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Grove City College Students Serve Rural Churches

Mikayla Gainor

Last year, we heard about the beginning of the PRM ICO trips as the Project on Rural Ministry (PRM) partnered with Grove City College's longstanding student-led Inner City Outreach (or, ICO) missions program to connect college students to rural churches. This year, we wanted to highlight the second round of these trips by offering readers a chance to hear a bit about the team leaders’ preparation leading up to these spring break trips and offer a glimpse into the geographic scope and emphases of these trips.

Over spring break this week (February 26-March 5) groups of GCC students are serving rural and small town churches in western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia as part of PRM-ICO trips. Student-leaders Jake Santis and Tess Dattoli, are leading a team of students who are serving alongside congregations in the PRM's Appalachian Region. This team will be working with congregations near the West Virginia towns of Moundsville, Core, New Martinsville, and Fairmont. The second group of students, led by Tadd Perkins and Victoria Kim, are visiting congregations near the Pennsylvania towns of Fombell, Jeannette, New Castle, and Butler. 

I recently had the opportunity to meet with the leaders from both teams. It was humbling to hear about their mindsets going into the trip, as well as how they prepared their hearts and their teams. It was clear to see on both sides how passionate they were about this ministry and how much they anticipated seeing God’s glory revealed during their time together.

The Preparation Process

On a practical level, the leaders discussed the logistics that go into planning these trips. There is a lot of communication on the front end between pastors and ICO leaders. This often consists of pastors sharing their ministry vision and the leaders sharing their team’s goals based on the PRM mission. Once these are shared, the pastors will often communicate the specific needs they have, and the details are worked out from there.

In terms of preparing their teams and their hearts, the ICO leaders first worked together to create a vision statement that put God at the center: “To glorify God by learning from and serving local rural pastors with mutual encouragement in the faith.” Their goal in doing so was to create a statement that both captured the heart of the mission and unified them as a team. Their desire was to have the team embody this statement and live it out both individually and collectively through their interactions on the trip.

The leaders also emphasized the desire to know their team well and be able to utilize their unique God-given gifts. They accomplished this during meetings leading up to the trip by walking their team through 1 Corinthians 12-13 and asking questions such as “how do you serve best?” or “how do you show your love for others?” They then went through the trip’s various tasks and delegated things according to each person’s strengths. In my conversation with the leaders, they noted how beautifully the Lord brought together people with different talents and how this enabled their team to bless churches in more ways than one.

Seeing the Lord at Work

The primary way both teams expressed seeing God’s hand in their preparation was through his faithfulness and sovereignty. For example, by the application deadline this year, they started out with only about five applications from students who wanted to join the trip. After praying and waiting one more week, however, they had over twenty applications, including people they hadn’t even had previous conversations with! One example they gave from last year was seeing how faithfully God provided energy for the team, despite the shortened amount of sleep they had. They also saw the Lord present various unexpected moments and conversations that brought joy and special opportunities to learn. God seamlessly orchestrated their time together and used the trip to bless both the churches and the students. It was clear to see how God had answered their prayers for energy, guidance, and growth leading up to the trip.

The PRM ICO trips have a unique emphasis on learning and serving, and their impact is for both college students and churches.

Why These Trips Matter

The PRM ICO trips have a unique emphasis on learning and serving, and their impact is for both college students and churches. For students, these trips offer a chance to experience God in a new way and grow deeply. They encounter people from various backgrounds, and they get to see the different ways in which a believer can live out his or her faith. They are exposed to new ministries and have an opportunity to both learn about and be challenged by different denominations or cultural contexts. By serving in new capacities alongside fellow students, they form deeper relationships outside the classroom. Their experiences have the potential to create long-lasting life changes that start with their immediate circles when they return to campus.

Of course, it's not just the students who benefit. Churches and pastors stand to gain from interactions with students as well. One beautiful aspect of this ministry is the way it connects GCC students to local churches where relationships can be further developed. The churches also benefit from having fellow believers come alongside them to support them in their long-term goals and offer new resources to their ministry. In some cases, the energy and impact the students bring can help revitalize certain church functions. Last year a church reinstated its prayer meeting following their interactions with students.

One beautiful aspect of this ministry is the way it connects GCC students to local churches where relationships can be further developed.

As the team leaders consistently stated, these trips are about much more than just the one week of service; they have lasting implications for the hearts involved and the cultural context they serve. They have the potential to help students better understand and appreciate the unique challenges and opportunities rural congregations face. They have the potential to transform lives through the day-to-day changes that are made as a result of their experiences on the trip.

How to Pray

There are a couple of ways you can be praying for these teams as they finish out this week. The leaders specifically asked that we would pray for the Lord to guide and direct their path, blessing the gaps they can’t control. With so many details and the need for adaptability with changing plans, you can pray that the Lord would work all things out for his good and continue to demonstrate his sovereignty through the moving pieces. You can pray that mutual encouragement would occur as students serve and the pastors share about their lives and ministry experiences. Ultimately, you can pray that God would be glorified through the many conversations, learning opportunities, and service projects.

Mikayla is a writing intern for the PRM and a junior majoring in Psychology and Biblical and Religious Studies. She is from the Chicago area.