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Day of service enriches university’s new students

MOBILE, Ala. (BP)–College students armed with hatchets, pickaxes and crowbars pounded the parking lot at the Mobile Baptist Association’s office, prying up and tossing aside huge chunks of asphalt.

But their purpose wasn’t destruction: They were clearing the way for a disaster relief storage unit to help Mobile churches serve the community in emergencies during the University of Mobile’s Project Serve Aug. 14.

As part of the university’s freshman orientation, Project Serve allows incoming freshmen and new transfer students to take a day before classes to volunteer in the Mobile community.

“The students are working in high temperatures and high humidity and are doing some hard, dirty work; but they’re singing, enjoying the work and making great progress,” said Thomas Wright, executive director of missions for the Mobile Baptist Association.

“Spiritual life is a cornerstone at the University of Mobile,” said Mathew Alexander of Boaz, Ala., a junior religion major and orientation leader who took his group to work at New Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church. “Even when we’re having fun, it’s important to serve.”

In addition to the Mobile Baptist Association and New Pilgrim, groups traveled to the Bay Area Food Bank, the International Seamen’s Center, Home of Grace for Women and to Korean, Shiloh and Shalom Baptist churches.

Project Serve is sponsored by UM’s campus outreach program. Matt Davis of Collierville, Tenn., co-leader of campus outreach and a junior marine science major who organized Project Serve both this year and last, said the student-led organization exists “to minister to students on campus, find places for students to minister off campus, and do community service.”

“That was one thing I was really excited about with this school: there were service opportunities,” said Rebeca Doswell of Niceville, Fla., a junior transfer majoring in music.

Students this year volunteered primarily at locations that had suffered hurricane damage. They did yard work, sanded and painted sheetrock, organized a clothes closet and more.

“There are still people in need,” Davis said, referring to victims of Hurricane Katrina, “and we need to keep on caring.”

Several students said that caring through community service also allowed them to share their faith, if not in words.

“Being a servant shows that God is in my life,” said Bethany Case of Orlando, Fla., a freshman transfer majoring in church music. “It’s totally not for my glory, that’s for sure.”

Freshman nursing major Katelynd Branum of Greenville, Ala., noted that she and others were “serving and learning what the Bible teaches” through Project Serve –- “what a great way to put that into practice.”

“Sometimes our greatest witness to the outside community is what they see,” said Jeremy Brown of Sylacauga, Ala., a sophomore transfer majoring in church music. “Christians are supposed to be servants.”

Neal Ledbetter, UM’s director of campus ministries, said it is important for students to engage the world around them through service.

“This is the third year for Project Serve. It started as a way to encourage our incoming students to make a difference in the university’s community, which is now their community,” Ledbetter said. “It exposes students to the needs in our community. It also connects them to ministries they can partner with for ongoing ministry and impact.”

Students in the past have continued to stay involved in ministries they connected with during Project Serve. Senior religion major Ken Lovett of Auburn, Ala., visited East European Harvest, a facility that binds and sends Bibles in various languages to Russia, Romania and other nations, during Project Serve two years ago.

What’s important, he said, is not ourselves, but “other people, or the ministry you’re serving — whatever the Lord has you doing.”

Lovett said that thanks to his connection with East European Harvest, his own eyes were opened to the thirst people have for the Word of God and how blessed believers in America are to have such ready access to Bibles in English. Now, as the youth minister of Sonrise Baptist Church in Mobile, Lovett has taken his youth group there to volunteer so those students could realize the same thing he did.

Ledbetter said the primary thing for Christians is to emulate Christ.

“Whatever town, village or place Jesus entered, lives changed. He brought peace hope, life, meaning, purpose, healing, love and the offer of eternal life — the quality of life got better, people benefited,” Ledbetter said. “So if we call ourselves followers of Christ and Christ is in us, then wherever we are or go, things ought to be better.”

In emulating Christ, believers should live out what they profess to believe, said Jared Freeman of Prattville, Ala., a freshman finance major.

“If we’re going to be out preaching to people, we need to be an example, to live the life we say should be lived. The Bible says to love one another, and what better way to show love than helping someone in need?” Freeman said.

    About the Author

  • Annie Hodgin