Nobody knows. And it doesn’t matter.
Every Sunday afternoon, they still go to Des Moines to minister to the homeless in tent camps. They still carpool to nursing homes and tutoring centers and women’s missions and dirty parks and soup kitchens. They invite women with addictions to campus for meals and travel hundreds of miles to spend time with kids from broken homes.
They are the students of Campus Ministries. And they number more than 300.
Campus Ministries organizes several service events a week, on average, for students across campus to participate in. Anyone can join any project—no matter their beliefs or their history with religion. Still, with so many students involved and Central’s commitment to service so legendary, it’s one of the best-kept secrets of the college that Campus Ministries does so much.
Their ranks have been growing, too. Chaplain Joe Brummel says the number of students completing service projects or taking mission trips has increased over the past few years, with more than 100 traveling to Texas and New York over winter break alone. This year, Campus Ministries added a second Justice Action Team, which organizes service events and decides which causes to support. Another team, the Justice Team, organized the “Buy a Smile” campaign this spring to pay for reconstructive facial and dental surgeries for children in developing countries..
“I think the church is really waking up to the whole missional service realm, giving young people a vehicle to jump on and be ushered into an area where they can love people well,” says Brummel.
“Why wouldn’t students feel blessed—when they are loving others in Jesus’s name?”
Where is the Love?
Campus Ministries is a religious organization, and faith is central to what they do. Many of the students and alumni involved say faith was the defining aspect of their college experience. In addition to service projects, Campus Ministries helps with weekly Chapel on Tuesday and runs “Food for Thought” twice a week, Monday Night Prayer and the Calm on Sunday nights—a more contemporary, interdenominational worship time. More than 150 students regularly attend the Calm.
For those Christians who choose to participate in Campus Ministries, service can’t be extricated from Jesus’s call to love others. “The New Testament call is that faith without works, without service, is a dead faith,” says Brummel.
The chaplain believes that young people today are hearing a message from the culture that taking care of themselves is most important. But they still have an innate urge to love one another. Their first service project becomes an “aha” moment when they realize that the cultural messages are wrong.
“I don’t think you can really show someone love without having a servant heart,” says junior Elizabeth Ihnen, a member of a Justice Team who has gone on several mission trips. “You have to humble yourself, and you have to be willing to put everyone else before yourself. That is service. I think that is also Christianity.”
Despite its religious underpinnings, Campus Ministries is open to all those who want to participate in service. Visiting Chinese scholars have gone on mission trips, as well as Muslim students. Brummel says he never requires anyone to participate in Bible study or other Christian activities, but he encourages discussion about the things that are common among them.
Sarah Vander Linden Zagami ’04, who is now a missionary with her husband and son in Madagascar, says she chose Central College because she wanted to challenge her faith. As a religion major, she encountered classes and professors who had questions that broadened her perspective. But the close-knit community of Christians in Campus Ministries supported and nourished her faith.
Ultimately, Brummel knows that every student who comes through Central is on a journey—Christian or otherwise. That has kept him working as chaplain for 12 years. “I like the energy of young people—the idealism, the dreams they have,” he says. “They haven’t lost the dream that they can change the world, that the world is a good place and getting better. They’re exploring and searching and they’re not afraid to admit it.”
Students on a Mission
One of the first places students look when they’re searching is off-campus, so Campus Ministries channels that drive for exploration into a force for good. During fall, winter spring and summer breaks, they plan several mission trips within the U.S. Recently, students have traveled to New York to clean up after hurricanes, southern Texas to address endemic poverty, New Orleans and Kentucky. For years, before the trip became too dangerous, they took students to Reynosa, Mexico. This summer, they are planning a trip to Haiti.
For many of the students who go to build or repair houses; organize children’s carnivals; pass out food, clothing and medical supplies; and connect with people in need, the mission trips are life-changing. A common refrain among the group is: “People come before projects.” As students talk with local people, hear about their lives and pray with them, the work becomes secondary to those relationships.
“I’ve found that I had all these things planned and these intentions to help people, but in actuality the people taught me so much,” says Zagami, who traveled to Mexico, Belize and Argentina during her time at Central.
As Brummel has watched his students carry lumber, wield sledgehammers and install faucets over the years, he has gained greater confidence in the abilities of 19- and 20-year-olds who have a little bit of skill and a lot of love. Over winter break this year, nearly 100 students in Texas completed three full-sized family houses with indoor plumbing. Jordan Tiarks ’09, who grew up working on a farm and helping with house repairs, says he learned on the mission trips that his skills can be put to use for the greater good.
Zagami grew up in Iowa, like many alumni, and the mission trips were her first glimpse of a different way of life. “At Central was really the first time my worldview was expanded,” she says. “I learned that the world is not really such a small place and that there are a lot of different views and perspectives on things. I was challenged by that but also encouraged, too.”
Serving Side by Side
The mission trips are an instant bonding experience for students from all grade levels and majors. As sophomore Spencer Boeyink points out, when you’re nailing down a roof with someone in the burning Texas sun, you tend to come down at the end of the day as friends.
“You notice immediately when you get back on campus from a trip that all of a sudden you have 20 or 30 more friends,” says Boeyink. Some of that comes from Bible study and conversations deep into night; some from goofing around on the bus. The students Boeyink has met through Campus Ministries have become his best friends—the people he sees every day and can be truly honest with.
“You need that foundation, that place you can go to get revived and picked up when you’re down,” says Ihnen. “It’s all about community, and Campus Ministries is my community on campus.”
Derek Groenendyk ’09 knows all about that. He organized many service and social events for Campus Ministries while he was at Central. At one of them, he met his wife, Anna Lavely Groenendyk ’10. They both became very involved with service and went on several mission trips during their Central careers.
Although mission trips get the most attention, they don’t overshadow the service students do on campus—for each other. “Campus Ministries puts a lot of emphasis on local daily interactions,” says Ihnen. “You can serve people here on campus right now through little acts of kindness and love. And those are equally as important as the big service projects and trips.”
The students often repeat one of Brummel’s favorite phrases: “If we can’t love each other well here, how can we love each other well there?”
Pass it On
Once they walk across the stage and here becomes there, where does Campus Ministries leave their alumni? Many have continued with the service ethos instilled in them at Central. The Groenendyks mentor low-income children, taking them to the park and the pool and special events in their community of Tucson, Ariz. They are also active in improving the local schools.
“At Central, there were obviously opportunities to serve and to get involved, but it wasn’t because you had to,” says Derek. “It’s an environment that works off the idea that it’s something you want to do, as part of your desire to improve yourself and the community around you. You can apply that to many different areas of your life—whether you’re at Central or abroad, have a career or a family. The biggest thing is finding where in your life you can serve—wherever you are.”
Both Ihnen and Boeyink plan to continue their service work after graduation. Ihnen, a sociology major and Spanish minor, wants to go on more mission trips, while doing social work or translation as a career. Boeyink, an elementary education major, plans to teach in inner-city schools. He is also considering the Peace Corps.
Tiarks says his life is ever-changing, but the one constant is service. Involved in his local church and food bank, he is currently earning a Ph.D. degree in mechanical engineering at Iowa State University and plans to become a professor and possibly join Engineers without Borders. The mission trips with Campus Ministries defined that passion and his time at Central.
“The college years are the most instrumental in forming who a person is,” he says. “And you can have either really good influences or really bad influences. The work that Campus Ministries does is life-changing in that it shows students what a life of service means. You will see things on those mission trips and even in your own backyard that perhaps you’ve never seen before. And it will change you.”