Monday Feb. 21: I hang up flyers around campus that read "No Plans for Spring Break? Good. Build a House in Tijuana" and leave my telephone number. The week before I have been hired as the Presbyterian/UCC chaplain at Columbia University in New York City. The semester is already well under way, and sitting alone in my office my first day, I knew I had to do something outstanding to make the students care that there's a new campus minister.

And with spring break only three weeks away, I have to do something quick. A few years ago, I brought a volunteer group to an organization in Tijuana, Mexico, called Esperanza International. I trust the staff and their mission--to empower the poor to help themselves and become self-sustaining. They take all kind of groups, colleges, churches, and service clubs and allow them to create their own spiritual reflection time.

When I called, they were glad to hear from me and were willing to accommodate me on such short notice. Perfect.

My poster is up. Now will any students want to go? (Geeeez, this is cutting it so close. ... I have already broken Mission Trip Commandment Number One)

Friday, Feb. 25: Hallelujah! I sit with eight students eager to travel to Tijuana and take part in a service project. They impress me with their honesty and authenticity. One actually says she had resisted the idea to go on a working spring break (preferring to go to Italy), but now that she is here she is as excited as the rest. I mention that spiritual reflection is an important component to the trip, and they actually seem to be looking forward to the opportunity.

People go on service projects for all kinds of reasons. Some who start by thinking they are going to help others and feel good about themselves end up frustrated at the magnitude and the complexity of the problems facing those they are supposed to be helping. Others, the ones who think the trip will be a little vacation, end up having the revelation that changes their life. What knowledge will we gain on this trip?

Saturday, Feb. 26: I have the students, I have the place, I need to get there. The sheer details of a trip like this become the stumbling block. I call a few discount airline-ticket agencies. Our departure date is only two weeks away, and the fares aren't great, but we aren't going to drive from New York City to Tijuana.

I take a leap and buy tickets from one of those online bidding sites. I rent a van, send a list of items that the students need to take, see if we need visas (no), find a hotel in San Diego for our last two nights. Now to convince Presbyterian/UCC board that this whole thing is a good idea.

Wednesday, March 1: I get an e-mail today that made my eyes water. One of the students has offered to pay more than her share in order to help with costs. Anyone who has lost faith in the current generation should meet these kids.

Friday, March 3: I meet with the group for pizza. I ask them to bring on the trip a small object or piece of writing that they feel is sacred and to be prepared to share it with the group.

While we wait for the pizza, I ask everyone to talk about what excites them about the trip, and what makes them a bit nervous. Only a few voice fears--Brian wisely fears diarrhea; Susan worries because she is accident prone (now she tells me). I worry because I have taken on the responsibility of caring for these young people.

The list of things the students are looking forward to is longer. Erin is preparing herself for immersion in poverty, which she has not been exposed to before; Justin is looking forward to having earth under his feet and working on the house; Soo-Jin is excited to spend spring break with her friends.

The next time we see each other will be at the airport in a week. I beg them not to miss the plane.

Monday, March 6: My board agrees to the trip, and sends us on with their blessing--very kind of them, considering I have only been the UCC/Presbyterian chaplain for three weeks nd have already spent the entire budget for the semester. It's good to work for good people.

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