By Gordon Govier

Forsaking the Beach

InterVarsity students from across the country, spending their spring break working on the West Side of Chicago rather than relaxing at the beach, got the attention of the Chicago Tribune. An article published on Good Friday, April 2nd, examines the motivations and explores the activities of the 230 students participating in the Chicago Urban Project (CUP).

The volunteers remodeled buildings and helped younger students with their school work. By partnering with a local church and several Christian ministries, InterVarsity offered participants a variety of opportunities to discover the values of Chicago’s urban neighborhoods.

Discussions are the difference
The students also discussed God’s concern for justice and had the opportunity to ask questions about dealing with injustice. “The real distinctive thing about CUP is the discussions,” said Katelin Bell, a Northwestern University senior.

This unique combination of urban renewal and inner renewal drew InterVarsity students to a variety of other spring break projects. The City Lights Project in St. Louis also gives college students an introduction to urban ministry. And students from 33 New England schools participated in the Katrina Relief Urban Plunge in New Orleans for the fifth straight year.

Jeff Barneson, an InterVarsity staff member at Harvard University, said that the combination of work and Bible study presents a unique environment for reflection and transformation. “It’s like setting the table for a long conversation with people about things that matter,” he said. “We could go to the beach for evangelism, but it would not be as effective. This project creates a culture of openness and service, which enables other things to happen.”

A deeper motivation
The Daytona Beach News-Journal also reported on students from InterVarsity’s Greek Ministry at Purdue University who volunteered to help Habitat for Humanity build affordable housing in New Smyrna Beach during spring break. While the reporter describes the students as those who would rather hang drywall than endure hangovers, their motivation goes deeper than just building houses.

As the Apostle Paul wrote to his colleague Timothy (I Tim. 4:8), physical exercise (and its accomplishments) has value but the true renewal is in the transformation that comes from putting our hope in the living God and living for His Kingdom.