Mission LA
Photos by Luke Rutan.
The King of All Road Trips
7 cars, 2,400 miles, and 1 service project
Nothing says college like a road trip. And this is a serious road trip.
In its 10th year, Mission L.A. has become a Seattle Pacific University Memorial Day tradition: a student-led, guys-only mission trip from Seattle to Los Angeles and back.
In what can only be described as a whirlwind, students leave the SPU campus on Thursday night and drive for nearly 20 hours straight to Pasadena, California. Upon arrival, they check in at the Harambee Center, where they work all day Saturday. After a time of worship and sharing on Sunday morning, they’re on the road again for another 20-hour drive back to Seattle.
The stories are legendary. “I’ll never forget the first year I went,” says senior Steven Pyke, who led this year’s trip. “Ten of us drove in this old Winnebago that smelled like fish, but we rigged up a TV and a Nintendo system so nobody was complaining!” Then there was the time a group of guys ran over a dead deer, whose carcass got caught under their car.
The weekend consists of more than 40 hours of driving, but Mission L.A. is as much about the destination as it is about the journey. The destination is Northwest Pasadena’s Harambee Christian Family Center, where the Mission L.A. crew completes building and painting projects and massive cleaning efforts. “One of the best parts of the trip is serving, doing something together, with your friends,” Pyke says.
Harambee CenterFor 20-plus years, the Harambee Center has been serving a 12-block target area, working primarily with African-American and Latino children and families. In 1982, the Center was founded by Christian civil rights leader John Perkins, who believed the only legitimate way to be agents of change in the community was to become a part of the community.
Harambee means “let’s get together and push” in Swahili — and that is exactly what the staff at the Harambee Center do every day. With a holistic approach to ministry and service, the Center has transformed its urban neighborhood from having the highest daytime crime rate in Southern California to a community where families are thriving.
The significance of the Harambee Center is not lost on the students from Seattle Pacific: “Probably the most important aspect of the trip for me was listening to Rudy Carrasco, the director of the Center, talk about its history,” says senior Ben Stiling.
“Rudy has amazing stories,” Pyke agrees. “It really gives a sense of what and who we are working for.”
The vision of the Harambee Center is also alive on the SPU campus. Seattle Pacific President Philip Eaton and John Perkins created the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development at SPU in 2004. Through the Perkins Center, Seattle Pacific students benefit from many opportunities to grow as urban leaders who “model reconciliation and contribute to community health and wholeness.” (To find out more, visit The John Perkins Center site.)
Beyond service and crazy road trip antics, Mission L.A. is really about relationships: “The most meaningful part of the trip is the time spent in fellowship with the guys,” says three-time participant Thad White, who graduated in June with a communication degree. “Because you are in the car for so many hours, you are forced to move past the simple, shallow stuff and get into some very deep discussions. Plus you know you are all there with a common goal to serve the Lord.”
“Some of the best relationships I have are a result of Mission L.A.,” says Aaron Anderson, who returned as an alum to participate for a fourth time. “The trip is truly special, because it’s a bunch of guys all on the same page, with the same vision, and ready to do God’s work.”
SPU Women Join the Road Trip Revolution
Quest MembersNot to be outdone, the Seattle Pacific University women started a Memorial Day Week-end tradition of their own: Quest.
In its fifth year, Quest is the female version of Mission L.A. except the girls travel to San Francisco, California, and there are a lot less food fights. This year, 14 cars with 72 SPU women drove the more than 1,600 miles to the “Golden State.”
“It’s a unique environment to get to know women on campus you would never got to know otherwise,” says senior Julie Bodine, a three-year Quest veteran. “You travel, serve, and stay up all night with these women. I mean, no one showers. The bonding is unavoidable.”
And serve they do — in the Tenderloin, one of San Francisco's roughest neighborhoods. They stay at the San Francisco Rescue Mission and work there all day Saturday serving meals to the homeless, knocking on doors in the neighborhood, and doing administrative work at the Mission.
“The rescue mission is engaging the culture and changing the world — we’re just a small part of that, just helping. But it is significant for the people we meet and significant for us,” says senior Jamie DeBell, a co-leader of this year’s trip.
Don’t think these women don’t have any fun though! In addition to serving, building relationships, and growing spiritually, the women say Quest is about dance parties at gas stations, walkie-talkies on the road, and a Quest mix CD in every car.
By Lindsey Bickel
Read other Feature Stories about SPU students and alums.