Monday, July 14, 2014

Thoughts on Work and Prayer for the 50th Anniversary

Here is the text of the devotions that I shared on the evening of the 50th anniversary banquet for the S-LC last month:

In the Service-Learning Center, the professional staff begins each year sharing a list of hopes and expectations we have for our student employees. One of those hopes is that they develop “responsible habits of acquiring new knowledge and incorporating it in a life of active prayer and civic engagement.” This is, in typical Calvin fashion, a mouthful of carefully chosen words expressing a deep conviction that looks great on paper. We have to unpack it and enact it for it to be any good.

When introducing this to students we acknowledge that much of the new knowledge students are acquiring in our line of work is about the miserable state of our world: racism, inadequate housing, lead poisoning, under-resourced schools, blighted neighborhoods, food insecurity. That misery can quickly feel overwhelming. We are all too often tempted to cordon off this knowledge from the rest of our lives, occasionally thinking piteous thoughts about those whose lot is worse off than ours. Alternatively, we can dwell on the disparities in our world with despair, loudly spewing cynical rants. But these are not very responsible habits for dealing with the knowledge we’ve acquired. We instead suggest a twofold response: incorporate it into a life of active prayer and civic engagement.

The Reformed tradition provides some helpful language to support this—God’s good creation has fallen into this miserable state, but through Christ, all the world is being redeemed—but as you can see by the luminaries after whom we have named our tables this evening, (Wendell Berry, Gandhi, Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Wangari Maathai, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr., Rachel Carson, Cesar Chavez, John Perkins, Mother Teresa, Jane Addams) the S-LC appreciates the opportunity to learn from other faith traditions as well.

The motto of the Benedictines is “Ora et Labora:” Pray and work. St. Benedict viewed prayer and work as partners, and believed in combining contemplation with action. The phrase expresses the need to balance prayer and work in monastic settings and has been used in many religious communities from the Middle Ages onwards. The Benedictines also take a vow of stability, committing their lives to a faithful presence in a specific place. These Benedictine values have found new life in the New Monastic movement that birthed, “Common Prayer, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals,” a daily prayer book with which we have opened our S-LC staff meetings for the past several years.

This book invokes many of those whose names are on these tables and many others who live into the idea of “Ora et Labora” in response to the misery in the world. Each day among other patterns includes a joint praying of the Lord ’s Prayer. But before we can pray and work, we need to have a vision to pray for and work towards. 

We need to imagine Shalom, another idea that is not foreign to the S-LC, a state of well-being and right relationship between humanity, creation, and God.

I often pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” as a sort of mantra as I walk through the Creston neighborhood where I live. I ask myself, “What would it look like for God’s kingdom to be present here? for this place on earth to seem more like heaven?”

Then I imagine Christ’s return and a ripple effect miraculously transforming the cityscape around me: the weeds sprouting from the cracks in the sidewalks disappear and the pavement is whole again. The vacant mom & pop grocer is once again selling fresh, healthy produce to neighbors. The candy wrappers and grocery bags that litter the street vaporize before my eyes. The third grader who is about to be held back due to his illiteracy becomes an engaged learner. The porn shop is replaced by an art gallery.

But as I continue to pray, I realize that God’s providence for this neighborhood includes the hands and feet of his disciples. We must pull the weeds and rebuild the pavement. We must invest in the small business owner who is willing to risk a small-scale grocery store on the street corner. We must opt for more sustainable packaging for the products we purchase, and dispose of what hasn’t found its way to the dustbin. We must read weekly with the kindergartener at the local school so that by the time she takes the standardized tests in third grade she is proficient and excited about learning. We must pray for the Spirit to change the hearts of people who produce and consume pornography, such that they come to a respectful view of human sexuality and appreciate true beauty.

We pray to ask God for the imagination to see shalom in a place, to see where it is already coming, to see where we can add to it, to see where we’re standing in the way and to confess that. We will get there by praying for it and enacting it…how does God’s kingdom come? It is through his people, the church who were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

In short, we must bend our will to that of God our father, who has a plan for his creation, and we must step up to fulfill our vocations within that plan if we are to hope to see the fruit thereof. As we do this, the line between Ora et Labora begins to fade.

