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Christian student organizations spend spring break giving back

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Voluntourism has become the popular word to describe the week-long trips to destinations around the world where people volunteer in different communities.

Voluntourism takes many forms. It can be as small as going on a regular vacation and spending a day helping the community, to going to an area with the specific goal of volunteering.

Marshall is host to at least three groups that carry on service work, overseas and in the states, that serve the needs of the communities they visit.

Over the recent Spring Break, the United Methodist Students, UKirk and Baptist Campus Ministries went on three different service mission trips to help damaged or underprivileged communities.

“It’s kind of like my week where I can give back and make up for the lost time where I haven’t got to help others,” Talena Justice, one of UKirk’s students, said.

UMS and UKirk joined together for UMS’ yearly program of Alternative Spring Break. The two groups and a few other students from different organizations traveled to Fayetteville, North Carolina to help clean-up and rebuild houses after Hurricane Matthew destroyed the town.

BCM planned two different trips, one to pick up trash in Rainelle, West Virginia from the recent floods, while another group went to Bolivia.

Allyson Miller is one of the BCM students who went to Bolivia. This was her second time doing ministry work in the country and it continued work her church had started a few years before.

“The first time we went it was just these cinderblock pillars and we were just starting to build the walls, and this time we painted the walls and finished the church up,” Miller said.

This is what makes these mission trips stand out from the typical voluntourism picture, the volunteers going into the communities are connected to different ministries already in place. They work hand in hand with community members to fix the problems in the area.

The goal is to let the community become self-sustaining after the ministry leaves, and to leave it in better shape than when they first arrived.

“We have missionaries JD and Rhonda Reed who live in Bolivia,” said Rob Ely, the director of student ministries for the West Virginia Baptist Convention. “One of my responsibilities is to try and get teams down there.”

The Rainelle team worked hand in hand with the mayor to clean up trash from the floods, while UMS and UKirk joined in with the disaster recovery ministry of The North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Each team went into each project to continue what another team started. The 16 students that went to Bolivia provided more manpower to finish building the church for the people that have already started using it than what the congregation could have arranged themselves.

“I think for us, especially in Bolivia, it was us continuing a process,” Ely said. “I think that changes it from voluntourism to investment in a community when you can go back over, and over, and over again to establish relationships and continue a project.”

The team not only helped to paint a church, but they then moved to fix a farm for Goretty, a woman who runs a ministry for the children in the red light district. Her new facility will eventually act as a house so children can get away from the prostitution in the area.

This is the crux of what marks the difference between short term volunteer work and voluntourism. Groups like UMS, BCM and UKirk partner with the communities and hope to move the ministry and communities forward.

“The work we did in Fayetteville, that community is better off than they were at the beginning of the week,” Ben Wells, the campus pastor for UMS, said. “We had moved that ministry along in that week. I would hope that most short-term mission work does that.”

Wells and his students helped to rebuild the homes of people who lost their houses. They were joined by the home owners in some cases, and once they finished their work, other teams from the same ministry will come in and continue where they left off.

“Some things I read about voluntourism kind of sounds like one of the problems is people kind of come in and its more what they want to do in that community and it’s necessarily not indigenous to what that community needs,” Wells said. “We’ll come in and do a Vacation Bible School with those kids and we’ll do it our way, and then we’re going to leave. Is that community better off for our having been there?”

These Marshall students throughout their Spring Break helped to forward the lives of the people they touched, be it through simple trash pickup, to complete house restorations. Short-term mission work can be used to make great strides in helping communities move forward if done right and Marshall students are doing it right.

Karenann Flouhouse can be contacted at [email protected]

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