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Spring Break Service Trips Benefit Pastors, Churches, and Students

Mikayla Gainor

In this piece, PRM writing intern, Mikayla Gainor reflects on the variety of ministry experiences this year's PRM-ICO short-term mission trips provided for two teams of Grove City College students who partnered with local pastors over Spring Break.

The Agricultural Team

The Agricultural team visited five churches between Saturday and Thursday over the week of March 5, 2023. They kicked off their trip on Saturday by having lunch with three pastors – Matt Wolfe, Josh Stahley, and Mark Hinman – and then going on a prayer walk through Jamestown, New York. That evening, they assisted with a youth rally at Bethany Camp in Sinclairville, NY, and about 30-40 kids came! Their time was spent in worship and prayer as well as games and forming new relationships. The team expressed their gratitude for the unique opportunity to make these connections with the youth. The pastors shared that it was a blessing for the youth to see these college students, who were just a couple years older than they were, be on fire for the Lord – to catch a glimpse of what it looks like to live like Christ as a young person and to imagine themselves living out that same life a few years down the road. 

Members of the PRM-ICO's Agricultural Team lead a multi-church youth event at Bethany Camp.

On Monday, the team spent the day with Matt Wolfe at First Baptist Church in Westfield. They had time to talk with Matt about the context of his ministry, and they helped with some projects at the church. Matt gave them a tour of the town in the afternoon, and they met a man who was renovating a mansion into a church. From his story they learned that he had once been a carpenter and had wondered why God had led him to that role for so many years. Looking back on his life now, he praised God’s sovereignty. God had not wasted any of his years in carpentry and was now using his previous experience to turn something that was broken down into something of great value for the community.

Pastor Matthew Wolfe led the team on a prayer walk and tour through the town of Westfield, New York.

The team began Tuesday morning participating in a prayer gathering with Mark Hinman, who is the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jamestown, and several other pastors from different denominations in that area. This meeting was a normal part of the pastors’ weekly rhythm, and the team appreciated seeing the unity of believers being lived out in this way – seeing various church backgrounds committing to engage in powerful prayer for their community.

Sorting donated clothing at St. Susan's Center

In the afternoon, the team went to St. Susan’s Center, which is a soup kitchen that offers “free meals, fellowship, dignity, and respect to all who come through [their] doors” for the sake of the gospel. This is their mission statement, and they provide nutritional meals to anyone who comes in, which is often the homeless, those struggling with addiction, and the forgotten. The team’s hope was to present a friendly, caring face and to provide fruitful conversation. They were surprised to see how willing people were to share their lives, and they were excited to engage in several conversations about faith. For people who may not have beneficial support systems, the team’s presence was a meaningful way to show genuine care and the love of Christ.

In Fredonia, the team met with Josh Stahley, the pastor of Christ Community Church. They learned about and witnessed some of the spiritual darkness in that place and the prevalence of New Age philosophies. Again, they participated in a weekly prayer group and were blessed to be part of praying over that town. Later that Wednesday afternoon, the team drove to meet Calvin Cook at First United Methodist Church in Kane. They assisted with a food drive that functions twice a week and encountered others suffering from poverty, drugs, and homelessness. That evening, Calvin joined the team in devotions and prayer. He expressed how he was encouraged by them, and they shared how they were inspired by his ability to meet people where they were at, see their needs, and provide for them.

The Agricultural Team takes time for a photo with Pastor Calvin Cook inside First UMC in Kane, Pennsylvania.

The team finished their trip at Redeemer Anglican Church in Franklin with Eric Phillips. Redeemer is a recent church plant from Grace Anglican Church in Grove City, so Eric was able to share his perspective about church-planting to the team. Their evening ended with fellowship over a bonfire.

Having engaged in many meaningful times of prayer, one team member, Mike Lindstedt, shared the following: “My biggest takeaway from ICO PRM was a reminder of the real power of prayer. God moved when the pastors prayed in amazing ways, and I could see God's provision through it. The daily rhythm of life can make us forget the power of prayer, but this trip was an encouraging reminder to me about how God moves in amazing ways when we faithfully pray to Him.”

The Appalachian Team

I was on the Appalachian team, and we began our trip by driving to Powhatan, OH on Friday night to meet Pastor William Coker, who goes by PC. He and his wife, Ronda, warmly greeted us at Powhatan Point Church of the Nazarene in southeastern Ohio, and then the team spent some time sharing testimonies with each other.

Members of the Appalachian Team with the Cokers.

On Saturday morning, we assisted with a food pantry. Ronda shared how the Lord faithfully provided incredible donations for them in times when they didn’t know if they would have what they needed. With no grocery store within a twenty-minute drive, people looked forward to this monthly opportunity to pick up fresh, accessible food at the church. The food pantry was followed by making assembly lines to put together natural relief care packages. Lunch provided opportunities for conversations with many people who had volunteered to help that morning – these volunteers even included people who were not members of the church. It was inspiring to see how generous they were with their time and resources and how willing they were to serve; it challenged our team to consider how much more we, as Christ’s body, ought to be involved in meeting the physical needs of our community in addition to spiritual needs.

Students and local volunteers team up in the Powhattan Point Church of the Nazarene food pantry.
Appalachian Team members lead worship at a local retirement home
alongside Pastor William Coker, Jr.

The afternoon allowed for time to rest, worship, and engaging in deeper conversations with PC. I was touched by the authenticity of his tender heart for his community as well as the depth of his passion for reaching the lost. “Do we even notice when our brother or sister is not at church one Sunday?” he asked. “Or the Sunday after that? Or the next? Are we letting each other be complacent in our faith and not calling one another out, saying, ‘brother, I’ve missed you. What’s going on? How can I come alongside you and pray for you?’” In a town with generational brokenness in families, PC saw the desperate need for the gospel, and members of his congregation commented that he was not afraid to try new things to care for people and point them to God, the giver of life.

