The Voice: Spring 2002
Seniors see connections between calling, task, and culture through service learning experiences
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 students 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 theyve 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. Its not that everything was so new, but
that I was really ready to think about it now that Im about
to leave college and find a job, choose a church, buy things, and
get involved in a community. I guess its partly a bit of fear
that makes me really crave knowledge about these things now.
Fear certainly isnt a paralyzing force in Vander Lindens life, though. An education
major, she hopes to teach in Europe next year to stretch herself, she
Gen 300 inspired me to think about issues that Ill soon be right
in the middle ofmarriage and family, but also cultural issues. Thinking about American
society has helped her realize that we dont 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 didnt 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 Lisas Christianity looks a little different
from the Christianity Im used to, she says. Lisa has been an alcoholic,
divorced, and homeless. Shes 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 doesnt know if shell ever get married again
but didnt rule out having sex if she loves someone.
I didnt 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 cant even fathom? Of what
use am I to someone who I cant understand and who doesnt know
where Im coming from?
Vander Linden found herself struggling with her notion of witnessing and living a
Christian life. Ive 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 todayto 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
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.