Jan and Sharon met with the principals at Sigsbee and Henry Elementary to set up tutoring. Jonathan and Jane supported students who initiated the moving service for evicted Grand Rapidians without the resources to move themselves (we still get calls about that service even though it was discontinued years ago). Katie VanZanen encouraged her tutee to finish high school and attend college. Many of us spent the afternoon planting a bioswale. In a way, those actions are prayers in and of themselves: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done. Here on earth, just like it is in heaven. Give us what we need today.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, after walking alongside Martin Luther King to advocate for Civil Rights mused: “when I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.”

Now, before we enjoy the bounty of this meal that has been prepared for us to celebrate God’s act of renewal through our prayers and work of the last fifty years, I’m going to ask you to join me in praying the Lord’s Prayer. We’ll leave enough space for any variation you may have learned, as has become our tradition. Then I’ll encourage to continue praying with your feet and hands in the next fifty years.

Let’s pray:

Our Father…

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Seeds of service, turning 50

In 1964 a seed was planted.  It was a seed of service, of sharing, and of learning, and now fifty years later, a forest of relationships grows all around the Calvin College campus, the city of Grand Rapids, the State of Michigan, and indeed more recently there are buds opening in places around the world like Americus, Georgia; Houma, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; Budapest, Hungary; Accra, Ghana; Arequipa, Peru; and Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  The first planters of this seed formed it as a student club, and they called it K.I.D.S., for Kindling Intellectual Desire in Students.  Later the movement became known as the Student Volunteer Services office, and then finally the Service-Learning Center at Calvin College since 1993.  It has been my deep privilege to serve as the director of this place since 2002.

One of the things I love about this 'movement', as I like to call it, is that there are so many stories of hope, and of love, and of friendship.  I read and learn about lots of things in the world that can make me want to cry, to lament the depth of evil in the world, and that leave me feeling helpless and in despair.  And nearly every day in the work that I do I encounter stories of courage, of justice, of reaching out, of connection - stories that counter the other stories.  I think of former students working hard to make the world better in places like Thailand, Cambodia, Honduras, Toronto, Chicago, Phoenix, Ann Arbor, Washington DC, and nearly every corner of the city of Grand Rapids - and I am inspired.  These alumni use the skills and knowledge and passion that they learned at Calvin College to join ambitious and thoughtful people all over in service and community-building.  You can read about some of them here.

Partnership with schools is still our primary activity, with tutoring and mentoring and homework help happening at multiple locations every day after school, but the work has expanded too.  Deep, reflective work on the Plaster Creek watershed, in which the college resides, includes research, oral histories, upstream and downstream relationship building, and the involvement of schools, college, churches and community organizations.  History, Social Work, Chemistry, Biology, Spanish, Engineering, Art, Kinesiology, Nursing, Political Science, Music, Geography, Geology, Psychology, and many other departments have regular involvement in academically-based service-learning projects and assignments.  Study abroad in Ghana, Honduras, Peru and Hungary, as well as Spain, Cambodia, India, Haiti and France, among others, all include elements of service-learning and community engagement regularly.  Spring break trips take more than a hundred students to ten or more locations within driving distance to partner with Christian community development organizations in thoughtful and reciprocal service.  New students have been welcomed to Calvin with a day of service-learning every year since 1993 through StreetFest.

Soon, on June 6 and 7, many of the leaves, branches, flowers and trunks of this original planting will gather to celebrate fifty years of growth, and I would love to invite you to join us.  There have been hundreds of student staff members, and ten or so directors and associate directors.  Nearly all of the directors will be on hand, and dozens of former student staff members and volunteers.  Everyone is welcome.  Let’s get your name on the list.

You can register for one or more of the four events at this link:

See who is already planning to be there here:

And I hope you will especially consider joining us on Saturday evening, June 7, at the Kroc Center in Grand Rapids, for a banquet with dinner, and plenty of time for stories and gratitude.

Please let us know before the Memorial Day weekend ends though, our catering staff is asking us for a final number by Tuesday, the 27th of May.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop us a line at, or call us at 616-526-6455 . 

The current staff of the Service-Learning Center opens all of its weekly meetings with words from the Common Prayer as follows:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you; wherever he may send you;
May he guide you through the wilderness; protect you through the storm;
May he bring you home rejoicing; at the wonders he has shown you;
May he bring you home rejoicing: once again, into our doors.

I like to think of this anniversary celebration as an opportunity for some of us to pass once again into those doors of rejoicing, if only for an evening together.

