Hello all! I'm Bethany, blogging under the category of “Missions, Service, and Leadership.” I call the quaint little city of Thomasville, Alabama, my home away from Judson. This is my junior year here, and I’m an elementary education major. I plan on revealing Christ’s love in the public classroom, being a children’s librarian, working as a zoo keeper, running an orphanage, writing children’s books, and drinking a great deal of coffee. But for now, I’m just clinging to the promise that God’s not finished with me yet. Feel free to look me up on Facebook if you have any questions about Judson!
My first weeks as an intern with Sowing Seeds of Hope, a faith-based nonprofit organization here in Marion, have been wonderful and challenging. But, for me, this is the most challenging and surprising element of a summer ministry opportunity:
Much of my job as an intern is to do whatever needs to be done. And I LOVE that! If a mission group needs a ladder to work on a home in the area, I get to call local people and then call the people who know those people in search of a ladder. If someone runs out of water, needs directions, or forgot to drop the plywood off at the other construction site…I get to hop in the car with my supervisor, visit the mission groups, and get them what they need. I rarely see the office, I’ve met so many new faces in Marion, and I’m already enjoying reconnecting with some of the kids in town that I met last summer (more about that later).
All of the “running around” is exciting, and taking care of even the smallest things reminds me of my value in Christ and His purpose in Marion, but I never really realize that until the end of the week…on a quiet Sunday evening when I, honestly, have nothing to do.
Student.Go, the student mission board that partners with Sowing Seeds of Hope, really stresses one thing about serving in a summer ministry:
I’ve come to have a love-hate relationship with the idea of reflection because this activity of pausing and dissecting has proven to be the most revealing element of my summer thus far. Student.Go has challenged all of its summer participants to read Psalm 23 each week and reflect on some specific questions related to the daily life of service, and one of the first week’s questions really struck me.
Are you listening for God in whispers or shouts?
Pretty difficult to think about, right? It has been for me. We all have communication problems, but I’ve never even considered the communication problems I have with God. Often times, at the end of the day I lie in by bed, fighting sleep, and pour into pages and pages of my journal trying to explain my life to God. During daily challenges or life-altering moments we all, I think, yearn for God’s guidance and wonder why we can’t hear Him. Sometimes I even feel guilty for not waking up earlier or coming home sooner to have some momentous quiet time with God. Not that that alone time isn’t important…but I still wonder.
Am I listening for God in whispers or shouts?
Today seems like an appropriate day to consider something new and to commit to listening more closely. So far I’ve heard whispers of patience as I tutor a local student who has Down syndrome and shouts of perspective and understanding as I encounter the new faces of those who are drastically different than me. I’ve learned the importance if Godly influence from observing the subtle actions and words of ministers and friends in the area, and I’ve had to face myself, encountering the lies I allow myself to believe about God, service, and Marion.
The summer is just getting started, and I know that there is much left for me to learn and reflect upon…I’m looking forward to sharing even more of both the whispers and shouts that I encounter this summer.
“We do not exist for ourselves alone, and
it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love
ourselves properly and thus also love others. What do I mean by loving
ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a
very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because
of what it enables us to give to others.”
No Man is an Island
Thursday, May 19th,
brought about an opportunity to participate in tornado relief work in
Sawyerville, Alabama. I, along with five other five other Judson girls, one
service learning director, and two Judson professors, loaded up in a school van
and traveled the thirty or so miles to Hale County. When we first arrived at
the Sawyerville Relief Center, I thought that the work we were planned to do
would be minor. I hadn’t seen any damage during the drive in, and I began to
let myself feel a bit of relief in hopes that I wouldn’t see too much damage
during the day. But stopping at the relief center wasn’t our only stop for the
Our guide led us down a few curvy
roads, and past some workers moving trees and other debris out of the road, to
a plot of land covered in piles and piles of…junk.
I tried to prepare
myself before I stepped out of the van.
fellow students seemed excited to be able to help, but I couldn’t get that, “How
did someone ever live here?” sinking feeling in my stomach to go away.
We began to work, picking up large and
small pieces of the mobile home that had been destroyed, and the idea of
helping became easier. After a few moments of this physical labor, I was able
to see this task of cleaning up as just that…a task. I helped lift pieces of
the roof off of the ground, raked up piles of insulation, and carried small loads
of debris to a trash pile near the main road.
though, we Judson girls began to come across more than just debris from the
destroyed mobile home. We found birthday cards, photos, report cards, and other
odds and ends that reassured us all that someone had, indeed, lived there. In
the midst of dealing with such devastation, I can truly say that my heart goes
out to this family who has lost so much.
As I carried debris to the edge of the
road, I knew that these people had lost a house. But as I looked through the
photos, cards, letters, and other personal items, I was reminded that they had
also lost a home.
This was more than the pile of junk I
saw when we first pulled into the site.
I can’t imagine how it must have felt for the family member
who showed up to work alongside us as she swallowed that, “My family used to
live here,” feeling in her throat. I can only hope that the personal belongings
we salvaged will offer some sort of hope and comfort to the family members
affected as their lives return to “normal” after these storms.
