Over spring break, 40 students interacted with and served the Hillsdale community. The group made its way to Detroit, the High Rise, the Community Action Agency preschool, the Hillsdale county jail and several individual families in the community.
Students spent their nights at the churches around the community and spent Friday through Thursday serving.
Sophomore Hannah Hayes said she felt that this trip was a way to give back to the community.
“I really wanted to get out of my own head and just do something for someone else,” Hayes said. “I feel like I’ve been so selfish at school lately, and that I’ve only been doing things for myself, and this was a way to just tangibly give back to others.”
Traditionally, the group has devotionals every night which focus on a section of the New Testament. This year, however, the leaders chose to focus on the Old Testament book of Amos, which deals heavily with divine justice.
“We were all a little bit hesitant to make that the devotional theme, even for someone who is mature in their faith, but also for people who weren’t Christians at all,” team leader senior Hans Noyes said.
The team leaders, however, decided to make that the devotional. That idea of divine justice affected people differently. Freshman Caroline Walker felt that this concept was difficult to understand at first in their service.
“A lot of us had a hard time connecting Amos to what we were seeing because everything we were seeing wasn’t simply, ‘You did this, therefore, this is God’s judgement on you,’ that’s not the way it works,” Walker said. “But, overall, you saw the brokenness of the world and then the ultimate healing that Christ brings which was the same both in Amos and in Hillsdale.”
From traveling to the impoverished parts of Detroit to visiting the Hillsdale county jail, the students encountered the nature of injustice.
“A lot of the time, all we can do is accept injustice, knowing that we can’t change it all the way and entrusting that God has meaning in what he does and he can redeem injustice,” Noyes said. “Ultimately, he is the one who judges.”
All of the students spent time at the Hillsdale county jail. All they could bring into the room was a Bible and their own experiences. Sophomore Ethan Visser found his own sort of acceptance in his interactions with the inmates there, some of whom were his own age.
“I probably didn’t change their life and they didn’t change mine,” Visser said. “But by listening to them I treated them with dignity and respect and was able to glorify God in doing so.”
During the trip, one of the students noticed that one of the children he had met at the community action agency preschool was one of the babies who was saved from abortion at the pregnancy center. This connection, however, brought several questions to everyone in the group.
“He was commenting that you’ve saved this person from abortion and now he’s in this program but what if he becomes someone who’s in that prison we went to,” Noyes said. “How is that just? You saved someone, you did an act of justice, but that doesn’t always produce justice and so that was a big question that he was wrestling with.”
While the group may have not figured out why evil happens in the world, they did learn that good can come from injustice.
“One of the strategies that we learned throughout the week was how to recognize it and say, ‘Yes, there is injustice, not to downplay it, but to not call that injustice meaningless or without purpose, both in the sense that if you’re someone who is in jail, you know that’s a place of help and can be a place of help for you,” Noyes said. “God can use that injustice and bring people to you and Himself to you and communicate to you in that time.”
For sophomore Gabe Listro, discovering the meaning of justice took on a different meaning after the trip.
“There’s a really good verse in First Corinthians, ‘if I understand all mysteries and all knowledge but have not love, it’s nothing,” Listro said. “If I understand exactly how to best relate to every single person and all their problems in this whole circle of poverty, from Detroit to Crisis pregnancy center, this whole lifespan of poverty, and cultural injustice, it doesn’t matter. If I understand that, ‘what’s the point?’ The point is that I’m called to love them.”