This last week, I went on a service trip to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
On one hand, this trip was not vastly different than any other service shindig I’ve done. On the other hand, it was very very different and that much more rewarding.
Let’s start with the similarities.
We volunteered with a Habitat For Humanity located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a location famous for the development of the Manhattan Project in 1942. This particular arm of Habitat wasn’t too different from other Habitat builds I’ve done. I took part in demolishing a house one day, cleared debris from under the house a different day, sealed up leaks in the foundation, trimmed hedges, uprooted trees, was reunited with my old friend the Pick-Axe, and spent some quality time with some resident crickets in a tiny crawl space no bigger than the cupboard where I put my clothes (yes, that includes the space the clothes take up).
Like the other service trip I’ve been on, there was a lot of time spent with my fellow group members, which included working on projects with others, going on walks and hikes, spending every meal together, and playing Hearts games on an epic and earth-shattering scale.
Now for the differences.
At Creighton, we have an office called “Campus Ministry.” Among other things, Campus Ministry runs the Justice Walking program, which is a program I began volunteering with last January, initially doing GED tutoring and moving to Hospice volunteering this semester. What Justice Walking focuses on is discernment, community, and reflection. What this translates to is spending a lot of time focusing on how our service is part of a spiritual journey, building a group whose relationships are strengthened week-to-week as opposed to just the service trip itself, and reflecting on our experiences and how they contribute to the betterment of our individual selves.
Over the course of the trip, there were two challenges I faced, which were coincidentally wrapped up together. One of the challenges was having to lead a reflection with two other group members. The other was community. Ever since my last service trip, I’ve yearned for some way of understanding a community. Because I’ve moved so much and made so many choices off the beaten-path, I’ve never had much experience with community. The first time I ever really felt community was with my roommates over the last year or so. In planning reflection, I really tried to understand community, and wanted to get the rest of the group’s opinions on the topic.
We used several readings, one of which being a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.:
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” -Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail
Another being one from Mother Teresa:
“Help us to stay together in joy
and sorrow in family prayer.
Teach us to see Jesus in the members of our families,
especially in their distressing disguise.” – Mother Teresa, Prayer for our Family
And what I’ve come to learn about community is, it’s all related to people coming together because of their future.
A quote that has received a lot of attention lately, particularly here at Creighton, Lilla Watson says that,
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson.
To me, that is what community is: people whose futures are bound together, working together to bring about that future.
Throughout the trip, I tried to be a part of the group. I tried to get to know each person individually, focusing on our similarities rather than differences, avoiding shyness or my willingness to be by myself, being comfortable with everyone, but most of all, I tried to imagine what our futures were together. Beyond the trip itself, I have no idea what will come. But during the trip, I realized that we all share the same, if immediate, future, in that we were all here together, sleeping in the same room, doing work during the day, sharing meals, and reflecting. We all had the same future, and that is what made us a community, at least for that week.
And this idea, this small, intangible idea, can be applied to so much more. I share a future with those in my classes. I share a future with my roommates, my friends, and my family. I share a future with everyone in Omaha, everyone voting in the upcoming election, and everyone who calls him or herself a citizen of the world. We are all wrapped up in a single garment of destiny, even though we may all wear that garment differently.
That being said, the other part of the trip involved smashing down walls and tearing apart insulation, which is just a treat in itself; There was quite a bit of sass going on, particularly during games of Hearts; Crickets the size of frying pans living in swarms under the two-foot tall crawl space that you just so conveniently find yourself stuck in; And 5-minute showers that don’t require locker-room modesty. Plus a fun hike to some beautiful and breath-taking waterfalls.
In short, I got to learn a lot about community, meet and share time with some pretty awesome and amazing people, have some laughs over epic games of Hearts, and get my hands dirty with everything from demolishing walls to crawling away in sheer terror from mutant crickets. All of which is a single hop across the next stepping-stone on my spiritual and personal journey.