The biggest event CSF at PSU Berks does each year is our spring break trip. I came on staff the summer when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and because of that CSF went to that region four consecutive years (New Orleans twice, Mississippi twice). Last year we changed it up, heading to Miami. Each of these trips began with a twenty-four hour (at least) bus ride. If for no other reason than not having such a long ride, I was happy that we were going to Tennessee this year.
Going into the trip no one really knew what to expect. We knew we were working at Sunset Gap Community Center but really had little clue what exactly we would be doing. Thankfully, the students are always flexible and rolled with it. We left early Sunday morning, met up with the CSF University Park and Lock Haven in Harrisburg, and ended up arriving in Tennessee Sunday night. Meeting us in Tennessee were CSF groups from PSU DuBois and University of Pittsburgh.
That points me to one of my favorite things from the week: building a community out of diversity. It is so easy for students to simply stay in their campus groups. Usually the student interaction is minimal, with the exception of PSU Berks and UP since so many UP students once went to Berks. But this year the staff worked hard to integrate the groups. One way we did this was randomly breaking them into prayer groups. It was great to see how the students completely bought into these groups, with many asking each day if we would break into our prayer groups at night. Perhaps my most awkward moment was preparing for the students to make smores over the campfire, getting all the stuff ready, and then watching the students ignore delicious smores so they could pray in their groups for a longer time!
Another thing that made this trip unique was that it combined hard work and great fellowship in a retreat atmosphere. Every trip basically gets broken down into two areas: work during the day and fellowship at night. The work is different each year: some years the organization we are working with underestimates us and does not have enough work, some years the work is more physically challenging (such as mudding out houses after the hurricane in New Orleans), other years it is more emotionally challenging (such as working with the homeless in Miami). The fellowship is always great, but is affected by situations we cannot control. For example, last year in Miami we spent so much time driving to the work sites and we ate dinner in a different place from where we slept. This meant there was much traveling even after work and thus less time for deep community. What I loved about this year was that we were in rural Tennessee, similar to a retreat we might have at a campground in Pennsylvania. Many of the students worked at the Community Center, so travel from the work site to the bunkroom was a two minute walk! Put together, the combination of lots of work along with a retreat feel and deep fellowship made this a fantastic trip.
Some of those who did not stay and work at Sunset Gap Community Center drove each day and worked at a local animal shelter. I was part of this group and I believe those students with me had a blast. There was lots of work: building shelves, building an extension onto the building, painting, cleaning kennels, and even walking the dogs. We spent the last day helping them prepare for the “Big Fix”, an event on Saturday that offered free neutering and spaying for animals in the community. This is an important service, for driving around rural Tennessee we saw many stray animals. Working at the animal shelter, getting to know the people there and helping them in their service to the community was a blessing.
I do wonder what the reaction of some may be when the students report of their “mission” trip will be that they spent the week working at an animal shelter. What does this have to do with Jesus, the Bible or spiritual things? But as I worked throughout the week I kept thinking of the “creation mandate” or “cultural mandate” from Genesis 1 where God gives instructions to newly created humanity. Specifically, Genesis 1:28 shows that part of our whole reason for being created was to care for God’s creation, including the animals. So working on an animal shelter for a week taps into part of the original reason for why our Creator placed us here. My prayer would be that the students who worked at the animal shelter would gain a bigger understanding of who God is and what God does: God our Father wants to save humans through Jesus Christ and this is awesome…and this salvation is part of an even grander plan for God to redeem all of creation!
Those are just a few of my reflections on CSF’s Spring Break trip. Now the students are back on campus for the seven-week blitz to summer! Pray for them as they come down off of their “mountaintop” experience and return to the “real world.”