia Southern since her sophomore year, and said she had felt the Holy Spirit calling her there since she was 16 years old — but she was doubtful that she’d take that leap. 

“I said, I’m not going to go to Statesboro, Georgia, there’s nothing for me there,” she said. 

She began her college career at community college, but the pull to head south was just too great. So despite her parents’ objections and concerns about the out-of-state cost, she packed up her bags and transferred in January 2021. 

Willis is studying to become a marriage and family therapist, something she’s interested in because she has always wanted to help people. Originally, she had thought about becoming a neonatologist, but decided against it. 

“I think it would be too much of an emotional toll on me,” she said. “I feel like the way that I can do that (help people) with the skills that I’ve been given as a person is to do counseling.”

Willis says that marriage and family counseling is something that she’s passionate about, and she wants to help “families have a safe home and help children feel like they belong.”

Young Life, a ministry for students, is something that Willis became involved in at 14 years old, after she was approached by a YL counselor at her school. The organization’s message of meeting people just where they are was just want she needed at that age, and she found her tribe and her faith there.

She passes that on today by working with Statesboro’s Young Life and counseling teen girls at Statesboro High School. Each Wednesday, a group of about 10 girls meets with Willis and her roommate at their house for fun, fellowship and encouragement. 

“The girls share their boy drama, the best and the worst parts of their life. We get to sit and be in community with them. It’s been so sweet to get to know them,” she said. 

One of those relationships led Willis to Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah. She had taken one of the girls in her group to Savannah to church, and after they were wandering around, and that's when she found Trinity. 

“I saw this beautiful church that said, all people, all financial backgrounds, no matter your race, are welcome here. I said that’s the kind of church I want to go to, a church that loves all people,” she said. 

So Willis returned there for services the next week, along with her roommate, and she just kept going back. She met the church’s senior pastor, Ben Gasden, and the as the two talked over coffee, she shared with him her calling and they talked about the church’s student ministry. They discussed how great it would be to grow that ministry, and Willis said she’d love to lead that effort. 

And by the way, she needed an internship.

“It was a God thing,” Gasden said. “We have a need for student ministries and Sarah was visiting our church, and became a regular. I got to know her a little bit, and her calling to help and serve others, and it just felt like a good match.”

The church created the internship position for Willis, and Gasden says that although they have no real blueprint for it, it’s OK — they’ll just create it as they go along.  He’s hopeful that the internship will help her to truly sense God’s call on her life more deeply, and that she’ll grow as a leader. 

Willis, who is 20, will be the point person for the ministry, working with it through July. She’ll be working with both the high school and college student ministries. There is an additional intern as well, who is from Liberty University.

Willis will be at the church on Sunday morning and Wednesday night each week, and any other time as needed. She plans to be available for individual meet-ups with students, so that she can “get to know them and their hearts.”

She’s excited for the internship, and says that she brings a lot to the table. 

“Well, I definitely have my youth, which is sometimes a great thing, and sometimes not,” she says, with a laugh. “I also bring eager intention to know and love people, and I think I’m well equipped to talk to people, and I think I have strong communication skills. I’m really excited to get to talk to people, and get to know their hearts and serve them.”

Willis hopes the outcome of her time at Trinity will be that the ministry will continue to grow, and that she will have helped to create an environment where people feel safe.

“I hope that I’m able to connect more people and more youth to find a place where they feel safe, where they feel home,” she said. 

After her internship, Willis plans to return home to Knoxville, and attend the University of Tennessee for her master’s degree. She says she misses her parents, Jan and Randy Willis, and her older sibling, Jupiter. 

“I like to think I have the best family in the world. My mom is hysterical. She is my best friend. I absolutely adore her. And my dad is so funny. He has a construction and remodeling business, but really, he just likes to fish,” she said, giggling. “I love my family. I’m very blessed.”

When not in class or working with Young Life, Willis says she enjoys spending time outdoors, playing board games with her friends, window shopping in Savannah and heading to TJ Maxx with her girlfriends. 

Willis says that while Statesboro didn’t feel like home at first, and that she felt very alone, she has found home and community.

“I just hope for the people who come into my life,” she said, “that they can feel community with me.”

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