Wesley Koswara | Staff Writer

Over two thousand years ago, a Jewish peasant born in a backwater province of the Roman Empire began teaching a radically new idea—an idea completely opposed to the culture, ideology and most importantly the power structures of the time. This idea was rooted in the belief that what made a person great was not how much money they had, or how many titles or positions they were awarded or how much power they had amassed. What made a person great was their capacity to serve, even if that meant serving those materially or socially beneath them.

That command still resonates with people all around the world today. Whether the call to service leads one down the street to help middle school students get their homework done, or over oceans to build schools in remote villages, many have learned that the best way to empower themselves is found in empowering others.


Last year, Azusa Pacific sent 176 people on 23 trips all around the world, from Poland to India, Tanzania to China. Working in groups of anywhere from four to 12 people, and partnering with organizations already on the ground, students were immersed in new cultures and languages for as long as an entire month.

“The overarching goal is to have students encounter a different way of life, a different culture, a different way of experiencing God,” said Laurelyn Shaw, senior program coordinator at the Center for Student Action (CSA).

Through service, the CSA hopes to broaden its participants’ perspectives and equip them for service through the rest of their lives. Student leaders are given both the tools and leeway to build their own teams and develop a vision for what they want their trip to look like, months before team applications begin. With so many different countries and worldviews being introduced, culture-specific training for each team becomes infeasible, so teams are encouraged to conduct their own research. “We’re also helping the students develop a mindset, or a posture, of learning and humility as they go in—so that they go in prepared to learn from this host culture and be ready to do whatever is asked of them, because clearly you never know what is going to happen,” Shaw said. “You can train for one thing and then arrive, and something completely different happens.”

A debriefing is held for each team after returning from their work with the host organizations and local communities, with students reflecting on the experience they’ve gained and the lessons they’ve learned. Emphasis throughout the experience is put on teaching skills and attitudes towards service and towards others to be carried on long after the trips are over.

“Going to another location where the need is greater, or maybe more obvious, you feel like ‘There’s a place for me. I could do something here, and I want to do something here.’ I feel like that’s been empowering for the students,” Shaw said.


Team Eliazim on day two of service, playing with the news toys the team raised funds for. Photo Credit: Christine Khoury

Team Eliazim on day two of service, playing with the news toys the team raised funds for. Photo Credit: Christine Khoury

But of course, service is about empowering all parties involved. The CSA puts forth extensive effort into making sure that communities hosting APU students do not become dependent on the service provided.

“We want to learn from the locals,” Shaw said. “Are they actually empowering the locals to run the ministries, or organizations? Because they are going to know how to do it better than we can. So that’s why it goes with the posture of what can we learn from you. And that’s one of the keys of good community development; you should be raising up people within the community to lead and help the community.”

Organizations from all over the globe look to partner with APU, and an extensive vetting process has been put in place to make the best use of limited resources. More and more, CSA staff personally travel to service site locations to see where the students will live, work and minister.

“First and foremost, we want to make sure this is going to be a mutually beneficial relationship, that it’s a reciprocal relationship,” said Karen Rouggly, the director for mobilization at the CSA.

Many of the dangers in short term missions result from an organization, or worse––the community they work with–– becoming dependent on aid that outside help tries to bring. Instead of empowering the local people to meet long term goals that they understand more intimately than any outsider could, a cycle begins where otherwise capable people choose simply to wait for help from others.

“We don’t want people to be dependent on us, we want people to create a dependency on Christ,” Rouggly said. “And so I think if we come in and out and in and out, it perpetuates that cycle of people becoming dependent on us for what we can provide for them, rather than looking to meet long-term goals and needs that we can’t do long term.”

This year, around 250 participants have already raised tens of thousands of dollars to travel to 27 locations all around the world, all seeking to give meaning to a few simple words: “The greatest among you must be your servant.”

“The end goal is really just to serve God and serve the kingdom,” said Colie Krueger, CSA’s program coordinator for local engagements. “And you can do that on short trips, you can do that in local engagements, or you can do it in ongoing service.”