The summer of 2015, I spent seven life-changing weeks on a Global Urban Trek in Mexico City. My name is Rebecca. I am a senior at Grand Valley State University, in my third year on our leadership team as a small group leader. I am studying nonprofit administration, and I want to go on to work in a church doing cross-cultural and/or urban ministry.
When I first decided to go on the Trek, I didn’t realize how much of an impact it would have on me as a leader on my campus. The Trek has done so much more for me than just help me discern what I want to do with my life; it helped shape me for heading back to campus. Let me share a few of the ways:
NEW STUDENT OUTREACH
Oh the magical words to many who are a part of InterVarsity; the time when new students flood our campuses with excitement, fear, energy and confusion.
During my Global Urban Trek, I had several experiences similar to NSO (New Student Outreach) in my community. One week, my site partners and I walked around our community, handing out flyers for a workshop we were helping to run later on in the night. It was an extremely uncomfortable situation for us, as two of us didn’t speak sufficient Spanish to really communicate quite what the workshop was about. Plus, we were tired, hungry, and quite honestly not really wanting to do it.
I think every leader at some point during their campus NSO experience hits that point of “what on earth am I doing here right now? I don’t want to be here and I don’t want to do this”. Learning how to do that in an unfamiliar culture and language, mustering the courage to go talk to some people on the street in my pathetic Spanish, knowing I was about to make a fool of myself but going for it anyways, makes NSO in English seem so much easier.
One theme for the Trek is what we like to call “being.” We stepped into the lives of our hosts, often meaning we did less than I expected. Sometimes “being” meant sitting with others, playing duck-duck-goose, watching novellas on TV, or eating lots of food.
The shifted focus taught me to slow down, to look beyond the tasks I think I need to be doing or the places I may think I need to go, and to instead look at the people around me. I learned that ministry means more than teaching an art class in Spanish to a bunch of rowdy kids, or painting a school, or doing community workshops, although I did do all of those activities. I learned how to use the (very frequent) times of “I have no clue what I’m doing I’m just following this person all over watching them do what they do” to get to know who they were.
I realized that during New Student Orientation on campus, I get so focused on telling prospective InterVarsity folks everything they might possibly need to know, giving them some sort of chocolatey baked good, and then moving onto the next card, that I don’t take the time to actually get to know the person I’m talking to. But if I take time to connect, the connection will more likely draw them to another event than facts and info will.
Even beyond the initial interactions that are important, it is how we continue that relationship. If we stop at leading our small group within the two hour block we have set aside, or leading our large group events, or leading our weekly prayer group, and allow the relationship to end when the events do, how much are we really pouring into our fellow students? Some of my greatest memories from this past year are being the random junior chilling in a freshman dorm with some of my small group members. It’s more than just leading a Bible study, it’s investing in people’s lives.
CROSS-CULTURAL MINISTRY AND CONFLICT
During my Orientation in Mexico City, we learned a lot about what cross-cultural ministry and especially what cross-cultural conflict looks like. Neither is limited to entering another culture.
First, any person that did not grow up in your family grew up differently than you. We each come from different backgrounds, opinions, ways of life, beliefs, and habits. Sometimes those differences can cause tension, confusion, misunderstanding, and distrust. This is something we all face, and we have different ways of handling it. Whether we face conflict within our leadership team, within our small group, between co-leaders, or roommates, handling conflict well can be a struggle. Some of us get angry and hurt the person we have conflict with. Others of us avoid conflict and shove it aside until the situation eats away at us.
During Trek training, we learned how to see more deeply into why those differences exist, what they mean, and how to either overlook the differences we don’t necessarily agree with to love the person anyway. We even learned how to step out of our comfort zones to celebrate those differences. In doing so we love that person more deeply, the way Jesus loves them. Conflict, tension, even differences not dealt with in a Christ-like manner tear people apart. When approached, handled with love and compassion, we help draw people closer and work through it together.
These are just a few of the ways that I have seen connections between the things I learned on the Trek and leadership back on campus! There are so many other ways. For anyone who is considering whether or not they should go on a Global Urban Trek, it is definitely a trip that will change your life. God uses this trip in amazing ways to help those on it grow more into His image for life.