Service Reflections

This past week for spring break, I traveled to Macon, GA on an Alternative Service Break (ASB) trip with eight other BU students and a staff member chaperone. We left Boston bright and early (or I suppose it was dark and early) on Saturday morning at 5 am for the 20+ hour drive. We—along with another ASB trip—stayed the night in North Carolina in a house with three kids, four cats, and a dog that somehow also had room and food for 20 college students. This was the beginning of a constant stream of hospitality, welcome, and an overabundance of food that we would experience over the course of the week. Every evening during our group reflection time, someone would comment on how welcomed and supported they felt by the community. We spent our days working with Rebuilding Macon, an organization that repairs the homes of elderly and disabled folks in the community. We painted a house, helped install new windows, built a fence, and constructed a wheelchair ramp. In a world of daunting systemic problems, our work may not seem significant but it was energizing to talk to the homeowners and see that our small actions meant the world to them.

For me, this week was exactly what I needed—without my computer or phone and surrounded by people who had previously been complete strangers to me, it was a total break from school and personal obligations, news and politics, thinking about the future and constantly straining to discern my call. That’s not to say it was a carefree week—we spent a lot of our time confronting and grappling with racism, sexism, poverty, privilege, stereotypes, and sustainability—but it allowed me to take a step back and look at things from a new angle.

One thing this week confirmed for me was how much I want service to be a regular part of my life. In conversations with my fellow group members, it was so refreshing that service was such a natural choice for them and I loved that we could engage in such deep discussion about important topics despite only knowing each other for a few days. It was also interesting to see how religion did or did not intersect with service. For me, my service grows out of my faith and my sense of call to serve others. I may not explicitly think about God when I engage in service but I think my upbringing in the church and volunteering with church groups and faith-based organizations is what has most shaped me to be the kind of person who wants to engage in service. But that is not the case for others. Some engage in service because they think it’s just the right thing to do. Others serve because they can’t sit idly by when they see injustices or problems in society. One member of our group came on the trip because they had never volunteered before and wanted to see what it was all about.

These differing motivations for why people engage in service had never really come to the front of my mind before but it did this week as we entered a very vocally Christian area of the country. We slept at a Baptist church and on Wednesday night, members of the church hosted us for dinner. We enjoyed talking to them and at the end of the dinner, various members of the church offered us advice—be true to yourself, follow your passion, continue to serve others. Each of these pieces of advice were followed by some version of ‘trust in God and his plan for you.’ Once I got past the overabundance of masculine pronouns for God and my slight twinge of discomfort at knowing that several members of our group did not identify as Christian, I started thinking about how these church members saw our service as a natural extension of an assumed Christian faith. Throughout the week, we talked in our group reflections about how our interactions with people had challenged our stereotypes and assumptions about people in the south and we also wondered if we were challenging local assumptions about millennial college students from the northeast.

At the church dinner, I wondered what the church members would think if they knew that not all of us were Christian or that we disagreed with the message that was sent by the abundance of pamphlets the church kept on display about homosexuality and other ‘sins’. On the one hand, it was beautiful to see all the connections that we made with these people and the pleasant conversations that we had but on the other hand, it was discouraging that we could only have those conversations when we carefully avoided all political and religious topics.

Needless to say, I still have a lot to process from this past week, but one thing I’ve been holding on to is that, despite our differences we were united with the church members, the local volunteers, and those at Rebuilding Macon by a desire to serve the community. For the homeowners we helped, it didn’t matter why we had felt drawn to service. All that mattered was that we were there, working and laughing and building together.

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