Spring break is normally a time when college students head to beaches and resorts for a week of revelry, often fueled by an overabundance of alcohol. But students involved in United Methodist Wesley Foundations and campus ministry groups will be rolling up their sleeves for service work instead.
Campus ministry groups from across the country will spend their spring break working side by side with people in need. Instead of fun in the sun, the students will be working up a sweat swinging hammers, laying bricks, digging ditches and performing other service work.
"What draws our students into mission-related work during spring break is their desire to make some tangible difference in the world," says the Rev. Mark Forrester, director of the Wesley Foundation at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. "This desire, rooted in faith, relates belief with purpose in practical ways that can be accomplished, valued and shared."
Throughout March, students are building and repairing homes in economically depressed areas from Appalachia to Guatemala, participating in Habitat for Humanity projects throughout the United States and in other countries, teaching children in Mexico and Haiti, performing environmental preservation in Northern Ireland, ministering at an AIDS hospice in Puerto Rico, holding seminars in Berlin and working with Methodists in the Bahamas.
The United Methodist campus ministry at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is sending 50 students to work in four Southern communities - Atlanta, Clarksville, Miss., Birmingham, Ala., and Cherokee, N.C.; and in two closer to home - Holyoke and Mashpee, Mass.
Since 1997, University of Massachusetts students from different faith traditions have been engaging in the service projects. "Rather than worship without sacrifice, what appeals to most of our students is self-giving and sacrifice as the context for spiritual development and devotion," says Kent Wiggins of the school's United Christian Foundation.
For the second time, the campus ministry of King Avenue United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio, will depart for Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to partner with International Child Care, a medical mission organization, to visit urban community health sites in slum areas. The 11 participants, students at Ohio State University, will spend time at Grace Children's Hospital, a United Methodist Advance Project operated by International Child Care, as well as St. Joseph's Home for Boys.
"Many students do wonderful things on spring break, such as Habitat for Humanity, Appalachian Service Projects and many others, but there is a tendency to disengage from the systemic issues of poverty and race that those sorts of trips are working to combat," says the Rev. Don Wallick, campus minister and associate pastor at King Avenue Church. "A trip like this, which lifts students completely out of middle and upper-middle class, sheltered American life, immerses them in the deep material poverty of Haiti." The trip will allow the students to engage the people there and to "re-evaluate their entire life and faith, laying the groundwork for deep personal transformation," he says.
For the past four years, the chaplain's office at United Methodist-related Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont., has taken students on mission trips to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, where they have helped construct a church and led Bible school. This year, the students will build homes and help with rebuilding as a result of damage caused by Hurricane Isidore last fall.
The chaplain's office at Wesley College in Dover, Del., is sponsoring a service trip to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Conn. The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp serves children with life-threatening illnesses (cancer and blood diseases such as HIV, sickle-cell anemia and hemophilia) by giving them a free "normal" summer camp experience. The spring break group from the United Methodist-related school will help prepare the camp for the children by doing work projects on the site. At the end of the week, the students will serve as camp counselors for a campout for brothers and sisters of the critically ill children.
Numerous United Methodist campus ministry groups will join ecumenical delegations in the Collegiate Challenge, Habitat for Humanity's national spring break program, in which thousands of U.S. students will visit 200 locations through April 19. The participants will hammer nails and raise walls as they build simple, decent and affordable houses in partnership with families in need. The students will travel to rural and inner-city areas of the United States to build new houses or refurbish existing residences. Other students will travel overseas to help families in Third World countries achieve the dream of homeownership.
Twelve students from United Methodist-related Emory & Henry College in Emory, Va., will journey to Columbus, Ga., as part of Collegiate Challenge, to give a "hand up instead of a hand out" to families in need," says the Rev. Tim Kobler, chaplain at the school.
Students at State University College in New Paltz, N.Y., will answer the Collegiate Challenge by building houses in Horry County, S.C.
For the first time since the early 1990s, the students involved in the Tidewater Wesley Foundation and the Wesley Westminster House at Norfolk (Va.) State College are traveling with students from the Baptist Student Union of Old Dominion University in Norfolk to Red Bird Mission in Beverly, Ky., for a week of service and fellowship.
The chaplain and nine students from United Methodist-related University of Evansville (Ind.) are headed to Gray, W.Va., to make repairs in areas devastated by floods during summer 2001 and spring 2002. Last year, five inches of rain fell in less than an hour on six counties in West Virginia and Virginia, damaging or destroying 3,000 homes.
A six-student team from the Wesley Foundation at Texas Tech is going to Louisiana to assist the United Methodist Committee on Relief in helping victims of the 2002 hurricanes that hit the coast. Another team heads to Memphis to work for SOS, an inner-city ministry started by Christ United Methodist Church.
