While many of their colleagues and friends headed south to warm beaches for spring break, 34 students from five University of Wisconsin (UW) campuses drove to Centrobrook Church in Milwaukee. Centrobrook is a Hispanic church that meets in an old warehouse on Milwaukee’s near south side.
The UW students are participating in one of 18 InterVarsity urban plunges that are being held in ten cities this month. The plunges not only offer students service opportunities, but also the chance to immerse themselves in an urban culture that is very different from what they are used to. Most of the students are living with a Centrobrook family for the week.
Last Saturday the students delivered food from Centrobrook’s food pantry to families in the neighborhood of the church. Sunday, after a worship service followed by a potluck meal, the students went on a scavenger hunt designed to help them learn more about life in the inner city. The week continued with service projects, such as organizing the shelves at Centrobrook’s food pantry and tutoring students at an after school program, as well as Bible study and worship time.
InterVarsity’s Milwaukee Urban Project (MUP) coordinator Jen Vettrus said that this is the ninth year for MUP. “The goal of MUP is to expose students to the biblical call to serve the poor and be champions of justice amidst the issues of the city,” she said. “Because of MUP, students back on campus have reached out to international students, done Bible studies and book studies with African American student organizations, and started Bible studies on social justice.”
It’s not unusual for MUP participants to return in the summer for an internship at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission or to volunteer at the meal program at St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church or volunteer at the New Beginnings after-school tutoring program. “Several students have also moved into my urban and racially diverse neighborhood after graduation, and several have taken teaching jobs at city schools follow MUP participation,” Jen said.
In New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Cleveland, and other major U.S. cities this month, InterVarsity students are involved in similar urban projects. The students will return to campus without the sun tan that marks a week at the beach but with something much more valuable, a fresh perspective on God’s message of hope and justice for the people who live in cities.