I hope we’ll see you there.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thoughts on Mountains Beyond Mountains

Although I could write on any number of intriguing ideas presented in Tracy Kidder’s book, the constant return to Paul Farmer’s own character is the most convicting story being told. If you’ve never read Mountains Beyond Mountains, it’s the tale of an American doctor and infectious disease specialist named Paul Farmer, “the man who would cure the world.” Although his work has come under critique by various public health officials and organizations throughout his career, his goal remains the provision of “first-world” medical care to people in the “third world.” Mountains Beyond Mountains chronicles this work in rural Haiti, the slums of Peru, tuberculosis-ridden areas of western Russia, and any number of destinations in between. Again, however, the most surprising narrative that Kidder writes isn’t necessarily the work Farmer does; it’s just Farmer.

“Here was a person who seemed to be practicing more than he preached, who seemed to be living, as nearly as any human being can, without hypocrisy. A challenging person, the kind of person whose example can irritate you by making you feel you’ve never done anything as important, and yet, in his presence, those kinds of feelings tended to vanish. In the past, when I’d imagined a person with credentials like his, I’d imagined someone dour and self-righteous, but he was very friendly and irreverent, and quite funny. He seemed like someone I’d like to know, and I thought that if I did my job well, a reader would feel that way, too.”

Practicing more than you preach. Living without hypocrisy. Making others feel that they can do likewise. I’ve never met Farmer or even talked with anyone who has, but his reputation remains the same. He is a man passionate about justice, about equality in health care access, about the responsibility that the healthy have to the poor. Farmer himself constantly reaffirms his confusion about the general pushback to such a simple idea. The healthy should help the unhealthy; “I mean, everybody should have access to medical care,” says Farmer. “And, you know, it shouldn’t be such a big deal."

There is deep profundity in claiming a simple truth.
Working in the Service-Learning Center is a pretty fluid gig. I have a job description that defines certain expectations and tasks to complete, but the more time I spend working, the more I recognize my position as one centered around the sharing of ideas and not the finishing of a work list. Conversations on the kingdom define my job life. We talk about segregation in our schools and systemic racism in our justice system. We talk about socioeconomic divides and Christ’s call to justly distribute wealth. We talk about ourselves, the fact that we’re college students and professionals from all over the country (and world) and, through such a blessing, have enormous responsibility to actually act through our education and work. We don’t have any answers, but we’re full of questions.
This, too, is a simple truth. I have no idea how long it will take for this country’s terrible racial and socioeconomic divides to pass, and I’m sure that I contribute to them even as I try not to. But talking about the fact that they’re here is much better than hoping they’ll disappear without anyone recognizing they’ve gone. “Everyone deserves justice,” we think and pray. “And, you know, it shouldn’t be such a big deal.” This is an essay of lament because, well, it is. It’s a big deal that the computer I’m typing these words on was pieced together with mineral wealth stolen out of the hands of slaves in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s a big deal that Ukraine is in shambles. It’s a big deal that people have to stand on the corner of the street at 28th and the Beltline to put food on the table.
So let’s practice more than we preach. Let’s live without hypocrisy. Let’s help other people do likewise. You and I are characters in the story of Christ, and that, too, is a pretty big deal.

Evans Lodge

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Service-Learning Center Photo Contest

Show us service-learning through your eyes! Submit your original pictures of service-learning and you could win $50 to the campus store!  There will be one winner for each of these categories: "ABSL" (service-learning for class), "People's Choice" ( includes spring break trips, and any other non-class related service), and "Blast from the Past" (Historic Service-Learning Center photos from past alumni.)

Submit your photos to: with "Photo Contest" in the subject line.  Please include:

  • Your name and the names of others in the picture
  • The organization you are working with, and the reason you were serving there
  • A caption (1-3 sentences) telling us the significance of the photo, how you served and/or what you learned.
All photos will be posted on the Service-Learning Center's Facebook page.  Photos will be judged both by the number of Facebook "likes" they receive, and by a small committee of judges. 

Submit as many photos as you like! The deadline is Friday, April 4th.

