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Christian Union
October 15, 2013

Students Serve ... and Learn

About 70 students from top-tier universities gathered in Manhattan to participate in Christian Union's fourth spring-break trip for undergraduates involved in affiliated Christian leadership development ministries.

The trip offered seven major service projects, including three focused on relief efforts in hurricane-battered Rockaway Beach and one providing crisis pregnancy intervention and support.

"The students really appreciated opportunities to serve," said Teal McGarvey, a ministry fellow at Harvard University. "A lot of these students   will end up in New York at some point, and it's important they understand the city and how they can influence its culture for Christ."

Students from Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale universities participated in the trip, which was held March 16 to 22.

"I wanted to spend my spring break doing some sort of service. Working with a ministry that emphasized God's role in community service appealed greatly to me," said Kate Maffey, Princeton '16.

"It was not always fun or enjoyable work. At times, it was frustrating. But, with prayer and surrounded by fellow Christians, I was able to see how it was important in God's plan."

The spring venture allowed students to get a taste of New York City through hands-on service projects. They expanded their leadership skills by engaging with the city's multi-cultural residents and fellow believers.

"I saw the trip as an opportunity to share Christ's love and to grow through meaningful, Christ-centered experiences." -- Allan Marube, Princeton '16

Among the more popular projects for the week, some students chose to volunteer with Operation Exodus Inner City, an organization that serves underprivileged children in the Washington Heights community. While much of their efforts centered on tutoring children in the organization's after-school program, the undergraduates also staged "Praise Time," high-energy worship sessions involving singing and dancing.

"It was really rewarding," said Christian Union Intern Dave Kurz, Princeton '12. "A lot of the kids needed help with homework. They were very energetic."

Among other projects, students helped distribute meals at the New York City Rescue Mission, while others served at The Bowery Mission.

Allan Marube, Princeton '16, was especially touched while serving as a student leader at the New York City Rescue Mission.

"Working in a homeless shelter, it dawned on me that there is much to unlearn and much to learn again. In my service to the homeless, I saw vividly that there were certain things I could not do. The food, I could prepare, but the broken heart, I could not mend," said Marube, a native of Kenya.

Marube said he realized, ultimately, only God can impart life, joy, and peace to the downtrodden. "I saw the trip as an opportunity to share Christ's love and to grow through meaningful, Christ-centered experiences," he said.

As for outreaches, about 20 students ventured to Central Park one afternoon to conduct spiritual surveys that led to opportunities for them to share their faith.
"We were able to articulate our faith," said Kurz. "We really tried to meet people where they were and engage with them."

While the students primarily focused on service opportunities, they also took time to attend a working professional's vocational panel, and participate in worship services across the city.

Brian Zhang, Harvard '15, said he especially benefitted from hearing about the work experiences of the Christians on the vocational panel. "This was an inspiring chance for me to think through how my own work can be glorifying to God," said Zhang.

As well, Zhang said he appreciated the opportunity to participate in an early morning prayer meeting of area businessmen. "It reminded me of God's presence, even in a bustling city like New York," he said.

Likewise, "a highlight of this trip was interacting with the vibrant and diverse Christian community in New York City," said Zhang, a physics major from California.

Not surprisingly, students also took time to enjoy Manhattan's immense wealth of culture, history, and entertainment. Sightseeing activities included the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, and Central Park. The group worshipped on Sunday morning at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. The experiences helped to underscore New York City's reputation as a culture shaper for the nation, and even the world.

Overall, they were especially touched by the opportunities for bonding. Fostering a sense of Christian identity among students of its leadership development ministries is a key goal of Christian Union, which anticipates these future leaders will need to encourage one another and coordinate efforts as they seek to bring a godly influence to culture.

"They enjoyed coming together and serving in very concrete ways. They really enjoyed meeting other Christians from other campuses," said Jesse Peterson, a ministry fellow at Columbia University. "They quickly became a family."

Ryan Spaude, Princeton '16, best summed up the mission of the trip. "You do not have to go to a foreign country to do mission work," he said. "The need is in your own country and your own backyard."