By Jordan Elton
Growing up as the daughter of employees of the church, faith has always been incorporated into my life. I believed this was the norm and just went with the flow of it. As a part of my childhood, my parents (one of them being a missions director) instilled the act of service and taught my sister and I the importance of setting aside your own needs to serve others. I didn’t realize what a gift this was until recently, when 19 students, including myself, loaded the bus at 5 am on the first day of our spring break. I don’t think any of us had an idea of how much we would learn over the course of the next week. We had each signed up for this in November and in a blink of an eye, spring break was here.
I don’t know how the week could have gone better. Yeah, the flu could have spared the 5 victims and hours of vomiting it inflicted. The rain could have held off until next week. Our construction manager could have been less snarky. But the week wasn’t about the things that went wrong.
I’ve been on my fair share of mission trips and service projects. Most of them go the same—be a blessing, meet great people, no sleep, separation anxiety from your new community at the end, leave the week fulfilled with a better understanding of what it means to be a servant of God. It’s just the way it happens.
But this trip was different. The majority of the trips I have been on have been intergenerational. I like to think that’s had a big impact on how I interact with people now, and I wouldn’t have asked for it any other way. It was literally serving with a big family of God. This week though, I served with a group of peers who were at the beginning strangers. We each knew a few random people that had signed up, but definitely not the majority.
The first day is when it happened. We were building the tees and corners that would be put into the walls later in the week and the nails they had given us to work with were essentially putty—bending after one smack of the hammer. Yes, it probably did have something to do with our amateur hammering skills. But we’re going to go with the fact that the majority of the issue was the nails. You bet we were frustrated. Not only was it cold and windy, but with every swing we took, the more our nails bent. We weren’t getting any work done and you could feel the frustration building within our group.
But after lunch, you could see the dynamics shifting. After all of the tees and corners finally got nailed together, we started building the two big outside walls. We split into two groups to conquer them, and not long after we began, we started drawing upon each other’s strengths. Need a nail pulled out? Call over Arthur or Michael. Have that stubborn one that just won’t go in? Call over Jordan. We each began to take on a specialty, if you will, and by the end of the day, we were basically ready to start our own construction company.
Okay, not really. But seeing a group of college students take on those natural positions, both leading and asking for help, was something I had never seen on such a large scale before. Yes, they are important things for college students to learn for the future—you can’t go through life by yourself. However, those two characteristics draw upon what I think it means to have a servant heart or to serve in the name of God.
Going on these trips does make you feel good and you do get to do good things. But every single one I go on teaches me something new about what it means to be a child of God. When I was younger, I learned what it meant to live out your faith or put it into practice. No matter how many sermons I sat through or confirmation classes I attended, nothing clicked in my head until I actually practiced it. Yeah I was practicing it to the best of my ability in my daily life, but in that setting, I didn’t understand how life was different with or without faith or how they truly connected.
This year’s spring break with Habitat for Humanity really made me reflect upon how significant these types of experiences have been in my life. Part of that was probably because during the week, I turned 20, which brought a sudden moment of reflection upon my two decades of existence. What in the world am I doing with my life?
And I found the answers in the community I was surrounded by at the time, as well as the place, and the work I was doing. On these trips, there is no way you are not living out God’s call to action and call to love one another. We are called to be a blessing and live out our faith. We can sit at home and go through our daily lives, only touching the lives of those we encounter on a day-to-day basis. But shouldn’t we want more? Shouldn’t we always have a burning desire to live out God’s word on a higher level? My experiences have inspired. They have shed light on the greater community we, as a people of faith, are a part of. These experiences are more than just serving—they dig deep and teach us things we didn’t know we needed to know. Humans are a curious species and to be satisfied, we need to be constantly intrigued or entertained. What better way than to feed that hunger than through God’s work. Most of all, these trips have energized and poured so much love into my heart that at some points it has brought tears or emotional breakdowns.
Perhaps the most shocking thing of the week, was that this was not even a faith-based trip. Habitat is a Christian organization and I do go to a Lutheran college, but no one signed up for the trip as a spiritual awakening or as a means to do God’s work. We had a mish-mash of beliefs, ranging from Atheists to Jews to Christians. What brought us together was the work we were doing and the teamwork we had to incorporate in order to reach our ultimate goal. I built relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ, because even though they may not share my same beliefs, we are called to love all of our neighbors.
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