“Love out loud.”
That's the mission of Wesley at Virginia Tech, a campus ministry at the Blacksburg, Va., school.
“We're a community that's all about spiritual growth, inclusivity, leadership development and outreach as our students live out their faith in a college environment,” Campus Minister Bret Gresham said.
That vision was in full bloom earlier this year as the United Methodist ministry sent a mission team of students and team leaders to Northeast Florida during spring break to work on homes still suffering the effects of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Mission teams that visit Northeast Florida have done a variety of tasks, including roofing, interior work and insulation to drywall, repairing floors and replacing damaged mobile home skirting.
|Alexis Gillmore and Audrey Gumbert talk through an open window. Repairs are made both inside and outside the home.|
Many student volunteers used construction tools for the first time. But because of the lessons they learn at Wesley, they also discovered how a mission trip sharpens spiritual gifts, as well.
Alexis Gillmore spoke about the Wesley tradition of going on a mission trip every year while a table saw powered up in the background, nearly drowning out her voice.
A chemical engineering major, she said the trip was an opportunity to do more than construction work. She was looking forward to meeting with homeless people during the urban ministry component of the trip in Jacksonville.
“I am excited to grow in that way,” she said, “because hanging out with a homeowner is pretty familiar to me. That (helping the homeless) would be way outside my comfort zone now.”
At Virginia Tech, future architects, engineers and business leaders have many options for how to spend their free time between semesters and during spring break.
Sophomore Charles Given was a volunteer the St. Augustine-Palatka area, south of Jacksonville. He said he wanted to spend his time off in a meaningful way, serving others and sharing God's love.
He called this trip “a great opportunity.”
Leah Glisson, a freshman, joined the group during her first year on campus. That decision helped her transition to college life as Wesley members welcomed her into their small community, where she says she can grow in her faith.
Mission trip team members often are forced by proximity to get to know their colleagues better, as they lodge on air mattresses in small Sunday school classrooms.
Rachel Freeman, a Tech junior who was in Northeast Florida for her first mission trip, said while she didn't bring any construction skills to the team, she had a ton of curiosity in her travel bag and enjoyed the experience.
Samantha Kirby, a sophomore, did bring some construction skills. Kirby did a little bit of roofing, some ceiling work and tile laying during a Wesley spring break trip last year to Tuscaloosa, Ala. She also helped build a Habitat for Humanity house.
Kirby says the most gratifying experience has been the opportunity to use different tools and learn new things.
Kevin Mosteller, a junior, said the trip was an opportunity to spend time in a warmer climate, participate in fun activities with his friends and do “lots of good, God work.”
Junior Matthew Greene spent his 21st birthday listening to his friends sing “Happy Birthday!” off key and helping renovate a storm-damaged home. Greene is majoring in construction engineering, but his big takeaway was more personal. It warms his heart that he was able to help families recover from the disaster.
|Matt Greene and Rebecca Gullickson work with a saw.|
“I'm a big fan of construction, but for me one of the best experiences of coming out here is just getting to relate to the homeowner and hear their story and share with them,” Greene said.
Wesley will determine its spring 2019 trip location in the fall. Gresham, a 2001 Virginia Tech graduate who just completed his ninth year as Wesley campus minister, said the Northeast Florida trip was one of the organization's most successful.
All went well, from the sites where they did construction work, the hospitality of their host and the mission work they did with homeless people in Jacksonville.
“They have a heart for justice,” Gresham said of his students. “It hurts to see the pain and the suffering that people are having to go through, but our students (asked): 'How can we help?' and 'What does that look like when we get home?'
“Our students, and especially at Wesley, embody a way of life to serve others. At Wesley they do that because of their faith in God, who is servant of all.”
Many schools refer to mission trips as “alternative spring breaks,” Gresham said. “For our students, it's not an alternative. It's just what they do.”
—Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.