“‘Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” – Mark 10:43-45

“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The two men quoted above had two very significant things in common: they were incredibly divisive in their own time, and they lived out an enduring example for others to emulate. Even now as division seems to run at an all time high within our nation, in our city, and in our communities, humble service remains at the heart of the solution.

On January 19, a day marked by the remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr’s radical and active efforts toward social justice, early in the morning and all throughout the city, small groups of Corban students quietly came together for something more than discussion or argument—they gathered to serve.

MLK Serve Day is an annual Corban tradition, and though this year presented a litany of logistical challenges and looked a quite a bit different—groups were masked, limited in size, and continued to practice social distancing—every available spot on the service schedule was filled. At 10 different sites dotted across the greater-Salem area, 185 Corban students brought food to those experiencing homelessness, stacked and sorted boxes of relief supplies for families affected by the canyon fires, landscaped, cleaned, and sacrificed what could have been a needed day off in order to serve and benefit others.

“It means so much to me that this year’s MLK Serve Day wasn’t cancelled,” said Clara Williams, who helped serve with United Way’s Good 360 program. “So many events have been cancelled at Corban, which has been a major loss, but a major win is the community God has given us to enjoy and serve, whether here on campus or in Salem.”

Good 360’s site director, Coleman Crocker, summed up a common sentiment shared by many of the nonprofit leaders that Corban students helped throughout the day. “All the programs we run just could not work unless we have groups like Corban’s coming in to help us get through this,” he said. “And I really respect the students’ commitment to staying safe and being really diligent about all the COVID restrictions, because it only works if everyone is being safe.”

In light of COVID’s impact on our community, many students like Mariah McGinnis were sobered by the opportunity to serve men, women, and children who do not possess the same luxuries of having a place to shelter safely. “It really was a cool experience being able to pray over them and provide them with a warm meal on a cold morning,” she said. “These people we visited can’t go quarantine in a warm home, and they aren’t able to go see their loved ones who are sick. I can’t imagine how hard that must be for them. I can’t do much for them, but if I can bring a smile to their face by giving them food, I am doing my small part in helping our community.”

Outside of the tangible benefits produced by Corban students’ service, their actions were held in stark contrast to the divisive and polarized rhetoric, environments, and displays which have afflicted our nation. “It’s truly a blessing to serve during such a polarizing time,” said Miriam Steinbach, who served at Mid-Valley Literacy Center. “While there is so much disagreement and hurt in our country right now, coming together in service was like medicine for the heart and soul.” 

MLK Serve Day provided a rare positive outlet for students to embrace their role in creating change together in a year when gathering has been so difficult. “I think it is important for Corban students, in the midst of civil unrest and COVID concerns, to seek safe and healthy ways to stay engaged with one another and our Salem community,” Corban Dean of Students Nathan Geer said. “This is a day about being together in all our humanity, not our various differences. Today, on MLK Day, Corban students exemplified Christ to hurting communities.”

In a year which has often been defined more by the absence of opportunities and events than by their presence, Corban students jumped into their service roles with joyful hearts and smiles on their faces that even masks could not obscure. The result was a pervasive spirit of gratefulness, from the site coordinators, from those being served, and from the groups of servant-hearted Corban students themselves. Corban students lined up to pass essential items to be sorted for relief, they raked fallen leaves into neat lines to be collected, and they served the growing lines of Salem’s hungry and hurting. “I think demonstrating a humility through serving others is so powerful in unifying a hurt and divided community,” Ethan Knopp said. “It is a way to spread Christ’s love and share the hope that can be found in who He is. At the same time, putting our desires aside to help others can refocus our mindset on what really matters in life.” And in doing so, they not only honored the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his day of remembrance, but honored the One who set the ultimate example of humble, radical service in the face of adversity.