The Campus Ministry Office at Hope College of the Reformed Church in America in Holland, Michigan, will be sending about 400 students into the vineyard during their spring break. Students going on the 28 organized local and foreign mission trips say the service will give them a change to focus on God’s love.
"Some of my friends might think it's weird that I would want to serve others on spring break. It will be relaxing and refreshing in a different way, a chance to be entirely focused on God's love away from the distractions of college," said David Boersma, a 21-year-old junior who has gone to Mexico and Cuba in the past two years.
Boersma is part of the 330 Hope College students who will be going on the mission trips. Over 50 students will be traveling to Valdosta, Ga., to build homes with Habitat for Humanity.
The increase in participation and mission trips have shown the program’s growth starting from only seven organized mission trips ten years ago. This year, students will travel as close as their college town Holland to as far as Jamaica. They are placed in groups of 15, which will be led by two upperclassmen leaders and one faculty or community member.
Instead of going to a foreign country, Boersma will stick to the states this time. He will be going to Pompano Beach, FL., to evangelize under the guidance of Rev. Dr. Edward Hernandez, who will give evangelism training each day of the trip.
There is a clear reason why so many students have sacrificed their spring break to go on these short-term mission trips.
“These students feel called to it, said Barb Osburn, director of outreach for Hope's campus ministries. "The trips give students an opportunity to see God at work in the world and broadens their understanding of how big he is.”
At each assigned location, the students will be teaming up with local ministries and Christian organizations to help the needy in every imaginable way.
In Hollywood, Ca., students and Gateway City Center will evangelize and provide food and clothing. In Los Angeles, Ca., they will reach out to the community through dancing alongside with area-church Mosaic. Those who will be going to Newark, N.J., will gain experience tutoring children and teaching about retail to residents as they co-work with World Impact, an inner city ministry.
In Philadelphia, Pa., will work with Center for Student Missions to volunteer in food and clothing pantries as well as with after-school programs for at-risk children. Students will keep busy working on home improvement projects in Clincho, Va., with McClure River Valley Community Development. In Walker, Ky., they will assist the residents in local farming. In Washington, D.C., students will work in soup kitchens and shelters with the Center for Student Missions.
The students traveling with Habitat for Humanity will participate in the organization’s international program, “Collegiate Challenge”, where college students join other college students from different areas to build homes.
Even Holland will receive a team of eight students to build homes through Habitat for Humanity or do other service projects.
"Serving in Holland is a clear opportunity to make long-lasting relationships with the community," said John Ornee, a 2003 Hope graduate, now the chaplain intern, who will lead the Holland mission trip. "We don't have to pack a bag and the needs in Holland are just as great as the needs abroad."
However, needs abroad are just as demanding.
Associate professor of Kinesiology Dr. Steven Smith will head a group of students who will work in the Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf. Students will also travel to Puerto Escondido, Mexico with Professor of economics Dr. Robin Klay, to build homes. The varsity cross-country team will work in a food kitchen Ann Arbor.
Pre-medical and nursing students will travel to Nicaragua and Bolivia to put their skills to practice as they give immunizations, teach nutrition and meet basic health needs for the poor.
Senior Edward Huebner, who will travel on the Jamaica trip, said he wanted to use the trip as a time to mature in his faith. "I truly look forward to being away from Hope for a week and concentrating on my love for God.”
"I think everyone comes back with a heightened sense of their faith and what it means to incorporate it into everyday life," he said.
The students began their trips on March 12, when the school spring break session began, and will return before Sunday to prepare for school.