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 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"What does practicing resurrection mean to you?"

"What does practicing resurrection mean to you?"...This is tricky. While writing our covenant we searched long and hard for something to counterbalance, “We practice resurrection,” looking carefully for a phrase that recognizes the uncertainty that comes implicit in faith. It isn’t that I don’t want to practice resurrection or am completely incapable of ever doing so; the issue is that I’m not sure what it even looks like. Hence, “we don’t know what will be.” I shuffle between the two on a daily basis, at times feeling absolutely rooted in the truth of Christ and his resurrection while at others feeling completely isolated and alone, stuck in a system that emphasizes doubt and uncertainty above all. But resurrection remains even when I can’t see it, and that’s the beauty of it all. Practicing resurrection is practicing a heartfelt and others-focused search for the Lord. Maybe some day I’ll be able to answer the question after having found and embraced Him with all that I have, but for now the search is all I’ve got. Practicing resurrection is looking for Jesus in the faces of peers, faculty, friends, family, and the woman who comes knocking on my back door at 2:00am looking for food. Practicing resurrection is looking for a beautiful, simple truth underneath the layers of muck that surround me. I might not find it all the time, but that’s why it’s a practice. Some day I’ll be better.

-Evans Lodge
ABSL Natural Sciences & Math

Friday, November 15, 2013

on beauty.

The English 395: Senior Seminar curriculum attempts to cover all the major questions of the discipline: the right use of language, ethical limits on writing, the nature of knowledge, what counts as literature, hermeneutics, the high brow. This week, we've been talking about beauty.

Elaine Scarry, professor of Aesthetics at Harvard, wrote our text: a short treatise called On Beauty and Being Just. Beauty, she argues, has ethical significance. It matters for how we live in the world. Beauty prompts us toward justice.

Beauty is preexistent; it is in the world without any action on the part of humankind. It does not rely on us for its being; we may create beauty, but we are "only collaborators in a much vaster project," which sounds a lot like shalom to me.

"Beauty is a call," available to our sensory perception in a way justice is not, characterized by symmetry, and generously present to all people at almost all times. When we experience it, we undergo what Scarry calls "radical de-centering." We are surprised into giving up our imaginary position at the center of the world and following the motion of beauty toward a presence beyond our own, which Scarry doesn't call Christ, but I do. Confronted with beauty, we are humbled. We are moved to create. And we are moved toward creating justice that mimics the equality and generosity of beauty. Beauty is a single mark that we are not entirely selfish creatures; we wish to protect even paintings we will never see and mountains we may never visit.

The book's philosophical underpinnings were widely debated in capstone this morning, but all of us were moved, and this in a class brimming with opinionated writers, linguists, philosophers, historians, marketers and poets. We approached the conversation with the strange, compelling reverence native to art museums and cathedrals. Beauty matters, and we had been reminded.

In gray days of paper-writing and coffee-drinking, on mornings when I am late for school or forget my lunch, on long evenings in a cold house, I am reminded to look for beauty and to practice it. I will be generous with myself and with others and the world, and I will create justice in response to loveliness that bids me "attend to the aliveness of our world." I am blessed to know a beautiful God, who calls me to this.

[katie van zanen]