Christmas in the City, a three-day mission trip to Nashville, helped nine LaGrange students share their hands and hearts during the season of giving.
The event was organized by the Rev. Blair Tolbert, Director of Student Ministries.
“We wanted to give those who can’t go on the spring break mission trip a chance to have a servant-leadership opportunity of their own,” she said. “And we wanted to help the students experience Christmas in a new way.”
Tolbert was joined on the trip by Rebecca Roth, Senior Director of Development.
“I went to school in Nashville and Rebecca lived there for six years, so it was fun for us to share the city with the students,” Tolbert said.
The group traveled to Nashville in early December. They stayed at Forest Hills United Methodist Church and worked with three churches and one nonprofit organization.
“We looked at how churches and nonprofits respond to issues in their communities,”Tolbert said.
The group visited 61st Avenue United Methodist Church on Saturday night. The church ministers to low-income families and the homeless, and has a soup kitchen before services every Saturday. The LaGrange students helped serve the meal and worked with members to make Christmas cards before joining everyone for worship services. Abby Stuckey, a first-year student from Dalton, was touched by the experience.
“It was an amazing opportunity to help people in the community who did not feel welcome or could not attend other churches because of conflicts,” she said. “During the Sunday school hour, I helped a 7-year-old girl who was there with her family. I didn’t think she took any interest in what I was doing there, but when we were all seated in the sanctuary for the service, she led her family in so she could sit next to me. It is amazing how such a small amount of time spent with someone can impact a life.”
Roth also was moved by the experience at 61st Avenue.
“It’s a ministry for the poor that focuses on ‘doing for; doing with; being with,’and we had the opportunity to do just that,” she said. “We led the group of approximately 50 mostly homeless individuals and families in making Christmas cards – we sat with them, talked to them and heard their stories.”
On Sunday, the group attended services at Forest Hills and explored the city before visiting Edgehill United Methodist Church.
“We toured their facility and learned what they are doing for their area’s homeless and low-income families,” Tolbert said.
Later that evening, they met with young LC alumni who graduated in the last five years.
“It was great to meet up with them, and hear about their experiences since leaving LaGrange,” Tolbert said. “I think some of our students were surprised to learn how many of our graduates are living and working in Nashville.”
Abby said she appreciated the opportunity to meet with the alums.
“I enjoyed meeting people who have some of the same backgrounds or plans that I do,” she said. “Being a softball player, I got to meet some previous softball players. We talked about how some things have changed, but how some have stayed the same.”
The next morning, the group had breakfast with three other alumni, giving the students a chance to hear different perspectives and memories.
Monday’s itinerary included Open Table Inc. and the Nashville Food Project, where they prepared casseroles and food for the city’s warming shelters.
“The city has extra facilities it opens for the homeless when the temperatures drop below freezing,” Tolbert said. “We made about 30 casseroles that they will freeze and bring out when they need them.”
She said many of the students were surprised at the diversity of the city.
“Each area has its own issues,” Tolbert said. “It was interesting to see how each church and nonprofit group helps and responds to those issues.”
Abby said the trip opened her eyes.
“I have been to South Africa on mission trips a couple of times, and I am used to seeing foreign poverty,” she said. “But it is completely different to see this going on in our own country and not far from home. I always think about people in other countries needing help, but we need so much help here at home. I am so blessed to have been able to go on this trip.”
Caelin Campbell, a sophomore, said he learned something totally different during his trip. Caelin noticed that many church doors in Nashville were painted red, so he asked Tolbert, who asked a pastor friend.
“She told me that red doors are like pineapples – a traditional sign of welcome,”Caelin said. “So when we got back to campus, I gave Rev. Blair a pineapple as a reminder of our trip.”
Tolbert said she was grateful for the welcome and hospitality the LaGrange group received from everyone.
“These students learned what it means to have the true Christmas spirit.”