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CHEM 2010 - Academic Programs Provide Foundation for Service
Christian Higher Education Month (CHEM)
CHEM 2010 - Academic Programs Provide Foundation for Service
October 06, 2010
Currently the language of social justice abounds. As do good intentions for helping people in need. Service to community is very much in vogue. Increasingly, though, people on the front lines are recognizing that uninformed good intentions can sometimes do more harm than good, perpetuating societal ills and injustices instead of stamping them out.
In response, some Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) member schools are using their academic contexts to equip their students intellectually for service to those in need. From their faith-rooted perspective to the liberal arts education they offer, CCCU campuses are uniquely positioned to bring light to the challenge of helping people in need.
Academics and Practitioners Unite
Chalmers Center for Economic Development
in Lookout Mountain, Ga., is a research and training center that equips churches and missionaries to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of the poor.
We believe that how one conceives of the problem of poverty conceptually and theologically has profound implications for how one goes about solving that problem, explains Brian Fikkert, executive director of the Chalmers Center and professor of economics at Covenant. Theres a role for academic reflection on the nature of the poverty problem.
The Chalmers Center describes poverty as a set of broken relationships, not just a lack of material things, and explains that alleviating poverty must focus on healing broken relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. The Center believes Jesus Christ is the only one who can give the poor the dignity, hope and power they need to restore them to being what God created them to be.
Fikkert says the missionaries and practitioners the Chalmers Center engages through training also teach. Their knowledge flows back into the Chalmers Center staffs research and back into the classes they teach for Covenants community development major, creating a vibrant learning community.
For Fikkert an unexpected byproduct of working with the Chalmers Center has been an increased commitment to the liberal arts. We have found that combining an interdisciplinary team from different facets of liberal arts and engaging them in solving real world problems has been a really rich experience. Life is multi-faceted, and poverty is multi-faceted.
Assessing Real Needs
Trevecca Nazarene University (TN)
in Nashville, Tenn., launched the
Morsch Center for Social Justice
to equip students to identify and address social issues using biblical principles. With the Centers formation, Trevecca has begun offering a major and a minor in social justice.
Like the community development program at Covenant, Treveccas social justice program has an interdisciplinary curriculum. Jamie Casler, director of the Center for Social Justice, says that as far as he knows Trevecca is the only school offering an undergraduate major in social justice, though other schools offer social justice concentrations within majors.
Students in the program learn how to assess communities they are seeking to help, discovering such characteristics as a communitys strengths, its power brokers, and its real needs. We often enter into situations of service looking through our middle class eyeglasses to identify what we think is the problem, and then we try to address the issue with middle class solutions, says Casler.
Through the educational process, we learn how to approach a community in need and begin the helping process by asking: What do the people living in this community identify as issues to be addressed, and how would they attempt to solve these issues?
This approach acknowledges the value, dignity, and worth of the people in the community being served and empowers them to bring about the change they desire. The more ownership community members have, the more likely it is that change will be sustainable.
In addition to the academic program, the Center for Social Justice serves the local community through the Neighborhood Empowerment Program, which provides training and resources to area non-profits as well as connecting Trevecca students to service opportunities through the Nashville non-profit community.
This is part of our responsibility as Christians: to help empower those who are oppressed, says Casler. Its important that a program like this is housed at a Christian university because its through the redemptive work of Christs resurrection on the cross that we are transformed into a right relationship with Christ and called to take this redemptive work into the world.
Learning in the City
Students in the
spend a semester interning in the Windy City, learning how to engage the needs of urban environments and how to be the people of God in an urban setting. The off-campus program was started in 1974 by six Christian colleges in the Midwest. Now students from nine other campuses also enroll in the program. The participating CCCU schools are
Calvin College (MI)
Dordt College (IA)
Northwestern College (IA)
Trinity Christian College (IL)
Cornerstone University (MI)
Judson University (IL)
Spring Arbor University (MI)
In addition to internships in a wide range of settings, students take seminars with such titles as Diversity and Inequality in Global Chicago; Religion and Urban America; Community Building; and Personal Calling and Social Conscience. All of the aspects of the programfrom internship to classroom to living in the city to learning the needs of Chicagos diverse neighborhoodscome together in the practicum group experience where students reflect on and process what theyre absorbing as they navigate urban immersion.
Though its the new reality of the 21st century, students arent prepared for a world thats becoming more global, urban, and multi-cultural, says Clinton Stockwell, executive director of Chicago Semester, so the program guides students into better preparation for working within a culture very different from the rural Midwestern one most of them are from.
Among key skills students learn is how to celebrate diversity instead of running from it and how to honor others for who they are even if they dont agree with them. This translates into being better equipped to serve people in need despite their differences.
Reflecting a belief that every square inch of the earth belongs to the Creator, the Chicago Semester guides students to look for ways to extend Gods presence in the public realm, practicing compassion and pursuing social justice in the transformation of society.
Engaging the plurality of urban cultures has broadened our faith perspective, and we hope deepens it as well, says Stockwell.
The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 185 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. There are now 110 member campuses in North America and all are fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 75 affiliate campuses from 24 countries are part of the CCCU. The Councils mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help its institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth.
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