NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – For the last number of years, Bethel College has set aside “Service Day” in mid-April.
This year, it was more like a Service Week, spurred by the momentum of a high-participation event in mid-February, eight hours of meal packaging for Haiti earthquake relief sponsored by the local charity Numana Inc. (founded and directed by Bethel graduate Rick McNary).
The week started when students picked up their April 9 issue of the bi-weekly student newspaper, the Bethel Collegian, and read junior Zach Metzler’s story about how two Bethel students, sisters Ruth and Terra Wiens of Newton, a freshman and junior respectively, spent their early spring break.
Starting March 3, Ruth and Terra accompanied their father, Bethel graduate Tim Wiens, M.D., for 10 days working at a clinic in Grand-Goâve, Haiti, where Tim Wiens served 28 years ago as a first-year medical student. At the clinic, a project of Lifeline Christian Mission located about 40 miles from Port-au-Prince, Ruth, Terra and Tim saw between 70 and 80 patients a day. They also spent significant time praying with each patient for spiritual as well as physical healing.
In the same issue of the paper, annual spring break reports included accounts of two service trips during the week of March 20-28. Eight students did landscaping and organizing for the World Impact center in south Dallas. Six students and Vice President of Student Life Chad Childs spent a week with the congregation of Community Mennonite Church, Markham, Ill., completing several projects for the church and its food pantry, passing out flyers about the church around the neighborhood, joining in worship services and spending a lot of time visiting with congregation members.
Once students had read in the Collegian about how some of their number had served beyond Newton and North Newton, they could then get involved in the local community by staffing the Harvey County Homeless Shelter April 9-13, in the days leading up to Service Day April 14.
Bethel’s Student Senate organized the staffing of the homeless shelter. Matt Stucky, senior from Moundridge and Student Senate president, says student leaders saw it as a way to get more students directly involved at the shelter.
“We set up a training day [at the shelter] for Bethel students in the fall semester that went very well,” Stucky says. “But we weren’t getting in a lot of volunteer hours. So we decided to organize something that would be set – have a schedule.”
The four days also went well, he says. “People had some interesting stories from the communal time [with the shelter residents]. The guy I replaced seemed very excited [about being there].”
All of this may have helped lead up to a Service Day that Dale Schrag, campus pastor and a main organizer for this year’s event, said saw the highest percentage of participation in the past five years.
Although students and faculty went to traditional off-campus sites such as Trees for Life in Wichita, Camp Mennoscah near Murdock, the Harvey County Homeless Shelter and the Mennonite Central Committee-Central States offices adjacent to campus to the north, Service Day proved to be a day for students mostly to give something to their campus community.
Several of them chose to join retired Professor of Bible and Religion Duane Friesen and several other North Newton community members at the Sand Creek Community Gardens on campus, a project in its first year. Some students helped build an area for compost and trash bins while others put their backs into digging up Bermuda grass to make a bed for some donated rosebushes.
Others collected trash and spread fresh wood chips on Sand Creek Trail, a public recreation and nature trail on campus; did some painting in Goering Hall, home of the athletics department; joined Chad Childs for detail work on the new Discovery Adventure Course; rooted up invasive honeysuckle on the Kauffman Museum grounds; or cleaned and organized the music library. Nursing students and faculty spent time with children from a local preschool, New Creation, exploring Sand Creek Trail’s offerings of water, trees and dirt.
Schrag took a group to the homeless shelter to tackle some cleaning chores which, he says, they polished off in short order. “Till Ruhkopf, who was visiting Pia, his girlfriend, one of our Wuppertal exchange students, was just awesome,” Schrag said. “He worked incredibly hard. They all did.”
Childs’ adventure course crews also attacked the alien Tatarian honeysuckle and spread wood chips around some of the course elements. Freshman Aaron Rudeen, Osage City, declared the work day to be such a good time that “we should do this once a month” instead of just once a year.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges profiled in Colleges of Distinction 2009-10. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.