Art by Madeline Duvall
Spring break is coming up, and with it arrives Project Serve, a volunteer ministry that Pepperdine offers every year. Over the course of the spring break, groups of students serve those in need all over the country. Some groups will be ministering internationally in Costa Rica and Guatemala.
However, the broad reach of these volunteer groups focuses on the personal growth of students and the new cultures that they are experiencing, and while that’s great for students, it takes attention away from the “Serve” in Project Serve. The purpose of Project Serve is to help those in need, and the travel for the short-term mission trips brings the focus onto those who are serving instead of those who need to be served. Staying local would foster a greater sense of community and save travel money, which could be directly donated to these ministries.
First of all, the travel cost could be used in a better way. Flying is expensive, especially when it is a larger group of people flying abroad. Not only would staying local save travel time, but it would save money that could be donated to these important causes. People who are already there and have experience with the ministries that the students would be aiding can do the work, but resources are harder to come by. The amount of money it takes most groups to travel where they are serving would benefit the organizations they are helping than the manual labor they provide over the week.
According to the Project Serve Sites 2018 web page, groups staying within California have fundraising goals of either $30 or $150 per person, while most groups traveling out of state and internationally have to raise between $700 and $1400 individually. Even though it isn’t as satisfying to volunteers as hands-on helping, it is much more helpful to the people they are serving if they donate the money that would be spent to go abroad to the community.
The world needs a lot of help, but there is still a great need for help here in the Los Angeles area. A Project Serve group is going to Seattle to help the Union Gospel Mission, a Christian mission that helps the homeless community. A nearly exact copy of this mission exists in Los Angeles called the Union Rescue Mission that has the same purpose of helping the homeless. Why go somewhere else when one could do the same work right here?
Though students are trying to help, they might not understand the culture that they are working with. “I know of a building built that goes unused because it was built American style,” wrote Heidi Boettcher of her time in Haiti in “Short Term Teams – the Good & the Bad,” published March 17 by Christian World Outreach. Most of the groups are not going as far away as Haiti, but each area has their own culture and communication codes that they adhere to. The amount of time that the Project Serve teams will spend in areas that they are most likely not used to will still not allow them to cross that barrier.
Sending students abroad to volunteer is a great way to expose them to new cultures, but in doing so, Project Serve takes the attention away from those that the volunteers are helping and brings the focus of the trip back to the volunteers. In order to truly serve others, volunteers must turn their focus to those people who need the help they are providing instead of how their efforts benefit themselves.
Project Serve volunteers can still help those who need it, but staying local keeps the focus on what is most important: serving others.
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