“It was five days before we were supposed to be on the road that we had to shut the trip down,” Anna Benjamin remembers. “When I finally heard that it was a no, it was so difficult.”
For many Corban students, like Anna, spring break mission trips are a highlight to the year. In a time when most are justifiably ready to relax and take a break from the stress and busyness of the school year, many Corban students choose instead to sacrifice their time in order to give back to people in need. Which is why last year, when the pandemic rendered these service opportunities impossible, many students were left wondering why.
For Anna and her team, in a matter of days a year’s worth of preparation, fundraising events, team planning meetings, and growing excitement was wiped away. But last year’s hardship became this year’s blessings as, for the first time since the pandemic, Corban students would once again be sacrificing their spring breaks for the service of others.
“This was a year in the making,” says Anna. She recalls the day that Reach Coordinator Liane Smith approached her with an opportunity to go and serve again at the Dream Center, a relief shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness. “My heart was already prepared for this trip. I didn’t have to think very much about going again.”
As Anna prepared for a new and unexpected opportunity, this time around she would be stepping into a leadership role, building off the hard work of the team members and leaders of the year prior whose fundraising and preparation work they were able to use for this year’s trip. “It was really a gift for the team that was able to go this year,” she says.
Even though the team would be small—only five members, largely due to COVID restrictions—it wasn’t difficult to find willing participants. “We really wanted to help others during this hard time,” says fellow student leader, Raina Tschantre. “Instead of vacationing during spring break, we wanted to use that time to help others who are in need.”
After clearing their two COVID tests and serving a quarantine period, the team was ready to make the long drive down to southern California, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to help meet the needs of the growing hungry and hurting population that waited there.
On arrival, the team was surprised to find that very little of their work would be face-to-face with the people that the Dream Center served. “At first I was confused by that,” Anna says. “But I began to realize the theme of the work that our team did was behind the scenes. We didn’t see the fruit of any of the work we did, but it was to prepare for what will happen in the future.”
Their sacrifices manifested in very different ways. Expectations of sharing food and faith in nearby Echo Park were traded for the reality of moving heavy furniture throughout the Dream Center’s 15-story facility, masks holding in the sweat and heat as they worked. “It was uncomfortable, but it was such a small thing in the scope of what was going on,” says Anna.
The team worked hard each day, preparing meals for the over 2,000 guests that would be served food daily, organizing new spaces for social distancing, and prepping facilities for crucial updates. “It was teaching me not to hold so tightly onto what I thought was useful,” Anna says. “We were learning to bless the people right in front of us, the leaders and staff at the Dream Center.”
And this became the new vital focus of the teams’ ministry—serving the Dream Center staff, pouring into them so that they might be better equipped to meet the needs of those they would continue to serve long after Corban’s team left downtown Los Angeles. “Every Dream Center staff member we met was someone that had been through their 1-year recovery program,” Raina says. “People that used to deal with drug addiction and homelessness were now radically saved and working for the Dream Center. It was awesome to see the redemption of their lives and experience their joyful and servant-based hearts.”
This unexpected shift in ministry focus ended up being the highlight of the trip, meeting the calling Anna had been moving towards for over two years. “I realized I couldn’t really be upset about not having more of those face-to-face conversations and hearing peoples’ stories, because our team did that,” she says. “We heard those stories, but it was from people whose lives had already been redeemed. And we were able to listen to and support them.”
The team took this new mission seriously, opting to continue to serve in the evenings rather than taking that time to rest or sightsee. “This trip taught me that there is a difference in doing charity work and genuinely serving others,” Raina says. “Instead of looking at it like we were the ones helping those who were in some way lesser than us, we learned that serving others means putting them and their needs above ourselves.”
For Anna, her time also revealed aspects of her experience back home that she had not fully encountered. “A surprising part of this trip for me was realizing how the Corban community, the relationships I’ve made there, the conflicts, the growth, all helped to prepare me for the dynamics of our team and with the people we were working with at the Dream Center,” she says. “When you’re at Corban you learn inside and outside of the classroom.”
As the small team of Corban students confronted a radically different service experience than they expected, choosing to move in faith during a time when stagnancy has often seemed to be the new norm, their new missional focus led to a deeper appreciation of the work being done at the Dream Center, not just during a week-long mission trip, but every day. “Hearing from the people we met, how God was able to redeem them, I just want to see that multiply, and see more of those stories,” says Anna. “Ultimately, we want to see more people move from false freedom to freedom in Christ—to real freedom.”