Story by Clint Kelly

Photos by Jimi Lott & Mike Siegel

"Dear Parent...As you know, your daughter or son is about to embark on an incredible learning adventure called Urban Plunge... Any trip into another culture can be quite demanding for young adults as they experience a lifestyle...they may not have know existed before..." -- from the letter to parents of Urban Plunge participants


Seattle Pacific University's Urban Plunge program was the cover story for the December 15, 1999, edition of The Seattle Times. Wrote Joshua Robin, Times staff reporter, "For the first five days of their Christmas break, when others were home with families or on vacation, 18 students from the private, Christian college elected to live on the streets of Seattle as part of a decades-old program called the Urban Plunge." Read the complete story by clicking here.

When sophomore Nick Glancy starts feeling a little frustrated with life, when things don't run quite the way he'd planned, he often thinks of Lisa. Disabled and homeless, Lisa took Glancy and two female students from Seattle Pacific University under her wing last Christmas. She introduced them to her street friends and oriented them to the public shelter where they had gone to seek food.

"She was bubbling with energy in the midst of a dismal situation," Glancy remembers. "It was inspiring. She still comes to mind whenever I need to be reminded of how much I have."

When Glancy and his teammates first met Lisa, they each had one piece of ID, 35 cents for an emergency phone call, and the remains of $2 in spending money for four days on the streets. They were one of six teams of three students each from SPU who had applied to spend an unforgettable portion of their Christmas break down and out in metro Seattle.

"I really needed to do this as a Christian, to explore what life is like for people who do without and are often feared," says sophomore Emily Cochran, a political science and international affairs major from Hillsboro, Oregon, who spent the Presidents' Day long weekend on an Urban Plunge. "I needed to enter their world, to identify with them."

Cochran and her team heard harrowing stories from women whose "protectors" had sent them out as prostitutes. The SPU students also saw evidence of God's grace in amazing places.

"A man was closing his restaurant and we asked if he had any bread to spare. He invited us in and cooked us dinner." Even now, Cochran's voice rings with the awe of that moment. "Our angel had grown up in the projects and knew what it was to be down. Other people, some known drug dealers, walked several blocks just to show us where we could get lunch."

The phenomenon of the "Urban Plunge" or "City Dive" traces its history at least as far back as the early 20th Century when author Jack London "lost" himself in the notorious East End of London, England. The resulting book, The People of the Abyss, chronicled the pitiful world of the urban slum.

But Seattle Pacific is not a mission agency. First and foremost, the Plunge experience for SPU students is education-focused.

"Christ left a comfortable setting and humbled himself to dwell with us," says Michael Muto, Urban Involvement advisor and assistant director of Campus Ministries. "Urban Plunge helps us step out of what students sometimes call 'the SPU bubble' and feel the dehumanization that comes with sitting on a street corner all day, asking for change, or lining up for a chapel service in order to get a meal."

The result of such an education, underscores Muto, is to never again ignore the person on the street.

"I can spare a minute to run in and buy a hungry person a cheeseburger," agrees Cochran. "My excuses become irrelevant once I've put a human face on the issue of homelessness."

The students, who spent 15-hour days on the street, and nights in the dry basement of First Presbyterian Church, knew they would soon go back to warm rooms at school and to people who loved them. Despite those reassurances, it was odd enough to have nothing to do all day but wander, search for food, and think.

For Glancy, it was a test of faith. "To start a day with the Lord's Prayer and literally ask for my daily bread forced me to think seriously about what I believe."

The dangers of the street were minimized by securing safe overnight accommodations, traveling in groups and assigning at least one male student to every group of female "plungers."

Still, there were apprehensions. "I wasn't sure how real homeless people would react to us," says Glancy. "Would they be offended by our simulation? As the only guy in the group, how would I respond if guys on the street started threatening the girls?" To the relief of all, they were often met with kind acceptance.

Mick Prandi, human resources coordinator for New Horizons Ministry to street youth, says a significant number of his volunteers are Seattle Pacific graduates or current students who experienced an Urban Plunge. "It's an instrument that God uses to speak to people about reaching out."

"It's a valuable experience for everyone," echoes Muto. He believes in it so strongly that he wants to organize an SPU faculty/staff plunge this spring.

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