NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – For college students, spring break is about escaping the academic routine for sun, fun and – house painting?
Twelve Bethel College students opted for paintbrushes and got the sun and fun besides when they decided to spend their break in early April volunteering at Hopi Mission School on the high desert of northeastern Arizona.
Mark Smith, resident director of Haury Hall, organized the trip and, with Tim Buller, assistant professor of system administration, accompanied the group. He had some personal reasons for suggesting Hopi Mission School. “Bethel groups have gone to the Gulf Coast [of Louisiana] the last couple of years for the spring break service trip,” he said. “I thought it would be good to go someplace different, plus my grandparents were there.”
That would be Doris and Jim Yoder of Newton, who have spent many weeks over the past five years volunteering their time on building projects – first the school’s gym, completed in 2005, then a volunteer center and now a duplex to house teaching staff.
Miriam Regier, senior from Newton, went to New Orleans in 2006, less than six months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had devastated large portions of the city. “That was a very good experience,” she said. “I wanted to do another service trip.” The same was true for Will Peterson, sophomore from Bonner Springs, who went on his first-ever service trip to southern Louisiana with a Bethel group last March.
For Yue Yu, known to her friends as Moon, senior from Guang Dong, China, visiting Hopi country and a private school “connected with what I want to do after graduation [as an elementary school teacher]. It was a third culture to me, but also similar to [part of] China and Mongolia. And it was a good time for me to go, because I’m not student teaching this semester.”
Paul Regier, junior from Newton, noted that “physical work is nice when you’re in school, and spring break is too short to get a job.”
“It sounded fun, like an interesting place to go,” said Rachel Gaeddert, freshman from Larned, adding that it was her first time to take a service trip, and Keila Quenzer, freshman from Visalia, Calif., said, “It was a cheap spring break.” Bethel College’s Service Corps, a student group, has an endowment to help defray the cost of service trips, so the cost of renting and fueling a 15-passenger van was covered, and lodging (in the gym for the nine females and the basement of one of the staff houses for the five males) and meals (in the cafeteria) at the school were free.
Upon arrival, the Bethel group was greeted by a sandstorm, a common phenomenon in the high desert in spring, but after that enjoyed sunny, mild days. They scraped paint from part of an existing staff house, scraped and painted a shed and painted exterior walls of the new duplex.
They also got to interact with Hopi Mission School’s 60-some students in grades K-6, eating lunch with them in the cafeteria and playing with them at recess. “Some of the kids tried to sit with us every day,” said Blake Johnson, junior from Topeka. “One day I tried to sit where Will usually did and they told me, ‘We want Will!’” Added Paul, “This one kid has us time him to see how fast he could drink his milk.”
Moon, Keila and Elizabeth Lang, sophomore from Des Moines, Iowa, got to visit a fourth-grade classroom. “We observed, and we taught them long division,” Keila said. “The principal [Betty Handrich] was pretty excited about using volunteers.”
“I was surprised that they had a meditation time every day, to sit quietly, write in their journals and listen to God,” Moon said. Jean Butts, junior from Cleveland, Ohio, added, “For little kids, that’s pretty cool – even in my Christian high school, we didn’t do that.”
“Integrating different subjects with God and God’s word connected to my personal perspective [on teaching],” Moon added.
Another important part of the trip was observing and learning about local culture and practices. “I was surprised at the extent to which things were sacred,” said Miriam, “including the land, [specific] places and times of the year.” Will was impressed with the school’s softball team, “something you don’t even see in elementary schools in the Kansas City area.”
“It reminded me of a service trip I took to Mexico,” said Keila, “both the poverty [we saw] and the work painting houses. Another similarity was that in both places, people were willing to give and share freely.”
The group took a couple of “field trips” – to the ancient Hopi village of Walpi on First Mesa and to Canyon de Chelly, about 125 miles from the school and the location of an Anasazi cliff dwelling. Of the trip to Walpi, Miriam noted, “It was strange to see satellite dishes and nice trucks outside ancient buildings. It was also strange to see so many adults around during the day, but we learned there’s 50 percent unemployment on the Hopi reservation.”
They also spent a few hours in Flagstaff and made a visit to the Grand Canyon before heading back to Kansas.
The group agreed that one of the best parts of the trip was learning to know some people they didn’t normally spend time with and discovering how well they all got along. “It was like in Acts 1,” Moon said. “We had the same target and the same goal, we prayed together, and it all worked. That’s the meaning of service.”
Other students on the Hopi Mission School service trip were Krista Hostetler, freshman from West Liberty, Ohio, Sierra Pryce, freshman from Newton, and Terra Wiens, freshman from Newton.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the highest ranked Kansas college in the national liberal arts category of U.S. News & World Report’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.