For students at Ecola Bible School, service to others is more than just a sound bite or an idea; it is a personal journey of turning their studies and beliefs into actions.
Sixty students and staff members from Ecola Bible School took the opportunity during spring break to give of their time and talents to people around the nation and the world.
With four separate missions, they lent a hand to people who are in need of faith and goodwill.
The mission groups went to the Philippines, Haiti, Alaska and right here in the Pacific Northwest with the Portland Rescue Mission.
A team of nine students traveled to Manila, capital city of the Philippines. Here, they partnered with Resources for the Blind, a nongovernment Christian organization that provides education help to students who are blind. They provide needed services, training and materials.
The students worked in the school and with various building and work projects in the surrounding areas for 10 days, getting to know families and individuals.
Jason Stevenson, of Lynden, Wash., embraced the opportunity to learn about a new culture while serving others.
It was a very cool experience for me, he said. The chance to gain some exposure to different aspects of another culture and how it reflects on us was very rewarding.
Stevenson spent the majority of his time working and talking with blind students. He also helped provide regular Bible studies at the school.
We shared everyday life, laughter and fun, Stevenson said.
While the city of Manila is very westernized, the massive level of poverty struck Stevenson. It was not uncommon to see shacks and shanties that sat right next door to massive 150-story apartment buildings.
The extreme poverty versus wealth was black and white, he said. It was a real eye-opener to me.
Still, Stevenson found reason for faith when looking at his surroundings.
In the U.S., when we think of poverty, we think of lack of money, he said. In the Philippines, there is a richness in joy and sharing, even without money.
As he returned home, Stevenson brought with him a renewed purpose.
For me as a Christian, the most important thing is to be able to bring hope to people who really need it, he said.
Ecola took a team of 15 students to Haiti Feb. 28 through March 10. There, they worked with Maranatha Childrens Ministries.
The organization runs a Bible-based ministry providing a preschool program, an after-school program for students ages 6 to 16, and a yearly English camp.
While in Haiti, the Ecola students worked with the orphanage and the preschool on site.
The preschool provides education, health and nutrition programs for young Haitians.
The team also worked to raise funds to bring in much-needed supplies for the ministry. It also helped raise funds to build housing.
Kevin Lee, of Silver City, N.M., and Joelle Miller, of Plummer, Idaho, each enjoyed the hands-on aspect of their time in Haiti.
One of our biggest projects was getting a house built for a local family, Lee said. We laid the foundation, put up the ceiling, mixed concrete and helped the family with a lot of the general labor they didnt have time to do.
It was impactful to be thrust into a whole new culture with an unfamiliar set of challenges, Miller said.
The effects of poor economics and a history of corruption and oppression led Haiti to a culture of poverty and broken families.
In 2010, Haiti was hit with a massive earthquake. While the destruction spared no one, its effects were especially acute on those already living in poverty.
It left people without shelter, food, and clean water, and Miller was struck by garbage lining the streets and the level of malnourishment.
Haiti is so chaotic, theres so much work to be done, Lee added. It taught me how giving and how focused on others the Haitian people are, even under these circumstances.
Miller agreed, noting the ability of Haitians, especially the children, to see joy despite their circumstances.
Lee found a determination to tell people what he saw when he returned, and felt more drive to participate in future missions.
Everyone needs to contribute, he said. We often think that someone else will do it, and thats when very little impact is made.
It was an awesome experience, Miller said. It opened my eyes to the good just one person can do if they take the time.
Alaska, the largest state in the union, has many towns and villages accessible only by plane or snow machine.
This spring, 15 Ecola students traveled to the state to gain an understanding of Alaskas far-flung geography and the diversity that fills it up.
The team helped out at Victory Bible Camp in Glacierview, a camp that was originally a boarding school for native children.
Now, it is a two-month summer camp and also operates as a conference center and retreat.
Korie Kerber, Ecola Bible School dean of women, is responsible for organizing the schools missions, including Alaska.
The team that went to Alaska helped with a lot of general maintenance of the camp, she said. They handled things like upkeep and snow removal.
While helping and serving at the camp, students also had the opportunity to explore other ministries in Alaska.
They also spent time at Parachute, a drop-in center for at-risk youth and food bank in Anchorage, she said. They gave a hand to kids from all backgrounds in Alaska.
The biggest thing the Ecola students brought back with them was a larger understanding of the many different backgrounds that make up Alaska, along with the diverse problems they face.
In Alaska, there is a lot of diversity in one place that students dont generally see in the lower 48 states, Kerber said. It gives each Ecola student a chance to see organizations in action that they may potentially want to work for.
Poverty is not just overseas, but also right here in America. Many men and women find themselves on the street without family and other support.
Ecola students partnered with Portland Rescue Mission, a ministry that has a long history of helping the homeless.
Here, the students learned how to effectively help men and women who are on the streets.
Kayla Eutsler, of Longview, Wash., spent seven days in April at the rescue mission, part of a team of 16 students. There, they performed a variety of duties to help Portlands homeless.
While at the Portland Rescue Mission, the students lived and worked at the shelter. They spent time working alongside the missions staff, as well as with men who are in their recovery program.
We did a lot of cleaning projects, along with meal service and providing chapel service, Eutsler said.
At first, Eutsler was unsure of herself, despite her faith in the work she had chosen.
It was definitely nerve-wracking at first, she said. I was always taught dont talk to strangers. But then you really get to know the people and hear their stories.
She found that people who are on the street speak the same language as us and have a desire to be known.
Along with her fellow students, she took time to listen to their stories and share their faith with them.
Getting to know the guests was very rewarding, very personal, Eutsler said. Speaking with them and getting to know them took away my fear of the unknown.
That unknown was the notion that homeless people are not perceived as humans.
They all have parents, family and friends, Eutsler said. Each of them has a story, and each of them has worth and value.
Now, Eustler feels as if a new door has opened as she continues her studies.
I want to spend more of my life working with the homeless, she said. Bringing back someones dignity helps them find faith.