"Join us for the DC Urban Plunge. We'll learn about DC, serve in a variety of organizations, and engage questions of race, poverty, and justice through Scripture, discussion, and experiences."Sounds interesting, right? Agreed. But with little additional information, I led 5 students to Washington DC for a week of service/learning. The students had no expectations because they had no information. I was given the week's agenda only a couple days prior with clear instructions not to tell the students what the week would look like. The leaders of the Plunge wanted us to exercise the discipline of living in the moment. We had no choice... and the team was thankful for that.
About 30 students assembled from colleges in DC, MD, MA, and PA for the Plunge. We met up with a couple of the groups in College Park, MD, home of the University of Maryland, and together took the Metro into the city. Part of the Plunge experience included getting familiar with the city's public transportation... a lengthy ride on the Metro, followed by a bus ride into the Anacostia region of DC were just the beginnings of our public transportation education. We met at a leader's home in Anacostia (we later learned from locals that the area we called home for the week was generally considered to be the ghetto of DC... their words). After some introductions and basic info, we were given $7 for lunch and a roundtrip bus fare. Groups of 2 or 3 were formed and were tasked with getting to an assigned neighborhood to walk around and learn about the area from the locals. This spirit of adventure and independence marked the entire week.
The 5 students I took were able to go on different "tracks" that included sleeping at a homeless shelter for a night, working with kids at an inner-city elementary school, tutoring adults for the GED, spending a day with day-laboring immigrants, and taking tours of the "forgotten" areas of DC that lie in the shadows of some of the most famous buildings in America, The evenings were spent interacting as a group on issues such as racial reconciliation, the varying faces of poverty, and urban development. Our students responded well to the conversations about race and our eyes-- including my own-- were opened wider to the lingering presence of racism. No blame was cast... just a healthy conversation about understanding. We all have additional insights that will help us more capably minister to students of color.
Thanks again for praying!