BY LYRIC MORRIS & ERIN VAN HORN
Eighteen students, 10 days of service, five snow days, two vans and one letter. These numbers only tell part of the story that the Spring Service Project team from Northwestern encountered throughout their journey to Jonesboro, AK.
Spring service projects give students the opportunity to dedicate 10 days during spring break to serve several organizations in various states and countries. In preparation for the trips, leaders emphasize the need for students to put aside any of the expectations they might have going into the trip.
“God has different plans than what we expect,” said Natalie Wheeler, a student leader.
This fact immediately became obvious in the group’s trip. Their original intent was to spend time with kids in an after school program each day. Because there were snow days in the area schools everyday of the trip, the group found themselves doing cleaning and organization projects for the organization CityYouth instead.
“We ended up having a ton of free time to invest in the leaders of the organization,” said Sam Thomson, a member of the SSP team. “These (cleaning and organizing) projects hadn’t happened in 10 years, so now (the kids)can go back to a long term environment that’s much better. It might even be more long-lasting than what we originally came to do.”
“God obviously had something in mind for us with this whole trip,” Wheeler said. “Starting out with an unexpected snowstorm really taught me to rely on him more, because I can’t control what is going to happen.”
The lesson did not end there. Most SSP’s include one day for students to explore the different areas in which they serve. The Jonesboro team decided to stop in St. Louis on their way back to NW. The plan was to go to the City Museum and then drive to the Gateway Arch. As they were walking to the vans after time spent at the City Museum, they came to a shocking realization.
“I remember walking up as a group and seeing glass on the ground by the van and realizing that somebody had broken in,” said Justine Jackovich, an adult leader on the trip. As the whole group began to grasp what had happened while they were in the museum, they also began to comprehend what they had lost.
“I saw the glass and didn’t process that it was our van at first,” said Samantha Nelson, a student leader. “I didn’t even realize that our stuff was gone. Everyone was gasping when we opened the van doors, and everything was gone.”
Though many students lost items of both monetary and personal value, Tara Woodard, adult leader, had thought ahead.
“My one brilliant idea of the whole trip was to stick the group money in a pillow case,” Woodward said. “I put it under the seat and stuffed a bunch of pillows around the seat. They (the robbers) didn’t get the money, which was totally a God-thing.”
Many of the students expressed feeling violated after discovering that their things had been stolen. The thought of someone going through personal things was hard to get over, but the group was able to come together and support each other.
“In times of reflection we made sure to look back on the week we had,” Jackovich said. “Through the relationships, the way we served and the God we serve, it was very evident that everyone knew who we could put our trust in and where our foundation lies.”
Throughout the time that the Jonesboro team spent together, shattered expectations seemed to be a reccurring theme. Jackovich’s hope is that students will focus on the service they did and not on the robbery that followed it.
“I think we had so many incredible things happen in the week we were in Jonesboro that (our service there) would be a big thing that drives the students to have a big heart for service,” Jackovich said. “I have all faith that is how they will view our time there.”
Though there were many mixed emotions on the trip, Wheeler felt the trip was worth it anyway.
“Honestly, I would go on the trip again and have it the exact same way… maybe not the robbery,” Wheeler said.
Currently, there are no concrete leads on who may have committed the robbery or where the students’ possessions may be.
The students on the SSP trip to Jonesboro lost more than just items of monetary value. Many students from the group expressed regret over the fact that the robbery has come to overshadow the work done on the trip.
“They robbed our story,” said Regina Steffen, a student from the group. “Since we got back, only two people have asked me what we actually did. The attention shouldn’t have been on us like it is now, but on the kids in Jonesboro.”
Aside from the changes in their trip, the group also lost some items with more sentimental value. One student on the team, Caitlin Porter, lost a letter written to her when she was a child from her now-deceased father.
“It was comforting because it was in his handwriting,” Porter said. “It was irreplaceable. I think we all felt violated and vulnerable.”
When they first returned to the vans and found out about the robbery, Thomson peered into the van in search of her newly purchased guitar, endearingly nicknamed “Rose.” It was nowhere to be found.
“It was what hurt the most initially,” Thomson said. “I had just told Sun from my worship team that he could play it, and he had said ‘This is the most beautiful guitar I’ve ever seen.’ He was so thankful, and my first thought when it was gone was, ‘I have to tell Sun.’ … Its purpose was taken away.”
Steffen also lost irreplaceable items of personal value, including her Bible that she’d had since middle school and photos of her brother who passed away two years ago.
“I had a lot of pictures on my computer that just weren’t saved anywhere else,” Steffen said.
Other items lost caused almost humorous annoyances.
“It sounds really weird,” Thomson said, “but I really miss having a backpack with a water bottle holder. Now I carry this briefcase backpack thing. And don’t get me wrong — I’m really thankful for it. It starts a lot of conversations.”
Porter experienced similar annoyances.“I had to go out right away and buy more socks and underwear,” Porter said. “And I didn’t have my winter coat, so I was walking around with a blanket around me. It was pretty funny.”
For those interested in helping support the students who travelled to Jonesboro, the Student Activities Council will be holding a fundraiser garage sale featuring items from the SAC closet such as Christmas lights, balloons, bouncy balls and t-shirts. The garage sale will be held on Saturday, March 29 from 9-11 a.m. in front of the Rowenhorst Student Center.