Toby Shope: Traveler, Artist, and Counselor for Christ
Megan Schoeneweis / Photo Editor & Staff Writer
Counselors and pastors often share similar responsibilities, including meeting the needs of others on deep, personal levels. Wearing both these hats, graduate student and intern for Geneva College’s counseling services, Toby Shope plays a huge role in ministering to the needs of students on campus. With a heart for the Lord, Shope has already had a big impact on Geneva’s campus, including initiating the Stress Less program, a weekly meeting to help undergraduate students handle and alleviate stress.
Shope graduated from Taylor University in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in communication and theater arts. In 2016, he arrived at Geneva to pursue his master’s in the clinical mental health counseling program. Both his communication and theater arts degrees have served him well in his pursuit of counseling.
Shope says, “I love using creative ways to counsel and to engage with clients in the counseling process…monologues, readings, apps, anything to help the client settle, engage, sit and think differently so they can see themselves in their stories in ways they may not have previously”.
Due to his love for creativity, Shope also wears the hat of an artist. Art as a creative process provides a useful mental health outlet, allowing him the space to mentally process as he creates.
“If I’m making something, you know that I am working through something. It doesn’t even have to be personal. . . I think about what is going on with politics or what’s going on in Afghanistan, because I have a passion for that country as well,” says Shope.
Shope utilizes this creativity in the office, finding ways for his clients to feel comfortable being vulnerable about their own life circumstances.
Having that creative outlet to process the more challenging aspects of this life is necessary, as counselors and pastors often carry tremendous burdens. Often, both are held to a reputation that assumes they can handle their own personal lives because they are such experts at managing others’ emotional, mental and physical well-being.
However, Shope affirms that he is human just like any other client who walks into his office. He says, “My faith informs this but I am just as desperate for Jesus Christ as I ever have been from day one; because I am human and I can’t do it myself. Otherwise, why would I need a Savior?”
Knowing his own personal challenges, Shope expresses his gratitude for clients who choose to share the most vulnerable aspects of their lives with him. When someone comes into his office, he counts it a privilege that these people trust him enough to share their deepest secrets.
Much of Shope’s life has consisted of various forms of service. Alongside his wife, Shope has taught English in Korea and participated in humanitarian relief and development in Afghanistan. At 19 years old, he spent a summer in Nairobi, Kenya, working with missionaries, returning again in 2012 to work with an orphanage. From these travels, Shope learned the importance of sustaining connections with people and he has translated his experiences across the globe to his studies at Geneva.
At the heart of his service, Shope values the uniqueness of God’s people. He says, “Everybody is unique. Each person has their own individual makeup and God’s thumb print on them. . . And yet, there’s this sense of being alike, the sense of humanity that you can just share and understand on some level. No matter the language barrier, cultural barrier or whatever those barriers are that sometimes we manufacture and sometimes just exist. But there’s this connection you have because they’re human too.”