Campus News

Spring break in New York City

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While other students ventured to Florida, their hometown or some other destination for spring break, I spent Spring Break 2013 with a group of nine Bethel students and two Bethel faculty members on a Task Force trip to frigid New York City. Now, I am typically the one that packs her bags and heads to Florida or Colorado or any other state that’s temperature is above the current Indiana temperature, but this time I opted for chilly New York City. Being a country girl and a warm-state girl, it might seem strange that I’d head to the hustle and bustle of this chilly city, but—oddly enough—I found a sense of peace in the constant activity and warmth in the people of the city that never sleeps. We began the busy week by spending time with several youth groups that met at a church in Brooklyn, Iglesia Evangelica misionera. Here, two churches’ youth groups joined together for a weekend retreat. Upon arrival, we met many people, including Jeff Getz, who served as the leader of the projects we worked onthroughout the week. The evening began with us joining them for a delicious meal of rice, chicken and salad. After the meal, there was a worship service, followed by a subway ride to complete a scavenger hunt in Times Square. It was interesting to have my first exposure to one of the most famous areas in the world be in the form of a photo scavenger hunt. It was exhilarating, exciting and somewhat intimidating. Although my group did not win, we certainly had plenty of laughs, of course you tend to bond quickly with people that you are asked to do awkward things with—such as “take a photo behind a tall stranger.” After 13 hours of driving, I thought I would have been exhausted; however, having so many new experiences in one evening kept me more than awake. After spending the night at the church, we performed a prayer walk in the heart of New York City on Sunday morning. Getz explained to us the deep needs of the people of New York City, and we reflected on them and prayed about them as we walked through the streets. It was here that I first experienced an overwhelming peace, despite the hundreds of people around me and the sound of car horns. Praying for the city and attempting to view each person that I walked past on the busy streets as a valuable individual made by my Creator was both humbling and incredible. We finished Sunday with another worship service and meal together. Interacting with the youth and exploring the city with them was definitely a highlight for me. Experiencing the prayer walk and speaking with the youth helped turn my previous notions of the city and “city people” upside down. On Sunday evening, we settled into our location for the rest of the week, New York’s Brazilian Missionary Church. From Monday to Thursday, we spent most of our evenings at the church. During the day we helped rebuild several houses in Staten Island, a part of New York City that is still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Driving around to island, we saw quite a bit of damage, but what struck me the hardest was the fact that we were seeing a “cleaned up” version of what happened. The water level stains and empty basements throughout the neighborhoods served as reminders of all that was damaged and lost. Many felt as though they had been left, without any hope the return of their previous lives. Many houses were abandoned. Because the government has pretty much retracted its resources from this area, it is left to non-profit organizations to continue the reconstruction.  That is why we came to New York City. Through iServe, which is directed by Getz, we were told where the needs were and went to offer our labor. During the time of rebuilding, I did everything from pulling out nails to measuring, cutting and hanging drywall. We worked on several projects throughout the throughout the neighbors. Throughout the week, we developed a relationship with an Indian couple, Cochila and Praven, and their children. Their basement, which had endured extensive water damage, was the main project for the week, along with various smaller projects in Staten Island. What was so beautiful about the experience was to see their gratefulness for our work. Their thankfulness was obvious in their smiles and random gestures of kindness, such as bringing us pizza or making us coffee. We also had the opportunity to spend time with a team member’s, Crystal Cruz, family on Wednesday evening. This experience was one of those “warm” spots of the trip. Despite the temperature, the love and friendliness of the family was overwhelming. Stories were shared and laughs were had, making for an incredibly encouraging evening. It was lovely to see their faces light up, as we filled up their living room. On the subway trip home, Cruz told me how she was taken aback at the measures her family had gone to us, telling me how they had to gather chairs from various rooms to make enough room for all of us to sit. I remember her saying that they don’t have much, but what they have, they do give. How blessed I felt to be welcomed into a family during our stay in New York City. It warmed my heart. One of the challenges was that a team member was injured after our dinner with Cruz’s family. She slipped on the way out of the apartments and had a pretty serious injury to her foot. She had to have it put in a cast. Despite the challenges, her brief stay at a clinic allowed her to witness to a woman. Throughout the rest of the week, she was forced to allow others to serve her rather than serving others. Although it was certainly challenging and required extra coordination, the situation brought us together and taught us the importance of being comfortable with serving and being served. Friday was our “free” day to explore the city, but by this time we had pretty much experienced the parts of the city we wanted to see. Although we made several plans that didn’t work out, when I reflect on that day and look at the whole week, I don’t feel as though I missed out on much. Yes, it would have been nice to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, but I already saw both sides of New York City, the tourist side and the ordinary side. I felt blessed and content with the experiences I had. I am glad that a visit to these landmarks was not what made the trip special to me. Rather, it was the people and interactions that made the trip for me. Being a girl who enjoys exploring other cultures, meeting new people and seeking a better understanding of how living in another culture impacts the way one sees the world, I have discovered that the best way to do this is to place yourself directly in the middle of it. New York City, although located within the United States, certainly offers a range of diversity that is not present to the same extent in Mishawaka, Ind. This is one of the realities I enjoyed most about the city. Traveling home on Saturday felt somewhat surreal; it is interesting how quickly the team members bonded with one another. Being in such an environment, with people that have like-minded goals and attitudes toward life and a specific mission, develops relationships much more quickly than average relationships. It felt as though I knew my team for years. I left New York City with new friendships and a new perspective of what it means to live in a large city.
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