Our team also spent Sunday with PC and joined their church in worship that morning. During lunch with the congregation, our team interacted with several different families and learned more about their lives: what it was like to grow up there, what the challenges of that town were, and what they appreciated about the church. Madi Dewall, another member of our team, shared that one of her favorite moments was during this lunch because there were five kids that she “just got to be goofy with and love. I never thought I enjoyed children’s ministry, but I really experienced its joy during the trip.” After lunch, some members of our team led worship for a service at a care center home. It was beautiful to witness these elderly people finding hope in the gospel and displaying such joy as we sang praise to our Creator, especially because they didn’t have as many opportunities to be part of a church elsewhere.

The following day, we traveled to Waynesburg and met Mike and Jen Haddox at First Presbyterian Church. They introduced us to another pastoring couple in town, Jim and Cathy, who had given up their previous home in order to live among the people that they would be ministering to. One thing they had done was transform a bar into a youth center where teens could come and hangout, be tutored, get coffee, and hear the gospel. We helped clean their facility then had time for conversation with the Haddoxes in the evening. Mike and Jen are co-pastors, and you can read more about their experience here. After dinner, Mike shared his life story with the guys, and Jen answered questions with the girls about how she became a pastor and what it was like to be in ministry as a woman. Our team reflected on their commitment to family life and how their understanding of their specific God-given gifts allowed them to effectively share responsibilities in the ministry.

On Tuesday, Mike took us to The Way, which used to be a grocery store but is now being turned into a community center. Several churches in the area are partnering together to work on this big project. By pulling together their resources, their goal is to create a place where people can form meaningful community and begin building relationships with believers. They hope to create a welcoming space that may feel more comfortable for some people than stepping into a church building. Our team worked that morning to help clear the building of drywall, wood, and wires. Mike spent time with us that afternoon to discuss what we had seen and learned, as well as to impart wisdom to us about what it looks like to pursue ministry during life after college. “He talked about how we can often think that because we have a four-year degree or come from a specific background, we deserve a certain type of job,” Madi explained. “Mike challenged us to be open to whatever the Lord calls us to when we graduate, even if it doesn’t make sense to take a job that may pay less when you just spent a lot on an education. Our duty is first and foremost to the Lord, however, and not to a job title.”

Our final two days were spent at Living Faith Church in Fombell, Pennsylvania. We spent lots of time in the sun on Wednesday doing yardwork and putting together a new Greenhouse. One of the deacons, Tom, spoke to us on Thursday morning about what it means and looks like to be a deacon. Tom helped us consider what Jesus’ ministry looked like, and he walked us through Acts 6:1-3 to explain how deacons can model this in the way they support their local church. One member of our team, Lydia DeBruin, shared that “Tom was one of my favorite people that we met. His humble heart and desire to serve the Lord and His people was inspiring. Tom encouraged me to establish my foundation in Jesus’ will and heart for me, as well as to allow the overflowing goodness of God to pour into everything that I do. In this, I pray that the Lord will continue His work and develop a servant heart in me so that I may love His people as He does.”

Pastor Mark Sentell reflects on ministry with the Appalachian Team.

After a sweet time of praise and prayer together, the head pastor, Mark Sentell, talked with our team and shared his approach to ministry. “Unbelievers and believers can share affinities,” he stated. “Outreach starts with individual relationships with unchurched people, then building bridges through common interests and connecting them to the body, then sharing the gospel from that foundation of trust. God plants seeds of faith in someone’s life, and he uses people to water and feed it throughout their life.” With a few of our team members having visited this church last year, they especially valued connecting the dots between what Mark shared and seeing how his church lived out this belief in their ministries.

Student Reflections

            When asked about their experience, both teams expressed an overwhelming gratitude for the pastors’ hospitality and willingness to let them participate in their ministries, even for a short time. Nick Zannis commented that, “the most encouraging thing about the trip was the opportunity to, for a moment, be part of the stories of God’s people in a rural context and learn how they are striving together to be obedient where they are as the Church, as well as being a light to the dark world around them.” Madi also appreciated that the trip gave her an opportunity to be part of something bigger than herself. “It was such a blessing to be reminded that the world is way bigger than my normal day-to-day life. It was a reminder that God is bigger than I know, and it helped me want to be a more faithful steward of the calling He has for me in my current season of life.”

Students had many takeaways from the trip, including ways that their experiences touched their hearts and enabled them to think about how God would use their gifts in future ministry. Madi explained how the trip ignited many of the passions God has given her. “This trip stirred my passion for the local church. I was so excited to worship with my church after the trip was done. I am excited to be more intentional about growing closer with congregants at my church and asking them questions to learn about their unique callings. I am excited to see how we, as a body of believers, can rely on each other and work together to follow God. This trip also stirred up my desire to pray. Through my team and the pastors we met, I saw their faithfulness and commitment to pray, and it really convicted me to likewise be persistent in praying.”

Lastly, Lydia expressed the value she saw in the pastors’ approaches to ministry. “ICO PRM affirmed the importance of trust and presence within the context of ministry. Throughout the trip, we were able to dive into the Christlike approach of incarnational ministry by walking alongside pastors who had dedicated their lives to sharing Jesus with those in need. It was formative to witness their commitment to this ministry, especially when it does not present attractive benefits or the approval of the world. They displayed great humility as they vulnerably acknowledged their own need alongside the suffering in their communities. This is at the heart of ministry: humbling oneself as Jesus did to reach the hearts of the lost through persistent and self-sacrificial service and love. This is a model of Jesus’ own heart!”

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