IA common part of campus ministry work, at least within the Lutheran tradition, is the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip. Some people assume this is just an excuse to go somewhere warm and get someone else to pay for some of it. It's not that. Others assume it's a short-term mission trip where we hand out Bible tracts and attempt to force conversions. It's not that, either. So, what's so alternative about these trips?
Selflessness at the Core
At the core of an ASB is the ideal that our primary reason for going is to serve others rather than to serve ourselves. We understand that this is Spring Break, so most of these trips include opportunities for relaxation. but the first focus of our time is serving the local population and, in the best case scenario, developing meaningful relationships with them.
For instance, last week I was part of a delegation from Virginia Tech, Radford University, and New River Community College that went to Florida. While we spent time at the beach and saw a Spring Training Baseball game, much more of our time was spent working alongside Our Daily Bread of Bradenton serving nearly 200 meals to people without homes. We worked with Loaves and Fishes of Bradenton to provide hundreds of food items to people facing food insecurity. We worked with Habitat of Humanity of Manatee County to clear a lot for construction of new homes that provide long-term solutions to housing instability. We worked with Gloria Dei Lutheran Church to provide some much needed maintenance around the church and for members who needed assistance. We attended the Nehemiah Action Assembly of Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity (SURE), which works with government and school officials to address issues of injustice at a systemic level. We put our bodies and minds to work seeking justice and restoration alongside local communities. In all these places, we tell people about Jesus, not with compulsion or fear, but with the love and light of the name of Jesus.
Relationships for the Journey
What these trips allow us to do is create further depth in relationships. The team goes grows closer together, whether they've known each other throughout their college careers or have just met for the first time. As our group arrived and began to split off, the exchange of phone numbers and promises from staff that we'd do events together in the future served as evidence that the ASB provided fertile soil for relational growth.
More than that, we develop relationships locally. These trips serve as a taste of the universal church, for we got to know some of our Lutheran peers hundreds of miles away, as well as worked with people of all kinds of faith in every work site. We met friends like Nettie, Fran, and King, who once received the ministry of Our Daily Bread and now work to serve others. We met friends like Ruth Ann and Paul who welcomed us into their home for showers and great conversation about life and faith. We met neighbors who would one day call the Habitat families friends, and planted seeds for relationships for people we may never know.
In the midst of all this, we deepened our relationships with God, because in each of the people mentioned above, and so many more, we saw the face of God. God showed up in the people we served meals, in the Habitat personnel, in the food bank volunteers, pretty much everywhere. We saw God at work in worship with Gloria Dei's Lenten service, in the beautiful sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico, and in the radical generosity we received from our hosts. We saw God at work in the people who came in search of food or shelter or just a kind smile. In work and in play, we found God already working and playing, inviting us into the wonderful dance of life together.
Alternative to What?
This is perhaps the most difficult question to answer. Some see this as an alternative to the party scene, where consumption of alcohol and other, illegal substances lead to dangerous Spring Break traditions. This is partially true. I suppose I see it as an alternative way of doing life, where the way of Jesus breaks in to even our breaks. Rather than spend the time just on ourselves and what we want to do, the alternative is following Jesus and doing for others as we would do unto ourselves. Finding ways to bless others, to serve others, to know others, to love others, rather than living a totally independent life that remains detached from God's creations, God's images, who are in need, who suffer, we need not just assistance, but compassion, friendship, and relationship. What's alternative about this is that our society doesn't typically operate this way, so we try for at least a week of the school year to more fully live the Gospel in ways that challenge ourselves, the church, and the world to see God's activity in the here and now. That's what the Alternative Spring Break looks like from my experience.
How about yours? I'd love to hear your experiences of trips like this, or what kind of trips might compel you to take an alternative break of your own in the future. And remember: you don't need to be in college to take an alternative kind of trip!
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.