Several Wesley Foundations and ecumenical campus groups will participate in "Alternative Spring Break," a substance-free break that exposes students to the diversity of cultures, lifestyles, and living environments in the United States and South America. Students from across the country will journey to parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia to work with the Appalachian Service Project, primarily on home repair.
The Wesley Foundation students at Radford (Va.) College and Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, Tenn., are going to Marion, Va., to work with Project Crossroads, an ecumenical building and rebuilding project in rural southwest Virginia. The students also will speak in local United Methodist churches to share the Wesley Foundation story and thank congregations for their financial and moral support.
McCurdy School in Espanola, N.M., is the destination for 18 college students involved in the United Campus Ministry of the Tri-College in Fargo-Moorhead, N.D. They will help with service projects - painting, landscaping, cement work, repairs, spring cleaning - to benefit the children attending the preparatory school, which is a project of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. The group also will dig out ancient irrigation ditches for "subsistence farmers" in the area and make repairs at a retreat center, a community health clinic and hiking trails.
Mission trips abroad
The denomination's Volunteer in Mission Program has enabled students and others from United Methodist-related Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., to participate in a mission trip to Caribbean and Latin American countries for the past seven years. This year, 21 students will continue the construction of a parsonage and preschool for the church in San Isidro, Costa Rica.
Guatemala is the destination for students of the Wesley Foundations at Tennessee State and Middle Tennessee State universities. The foundations at both schools are uniting to take students to complete work on a church at Chuisamayac. The group will construct pews, paint, install computers and conduct a Bible school.
"The challenges of language differences, cultural difference, relationship building with our hosts and each other, and experiencing a spiritual reason for what we do make for a powerful week of sweat, inconvenience and love," says the Rev. Barry Foster, chaplain and director of church relations at Shenandoah University. "Students are thrust into an environment where they are asked to look deep into their Christian faith to see if they are truly following the Christian path to open blind eyes, bring good news to the poor and to set oppressed people free."
The Protestant campus ministry at Pennsylvania State in Erie is going to Northern Ireland to perform service work, including planting trees, pruning shrubs, and cleaning trails and underbrush at Castle Ward near Downpatrick.
Others traveling abroad include a group from Indiana University, Purdue University and the Indiana Institute of Technology, all in Fort Wayne, Ind. The United Methodist representative campus minister is taking the six-member team to Berlin to lead seminars on youth ministry, creation vs. evolution, marriage relations, and teens and children. The students will interact with German Christians and non-Christians, and meet with the one-time American warden of the prison where Rudolf Hess and other Nazi criminals were held.
"We always take a cross-cultural trip so that the students can be stretched out of their comfort zone and learn that the world is a much bigger place than Fort Wayne, Ind.," says Benton Gates, the United Methodist campus ministry representative to the three Indiana academic institutions. "We expect the trip to be a life changer."
Students from the Duke Wesley Fellowship at Duke University, Durham, N.C. will be joining others organized through Duke Chapel on a mission team to Honduras. Another student will travel to Uruguay with the Duke Freeman Center for Jewish Life. The Duke Wesley Domestic Work Team will stay at Lake Junaluska, N.C., and work in Haywood County.
Learning and teaching is also on the agenda for 10 students from the San Antonio United Methodist campus ministry. The students, all interested in exploring the call to ministry, will tour three United Methodist seminaries: Candler School of Theology, Atlanta; Duke Divinity, Durham, N.C.; and Perkins School of Theology, Dallas.
The Wesley Foundation Campus Ministry at the University of Oregon in Eugene is joining forces with Oregon State University's Westminster House Campus Ministry in Corvallis, and heading to San Francisco to volunteer in the dining room of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church for Project Open Hand, preparing and delivering meals to HIV-positive patients in the community, and at Cameron House, a mission of the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown.
Oregon State University's campus ministry is an ecumenical effort of United Methodists, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ. Nine students chose San Francisco as their destination "because they wanted to have an urban experience, to learn more about the issues that the poor face in the city, and to see how churches and social service agencies are attempting to meet the needs of those who are living on the margins," says the Rev. Jeremy Hajdu-Paulen, campus pastor at the Wesley Foundation at the University of Oregon. "Reflection will be an important part of our experience as we integrate what we see and do with our own Christian journeys of faith."
Pearisburg, Va., is the spring break site for nine students of the Ecumenical Center at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The group will help build a Habitat for Humanity house; build a deck for an Adult Day Care facility; install a merry-go-round at a playground; and help judge a school science fair.
Thirty students from United Methodist-related Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Ala., will travel by train to Washington to work with homeless programs. They also will meet with their congressional representatives to discuss homelessness and poverty.
For Forrester at Vanderbilt, the words of Methodism's founder, John Wesley, relate directly to the students' service projects. Says Forrester: "Wesley's maxim, 'the world is my parish,' becomes more immediate and real when today's young people on campus venture out, with faith, and local support in hand, to share in the transformation of people's lives."
By Albert H. Lee