The Voice: Spring 2002

The Voice

Seniors see connections between calling, task, and culture through service learning experiences

Danielle Vander Linden took the opportunity to be part of a Gen 300 service learning team that helped her better understand another cultural situation
By Sally Jongsma

What does working with the Sioux City Gospel Mission, visiting inmates in the South Dakota State Penitentiary, or serving in a soup kitchen have to do with academic work? Most of the twenty students who did activities like these last fall would say “quite a lot.” That is if you look at education as preparing you to carry the educational insights gained in the classroom into the world of daily living.

For the first time last semester students had the opportunity to do a service learning project in Gen 300 instead of being part of a small mentoring group that read and discussed a book. While Dr. Duane Bajema, one of the four professors of the course, would not discount in any way the powerful impact books and discussions can have on a student’s thinking, he believes that Gen 300 is a good place to let students help shape what they are learning and ask pertinent questions in a non-Dordt, non-classroom atmosphere.

Gen 300, named “Calling, Task, and Culture,” studies cultural, social, and personal issues that students will face as they graduate from college and begin to try to put into practice what they’ve learned in their Christian college education. According to the course description, emphasis is placed on the nature of Christian witness, the need for responsible strategy, and the effects of concrete service in our world. Students are pushed to relate these issues to their major area of study but also to think about their calling in ways they may not have done before about issues such as environmental responsibility, poverty and injustice, technology, cloning, affluence and materialism, and gender.

“I think something I learned or thought about or discussed in Gen 300 dominated almost every conversation I had over Christmas break,” says senior Danielle Vander Linden from New Sharon, Iowa. “It’s not that everything was so new, but that I was really ready to think about it now that I’m about to leave college and find a job, choose a church, buy things, and get involved in a community. I guess it’s partly a bit of fear that makes me really crave knowledge about these things now.”

Fear certainly isn’t a paralyzing force in Vander Linden’s life, though. An education major, she hopes to teach in Europe next year to stretch herself, she says.

“Gen 300 inspired me to think about issues that I’ll soon be right in the middle of—marriage and family, but also cultural issues.” Thinking about American society has helped her realize that we don’t have everything perfect as a country, she says. She believes that is valuable knowledge for someone who hopes to live in another country for a time.

Vander Linden was part of a team of three who chose the service learning option last fall. It helped her think about issues being discussed in class in a new way, she says. Five times they traveled to Sioux City to work with the Gospel Mission there. They unloaded trucks and worked in a clothing bank as well as helped with mailings in the office. It was the interactions with people, though, that made it a learning experience.

“My most significant memory of that day was a realization about myself. I was sorting through a pile of sweaters and found a beautiful GAP sweater in great condition,” Vander Linden wrote in a paper responding to the experience. “I thought, ‘Why didn’t I take money along today? This sweater is a steal.’ Then I stopped and realized my thoughts. Earlier that week I had lamented to my roommates about all the junk in my closet and had even planned to sort through the clothes and take some to the mission on our first visit. I showed up empty handed that morning. Now, as I arranged the clothing into neat piles, with swarms of beautiful children around me, tugging at their parents and making hopeful requests for used toys, I still thought I needed more. This was a humbling experience for me.”

Another significant learning experience for Vander Linden was working alongside the secretary at the mission. “Lisa is a Christian, but Lisa’s Christianity looks a little different from the Christianity I’m used to,” she says. Lisa has been an alcoholic, divorced, and homeless. She’s been dry for months now, attends Bible classes, and supports herself by her work at the mission. Lisa told us a lot about her life, including past mistakes and what she has learned about grace. She also mentioned that she doesn’t know if she’ll ever get married again but didn’t rule out having sex if she loves someone.

“I didn’t know how to respond,” says Vander Linden. “God commands us to be pure with our bodies. Lisa is a Christian even though some of her values and beliefs are different from mine. She may even have a better relationship with God than I do. How do I respond to a relatively new Christian with a past that I can’t even fathom? Of what use am I to someone who I can’t understand and who doesn’t know where I’m coming from?”

Vander Linden found herself struggling with her notion of witnessing and living a Christian life. “I’ve always been taught that witnessing is about modeling good living. An article read in Gen 300 has made her think it may be more about making clear to others that she needs God than that she has the answers to what it means to live a Christian life.”

“I did some good for the Sioux City Gospel Mission, but I learned a lot more about myself and what is deeper inside me than I know,” she says. “There is a lot of hidden pride and greed that good intentions cover up. Actually stepping forward and helping out forces us to face our true selves.” It also keeps confronting us with our task in this world, she would say today—to be continually thinking about why we do what we do and what we should be doing as we teach our students, live in another culture, love our spouses, and work for healing justice in our world.

In his service learning experience, Jonathon Dekkers not only dispelled some stereotypes he and his team had about criminals but also came to see the need for changes in the way our society deals with people who break the law.

“Our society wants to catch and punish criminals for breaking the law, but that tends to be the extent,” says Dekkers. “Unfortunately when these criminals get out of prison they are rejected by society, which only causes them to go back to their old ways of crime.”

Dekkers quotes one prisoner as saying, “These men have nowhere to go once they get out of prison, so they turn to the only way they know and that is crime.”

Dekkers worked with a prison ministry called Metalcraft that teaches inmates skills they can use in the outside world. Dekkers was told by a man named Clarence that his life was saved because he was caught by the police and placed with Metalcraft. Based on his experience, Dekkers believes that Christians can give inmates a sense of hope for living a happy life by reaching out to them in prison and by helping train them for a job they can do once they get out of prison.