A handful of Anderson University and AU School of Theology students will travel to two of our nation’s largest cities in May to serve and minister among those in need. Students who have participated in past urban ministry trips, which occur every other year, say it is a life-changing experience.
Dr. James Lewis, associate dean of the School of Theology and professor of theology and ethics, has led this urban ministry trip eight times and will lead one this summer as well. He enjoys participating in the trips to New York City and Washington, D.C. and seeing the experience change students for the better. “It is a great opportunity to learn more about the world that God has created and the significance of diversity,” he said.
[Photo: Dr. James Lewis (far right) and students participating in the 2009 urban ministry trip cross the Brooklyn Bridge during a prayer walk.]
The urban ministry trip is a three-week course worth three credit hours. The first week after finals in May, participating students attend a week of class to learn about the dynamics they will experience in the cities. The students then travel to New York City for the second week and serve in Washington, D.C., the third.
While in New York City and Washington D.C., the group works with the Center for Student Missions, which organizes all of the mission sites for the team in both cities. The trip typically begins with a prayer walk through the city. The team then serves at a variety of mission sites, including soup kitchens, after-school programs, food pantries, and night classes that teach English as a new language.
Students often find that in the process of ministering to others, they are ministered to as well. “I learned about patience and compassion,” said Erin Kennedy, a senior Christian ministries major who participated in the 2009 trip. “I learned more about the person I was and who I wanted to be, and it really did change me for the better.”
“I learned that a person’s attitude is so important. No matter who you are dealing with, people are drawn to a positive attitude,” said Josh Lentscher, a junior biology major who also participated in 2009. “I have learned compassion for the poor, yet still struggle with how best to meet their needs.”
Junior art major Katie Price also went on the 2009 trip. “Having to work in a variety of environments and unfamiliar areas stretched me and often forced me out of my comfort zone. It was probably the most strenuous two weeks I have ever experienced, but it allowed me to gain a whole new perspective,” she said. “It especially made me realize how necessary it is to not only be conscious of global issues, but also remember the needs that exist in our own cities and neighborhoods in the United States.”
[Photo: The 2009 urban ministry group traveled primarily by subway while in New York City.]
Even though Dr. Lewis has been on this trip multiple times, the experience is always unique for him. “You learn to minister to others where they are, not where you hope they would be. By promoting discipleship, we can begin breaking down walls and enter the lives of others,” he said. “You always learn about yourself and the hidden fears and prejudices you have. It can be surprising to learn how you feel about certain things.”
The trip may be a new and challenging encounter for some, but the students who have already experienced it agree that it was one of the best decisions they made. “I think that any student can benefit from this experience and really gain a greater understanding of poverty and homelessness in America,” said Lentscher.
“It gives you a new perspective, especially if you have lived in the Midwest your whole life,” said Price. “This trip allows you to truly experience what ministry can look like outside the four walls of the church.”
— Alyssa Applegate is a junior from Dayton, Ohio, majoring in communication arts and minoring in Spanish. Applegate is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™, writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2010, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the seventh consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.