Each year, Valor Discovery experiences take students all over the country and the globe to serve others in the name of Christ. Many trips are led by the same leaders and partner with the same ministries year after year.
A Spring Break Like No Other
A time for rest, indulgence, laziness and sun, spring break often marks the peak of a student’s year. It’s a break from the grind, a time to live it up and escape the pressures and demands of school. It’s a ritual, it’s what you do.
For more than 200 students at Valor, however, this year’s spring break travel was about much more than that. As members of 15 Discovery teams, they traveled across the city, the nation and the world – reaching places like downtown Denver, Nome, AK, Selma, AL, Costa Rica, Thailand and Mexico. Through service and discipleship, discomfort and spiritual growth, students made meaningful connections and lasting memories. They gained perspective on other cultures, came face to face with brokenness and poverty, learned to see the Bible with fresh eyes, entered into new relationships and encountered God in surprising ways.
“One of the things that I learned about God is that He always puts you in the right place at the right time,” reflected sophomore Gracie Hopkins. Gracie and seven of her teammates served at a government housing facility in Eutaw, Alabama. “Going into this trip I was nervous and unsure,” she continued, “but once I began working with the children and adults and making unforgettable connections my heart knew I was in the right place and God was moving.”
Whether part of a service-oriented team like Memphis, or one with the focus of Biblical and spiritual formation (Italy), Valor students found themselves impacted greatly.
As part of the Discovery Nordic team, senior Landon Holderness spent time exploring Denmark’s post-Christian culture. Looking back on his time in Denmark, Landon remarked on the profound impact the experience had on him.
“I thought I would just be going to see Danish culture and history, but I gained so much more. I have better friendships and mentorships and understanding of Christ and how we can know life.”
Landon reflected on how incredible it was to worship the same God that people in a country almost 5,000 miles away from home do.
“I stood at a free church in Denmark, listening to a sermon being translated into Danish, and life hit me. I may not speak their language, but we both know Christ. He transcends languages, cultures and borders. [If I could,] I would relive this event over and over again.”
In Thailand, junior Sarah Simpson saw her worries melt away. Through her engagement with the children she worked with, Sarah found love, joy and common ground. It was an experience that brought her noticeable peace.
“Something that surprised me was how comfortable I felt being halfway across the world and in a different culture,” she reflected. “I felt more like myself in Thailand than I do here. I really just feel like while I was there, I was filled with joy and peace and that was a really good feeling. I learned a lot about the peace that God brings.”
Sarah wasn’t the only one who learned much from the people she’d gone to serve. Junior Anna Rudnicki found herself connecting with the kids at Eutaw, Alabama’s children’s center in truly impactful ways. The children taught her lessons about unconditional love, while those she worked alongside taught her about the ways God calls people to serve. The opportunities and the lessons gave her a perspective she didn’t have before the experience.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to help others and for the chance to hear other people’s stories. One of the most impactful things I experienced was hearing the stories of the people we were serving and giving the kids in the community attention they would not normally receive. I am so thankful.”
Seniors Faith Bush and Amelia Wenger were among 11 students who traveled to Rome to explore their faith in a place rich with early Christian history. Both were awed by the places they visited, and struck particularly by Mamertine Prison and its Biblical significance. For Amelia, Rome’s history and ruins brought confirmation of the validity and truth of the Bible. The same was true for Faith.
“My favorite moment,” Faith shared, “was going to the prison where Paul and Peter were held. Seeing where part of [scripture] was written really made the Bible real for me. It kind of took my breath away.”
Faith also found herself impacted by a new understanding of what it meant to be a Christian thousands of years ago. “Seeing what Paul endured for his faith was really eye-opening as to how wonderful God must be if someone is willing to go through that.”
It’s safe to say that this spring stood out among the rest for Valor students on Discovery teams. For so many, the experiences meant growth and transformation – a time when God challenged and protected, taught and brought joy. Landon’s summary of his time in Denmark perhaps summed it up best.
“I loved experiencing my faith first-hand in a whole new world. I have never been so moved. Serving the people of Denmark was so much more to me. We got the ability to love these people and show them what it means to follow Christ. We left them wondering what set us apart. Christ has the ability to work in any culture, and seeing that first-hand was life changing. I never thought I would grow so much. I feel closer to Christ than ever because of this experience.”