*If you submit photos of faces of anyone who is not a Calvin student, we will seek permission from the agency to publish that photo. Please be aware that if permission is not granted, your photo will not be eligible for the contest.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Community, Individuality, and The Lord's Prayer

It's the start of a new semester here in the S-LC, which entails the return of our weekly staff meetings Thursday night. Sitting in staff meeting this last Thursday was refreshing, as old staff, and some new faces, sat around one table. One of my favorite parts of the staff meeting is when we say The Lord's Prayer together. Our common practice is to say the prayer in whatever way we are accustomed.  This means we get everything from "debts" to"transgressions," "your kingdom" to "thy kingdom," and other slight differences to this common prayer. I love hearing all of our individual voices pray the Lord's prayer the way we were taught. My greater love, however, is hearing how all of these individual voices come together to form one communal prayer. To me, it's a great metaphor for Christian community.  We each bring our own individual spins, yet work for the same mission. At times during the prayer we describe or voice things differently, just like each of us in the office has our own views and ideas.  Even through our different ways of describing things, or our entirely different view points; however, we still come together, having the same mission in the end. It reminds me of one line in our covenant: "Fostering a community that values individuality."  Here's to growth as individuals, and as a community this semester.

Kelsey Stark
Communications Coordinator

Friday, January 24, 2014

What We Risk

January 24, 2014

What We Risk

As those assisting in ushering in God’s kingdom, we are called to awareness of the world around us. This awareness is not only academic and intellectual, but also emotional, a passionate connection to the others on this earth.
I sometimes worry that we as college students, in our pursuit of education, begin to operate like mindless drones, void of feeling, as we frantically cram our heads with facts. We distance ourselves from our subjects in our haste to find evidence, construct an argument, turn in an assignment, and forget, already dreading the next due date.
             Earlier this week, I turned into such a drone as I researched several different terms used for Americans of Mexican descent: Latino, Hispanic, Chicano, and Mexican-American. The sources I found lamented the injustices this group has suffered over the decades. Noting the theme of trials Mexican-Americans have endured, I turned to a new topic, desperate to finish my research in the small space of time I had.
             Having stumbled across the term “illegals” in my research, I decided to search for current articles that use this dehumanizing term for those who have entered the United States illegally. As I browsed through heated discussions about immigration, my drone mentality was jolted. Passion for those who face uncertain futures flooded my senses.
I remembered why I cared about immigration reform in the first place. Although there is no obvious solution, people who are affected by policy matter deeply to me. Beyond facts, beyond knowledge, beyond efficiency, regard for people should be my main concern.
           And so in all we as stewards of the earth do, we must not lose ourselves in the strained monotony of our daily lives. Rather, I hope we can remember why we work so hard, why we invest in others, why we envision a better world.
           Because at the end of the day, the ability to feel, to have a heart that breaks for others- that is what truly matters.

-Anna Lindner

Service-Learning Center Partnerships Coordinator

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Closer Look: Community Partnership Coordinators

Community. Service. Learning.  Each Residence hall at Calvin partners with one agency in Grand Rapids in a long lasting, intentional relationship that strives to work towards these things.  Students from Calvin Residence halls continue to serve and learn alongside their partner organizations for years, in an intentional two-way relationship.  The people that connect the dorm residents with their partner organizations are the Community Partnership Coordinators (CPC's) from each dorm.  This semester the CPC’s worked on activities including the ACCESS county-wide food drive, dorm service auctions (to raise money for their partnerships), and continued to lead other important work serving and learning within the Grand Rapids community. 

Fall 2013 CPC's
Boer-Bennink: Libby Schimmel
Bolt-Heyns-Timmer: Aby Nwadike
Beets Veenstra: Sarah De Vries, Sierra Slaughter
Noordewier-VanderWerp: Amber Gilliland, Matt Schanck
Rooks-VanDellen: Josi Baar, 
Schultze Eldersveld: David Potts, Abby Stapleton
Kalsbeek Huizenga Van Reken: Marissa Ritter, Anna Lindner

Access-County Wide Food Drive

BB - Cook Library Center

S-LC: What have you learned about Grand Rapids through working with your partnership?
"Through service-learning with Cook Library, I have learned so much about Grand Rapids. Surprisingly, there is more then Calvin College here! I think that it is really easy for students to get stuck in their studies on campus, but I have learned that there is so much to learn from throughout Grand Rapids. Every neighborhood in Grand Rapids is different and has something beautiful to offer. I am so thankful for the opportunity to see the beauty in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood through going to Cook Library and attending church there." -Libby Schimmel

BHT - Messiah Missionary Baptist Church

S-LC: What have you learned about Grand Rapids through working with your partnership?
"There really is an invisible line that divides the poor from the rich. You drive down one street and the houses are beautiful and big. You literally move one street over and the houses change. The color of the people usually change too."  - Abuoma Nwadike

