Katie and I had the privilege of leading 17 university students on a 3-week trip to India last month, a trip that included Mumbai, Hyderabad, Darjeeling and Kolkata. I say privilege in entire sincerity: this was a remarkable group of students who were thoughtful, engaged and unified. They came together with a rare chemistry that involved caring about each other and about the people with whom we came in contact.
Some of this, I think, came from a day camp we conducted early in the trip for about 100 street kids in Mumbai. Some local pastors brought the kids in from the shanty towns throughout the city—and the engagement by our students in this event was sincere and energetic. Perhaps even selfless.
The students planned the day-camp on their own before we went—songs, games, and crafts. And it didn’t hurt that they had a lot of camp counselor experience in the group. We brought crayons and candy. We brought a couple of parachutes and some beach balls. We brought bracelets to make, provided by Lissa and her crew at Fitness Finders.
I sometimes get the sense that such service can be connected to spiritual pride, something we “do for others” that makes us feel good about ourselves. There was none of that with this group. It was just a roll up your sleeves, get down on the floor, focus on the kids and get over yourselves kind of group. They literally did get down on the floor with the kids, eating dal bhat with their hands as the kids did.
I was proud of these students. I was proud of the energy they brought to the task and the love they showed the kids. And although this was a study tour (not a missions trip), this early service to others brought the group together in ways that were sustained for the entire journey. This is perhaps more remarkable because these were students from different majors who didn’t necessarily know each other that well before we started. We had art majors and baseball players. We had ministry majors and biology majors. We had introverts and extroverts. We had leaders and we had followers. And we had unity.
The trip is a general education requirement at the Christian university where I teach, a program which puts diverse students in challenging situations—and it doesn’t always go this smoothly. (This was my 7th trip). But this group held together through the many challenges we faced, encouraging each other and caring about the Indian college students we stayed with next, and the host families for our homes stay after that. There was spicy food and upset stomachs and chaotic airports and long flights. And there was the love of Christ, and the kind of true celebration and service that flows from that.
This group, at this time, in this place. This was not engineered; it was ordained. And I’m grateful for the privilege of being part of it. It says good things about this generation, about their faith and potential. It says better things about the Spirt of God and His work in the world.
It gives me hope. And joy.