News - Students Embark on Urban Plunge Experience

Students Embark on Urban Plunge Experience

Students Embark on Urban Plunge Experience

When freshman Danica Garcia joined more than 40 other students last weekend on a trip to St. Louis for Greenville College's Urban Plunge, she hardly knew what to expect. An announcement in chapel days before hinted at work with refugees. The schedule she received listed activities like training, team building, and a service project, but offered few details.

Yet, in slightly more than 24 hours, Garcia emerged from "the plunge" with a deep appreciation for the immense challenge faced by people she had rarely considered before - refugees relocated to the United States. Fresh memories from the weekend shaped her new empathy for these strangers in a strange land:

  • Heart-wrenching stories from refugees whose journeys began with genocide and the death of loved ones.
  • The faces of the Bhutanese/Nepalese families who lived in the house she and other students had come to winterize.
  • The triumph of devising ways to communicate past a language barrier (Charades work!).
  • The pleasant discovery that the refugees she met shared her Christian faith.

By noon, she and her fellow students had joined hands with the refugees in prayer, worked side-by-side to cover windows in plastic, and fellowshipped together over a Nepalese meal. "It was awesome," reflects Garcia on the opportunity to learn and serve.

Garcia's team connected with the refugees through New City Fellowship, a partner with Greenville College in producing this semester's Urban Plunge. The church has engaged in vibrant ministry to refugees in the South City area for about six years. Under guidance from the Fellowship's staff, teams of college students spent Saturday morning helping its refugee/parishioners with home maintenance tasks like the one assigned to Garcia's team.

Among the refugees inhabiting St. Louis are those who have escaped tribal genocide in African nations, political persecution in Burma, and expulsion from their homelands like the Bhutanese/Nepalese with whom Garcia worked. Many of these refugees have spent years confined to camps. Some have never known life beyond a wire until now. They are challenged daily by the vastly different culture of urban St. Louis and the knowledge, skills, and resources that living in that culture requires.

The college students worked with Bryan Hayes, intern with New City Fellowship's Bhutanese/Nepali ministry. "New City's ministry to refugees has sprung from the deep commitment God expresses in his word for the poor and marginalized in our world," he says, "particularly the widow, orphan, and sojourner (or refugee/immigrant). We have thousands of people like that all around us in South City, so it isn't hard to find, serve, and build relationships with them."

Building relationships, in fact, was part of this year's Urban Plunge experience. On Saturday, after a morning of service activities, Garcia and other students chaperoned youth from New City Fellowship on a special outing.

"It was a huge blessing for Greenville College to provide pizza and a trip to the City Museum for 20 of our Nepali youth," remarked Hayes. "It was great to watch the College make it more than just about funding an event, but also making it a relational affair as the students split up into groups with the refugees to tour the museum.

Hayes expressed gratitude for the interaction the Urban Plunge experience afforded refugees because it helped them bridge the gap into a new culture and become more comfortable with those different than them. Students like Danica Garcia, however, might say Greenville College students were helped in precisely the same way.   

This story was published on November 19, 2012

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