By Fr. Michael Anderson
Each year hundreds of thousands of college students take trips on their spring breaks from school. The Orthodox Christian Fellowship Real Break Program provides a powerful alternative to the “traditional” spring break, which many times can be nothing but foggy memories and empty experiences. As a national program of the OCF, each year a number of Orthodox institutions are selected to host teams of Real Break participants who during their spring break from college commit to a week of service, worship, and fellowship. To date, in a given year, there have been up to 6 teams of up to 15 participants going out, each on a different week during the spring.
This program provides opportunities for students to participate in service projects with other students looking for the same experience; all while maintaining Christ and His Church as the focus. Real Break provides opportunities for spiritual growth with one on one interaction, and having a priest accompanying each group. The experience also leaves the door open to many important personal realizations. The schedule includes daily prayer in the morning and evening and nightly discussions. Also, schedules are planned to allow for many informal interactions between priest and student and the student and the community. It is hoped that the intense service activity coupled with the presence of a spiritual guide will provide a rich catalyst for a spiritual experience.
Costs to participants can vary from $600-$1000 (which includes airfare, ground transportation, project fees, room and board, as well as a “nifty” t-shirt). While at first this may seem prohibitive, other than a personal commitment deposit, participants almost always are able to easily fundraise the rest of the cost. However, instead of just asking the donor to give money, participants ask them to become part of the experience. Upon returning from the trip, participants contact their donors and share their experiences, memories and pictures with them. All money raised in addition to the cost of the participant’s trip is donated to the location. In this way OCF Real Break is able to donate thousands of dollars to these Orthodox institutions helping them continue their ministry.
Over the past two years over 100 Orthodox college students from all over North America have participated in Real Break during their spring break. This year 6 teams made trips to Project Mexico (building houses)in Tijuana, Hogar Rafael Ayau (orphanage)in Guatemala, Raphael House (for the homeless) in San Francisco, and St. Basil’s Academy (for children) in New York.
Some quotes from participants
“There is something about manual labor that is good for the soul (but hard on the knees). I have learned that it’s good to work hard and ache at the end of the day. It feels good to be exhausted at night, and it’s good to sleep like a rock.”
“This week was one of the most spiritually fulfilling weeks I have ever experienced. It definitely helped me refocus on what is important in my life. I found myself focusing on Christ.”
Orphanage in Guatemala
“It’s interesting that in Mexico or Guatemala people are poor in the pocket book, but are rich in spirit. Despite all of these differences we are so similar, in that we are both human… And made by the same Creator.”
“I learned so much from those kids in the orphanage. I could truly see Christ in them. It was inspiring to see Orthodoxy in action.”
“It was amazing to see the piety and happiness of the children. According to American standards, we think they are poor and needy, but in reality during my week at the orphanage I realized how poor I was. Material things do not bring happiness. Happiness comes from God and from loving your brothers and sisters around you.”
Raphael House, San Francisco
“It’s so incredible to actually try and live out the Gospel: to feed the hungry and help house the homeless. You feel part of something so much bigger than yourself.”
For more information on the Real Break Program go to www.ocf.net or call the national OCF Office at 1-800-919-1OCF.
Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) is the official campus ministry effort of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA).
Fr. Michael Anderson is Director of the OCA Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.