The Common Good
September-October 1999

Encountering God Through Service

by Coleen Smith Slosberg | September-October 1999

Students are discovering that, by serving others, the receive more than they give.

Instead of waiting for students to discover their "radical" edges, United Campus Ministry (UCM) in Kalamazoo, Michigan, tries to precipitate that discovery. For the past four years at UCM, we have used a service/learning program to move students out of their safe environment. We work with students who may never attend a traditional church but who are eager to go into "unsafe" places in the world: the inner city, the villages of Mexico, a Haitian hospital, the neighborhoods of our own small city.

Often in reflection, students discover that they receive more than they give. They touch the homeless and are taught; they touch the wounded and are healed; they touch the hungry and are filled. "Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me." Students touch the wounds of Jesus and become his hands and heart. Lives are converted even if doctrine remains unspoken.

In a final reflection, senior Mick Lopez wrote:

When I decided to volunteer with kids for a few hours on Saturday mornings, I really had no concept of the spiritual journey on which I was about to embark. I’ve always had a humanistic approach to life. However, my humanism was empty, based on nothing more than an ideal to do good. [Through my service work, I’ve discovered that] we are all connected by something deeper than ourselves.

Reaching out to those who need to feel God’s love has become not only a social responsibility for me but a moral one as well. We are all united by our salvation. But without [this experience], I know I would still be trying to do good without really understanding how or why someone else’s liberation is connected to my own.

Although Mick was never involved in the "religious" aspect of our ministry (Bible study or traditional worship), he had awakened to the spiritual. He had encountered God in the lives of the children he had served.

We are missing an opportunity on campus if we wait for social justice workers to appear on our doorstep. Through service and reflection, we can recruit and train students in the work of God’s world. They may never enter the institution of the church, but they will be doing the work of our Lord throughout their lives wherever they go. —Coleen Smith Slosberg

Coleen Smith Slosberg is a wife and the mother of three, an ordained Presbyterian/UCC minister, and a long-term survivor in campus ministry. She is author of

The Shifting Sands of Campus Ministry, a handbook on service/learning ministry, published by United Ministries in Higher Education.
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