College Students Make a Difference During Spring Break

April 28, 2015

Recent news stories about spring break have given this annual time a bad reputation. This is not true for some of the students who are part of our Wesley Foundations and UM colleges. Spring Break has become a time of ministry. These college students have given of their gifts and time to share the love of Jesus. This is a time where students grow deeper in their faith often discovering a call to serve fulltime, an opportunity to develop their leadership skills and a chance to be sent to be the hands and feet of Christ. Here are their stories:

Union College
Seven students from Union College spent their Spring Break this year engaged in service in Nashville as part of the Alternative Spring Break service trip.  Hosted by Bethel Church of the Nazarene, the group slept on the floor in the church’s Sunday School rooms and prepared their own meals in the church’s kitchen.  The group served at several locations across Nashville, feeding homeless people, providing a worship service for them, helping a hospice with a program honoring veterans, working in the clothing warehouse of a rescue mission, and sorting donating foodstuffs at a food pantry.  At one point during the week, we were joined by Union College alum and retired United Methodist minister Joe Beavon, who met and greeted the students. 

Trips like this are often a time of transformation for students, helping them gain clarity in identifying God’s calling for service in their lives.  The trip’s logistics manager was graduating senior Joseph Brown.  Joe has been a leader in Union’s campus ministries for four years.  Jacqueline Bengie, also a graduating senior at Union, planned the details of the trip as the project manager.  Jackie, who traveled to Denver this past fall for the Imagine What’s Next conference sponsored by the UMC Collegiate Ministries Division, has been one of our leaders for three years.  The group had a wonderful time learning how to plan and implement a service activity, serving God and the people of Nashville. 
University of Kentucky
During spring break the Wesley Foundation at the University of Kentucky took a group of 9 to Panama City Beach, FL for a mission trip called "Beach Reach." Thousands of college students from campuses across the country travel to Panama City to “party" during spring break. In fact, it is often referred to as "Satan's playground." The ministry of Beach Reach is designed to build a bridge to share God's love with our peers. It is a unique experience because as we drove toward the beach from UK, our mission field of fellow college students was driving to the same destination. 
Throughout the week we actively witnessed the Spirit of God at work. Here is just a snapshot of our experience:
  • prayer walked the streets of Panama City, poured our hearts out to God on behalf of the lost while in the prayer room at our retreat center
  • served a free pancake breakfast to spring breakers as an opportunity to build relationships with them while sharing about our faith in Jesus, talked with atheists and agnostics and encouraged struggling Christians
  • offered free shuttle rides that prevented students from drinking and driving or walking the streets alone, experienced a church on wheels as we laughed with people and held others as they cried 
  • served on "street teams" allowing us to walk together in ministry groups so that people could encounter Christ through us, talked with people whose friends had left them behind, talked with others who came to the beach alone wanting to find something worthwhile 
Everyone on our team has multiple stories about the week where they saw God at work. There is much to tell...
"Being a part of Beach Reach was an impactful experience in my relationship with God. It helped to show me that no one is a lost cause. College students are looking for their identity but they can’t find it in the clubs. When they have an encounter with the Holy Spirit, they want to stay in His presence. My experience with Beach Reach was about making space for Him to work and I got to see more of His heart!" – Jordan Brietolle, sophomore, hometown: Cincinnati, OH
"Beach Reach is an awakening experience that reminds me of the real evil in this world, but also the real presence of God. This generation of young people is hungry and searching, and the Lord desperately wants them to know his love! This trip shows me what I would be searching for without God’s grace. Now that I have found the most precious treasure in the world I want to share it." –Sarah Bihl, Asbury Seminary intern, hometown: Owenton, KY.

Northern Kentucky University
Eight students went to Rockford, Illinois on mission during Northern Kentucky University’s spring break in March 2015. Rockford is the third largest city in Illinois and faces many issues including poverty and urban blight. Members of Vine & Branches worked to bring the power of data collection and canvasing to the United Way of Rockford and Rockford Urban Ministries (RUM), which is a Methodist extension ministry. These tools were used to provide an accurate picture of underserved neighborhoods, network in communities, and identify work sites for incoming summer groups.
Students rose to the challenge of utilizing their skills to serve God in Rockford. We began calling our work “hacking Rockford” since we were bringing newer technologies to the aid of nonprofits. Data science major Debbie Burgess developed a digital survey that utilized students’ cell phones for data entry. Theater major Marisa Yerace used her skills gained through political canvasing to coach students on how to engage persons in the survey. By correlating our data with available property ownership data found online, we were able to aid RUM in identify which properties to help and which property owners to contact. Our data collection for the United Way helped them to better allocate their resources to other neighborhoods
We also encountered God at work through many wonderful and interesting people in these communities. Through this work, we laid the ground work for future mission groups to serve these communities in the name of Jesus.
Morehead University
This year we traveled out of state for our annual mission trip. We found ourselves in Rahway, NJ with Trinity United Methodist Church pastored by Michael Howard (A former Morehead State faculty member and member of the Morehead United Methodist Church). Our students were blessed to learn from the Filipino community and help inspire their church by painting, cleaning, organizing, and assisting with the weekly missions for the homeless. We also were blessed to travel together to the Brooklyn Tabernacle church for their Tuesday night prayer meeting.
Western Kentucky University
The WKU Wesley Foundation sent a team of nine to Belmopan, Belize. While in Belmopan the team worked on Belmopan Methodist High School. They built concrete forms, mixed concrete, and poured two pillars for the new addition to the school. This addition will hold classrooms for the junior class this fall. Upon returning from Belmopan the WKU Wesley Foundation has decided to collect money for a scholarship for a student to attend Belmopan Methodist High School. Only around 40% of Belizean people attend high school due to the cost. The WKU Wesley Scholarship will cover the full cost of tuition, $225 American dollars. 

While in Belize WKU students led devotions Wednesday morning at the High School. The team worshipped with Belmopan Methodist Church on Sunday and joined the Anglican Church for a joint Lenten worship service on Wednesday evening. The team was greatly impressed with the faith of the Belizean people. While in Belize women from the Methodist church fed us and shared their faith with us. While we ate lunch and dinner, we’d discuss what God has been teaching us. While we’ve been thousands of miles away, God has been working in our lives in incredibly similar ways: reminding each of us not to worry, teaching us how to trust, and sharing in the Spirit’s work.   The devout Christian women of Belize showed us what it means to love fiercely, to give generously, and to serve selflessly. For them there was not greater goal than serving Christ and the Church. I thank God for their witness, and pray that God will continue to provide for them, their children, and communities.