Spring break is always an interesting time of the college academic year for me because I enjoy seeing the various ways that individuals spend their time off from classes. I remember the conversations in the cafeteria after spring break when everyone shared what they did with their vacation from classes. Some of my friends went home; some went on trips to Las Vegas (usually the destination was somewhere warm); and others went on service projects for their break.
This past week, I had the privilege of participating in a service project with three freshmen from Winona State University. As campus minister for United Campus Ministry, I wanted to have an opportunity to serve for the students that was located in a warm climate and was a place that I knew something about. I decided on Durham, North Carolina (which is where my alma mater Duke Divinity School is located) and going to help out the Durham Rescue Mission.
We began the week by getting a tour of the main campus, which housed a men’s shelter along with food pantry and clothing house. As we went through the main campus, we learned how Durham Rescue Mission sought to help those who are homeless and in need within the Durham region. The Rescue Mission didn’t just focus on meeting a need; the mission focused on transforming lives of addiction and dependence into lives of freedom from addiction and independence.
Sally Johnson, a freshman at Winona State, stated it well when she shared, “Sometimes all people need to get back on their feet again is for someone to believe in them. The Rescue Mission does that.”
We quickly discovered how much the mission believed in helping the individuals in its process of transformation as we worked side-by-side with the volunteers at one of the mission’s thrift stores that afternoon. It was great to see how every individual being served by the mission was also an integral part of the mission’s life.
“I thought it was so encouraging that [the men] were provided a place to restart their lives, and as a man who was currently living there said it was a place where it helps you get up off your knees and bring you back on your feet, and the best part was that they all found the Lord there,” said Dolly Phipps, also a freshman from Winona State.
The rest of the week was filled with working in whatever capacity the mission thought we could help them. Tuesday, we sorted food at the food pantry and untangled boxes and boxes of hangers for the clothing house. On Wednesday, we worked at the second thrift store run by the mission and on Thursday we worked at the Dental and Health Clinic housed at the Women, Children, and Family Campus (know as Samaritan’s Inn). Finally, on Friday, we ended up being “loaned” out to a dental outreach event happening in Durham where we got to see a community come together to help those in need of dental care who could not normally afford it or lacked dental insurance. This community of volunteers included dentists; medical students from Duke, North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina; dental students from the same universities; local businessmen and businesswomen; and other students from the technical colleges and universities. It was an amazing event to be a part of.
The week was a wonderful opportunity to learn about another community in our country and how some individuals are helping those in need. The trip left some lasting impressions. I will let some of the students’ words speak for those impressions:
“From this mission trip I learned a lot about poverty and about who they really are, rather than the stereotypes people often think about them. I learned that many people in poverty really do work hard and try their best to find a job and make a living for themselves and their family. There are many that want to turn their life around and get back on their feet and be better people,” said Laney Fitzgerald.
“I've been taught that the love [of] Jesus lives in all of us and I saw that love in North Carolina. I was in need of that reminder, I almost feel that those men helped me more than I helped them,” Sally Johnson.
We went down to serve and we did do that, but just as importantly, we learned that we ended up being helped just as much as we helped.