Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Service-Learning: the HYPEN and what's on both sides

Some days I am amazed at how easy, yet difficult it is to understand the basic concept of the work our office does. Service-learning. It's a 2-fold concept. I mean, is it really that complicated? There's the one part: SERVICE and then the second part: LEARNING.

In my recent ponderings of what service-learning really is and the work of our office, I came up with this somewhat poetic rant that brings to light my recent desire to overemphasize the 'learning' piece of our work:

we are not just 'do-gooders'
we are kingdom-builders who know that we are just a small part of a big, big project that only God can complete
just everyday workers taking part in His big renewal project

we are not just 'doers' and givers
we are learners and takers

we don't go for praise
we don't go just to make ourselves look good
we go to grow and learn
we go to give and see

we go with curiosity and intent to be awakened
to something new, something hard, something broken
we go as an expression of our faith
we go to bring hope and light

After writing this, I realized that all too often we forget to also define service. While trying to emphasize the learning piece that makes service-learning so distinct from volunteering, it became evident that not often enough do we break down what is on BOTH sides of the hyphen. If I were to reason as to why that is, I feel as if it would be because service is something so inherent to many of us. I don't think it unfair to assume that we have all heard the term 'service' before. What's interesting is that our background and understanding of the term might differ from what the person next to us is thinking. That said, think about something for a minute. Think about all the places we hear and use the term/idea of 'service': military service, worship service, customer service, public service, volunteer service, community service, service provider, service center, answering service, public servants, postal service, service professions, table service, funeral service. That's a pretty decent list if you ask me.
So while we all may have different backgrounds, thoughts, and experiences that define our version of service, the one thing in common is that all these kinds of service involvethinking beyond our selves. It involves doing something for the common good and/or for another person.

And guess what? agrees! This web source defines service/to serve as "to help, to give, to assist, to be useful, to supply with aid or information, duty performed to/for another, to act as a servant, something done for public benefit without regard to personal direct benefit."

Now I know most people (myself included) can think of a point in time when we didn't want (or maybe didn't even know how) to think outside ourselves. We were our own world and that world was the most important one. When that's the case, we needed encouragement and we needed someone brave enough to push us into a situation that could remind us that there is more to this world that 'me' and what 'I want' and what 'I need'. This is why I seriously love our StreetFest and ABSL programs - because they get people started on the journey of living as a true servant of Christ.

This got me thinking about the connection between what contexts we have grown up hearing about service and the way we apply it to how we think about service-learning.

For example, one context some of us may be heavily influenced by is the concept of service as 'community service' - as something that someone on probation must complete in order to be relieved from a more harsh punishment by the judge or as a good work someone does to make up for something bad they've done. When we let this context of service influence our view of service, we fall into the mindset that volunteering is something we do 'because we have to' in order to make up for past wrongs (past sins or past wrong doings to a people group or neighborhood).

Another way we often view service is in the context of worship. We attend worship services at which we engage in communication with other believers and with God. We enter the space and choose to open our hands and hearts to give and receive love and fellowship. When this concept and way of thinking about service is applied to volunteering we begin to see service as an act of worship, rather than a requirement. Serving in this mindset is an expression and outpouring of our faith - we choose to do it. We serve and give of ourselves to others because Christ first gave himself for us. He thought beyond himself and what he wanted and what would be easiest for him to what the world and all of us sinners needed.

'Voluntary service' is yet another term and context we commonly use to think about serving. While I think that many people would argue that 'voluntary service' is an oxymoron of sorts, I am not afraid to disagree. Not all service is voluntary; or rather, not all service is done out of free will. The reality is that sometimes we are forced to give our time and energy. We don't want to do it. We grumble, we complain, we show up and do what we have to do so that we can go home. The mind blowing piece here is that true service - service where we are joyfully engaged and seeking out opportunities to learn and grow and interact - is the real voluntary kind. The rest is just a kick off to the real thing as our hearts become pushed toward change - motivated and humbled to think beyond ourselves.

In summary, I guess the point of all this writing that I'm doing is to remind us that every piece of the phrase 'service-learning' is important and meaningful - the 'service', the 'learning', and the hyphen that joins the image together in a beautiful connection.

