Jayme Babczak (front) co-led an Agape Center service trip to Camden, NJ in October 2014.

Jayme Babczak (front) co-led an Agape Center service trip to Camden, NJ in October 2014.

By Joel Hoover

Jayme Babczak knew she was ready for something new at the start of her junior year.

After deciding to stop playing for Messiah’s softball team, Babczak turned her extracurricular focus toward being involved in service trips through the Agape Center. Though she originally applied to simply go on a Fall Break trip, she was asked by the Center if she wanted to become a trip leader.

“I was like, ‘Sure, why not? What’s it going to hurt to be a leader?’” she recalls.

With that response, Babczak was on her way to co-leading a four-day service trip this past October with six other Messiah students at the Fellowship House ministry in Camden, NJ. The ministry conducts outreach in the southern part of the city through an after-school program for underprivileged youth. Among the activities are Bible lessons, children’s games, and tutoring for people in and out of the community.

“It’s a safe haven for kids to come to,” says Babczak of the ministry.

For Babczak, arriving to the ministry as co-leader of Messiah’s service team was its own unique process. Despite having no prior connection to the Agape Center, she and fellow junior Vetzrel Adidala were put in charge of a group of women consisting of four juniors and three freshmen.

It was an entirely new collection of people—just the three freshmen knew each other coming into the trip—but Babczak and Adidala worked quickly to ensure that they would all get to know each other.

“We were starting from the ground up,” Babczak recalls, noting that the group had to meet together on campus to learn more about each other and find a group dynamic. “We were very comfortable with each other right away…we tried to break down barriers that can sometimes come with being with complete strangers.”

Part of the process included finding niche strengths for each person that could be applied to the trip. While Babczak was skilled at interaction, especially with the children, other members of the group were found to be more adept at task-oriented jobs like painting or organizing spaces.

Babczak and Adidala also had another task on their hands—coordinating almost everything involved with the trip, including transportation, meals, accommodations, and being the contact people between Fellowship House and the Agape Center. Having no adult overseeing these elements was an entirely new experience.

“There was definitely a maturation process for both of us to take on that responsibility,” Babczak says. “The Agape Center did a great job preparing us as leaders…they held a couple of meetings and one-on-one interactions to prepare us.” These included tutorials on leading devotions and how to handle different functions of organizing the trip and leading the group.

The service trip itself was a smooth process. After arriving Thursday morning, the team had the opportunity to work and play directly with the children that afternoon and the following day. Friday and Saturday also included extensive time cleaning around the building, including mulching, painting, and doing general maintenance.

The Fellowship House receives teams like Messiah’s every week or two weeks to help with the work they do. A summer program larger than the school program also requires interns to come in and help work with the children.

“It’s nice for teams like ours to go in and do the dirty work for them so they can continue to serve (the children directly) at the maximum capacity that they can,” Babczak says.

There was plenty of down time for the service team together as they spent their nights at the Fellowship House. In addition to doing meals as a group, they also conducted devotions each night and had more opportunities to get to know each other. The group joined the Fellowship House workers at a church service on Sunday before departing for Messiah.

“It was a mountain top experience,” Babczak says in reflection. “You want to fight to stay there and have that motivation, excitement, and enthusiasm to go and serve.”

Babczak was able to find an outlet for her excitement almost as soon as she returned to campus. During a debriefing of the trip, she discovered that the Agape Center has outreach teams that work directly on campus. She signed up for two of them, and is also looking to participate in J-Term Break and Spring Break service trips.

“Service trips take you outside the walls of Messiah and even Harrisburg, and Camden was a great experience for that,” she says. “But (it’s nice) knowing that those service things can happen right inside our community (and local context) too.”

But perhaps Babczak’s biggest takeaway was not what she gave to those she served, but what was given back to her.

“You (personally) get a lot more out of the service trips than you might expect going into them,” she says.

“You’re not spending all of your time and energy pouring into others…they are pouring into you as well.”

The Agape Center is currently taking applications for J-Term Service Trips. The trips being offered go to Catholic Charities in Baltimore, MD; God’s Clear View in Morrisdale, PA; Steinbruck Center in Washington D.C.; and World Impact in Newark, NJ. Leader applications are due January 14 and Participant Applications are due January 16. To apply, visit https://agapecenter-jterm2015applicantapplication.partnershipplanners.org/volunteer/.

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