Travel, Learn, & Serve: Firsthand Stories From Service-Learning Trip Adventures

Micah van Dijk

As Student Life prepares for several reading break trips during the 2014-2015 academic year, below are the reflections of three students who have attended a Reading Break trip in the past.  

Alanah Palmer – Nashville, Tennessee

I had the opportunity to be a part of Redeemer’s Service and Learning trip to Nashville, Tennessee. One of the highlights of my trip was the Music City Roots radio broadcast that we attended at the Loveless Café. We heard different bands from the South in styles ranging from bluegrass to folk. It was refreshing to hear a collection of the special music that has grown out of that area. It was a couple hours of great fun between the team and show hosts with their thickly accented banter. 

I also enjoyed talking to a few recording artists and young people involved in the music world of Nashville, hearing about how they find the balance between faith and pop culture.  

However, I think the most impactful part for me was visiting a group of Nashville residents called People Loving Nashville. Their mission is to cook meals for about 150 people on a weekly basis, as well as supply basic necessities such as clothing, toiletries and towels. We joined them one evening to help cook up and serve chicken fajitas and conversation. I wrote in my journal afterward: “I am not always a fan of street ministry etc., but I like how People Loving Nashville does it. It’s a weekly event, so there is a level of support, as well as relationship. They interact with those they’re serving and strive to make them feel like individuals, not just another body in another line. The people I served by handing out clothing were all so thankful and generous. THEY’RE HUMANS TOO! I helped several sweet ladies pick out hats that they liked, chatted with one guy about Canada, Justin Bieber and Miley, and I laughed a lot.”

Anthony Ramuscak – Hamilton, Ontario

When we turn on the evening news, often we hear of a shooting in downtown Hamilton or other dangerous acts like these, and from stories such like this one you may feel hesitant of venturing the streets at night. 

Last year during reading week I had the opportunity to go on the Hamilton Mission Trip. My initial interest for going was one of curiosity, wanting to be with friends and avoid sitting around the house all week procrastinating on work – I think you know what I mean. Even though my reasons were not really set on doing God’s work, I quickly felt the need to do it.

God opened my eyes and my heart drastically; one day our group was going to Homestead to help them out for the afternoon. Mark DeVos gave my friend and I simple directions where to get the bus if we got separated from the group. We followed the directions but missed one detail and got lost for three hours downtown in the cold, wandering around. I felt that God used that moment to show me something, but more importantly to help open my heart to His desire not my own. My friend and I eventually found where we went wrong and got on the bus to meet up with the rest of the group, but that moment I will never forget.

A highlight of the trip was getting to know others and interacting with strangers, men and women, young and old, talking to them about God and worshiping together.

Danae Montgomery – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Last year I attended the Philadelphia Service and Learning trip that Redeemer ran, and it was one that I will honestly never forget. It probably sounds so cliché to say that I expected to go there and change people when really it changed me, but that's the truth.

In Philly I got up close and personal with poverty and the many different faces that it has, many that I did not expect. Truth be told, poverty makes people uncomfortable, especially when it isn’t something that necessarily affects you in such a direct way. However, Philly afforded me the opportunity to cross social barriers and begin to understand just how real that struggle is and how much needs to be done to resolve this very real issue. One of our first days there, we were each given a dollar and told that this was all we had to provide a lunch for ourselves. I will never forget running into people who asked me for money and when they saw that I was in the same situation as them, even temporarily, there wasn’t the slightest hesitation to tell me where I could find a cheap meal that was close by and a warm place to eat it in. More strikingly was the opportunity to sit on the sidewalk and eat lunch with a man whose luck had very much run out. Even though he barely had any for himself he repeatedly offered us his own food, ready to give up his entire meal just to try and feed us.

I will never forget the people of Philly nor how selfless and giving they were despite their circumstances. It has given me a new appreciation for all that I have, and it has loosened my grip on material things as my perception and understanding of value has forever changed.

If one of these short reflections has sparked a curiosity in you, learn more about the three trips that Student Life is planning this year. We are planning trips to Montreal, Detroit and Hamilton. Come by Student Life and chat with Micah van Dijk for more information or visit to apply. Below are descriptions of each trip.

Montreal: The historic city of Montreal is the centre for French-language Canadian popular culture and host to many famous festivals and venues. During the trip we will be engaging in conversation with creators and experiencing their creations. Questions around faith and culture will be practically explored. This trip is also an excellent opportunity for students to practice their French-language skills, though a working knowledge of French is not necessary to attend.

Detroit: This city has been in the news quite a bit recently as it struggles through bankruptcy. Citizens are migrating out of the city creating significant challenges for the remaining population. This trip will be partnering with Center for Student Mission (CSM) in serving in Detroit and learning about the unique challenges currently found as well as the creative solutions being implemented.    

Hamilton: Hamilton has become one of Canada’s most up-and-coming cities over the past few years.  This has not always been the case.  Traditionally, the reputation of Hamilton has been of a working-class city full of poverty and social problems. As the reputation of Hamilton changes on a national scale, learn how the citizens of Hamilton are facing new challenges of gentrification, rising housing costs, and many of the similar social issues they faced in the past.    

 Redeemer service-learning trip to Nashville, Tennessee. 

Redeemer service-learning trip to Nashville, Tennessee.