Peace and Blessings Always,

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Week to Remember

Believe it or not, we are now three weeks post-spring break. It all seems to have gone so fast, and there are even times what I forget that it ever happened because it seems so short in the grand scheme of time. Hearing the stories and experiences of others has been wonderful, but I can’t help but feel that my trip was the best (doesn’t everyone think that, though?) I had originally thought I would spend this time talking about my experiencing with coordinating the trips, but I find myself instead drawn to talk about my own service-learning trip to New Mexico.

The “service” part of the trip was to promote higher education to Native American students: we visited many schools and talked with many students, but it is hard to know if our presentations actually sparked any interest in the possibility. For me, the “learning” part of the trip was exponential. I was blessed to see learn, see, and participate in some of the Navajo and Zuni traditions, language, and culture; see and hike the magnificent beauty of the landscape (three times!); and to hear individual stories of challenge, hope, and inspiration. No words can explain the incredible and dumb-founded awe I within for the entire 8-day trip and no number of pictures or stories can detail how life-changing the experience was.

Due to delayed flights, our group missed our last flight from Phoenix to Albuquerque on the first day. Instead, we (well, Noah) made the 5-hour drive to Gallup. This initial test of flexibility was one of the greatest things that could have happened for us. The drive was crowded, long, and a blast of making life-long friends. I probably will never forget listening and singing to Disney in the backseat with Alicia, getting pulled over by a Navajo cop, or trying to capture the “perfect” picture of a cactus.

And don’t even get me started on our group’s addiction to the card game Monopoly Deal… seriously… like, we still get together when we can just to play… it’s a problem.

So what did I learn? Well, here’s just a quick few points:
  • Berniz likes her Starbucks. Seriously. She would get it 24/7 if she could. And I’m not exaggerating.
  • New Mexico is beautiful! The colors, weather, and landscape just scream the glory of God’s creation. I wish I could sell my house and car, and just roam/hike its desert landscape for the rest of my life.
  • I don’t have to leave the United States to experience a new culture. Before spring break, I was sure that I would travel abroad and teach to teach in new cultures. It turns out that I don’t have to leave the United States for such an experience. Who knew? There is so much diversity and need here in the United States, whether it is acknowledged or not. We don’t need to travel abroad (and spend thousands of dollars) to have that eye-opening experience our society promotes. Now, I’m struggling because I have no idea whether God is calling me abroad or not. I’ll just have to wait and see where He takes me.
  • There are so many good people in this world. We spoke with dozens of people who have dedicated their lives to serving in a community with high need that pays less than other places. Their love, compassion, and dedication to community are wonderful stories of God’s active presence in our world. They are my idols!
  • I’ve made some incredible friends. You can’t experience something like these and not feel eternally connected to those who walked beside you in this process. In fact, we are currently planning a trip to Frederik Meijer Gardens, just for kicks and giggles. If nothing else, our addiction to Monopoly Deal will keep us together. Sam, Noah, Alicia, Berniz, Nikita, Tonisha: I love you all so much and I think of you as my family. Thank you for making this trip so great!
  • There is so much about Native American culture that is not being shared with the dominant society today. My sheltered little world seems to be shrinking relative to the diversity of the world around me. I had no idea that there were so many Native Americans around today, and I certainly had no knowledge of their culture. Guess what: just because they live on a reservation does not mean that they live in teepees! It’s sad that this was news to me.

So if it’s not clear yet, spring break was wonderful. Life-changing? Yes. Fun? You betcha. Challenging? Without a doubt. Would I do it again? Well, duh! As we drove away from Gallup, where we stayed, I assured myself that my experience was not over. I was not saying “good-bye” to New Mexico, but “see you later.” Someday I will return, whether that’s when I’m retired or in 1.5 years when I graduate. God’s hands were not with us on this trip. God was with us on this trip. 


Monday, April 1, 2013

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   spring break trips, ABSL (service-learning for class), and most "liked" on the SLC facebook page (can be absolutely anything related to service-learning).  

Submit your photos to with "Photo Contest" in the subject line.  Please include:  
  • your name and the names of others in your picture
  • the organization you're 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.  
Submit as many photos as you like!  Deadline is April 17.  
*If you submit photos of the 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.