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CHEM 2010 Serving in the City

October 13, 2010
Nearly every Saturday a busload of Houghton College (NY) students drives the 65 miles from their rural New York campus to Buffalo so the college students can tutor young refugees. The Houghton students assist their chargesmany of whom have had their formal education interrupted numerous timeswith acclimating to American school culture, with homework, and with English language acquisition. The tutoring, which takes place in the refugees homes, is coordinated through Journeys End, a refugee resettlement agency.

Students on many of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) member campuses are finding ways such as this to serve people living in urban environments where needs are often multiplied and stark. The Christ-centered focus of community and academic life at CCCU schools provides a solid foundation for living with eyes and hands outward looking for ways to serve.

The nations are our neighbors

Throughout its history Houghton has had a range of missions connections around the world. Houghton grads for a century have pursued work in international settings, said Chuck Massey, professor of education and coordinator of Houghtons Buffalo-based Office for Urban Connection. What students started realizing as they worked with Journeys End is, We dont have to go across the pond to work with people from other countries. Theyre right on our doorstep.

When recently arrived refugees meet Houghton 10 graduate Anna Matejova and learn that she wasnt born in the United States either, they struggle to believe her. But you look American, they say.

Matejova was only three years old when her family emigrated from Slovakia, but she and her family know something of the isolation and other challenges refugees experience. This increases her connection with them.

Matejova began helping with Saturday tutoring her freshman year at Houghton. Eventually, she participated with other Houghton students in the summer Jump Start Program run by Buffalo Public Schools to serve refugee children. That summer she lived in the city for 10 weeks, and since graduation shes again living on Buffalos West Side, where many refugees are resettled. It was the relationships shed built that drew her back to the city after graduation.
One of 13 Houghton graduates in the inaugural cohort of the Wesley Service Corps, Matejova is living for the next year with other Corps members and working with Houghtons Office for Urban Connection to help coordinate the Saturday tutoring. She also works on ESL initiatives through Jericho Road Ministries, an organization focusing on post-resettlement services for refugees.

Organizations like Jericho Road are dependent on volunteers to make their programs a reality, explained Stephanie Lipnicki, interim executive director. Houghton has been an incredibly valuable partner in connecting us with students and graduates who are committed to global change and are ready to hit the ground running to help us make a lasting impact on Buffalos West Side.

Matejova said shes been challenged by the faith of refugees who are able to experience Gods presence even in the midst of suffering. Her faith has been sharpened as she sees God provide for people in need when their needs are things she cant help with.

Service as a way of life

Houghtons Wesley Service Corps members arent the only CCCU students and graduates taking up residence in urban neighborhoods. More than two years ago six students at Trinity International University (IL) began praying for ways to biblically and faithfully engage the opportunities and challenges of the city, asking, How do we proclaim the gospel while responding to cries rising out of poverty, including racism, inadequate education, or human trafficking?

Through a patient, prayer-informed process, the students took steps toward a ministry of presence in the city. Realizing they would never establish the incarnational presence they hoped for if they continued just coming into the community as outsiders, some of the students moved into a home in the middle of North Chicago, a community that has experienced a history of exclusion.

Community development doesnt happen according to typical student timelines, so the students vision for their adopted community is for years, even decades, of life together instead of just semesters. They hope that even if particular individuals cant stay for that long, the college community will remain invested in North Chicago for the long haul. Growing numbers of Trinity undergraduate and graduate students serve in the community through partnerships with North Chicago organizations that have an already-established history of service there.

At Dallas Baptist University (TX), campus culture is infused with a commitment to service. In recent years the university has worked hard to live out its mission to produce servant leaders who have the ability to integrate faith and learning through their respective callings.

All freshmen serve somewhere at least six hours per month during their first semester. All Christian Leadership Scholarship recipients, equating more than half the student body, also serve at least six hours per month. And each major includes at least one course that is designated as service-learning.
The result is that approximately 1000 students each month are serving in the Dallas area. The DBU community accrues more than 130,000 service hours each year, with students serving more than 100 organizations ranging from after-school programs to clothing closets to refugee support to business consultation for non-profits to arts shows and music lessons.

According to Justin Gandy, director of the Center for Service-Learning, the reflection papers required of students each month help distinguish service-learning from volunteerism and help create a deeper commitment to service.

DBU seeks to instill in students the understanding that servant leadership is first a call to Christ and flowing out of that is service that can be part of any vocation. Students take that foundation with them when they graduate. Of course, its not 100 percent, but its working, said Gandy. The graduates I hear back from its evident in their attitude and their worldview and the way they see themselves that they reflect what were trying to teach them.

Partnership makes a difference

Freshmen at Oklahoma Christian University (OK) are introduced to students from Western Village Academy, a local at-risk elementary school, before their college classes even begin. On Western Village Kite Day, held during new student orientation, the college students welcome the elementary kids to campus for a day of flying kites and eating lunch together.

Following that annual kick-off, hundreds of OC students provide weekly tutoring and mentoring to Western Village children, spending one hour each week helping them with school work and giving them one-on-one attention.

A lot of our kids have emotional problems or have a hard time socializing, said OC alumna Joy Rainey, who now teaches at Western Village. That mentor is a special person who can come and just focus time on that one student. It helps the kids emotionally, socially and academically. It makes them feel special to know they have that one person they can count on.

Often OC students keep up their mentoring relationship for longer than one year. The best way we know it has a positive effect is we have students who start the program their freshman year and dont stop until theyre finished at OC, said Neil Arter, dean of students. They keep going back because theyre seeing a difference.

Ten years ago Western Village, a charter school in the Oklahoma City public school district, was set to be closed because of abysmal test scores. The community rallied around the school, and over the course of OCs relationship with it, Western Village has made dramatic improvements.
The mentoring program is a big piece of what we need to raise our test scores. Weve made continual gains, and its a huge morale booster for our staff, Western Village Principal Peggy Brinson said.

While Nicolas Junior High School in Fullerton, Calif., wasnt closing, its sports program was, due to funding cuts. But student athletes from Hope International University (CA) have stepped in to make sure students at the lower income school can still participate in an interscholastic sports program.

In spring 2010 they offered soccer instruction and a multi-school soccer tournament. This school year volleyball has been added to the sports line-up, and HIU is working on plans to add more sports.

Students and their parents need to perceive their school as a place of enrichment and opportunity rather than as a substandard school, said Steve Edgington, dean of Pacific Christian College at HIU. Nicolass faculty and staff are wonderful, but they are not funded or staffed to provide a sports program. An added bonus is that Nicolas students get to interact with athletes who are also college students and can begin to better imagine themselves as college students.

Offering a sports program is important, said Nicolas Principal Mat Barnett. Its another point of connection to the school for children from low-income families. The more positive connections they have to the school, the more likely it is for the student to do well in school academically.

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.