MOBILE, Ala. -- A group of students from the University of Mobile recently packed their bags, loaded into vans and hit the road looking forward to a great weekend. They weren't anticipating an exciting concert or spending the weekend at some relaxing getaway. In fact, they knew the next 48 hours would leave them physically exhausted and sleep-deprived, just in time for another week of grueling classes.
The group of 85 students left Mobile, Ala., and traveled across the Southeast to spend the weekend meeting the needs of countless men and women during the university's annual "Urban Plunge."
UM students traveled to Birmingham, Ala., Jacksonville, Fla., Atlanta, New Orleans, Jackson, Miss., Memphis, Tenn., and Houston during the University of Mobile's bi-annual 48-hour inner city mission experience, "Urban Plunge."
Matt "RoRo" Spradlin, a junior at UM and student director of Urban Plunge, said the outreach gives students a missions experience that helps them develop a passion for ministering to those who are less fortunate.
On an Urban Plunge trip, students are divided into seven teams to target each city and are provided with many opportunities to minister. The teams typically volunteer at Habitat for Humanity, AIDS hospitals, children's homes, Boys and Girls Clubs, women's shelters, food banks or juvenile delinquency centers; perform yard work and construction for the elderly and disabled; work in street evangelism; and minister to the needs of the homeless.
Jamey Crosson, a junior UM religion major from Ohatchee, Ala., described the Urban Plunge's Jacksonville trip as "incredible, absolutely incredible." Crosson's team spent time at a nursing home singing and eating lunch with the residents. The team later traveled to an AIDS housing facility and played Bingo, sang and ate supper with residents.
"I went with many pre-conceived misconceptions of the kinds of people in nursing homes and AIDS facilities," Crosson said. "Our group was able to just spend time with these people, who really have no one else, and just share God's love with them. One lady at the nursing home told us she had been praying for a long time for someone to come and we were the answer to her prayers. We really built relationships with the people in Jacksonville, especially at the AIDS facility, and our entire team wants to go back next semester. I really feel a sense of urgency, because I don't know they'll be there next year."
Chuck Hodgin, a UM freshman from Jachin, Ala., has volunteered with World Changers for the past two summers, assisting in construction and remodeling of homes across the country, but his first inner-city mission experience came on Urban Plunge's Houston trip.
Hodgin's team prepared and served meals at Houston's Star of Hope Women's and Children's Transitional Center and Men's shelter, then spent the majority of their time at Joy Fellowship Center unloading trucks, sorting through clothes, organizing the food pantry, and cleaning.
"I've never really been exposed to all that I saw in Houston. Living in a place like Jachin, I've never really seen homeless men and women, and I just forget that they're really out there. Urban Plunge made homelessness a reality. There are people in need out there. It was great to see firsthand how my actions were helping someone else. I plan to go again next semester and continue to spread the love of Christ in places where it isn't shown as much," Hodgin said.
Sandra Miller, a junior human performance and exercise science major from Soddy Daisy, Tenn., has now made her fifth Urban Plunge trip, this time traveling to Memphis as an Urban Plunge director. Her team worked at the Tennessee Baptist Children's Village, provided food for homeless men and women on Beal Street, and joined with Bellevue Baptist Church's "Church without Walls" on Sunday, providing food for more than 100 homeless people.
"I love Urban Plunge. It gives me the opportunity to reach out and serve others," Miller said. "We all know that there are people around the world who really need help, but we don't think about the people in our own country who are suffering. There are people who are in need of everything. They need physical help and they need hope. Urban Plunge offers that hope to so many people."
Tiffany Hixon, a freshman nursing major from Selma, Ala., is no stranger to missions. Her family recently served as missionaries for more than two years in the Middle East working at a Baptist hospital and in community health services, teaching hygiene and moral stories besides participating in prison outreach, among other ministries. Before their work overseas, Hixon's family worked in the inner city of New Orleans, her father pastoring a mission church. Before leaving Selma for New Orleans to attend seminary, the family held backyard Bible clubs in Selma's inner-city housing projects. At the University of Mobile, Hixon's mission work has not ended. She travels to downtown Mobile weekly to take food and provide a listening ear to homeless men and women. But this year's Houston trip was Hixon's first Urban Plunge experience.
"Coming from a missionary family, I know how much it means to have someone volunteer to help out," Hixon said. "We had mission teams who came to see us overseas and performed hard manual labor to help us out. We were so grateful for their help because it freed up our time and allowed us to spend more time with the people we were trying to minister to. The lady we were working with at Joy Fellowship expressed the same appreciation, and I'm thankful that we could help her.
"My life is completely based around missions," she said. "It feels natural to me to minister and go on mission trips, and after graduation I plan to serve as a missionary nurse in the Arab world. Overseas, the people are seeking for religion and truth, but in America a lot of people really don't care. We have the freedom in America to be Christians, yet we don't use it. In the Arab culture, even though they don't have the freedom, when they decide to follow Christ, which is dangerous for them, they do it wholeheartedly. Through Urban Plunge, we are able to share the love of Christ which overcomes every boundary. By sharing the joy Christ has given us, we are able to truly minister to people and not view them in a condescending way. They're people just like us."
In its fifth year, Urban Plunge has involved approximately 600 students who have given more than 24,000 hours of service to urban ministry. Many students who have taken an Urban Plunge go back again and again. Spradlin said there is a reason.
"It's not necessarily easier to share now after Urban Plunge," he said, "but Christ never said it would be easy, just do it. As a Christian, it's my job. I realize it's something I have to do, and that's one of the reasons why I'm going back."
Affiliated with the Alabama Baptist Convention, the University of Mobile has approximately 2,000 students in associate's, bachelor's and master's programs.
By Alicia Morris