Nearly 200 students from a small college in northwest Iowa are trekking to distant locales for Spring Break this week, but not to party on a beach. Students from Northwestern College in Orange City will be working with ex-cons in Texas, people with disabilities in Mississippi and teaching immigrants from Somalia to speak English in Minneapolis. Northwestern’s missions director Tommy Moon says doing service projects is an annual tradition.
“We have three international trips, one going to work in youth hostels in Amsterdam,” Moon says. “We have another longtime partner in Nicaragua. Students go there to help out in a multifaceted ministry of a clinic and a housing program, and then we have a team going to Dominican Republican working with a ministry doing microfinancing for people there.”
In all, students, faculty and staff from Northwestern are taking part in 15 different projects during the week — from rebuilding a historic church in Colorado to building new homes in Arkansas and Kentucky. While some students may be all about relaxation or cutting loose during Spring Break, Moon says he never has to try and convince his students to sign on for these working vacations.
“We plan the programs based on the previous year’s response and determine the number of sites we visit and the number of trips we take,” Moon says. “We put it out there and our students respond. We have consistently about a fifth of our student body going to do these spring service projects every year.”
Moon says the students who undertake this sort of mission trip usually find the rewards they’ve gained from the experience outweigh the work they did to help others. “Service is more than just one week out of the year,” Moon says. “They come back changed in a more permanent way and that service and looking outward just becomes part of their lifestyle and not just something they do over Spring Break.” Students raise their own travel expenses for the adventures, through their families, friends, churches and campus fundraisers.