Make That Change

Michael Jackson

By Owen Sallee, Coordinator for Global and Urban Involvement


As I listened to the tributes to Michael Jackson flooding into the radio station in June 2009, the lyrics to "Man in the Mirror" struck a surprising chord with the mission of the student programs of the John Perkins Center at Seattle Pacific University.


Who would have imagined that in Summer 2009, nearly 70 students — 10 teams serving in nine countries across the globe, as well as the cohort of students serving weekly in Seattle-area organizations — would share the same vision with the King of Pop? This revelation became poignant as the radio blared:

I'm gonna make a change,
For once in my life
It's gonna feel real good,
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right.

Christian Missions

Over recent years, short-term missions and service programs have developed a negative stigma for emphasizing the development of the individual participant at the expense of those categorized as the “served.” These “missions” involve high school students piling into a church van for an epic road trip, where they spend a few days building a house in the hot sun while flirting with each other and laughing at the “weird” local culture, and then return home to present stories about their life transformations to the sending congregation. Other times, out-of-town churches descend on “areas of need” to do good works for an afternoon, retreating to safer ground in time to get home before rush hour.

In fact, in Summer 2008, a prominent Christian music festival promoted the ultimate adventure in youth missions. Immediately following the final day of the festival, a group of young missionaries boarded a plane bound for a Central American country. The group participated in service projects during the day and enjoyed live performances from a big-name Christian band each evening. According to critics of short-terms mission, these types of events suggest that we’ve missed the point in this sort of missions.

A New Perspective

The desire to do justice, to set things right is a biblical one, but it must be approached from the proper perspective. John Perkins writes:

The quick-fix mentality sets up a “we-them” dynamic: “We do-gooders have the solution for these poor people.” This attitude assumes that somehow those who do not live in the urban community already know what urban people need. But it is only when we really come shoulder to shoulder with the people at a specific spot in urban America that we can begin to discern ways that the gospel will become meaningful in that context. With the transformation of “you, them, and theirs” to “we, us, and ours,” we will understand more clearly the real problems facing the poor; then we may begin to look for real solutions (Perkins, Beyond Charity, 1993)

This past summer, the John Perkins Center’s Seattle Pacific Reachout International program (SPRINT) sent 10 teams of students for service and learning experiences that lasted two to six weeks.

In the Dominican Republic, students helped with construction and learned from local Pentecostal church leaders. In India students helped as classroom teachers in schools operated by the Dalit Freedom Network, providing education and advocacy for members of India’s untouchable caste. A complete list of Summer 2009 projects is available at Seattle Pacific Reachout International.

Tangible and Intangible Motives

The motivations informing each student’s choice to invest their Summer Break on a SPRINT trip are varying: Some, like education or premed students in Guatemala, have particular career ambitions and will use their experience with host organization America Latina as preparation for their chosen careers. Others sense God’s calling in more intangible ways and are simply seeking to learn more about God, themselves, and the world through their service experience.

Yet a common theme connects every individual’s decision to become involved with SPRINT for a worldview-stretching experience: At some point, each student becomes aware of their relative privilege within a global context.

While studying at SPU, they have gained an insight into the struggles of others outside of the United States, many firsthand. The significant driving factor is each individual’s need to answer a question that demands an answer: How can I respond to the needs I see around me?

I've been a victim of a selfish
Kind of love
It's time that I realize
That there are some with no
Home, not a nickel to loan
Could it be really me,
Pretending that they’re not alone?

Listening to Community

Faced with the need to equip SPRINT students to promote change and pursue justice in settings across the globe, the JPC provides pre-trip training from Christian community development’s approach, emphasizing the importance of learning from community leaders and remembering that God’s work in the world doesn’t start or end with university students.

Students participating in Perkins Center service programs (internationally and locally) support the work of local leaders and value learning from the community as a critical dimension to the “work” accomplished during their visit. Students return from service experiences with a broader perspective on service and new models for effective community work. While the amount of physical work accomplished by teams during their experience may not be a great deal, if local leaders are encouraged and student worldviews are expanded, success has been achieved.

It is our hope that students who encounter God’s moving in global and urban contexts will use these experiences to influence their future involvement, voting, vocation, prayer, and giving. They report how a service trip with the Perkins Centers has allowed them to develop a new vision and a renewed mindset. Many students begin their engagement through the Perkins Center in shallow water; we observe their seeking to deepen their connections to community through longer-term and more in-depth involvement. Eventually, most SPRINT participants will leave behind the “check that off my list” mentality.

Take a Look at Yourself, and Then Make a Change

As new perspectives being to take shape and points of view are transformed, students emerge with more accurate and articulate views of the world. As a consequence, justice is promoted and change comes, starting in the life of the individual.

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.

It seems that the vision of the John Perkins Center isn’t too far from Mr. Jackson’s heartfelt plan. As Perkins Center students engage each community on its own terms, they learn from local leadership and discover God at work in big ways, they’re contributing to reconciliation and wholeness, beginning with their own transformation.

Max Hunter Owen Sallee trained under World Vision's Vision Youth Initiative, and he has been a youth director for Choose Life Youth Ministries in White Center for 12 years, during and following his time as a SPU undergraduate. He is a 1999 SPU graduate, and in 2006, he completed his master’s degree in school counseling at Seattle Pacific.


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