Immersed in Hope: Nashville, Tennessee 

Hope College Spring Break Immersion Trips change students’ perspectives. This year’s trip to Nashville changed mine. Hope College Campus Ministries offers these opportunities for students to travel domestically and internationally. The goal of the short-term service-learning experience is to fully immerse students in an environment, focusing on living out our Christian faith of loving God and loving others. 

“We are not sent to save the world but to serve the world in the name of the God who saves” Hope College Campus Ministries 

Nineteen students and leaders spent the week working with City Service Mission (CSM) — a program that provides short-term Christian mission experiences in urban settings. CSM allowed us to connect with several different nonprofit organizations in the city center. The non-profits ranged from Day Shelters for people experiencing homelessness, to Urban Farming Centers dedicated to helping those dealing with food insecurity, to environmental projects. After my time in Nashville, I reflected on the pillars of Hope Forward: Community, Access and Generosity, and how they were deeply woven into our experience. 


People Loving Nashville (PLN), is an organization focused on building community and providing people with basic resources. Every Monday night for the past fifteen years, PLN has hosted a block-party-style event providing services to people experiencing homelessness. Everyone at the event gets to participate in this truly beautiful community. The night that we were there the resources provided included popup showers, meals, coffee and even pet care for those who have animal companions. 

Our group’s role was community engagement. I had an amazing time getting to know others and just hearing people’s stories. There I saw barriers being broken between those who are experiencing homelessness and the volunteers. There were no “us and them” categories, just people having conversations and enjoying each other’s company. Everyone was looking after one another. What was really interesting was seeing people who have been going to PLN for a while and the familial atmosphere that existed in people’s interactions. I walked away wondering what my own community would be like if we all looked after one another. PLN gave me a little taste of what that could look like. No more categories of who belonged and who didn’t. Simply, everyone belonged in this community. It was so beautiful. 


Access breaks down barriers. We visited areas abundant with opportunity, and others, negatively impacted by gentrification. One of the days we volunteered with Project Cure, a non-profit that delivers medical supplies and equipment to developing countries. We worked in their warehouse organizing boxed-up medical supplies to be shipped around the world. One shipment that day was sent to Gaza. I think it is surreal. The supplies we assembled will be sent to places seemingly unreachable. 

This experience made me more aware of my privileges. It reminded me, not everyone has the same level of access I do, and how my access to resources can be a barrier to access for others. Our specific backgrounds are determined by the societal systems we live under. The systems of power and oppression we saw alive in Nashville are the same ones I have seen throughout my life. Homelessness is a huge epidemic in not just Nashville, but the United States as a whole. Without access to affordable housing or a community having the resources to help, people can be left behind. It shouldn’t be a surprise that people struggle when there is almost no way of receiving aid. My experiences working with nonprofits, like Project Cure, remind me that problems aren’t going to fix themselves. We need to work together to dismantle the barriers that leave people behind. 


Generosity is contagious. I give because I receive blessings from others. In Nashville, we encountered radical hospitality. We learned from the non-profit workers that respect was something that should be generously given. The workers welcomed every individual knowing they are full of dignity. In their world, no one is below or above. This radical hospitality was clearly presented in every non-profit worker we met. I discovered that, by just being curious and hearing people’s stories, I saw them more fully. Empathy is what fuels generosity and in turn, generosity fuels even more generosity. Start asking yourself, “How can I grow in empathy?” Empathy will give you the capacity to give. I know it’s true, these non-profit workers and regular volunteers are living examples. 

Returning to Hope 

Ironically, as both a social work major and Hope Forward student, I grew in optimism about the difference we can make. Some problems are deeply rooted in the fabric of our society. While the problems we face are complex, positive change is still possible. We saw it with our own eyes! Encountering a problem as close to the ground as possible builds understanding. By asking yourself and your community how to bring hope to it, we discover a beautiful community that we might never have imagined, and the new friends we meet along the way help us grow in hope.

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1 Comment

  1. Fantastic program. Wish we had something like this 60 years ago. Hope experence was great then, even better now.

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