California Baptist University officially canceled all International Service Project (ISP) travel for this summer March 17 in response to safety concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, but teams are still meeting remotely to encourage one another and connect, sometimes even with the field workers and students they were set to meet overseas.
Each year, CBU works with partners and organizations to send students to different regions of the world during the summer break to serve through the ISP program. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused CBU and many other schools globally to transition to remote instruction and to cancel events for the remainder of the school year, the ISP trips will not take place.
John King, director of Mobilization, said the school began to monitor the COVID-19 crisis in January.
Originally, CBU only canceled trips to COVID-19 hotspots, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel guidelines. However, as the pandemic worsened and the virus spread, the school decided to cancel all trips.
King said CBU is currently working on establishing a process for managing the financial support raised by students during the year and is communicating with students throughout the process.
Although ISP trips take place over the summer, students interested in the program begin to participate early in the fall semester.
Students must apply by October and participate in an interview process. Then, at the beginning of the spring semester, students begin to meet with their teams once a week to prepare for the trip. They also attend training and events throughout the year and raise funds for their trips.
“Students who were preparing to serve this summer have been working toward this since at least October,” King said. “They were looking forward to serving overseas, and I am personally saddened that they will not have that opportunity this year, particularly those who are graduating seniors who may not have an opportunity to do ISP as far as the on-the-ground part of what they do.”
Jacob Cook, junior psychology major, had planned to go on an ISP trip to Taiwan in May. After attending training and fundraising throughout the year, he said it was disappointing to hear that the trip would not take place.
“I was sort of expecting (the cancellation), but I just did not want it to happen,” Cook said. “I just had to step away from everything and just be by myself for a bit. When I got assigned to (go to) Taiwan, I did not think it would be canceled.”
While canceling the trips was disappointing for many students, King said he believes the training and events that took place throughout the year still benefited the students.
“ISP is about more than just the time that students serve overseas,” King said. “ISP is a discipleship season that culminates in a service project that takes place overseas. It is a training process, a mentoring process and a team-building process. None of that will be lost.”
Kendall Kohlenberger, junior early childhood studies major, was part of a team going to South Africa in June.
“When I found out about the trip cancellation I was so sad because I did not understand why God did this,” Kohlenberger said. “I trust him and his way, so I feel better about it now. I have been allowing myself to spend time with the Lord during the quarantine and I feel more connected to him than I have ever been before. I have faith and trust his plans are bigger and better than mine. This brings me a sense of joy and peace.”
Even though the ISP trips were canceled, King said that teams are still meeting remotely each week to study the Bible, pray, encourage one another and connect.
Some teams have also participated in outreach remotely. For example, a team planning to go to Poland was able to communicate with field workers and students who they were going to meet during the trip through online methods.
“There is definitely a sense of loss, but in the middle of that we have also seen some positive responses from students as well,” King said. “They have communicated to us things that they have learned in the training season that have stuck with them and ways that they have connected with their teams in deep ways. Those are impacts that are going to last. I think you see a lot of disappointment about the inability to serve overseas, but you also see both appreciation for what God did this year and preparation to serve overseas in the future.”
After this year’s trip cancellations, King said that some students are planning to participate in the ISP program next year. The application process for ISP will begin again at the start of the fall 2020 semester.