Concordia University in Ann Arbor has a great tradition. At the end of welcome week activities, on the day before the first day of classes, the community convenes for an opening chapel before students, staff, and faulty head out into the community for a day of service. Now, I realize that the idea of service is not unique to Concordia; many universities incorporate service into their school year and even into their back-to-school schedule. Nevertheless, I love the way this day of service sets the tone for the school year and, actually, for life.
This morning, I attended the chapel service where several hundred students, all clad in “Go for the Gold — CUAA Day of Service” t-shirts, gathered to sing and hear the word of God. Director of Campus Ministry, Randy Duncan, reminded students of the power of service to share the love of Christ with our community, and then the sea of red exited the chapel, boarded busses and left to work at area parks, businesses, and agencies.
Concordia has long been involved in service. In fact, my husband and I drove by the now-abandoned Maxey Boys’ Training School in nearby Whitmore Lake this week. At first we didn’t know what we were passing, and then my memory clicked. Way back in the 1980s, when I attended Concordia, I volunteered with other students to visit the juvenile offenders imprisoned there. It was just one of several opportunities that Concordia offered at the time for students to step into the surrounding community to connect with people. I was also involved in visiting psychiatric patients at the Ypsilanti Regional Psychiatric Hospital (also now closed). Before the days of HIPPA, we students were allowed beyond two locked doors to interact with the patients. We played games, chatted, and sometimes even held worship services with the residents there.
Service, as I began to learn as a student at Concordia, didn’t just impact the people we served. It changed me. My husband asked me as we drove by Maxey Boys’ the other day, what impact those experiences had on me. It didn’t take more than a second for me to respond, “They prepared me for what was next.” Little did I know when I was a student that my first job out of college would be to work in a group home for emotionally impaired adolescent females. My experience with the incarcerated young men and with the psychiatric patients informed my ability to treat each of my clients as human beings with stories very different from mine. I also taught in the former Lutheran School for the Deaf in inner city Detroit. This white girl from rural Michigan was able to interact with kids from the city because I had be allowed opportunities to interact with individuals of all kinds through my service activities at Concordia. Any ignorant preconceived notions I might have held from the limited experience of my youth had already been challenged. My next teaching job was in a residential treatment facility for emotionally impaired youth. Again, I was exposed to individuals whose experience in life was drastically different from my own, but I was able, because of my previous experiences, to view each student as a life of value — as a person worthy of my time.
Concordia’s service opportunities, like those of other schools, extend throughout the year. Students still get the opportunity to visit residents of nursing homes, to intern at local congregations and hospitals, to volunteer at agencies throughout the Ann Arbor and Detroit communities, and to offer their time and talents in many other ways.
Each experience in life prepares us for what is next. God is continually lining up opportunities for us so that we will have the knowledge and the tools to step into what He has planned for us down the road. Today’s Concordia students have no idea what God has in store for their future, but I can guarantee that even the most seemingly insignificant interactions they have with people today will inform their view as they step into tomorrow.
Each of my early experiences shaped me and enabled me to step into the roles God had planned for me. For ten years, we lived in St. Louis, MO. While there, I taught in an inner city public high school and an urban Lutheran School. My husband and I also had the opportunity to live in the city neighborhood where he pastored a coffee house church. Each of these experiences was different from anything we had done before, and yet each utilized the skills and sensitivities we had gained from our past.
And now, God has allowed us the privilege of coming back to Concordia Ann Arbor to be part of the team that provides opportunities to another generation of students so that they, too, will be prepared for what’s next. It doesn’t get much better than this.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.