Even though I can usually be found
trying to strike up a conversation to offer some words of comfort and
encouragement in situations like these, I wasn’t brave enough to talk to this
woman on Thursday. I’m thankful that my Judson friends and professors were
there to minister to her in this way…because I just couldn’t handle it. Like
anyone, I’ve experienced loss. In the past few years, friends have died, family
situations have been difficult, and things in my life have gone through drastic
changes. But I had no context for understanding this type of devastation, and I
can only hope that the few hours of work I contributed, along with the prayers
I continue to offer, will somehow assist this family as they begin the journey
of starting over.
This service-learning experience has
reminded me to see people as people, and much like Merton’s words in the
opening quote, I am reminded that people are not designed to be alone. The
experience of serving a hurting family in the most practical way that I can
imagine, by helping them pick up the pieces and begin again, has been a
humbling experience that has truly taught me to love myself properly by “accepting
life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us,
but because of what it enables us to give to others.”
You wouldn’t think
that there would be any danger in going to a small private college like Judson.
It’s a safe place in a safe neighborhood surrounded by loving, Christian
people. Literally…the homes surrounding campus are those of our professors, and
there are about five churches within walking distance of the school. Strangely
enough, this is where the danger lies. We Judson girls often joke around about
being inside the“Judson
bubble.”It’s too easy to get so
caught up in this school and all of its activities that you really do forget
about the outside world sometimes. I suppose this is typical of any college
student. I’m young, I’m on my own, and at the end of the day, the only person I
really have to worry about taking care of is myself.
But that doesn’t
make it okay, and this thought is not exactly one that comforts me as I lay my
head down on a soft pillow in a warm dorm room. You can see the threat here,
yes? Fortunately, the first week of Christmas break brought about an
opportunity to escape this peril of typical college kid syndrome.
Truly, I say to you, as
you did it to one of the least of thesemy brothers,you
did it to me.
This verse and mission work is at the very core of Judson. The college is
even named after missionaries to Burma…the Judsons. Students travel to the ends
of our nation and even our world every year to spread the Good News, and serve
“the least of these” in every location imaginable. This Christmas break a group
of about thirty students, along with some pretty amazing adults (the parents of
Judson junior, Laura Hyer) decided to serve those right here in Marion, just as
we’re commanded. Working under a Perry County organization known as Sowing
Seeds of Hope, we were able to reach out to the people of this small Alabama
town by building homes in a fashion that is very similar to the well-known
Habitat for Humanity. All of the girls worked hard painting, putting up dry
wall, and crawling around in small spaces to insulate these homes.
While this week was a huge success and soon there will be several brand new homeowners
in Marion, the most important happenings of this mission are more underlying. I
think the work we did during this week caught the attention of the city. It’s
kind of like we were saying, “We’re here, and we care, and we’re going to do
whatever we can to help and serve you.” Seated in a county that is one of the
most impoverished in the country, Judson students have the privilege, the
responsibility, and the mission to serve this city. Throughout the week prayers
and ideas for future projects were coming from every direction, and just as the
theme for 2009’s Marion Matters…greater things are still to come.
Now that things are moving again
here at Judson, I feel like I need to slow down and think about everything that
has gone on the week and a half we’ve all been back. My classes are going very
well. Chemistry, medical terminology, and math are going to require a pretty
good bit of studying, but I enjoy learning about the sciences. I’m taking
Sociology online, and it seems pretty easy so far. All I have to do is e-mail
my professor an essay based on the reading assignments every other week. My
Western World Literature class is fabulous! I just love reading ancient Egyptian
poetry, epic stories about heroes and monsters, and any other type of classic
literature.Even though I do enjoy
my classes, the highlight of my first week back at Judson has definitely been
Marion Matters is a campus-wide
community service blitz that the office of service-based learning organizes for
the first Friday of every fall term. Our community service coordinator spends
tons of time calling different organizations in Marion and asking if there is
anything we Judson girls can do for them.By the Wednesday or Thursday before Marion Matters is scheduled to take
place, sign up sheets are placed in our dining hall with descriptions of the
different projects. Last week there were a total of fifteen projects to choose
from. Some of the options included visiting the nursing home and just spending
time with some of the residents, reading to preschoolers at Marion Academy,
painting for a local church, and building homes with a new self-help housing
project in Marion. There were plenty more to choose from, and there’s always
something for everyone!
The group I worked with went to
Perry Lakes Park,
located just a few miles away from campus. The park has
several walking trails, about 600 acres of forest, and four lakes that
formed when the Cahaba River changed its channel over 150 years ago.
a beautiful place for residents of Marion and students of Judson to
wonderful creation, and Judson girls have been keeping the park running
for years. During Marion Matters, Dr. Wilson, the biology professor
for the college, led my group in mulching different areas of the park,
up litter, and we even got an informational tour along the way. Some of
girls in the group climbed the 100 ft. birding tower for the first
they literally got a bird’s eye view of Perry Lakes.