USA (MNN) — Most college students are ready for a break this time of year. Thousands of young, American men and women head to hot spots like Palm Beach, Cancun, Miami, or the Bahamas to kick back, relax, and enjoy their Spring Breaks.
About 1,500 students decided to spend their time off a little differently this year, though. Rather than soaking up the sun on a beach chair in the Keys, these students spent their breaks serving the neediest of Americans in places like Milwaukee, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and New Orleans.
Josh Harper, National Coordinator for Urban Projects for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, says students went on 43 different urban projects to 19 cities investigating issues ranging from evangelism, justice, ethnic identity, ethnic reconciliation, prayer, stewardship of money, vocation and the environment.
How did students pick up on these subjects? Some from teaching and personal reflection, but mainly by experience through service.
One major project included several teams helping in ongoing Hurricane Katrina relief in New Orleans. Over the course of seven weeks, 800 students from New England traveled by bus to New Orleans to rebuild houses and serve as Christ would.
Who would take a week off from treacherous studying only to engage in rigorous physical labor? As it turns out, a lot of people.
"As we follow Jesus, [we see] that He loved and served people wherever He went, and people are excited to have that opportunity to do that," explains Harper.
Even nonbelievers are drawn to this sort of service though. "About half of those students [in New Orleans] are actually non-Christians themselves," says Harper. "There is a desire out there, I think, to give back to society–give back to a broader community."
The impact of these projects has multiple tiers. Of course, those receiving new houses in New Orleans or getting hot meals in New York City are directly blessed by the work of these young believers. But non-Christians who attend the trips are also changed. In one group of 150 students doing Katrina relief, about half were nonbelievers. By the end of the trip, 10 had committed their lives to Christ.
Furthermore, InterVarsity students are often unbelievably transformed by the week. Harper says, "It's very common for campus staff to comment that more discipleship can happen in a one week plunge than in a whole semester (or sometimes year) on campus." Students' view points shift as they experience God's call to serve the poor, widowed, and fatherless firsthand.
"They feel like their understanding of the city changes, they feel like their understanding of God's mission in the world is different, and they're really excited to be a part of what God is actually doing in the world right now," notes Harper.
The impact those students will then have as a result is immeasurable. Harper says many alumni of InterVarsity's urban plunge trips are now serving in–or even living in–inner city areas, or have careers that allow them to advocate for the marginalized.
On a more immediate basis, following urban projects, many small groups will start doing regular service, monthly or sometimes weekly. Discipleship of nonbelievers who went on the trips will also continue post-project.
InterVarsity has been hosting projects for the last eight weeks or so, overlapping with various college and university spring breaks to teach students more about Christ. As the trips come to a close, pray that students would truly be transformed who have had their world's shaken. Intercede for students who claimed Christ as their true Savior for the first time, that they may continue on in the Lord.
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