S-LC:  -How does your service take you out of your comfort zone?
I have to work with a lot of kids who say things they shouldn't, have seen things they shouldn't, smell like cigarette smoke and aren't always clean. It pushes to think about the circumstances that led to them being there. Its also kind of hard to relate to them. A lot of their parents are divorced, remarried or single parents. From a two parent home, how do I relate? - Abuoma Nwadike

BV - Horizons

S-LC: How does your service take you out of your comfort zone?
Beets-Veenstra's dorm partnership is Horizons which is an organizations for adults with special needs. What we do as a dorm is, we have monthly events where we get to hang out with the Horizons members and play fun games and eat food. As simple as the service is, it actually puts many people outside of their comfort zones every time we have an event. Lots of people are uncomfortable in situations where they have to interact with people that are different from them, and people with special needs seem so different on the outside that it is hard for lots of people, especially students, to relate. Usually, after a conversation it is easy to see that there are common interests and a relationship is possible! Sometimes it can be really hard to strike up and carry on a conversation with a person with special needs. Sometimes people feel like they are just sitting at a table with not much to talk about and they feel very awkward and out of place. But that is okay! Service-Learning is never meant to be an easy thing. It is good for everyone to be in a situation where they are outside of their comfort zone from time to time. -Sara DeVries

KHvR - Supper House

S-LC: What memory from your service with your partnership will stick with you?
"There was one evening at Supper House when I was waitressing a large group of adults at one table. They were a particularly high-energy and talkative group; it was difficult to forget them! After I had finished serving food to them and a few other groups I was attending, I stopped by their table to see if there was anything else I could do for them. They were loud, but polite, with their replies, exclaiming that everything was good and nothing was needed at this point in their meal. I began to walk away when a man I had not paid particular attention to at that table stopped me. He pointed at the apron I was wearing. "Do you go to Calvin College?" he asked gently. I said that I did. All the waiters and waitresses wear aprons that are provided to us through Supper House. On that particular day, I had happened to pick up a black apron with "Calvin Dining Services" printed on the front. How it got at Supper House, I can only imagine, but I am glad it ended up there! The man continued to make small talk, asking me what year I was and what I was studying. After a minute or so, he asked me if I could do him a favor. "Sure," I replied. He motioned for me to come closer to him and to take a seat away from the rest of his loud table. I did so and proceeded to ask what I could do. He looked at me very seriously and with a small voice asked, "Could you pray for me?" I quickly told him that I could, of course, pray for him. I asked if there was anything in particular I could pray for and he simply said, "Everything. Especially employment." I nodded in understanding and asked if he wanted me to pray with him at that moment. Shaking his head no, he motioned me closer yet again and said so quietly that I had to lean in to hear him, "My name is...Pray for me." I gave a small smile and assured him that I would. When he and his energized table group got up to leave, he smiled slightly at me and walked out. I have not see him since, although that does not mean he has not been at Supper House since, but I continue to pray for him and whatever it may be that he is facing. I am thankful for the many ways God continues to use Supper House and the people there. And how he placed a Calvin College Dining Services apron in front of me that night to spark a simple conversation." - Marissa Ritter 

NVW - Oakdale Neighbors

S-LC: What is your favorite thing about the organization you are serving with?
 “What I like the most about Oakdale Neighbors is their flexibility and their desire to work with you. The members of Oakdale Neighbors also care for the community that they serve in.” - Matt Schanck

S-LC: What memory from your service with your partnership will stick with you?
“I think the memory that will stick with me the most is when I first went to tutor, there was a girl that could barely speak English and I was trying to help her read a book and write a reflection.”
- Matt Schanck

RVD - Baxter Community Center

"This year, RVD has had the privilege to work alongside two great organizations, Baxter Community Center and the soccer ministry through Eastern Avenue CRC. With both partnerships, the residents have the opportunity to work and play alongside the people of the community, and the conversations that occur in the process are wonderful. Spending face-to-face time with the people we serve and learn from has been the best aspect of our time with both organizations."-Josette Baar

SE - Roosevelt Park CRC

 S-LC: What memory from your service with your partnership will stick with you?
 "There was a day when only one ESL student showed up and so we all sat and talked with her and helped her with some words and phrases, but it soon turned to her talking to us completely in Spanish.  It just really reminded me how much of a learning opportunity it can be for me as it is for those students who come." - David Potts

S-LC: What have you learned about Grand Rapids through working with your partnership?

 "I feel like I've really learned how diverse Grand Rapids really is by interacting with the people from our partnership and those who come to it." - David Potts

-Kelsey Stark
Communications Coordinator