The second-greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25–37), Jesus tells us two important things about this task. First, we need to redefine who our neighbors are. Our neighbors include those outside our ordinary social circles, people around whom we may even feel uncomfortable. Second, the time to love our neighbors is now, and the place is right here. The Samaritan in the parable could not have come across his neighbor, lying on the side of the road, in a worse place or at a more inconvenient time. Yet he stopped his journey and put himself in danger in order to save the man’s life. Jesus is calling us to do the same. In the following interviews, some Christian students share how they have applied Jesus’ call to love their neighbors, even in the midst of their busy lives as students. We hope their stories will inspire more Christians to be involved in serving our neighbors.
Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel (YEAH!)
Why did you first get involved with YEAH!?
Back in 2006, our Veritas Graduate Christian Fellowship women’s small group decided we’d like to do a service project, and one that was engaging beyond occasional volunteer work. We wanted to make sure we were learning, too. We decided to focus on homelessness because it is such an obvious issue in our area. The very day we were going to choose our project, I noticed some YEAH! posters my department manager had hung up. I looked up yeah! on the internet, got excited, and told the small group about it, and we all liked the idea.
What does YEAH! do?
YEAH! is pronounced “yay” and stands for Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel. It also stands for lots of other good things: it’s Berkeley’s only shelter specifically for youth (aged 18–25) and thus fills a pretty great need. Last year, according to the website, they “provided 3700 bed-nights to 174 different youth” and “served 10,000 meals and provided 1500 showers.” As volunteers, we go to yeah! and prepare a meal, usually from an internet recipe that’s been multiplied by 25. Then the youth come in and we serve it, hang out with them during less-busy moments in the kitchen, and wash up afterwards.
How can students get involved with YEAH!?
If people are interested, they should check out the website and send a message through the volunteer page. It is easy to get involved, and there are morning and evening cooking and serving opportunities every day of the week.
Please tell me about Project Peace.
Project Peace’s mission is to create a bridge between the resources of local churches and the needs of social service providers because we want to encourage Christians to volunteer through and within their church community. The church exists to bless its surrounding community; if it is merely an insulated, closed-off institution, looking inward instead of outward, it is not fulfilling its job. All Christians have a duty to make sacrifices because they are the beneficiaries of God’s ultimate sacrifice, His Son. But it is important for Christians to serve collectively with their friends from church because it increases the sense of solidarity in Christ, offers extra time for fellowship, and sanctifies them together.
How has your Christian faith influenced your involvement in Project Peace?
“To whom much is given, much is required.” God doesn’t just bless me for my own happiness and personal fulfillment, but to be a steward of my gifts. There is so much injustice in the world, so much corruption and brokenness… Christians should be on the vanguard of God’s redemptive forces to shed mercy on those in need and to seek justice for the oppressed.
How can students get involved with Project Peace?
We have four Days of Peace each year, and anyone is invited to participate in these service projects. We also have other opportunities to volunteer each month.
Nicaraguan Orphans Fund
What does the NOF do?
The main focus of the NOFis organizing a spring break trip. Each year, between 150 and 200 students go to Managua for one week in March. Although the NOF began at the University of Virginia only five years ago, it has established other, separate chapters at Virginia Tech, William & Mary, and James Madison University. We are well on the way to establishing organizations at Campbell University and Boston College. While in Nicaragua, we take the kids to the beach, a water park, and the movies, among other things. We connect with these kids through love and compassion, building relationships along the way. We also do various work projects as needed, including painting a school, digging ditches to provide water, and building fences. We do anything necessary for the maintenance and growth of the communities we serve.
How has faith influenced your work?
My faith in Christ has allowed me to open my heart to these orphans. It has been a humbling experience that has enabled me to recognize the material blessings Christ has given me while also recognizing that Christ is sufficient in my life. I chose to take a leadership role in the organization so that I could bring my experiences back to the United States, a reminder that there are people just outside of the university community that constantly struggle to survive, that don’t know if they will be able to feed their children tomorrow. It is my hope to bring the light of Christ into their desperate lives so that they too may recognize the sufficiency of Jesus.
How can students get involved with NOF?
Students from across the country fly down with us to Nicaragua for spring break. Our hope is that they are moved to share their experiences, or “tell the story” to their friends, and that, perhaps, the NOF can form at other schools across the nation. Check out their web site for other ways to get involved, or e-mail them with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oakland Asian Students Educational Services (OASES)
Why did you first get involved with OASES?
As a freshman, I was not as involved in activities as many of my friends; instead, I chose to stay cooped up in the dorms most of the time. I had participated in community service clubs back in high school, and I really missed doing something good for the community with a group of like-minded people. So during sophomore year, I sought out different volunteer organizations on campus. I had the most exposure to OASES, so I chose to check it out. As a senior still very involved in OASES, I see my choice to be involved with it as the first important decision I made here at Berkeley, and I am so thankful.
What does OASES do?
OASES’ mission statement is: “To empower students with limited resources through education, mentorship and service to strengthen the Oakland community.” We are a well-recognized, secular non-profit organization in Oakland catering to students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Each weekday, we have 30 to 60 tutors head over to Oakland tutor and mentor students there. We offer academic support and enrichment as well as special mentorship for our high school students to prepare them for life challenges such as college applications.
How has your Christian faith influenced your involvement?
The Great Commandment tells us to love others as we love ourselves, but in today’s society, that is a virtue spoken of but not often seen. In Berkeley, it’s especially common to see people pulling out all the stops to reach the top so that they can secure a good job after graduation, a good life, etc. It seems like too many people (myself included) focus on themselves and complain over small trials in their lives. Working with the students in OASES helps put my life in perspective, and takes my sights off of myself, which in turn makes it easier to focus on and love others in my everyday life as Jesus commanded.
I regularly reflect on what a blessing it is to be so involved in OASES. As a volunteer coordinator, I meet all kinds of people: staff, students, and volunteers. That is a huge circle of acquaintances that I am given the opportunity to get to know and love. Regardless of whether they know I am Christian, regardless of the circumstances and issues that arise from time to time, I still try to present myself as someone who loves others because she was loved first. Overall, OASES is a great place to love others, and it is exciting for me to see a number of people from my church volunteering too.
How can students get involved with OASES?
OASES recruits actively on the Berkeley campus during the first three weeks of each semester. Students can attend one of two info sessions to learn more about the application process. The commitment is only one to two days a week, three hours a day throughout the semester, and transportation is provided. Volunteers will be able to choose what day they are available (3–6 pm), as well as what age level and group size they are comfortable working with. We offer units in the Asian American Studies department and fieldwork units in the Education department for education minors. It’s truly for a great cause, and offers a very rewarding experience.