Spending spring break serving others isn’t how most college students envision spending their vacation. But for the the Chi Alpha chapter on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus, that is exactly what they did this year in the heart of Chicago.
The Chi Alpha team, consisting of 32 UMD students, packed their most essential belongings and boarded a bus to Englewood, Illinois during UMD spring break in March to serve inner city children near the Chicago City Life Center.
University of Minnesota Duluth sophomore, and Sandstone resident, Rona Seegebarth, shared her experiences from the Chicago short term missions trip.
In the mornings, the group would start the day with a worship session and then were assigned work projects for either the church or the apartments owned across the street. They would then have lunch and head to the Sherwood Elementary School (a K-8 public inner-city school) to work with students on a variety of subjects.
To Seegebarth and the others, it was about more than just teaching about math and other subjects; it was about life and showing God’s love.
“I worked with 7th graders. I talked to them about life … and math,” recalled Seegebarth. “When you hear about what the kids are going through at home and see that the teachers were often screaming at them, you really think about the verse in Ezekiel that says, ‘break my heart for what breaks yours.’ It’s reality when you hear about kids getting beaten at home and that shootings are normalized around them.”
One of the many shootings Seegebarth referred to, happened while the team was there that week.
“There was shooting that was on the news and happened just across from the front of the school. A man died, and that morning we had to be driven past the crime scene so we didn't have to walk through it and see anything graphic. The children went out to the buses that day and were not allowed to go to the crime scene,” recalled Seegebarth. “But they reacted strangely, like it was an inconvenience. They were so absent-minded that there had been a shooting just outside their school. That is something that is completely culturally diverse. It is a blessing that we don't have to deal with that.”
For Seegebarth, this was her second year going to the Chicago trip over spring break. “I met a kid named Dante who was 13. Last year, we got super close in the classroom, and this year, we reconnected at recess, and he was telling me about how he was going off to high school to get away from Englewood and make something of himself,” recalled Seegebarth. “We don’t think we do anything in a week, but they wait for us to come back and hold the events in the classroom and at the church. Dante was excited and he said, ‘Hey, Rona, I’m praying that you have a safe trip and am praying for you and love you guys.’ I gave him my number, and he texted me and said he is going to put aside a graduation ticket for me.”
“Being able to open up, shows them how to open up, when they are so used to being hardened and keeping it all in,” she added.
The team also spent much of their time doing service projects. “We tore out carpet, sanded, primed and painted walls and picked up garbage around the community because it’s just wrecked,” said Seegebarth. “And we slept at the church.”
“I believe we were called to Englewood to get a glimpse of what it meant to deny ourselves. Our leader said that we were going to have cold showers, get up at 6:00 a.m., do hard work and be denied of social media,” said Seegebarth. “In this situation, we denied everything about our culture so that God could break our hearts for everything they were going through.”