Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the Office of Spiritual Life planned to send California Baptist University students on trips to New Orleans and Puerto Rico over spring break. The program was canceled March 12, but its planned participants continue to reflect on how they can apply the lessons of their training to help them in the middle of an uncertain time.
The program involved sending 10 students to New Orleans March 14-20 to work with victims of homelessness and human trafficking. An additional trip to Puerto Rico was planned March 13-20 involving 10 students and one faculty member who were prepared to help victims affected by damage caused by hurricanes and earthquakes by clearing debris and preparing damaged areas for rebuilding.
“Initially, I thought of the people that were involved that would understandably be frustrated by this decision, but I understood the seriousness of the situation,” said Dr. Ricardo Cordero, associate professor of mathematics and Puerto Rico trip leader.
To plan the trips, CBU partnered with the North American Mission Board, an organization that works to spread the gospel and help those in need. The trip to Puerto Rico was part of the organization’s program, Send Relief, which aims to help victims of natural disasters, human trafficking and other crises.
“We want to invest in lives to develop followers of Jesus, and I think this is something we see modeled in Christ’s life by being a servant and living in a way that is sacrificial and has so much care and consideration for others,” said Julie Dobbins, director of Compassion and Women’s Ministries. “We want to put our faith into action. Whether you have faith in Christ and you want to tangibly serve people or your faith is just knowing that people are in need and you can be a part of helping meet those needs, we want to give people tangible ways to do that.”
To prepare for the trips, students interested in participating were required to complete an application through the FOCUS Missions website by Jan. 26. Students then participated in an interview process to discuss their availability and their ability to work with disaster relief and other aspects of the trip for which they applied.
“The thing that always is an initial reason that people want to go is the desire to serve and to help people,” Dobbins said. “That is something that requires a lot of sacrifices and is something that is important to prioritize. Those things give us an opportunity to get out of our comfort zone and to grow in empathy for those who have had different life experiences from us, but also to go in gratitude of knowing we have a lot of things we can be grateful for and we want to be able to bless other people.”
Students attended two training sessions during the weeks before the trip where they worked on team building, learned how to exhibit Christian behavior and share the gospel, and learned about the cultures and issues they were going to work with during the trips.
Cordero said he hoped the trip to Puerto Rico would teach students more about the culture of Puerto Rico, how to help the people there and how to evangelize through actions in addition to words.
Although the trips were canceled, Cordero believes that the students’ training and preparation taught them important values that will help them in the future.
“Training is especially helpful regardless of the trip being canceled because it redirects our hearts from the daily 9-to-5 concerns to concern for the nations,” Cordero said. “This shapes our prayer life, as well as our everyday actions. It makes us globally minded believers as we learn to understand other cultures and worldviews.”
Kaci Slone, senior nursing major, planned to lead students during the New Orleans trip. Slone said she believes trips such as this one provide students with opportunities to serve others, experience different cultures and learn teamwork, communication and leadership skills.
“(I hoped we would learn) how to serve with humility and to be open to different experiences we may have,” Slone said.
Even though the faculty and students planning to participate in the trips could not go to Puerto Rico and New Orleans, Cordero said that this process has allowed him to grow closer to and trust God.
“Since I was no longer able to go to Puerto Rico, I spent time connecting with God, seeking his peace and direction for growth,” Cordero said. “I have learned to remind myself that God’s plan is always better and wiser than mine.”