At first glance, Clarkston, Ga. looks like any idyllic southern suburb: brick ranch homes, strip malls, steepled churches lining a railroad track. However, after scratching the surface, stark differences become much more obvious.
Several homes have been renovated into elaborate temples and mosques. Shops advertise goods from Nepal, Somalia, and Burma—to name just a few. Churches hold services in Urdu, Arabic, and Dzongha. Dubbed by Times Magazine as “the most diverse square mile in America,” Clarkston has ushered thousands of refugees into American citizenship since the 1980s.
Clarkston and the White Swan Yakama Indian reservation, Wash. were ground zero for the 20 students on this spring’s Break on Impact (BOI) trips. The trips often fulfill Covenant’s Intercultural requirement but also guide some students into long-term mission trips and internships.
Christiana Fitzpatrick, Director of Global Education, says that the BOI trips were created to educate students how can “be good neighbors now and wherever the Lord may take them.”
Fitzpatrick joined Mission To the World’s (MTW) Opal Hardgrove to supervise students on the Clarkston trip, while Foreign Language Professor, Dr. Sandy Shaw, and Manager of Alumni Engagement, Amy Smith, headed the Yakama trip. The customary RUF-led London experience was cancelled after only 4 students applied. Fitzpatrick attributes the drop in applications to the recent Paris bombings, the absence of a campus RUF leader in the fall, and the trip’s $2,100 price tag.
Covenant’s BOI trips have evolved significantly since their start in the 1990s. Originally, BOI advertised destinations that were much more distant than Clarkston or Yakama; Madrid, Brussels, and Athens are a few cities listed on past itineraries.
In recent years, BOI trips have begun to focus on ethnic enclaves in the US due. Mounting short-term mission critique from The Chalmers Center, a local community development research institute, and growing costs led Covenant to reorient their BOI program.
“We’ve been thinking a lot more carefully about long-term impact and working with groups that are already set and involved in the community. All that to say, we’re not interested in moving back in that direction for one-week trips,” says Fitzpatrick. “One week is a really short time to dig in the cross-cultural way that we want.”
The Yakama experience—facilitated by Sacred Road Ministries—became a BOI option more than a decade ago. Music Department Chair, Dr. Brandon Kreuze spearheaded the idea after working as a dedicated summer volunteer at Sacred Road.
According to Fitzpatrick, the trip survived the program cuts primarily due to continued relationships with nonprofits on the reservation. The Yakama trip also helps recruit students for summer internship opportunities. Since the trip’s establishment, at least one Covenant intern returns to White Swan each year.
Sophomore Early Education major Kassia Mayo isn’t considering a return-trip this summer, but she found the experience enlightening—particularly in regards to the dichotomy of cultures on the reservation. While working on construction projects at Hope Fellowship Church, she became best acquainted with the ministry’s “subculture.” After an informative orientation tour and a visit to a ritual powwow, she developed a more formative image of Yakama tradition.
“There are a lot of beautiful things about the culture, just like the way they celebrate and how thankful they are for their food, for creation,” says Mayo. She greatly admires the tribe’s collectivist values and how their religious beliefs filter through every aspect of Yakama life.
On the other hand, she was troubled by the customs of what she calls Yakama’s “poverty culture”: soaring dropout rates, domestic abuse, unemployment, and spiritual despondency.
Yakama adults are particularly challenging to reach, so children’s and youth ministries predominate the mission field. During most afternoons, the team entertained Yakama children with crafts, games, and bible studies. Later in the day, they networked with various youth ministries.
The Clarkston trip also flung students into a whole succotash of cultures— if not on a more varied scale than Yakama. At the trip’s origins five years ago, refugee resettlement issues were becoming increasingly relevant to the world stage. Now that Clarkston is a prime destination for newcomers from Syria, the trip is even more pertinent for students interested in NGO or international careers.
While the trip only scratched the surface of everyday life in the Clarkston, Sophomore Biology major, Amaris Capen says she learned much about the value of immaterial gifts and hospitality. “I learned how people are generous with their time and want these relationships to continue, how they are very welcoming. Even if people are not resource rich, they are rich in so many other facets of their life and it was a blessing to receive from them.”