What a great week! A few weeks ago students and leaders from Penn State, The University of Pittsburgh, Geneva, Gannon, and Youngstown State, along with a few others from different colleges and walks of life, headed to the Dominican Republic to participate in the first MGM college spring break trip. The campus ministry I work for, CCO ( www.ccojubilee.org ), refers to these as "tranformational opportunities". These experiences, away from the day-to-day of normal life on campus, are instrumental in helping students integrate what they believe with how they live! This trip was truly transformational for many.
Serving, learning, and loving together was a highlight of the trip. We studied what it meant to surrender our lives to Christ every day. In surrendering, we have the opportunity to live a Spirit filled life and experience daily fellowship with the Holy Spirit. As we experience fellowship with the Holy Spirit, our Christ-likeness increases. For many, this was the first time they had ever really thought about the Holy Spirit. They were captivated by the power of the Spirit and experienced the Spirit at work as we reached out to the Haitians and Dominicans in the different villages. These experiences were transformational as we began to experience the Spirit working in us and through us, as well as those we were serving.
A powerful image from our trip, as were were planting fruit trees the first day, was the scripture illustrating the vine and the branches from John 15:1-8: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
The Lord will use those that are remaining in Him to love and serve others like Christ, even if we do not know exactly what to say or how to reach someone that seems so different than us. We had the opportunity to love and serve as we played with children, painted a church, planted a garden, facilitated vacation bible school, organized soccer and volleyball games, distributed shoes, and visited door to door sharing the Gospel. We were stretched and challenged in many ways and the Spirit was at work! A freshman named Alex said the following about what she learned on this trip: "That image [of the vine and branches] really made a huge impact on my life and helped me realize that I need to remain in Christ. Apart from him, I will not bear fruit and will wither. I had been trying to survive on my own away from the vine. I am realizing that I need to stay connected to him."
We have been back for a little over a week now. I have had many follow-up conversations with students and we are forever grateful for the ways the people of the Dominican Republic helped us experience God. Christ was present and at work as we shared life with our brothers and sisters- the Dominicans, the Haitians, and the Americans. We experienced an unexplainable joy and openness that can come only from the Spirit. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to participate in this trip, but also for providing a place where we could could come face-to-face with God. It is my prayer that we will all begin to live differently, to live a life filled with the Spirit, and love others with the love of Christ. Many of us are already looking forward to next year! To God be the Glory!