March 28, 2019
Dozens of Wheaton College students spent spring break with BreakAway Ministry on six different trips.
While many college students spent their breaks traveling to the beach with friends or home to their families, for the more than 70 Wheaton College students and staff who participated in this year’s BreakAway Ministry trips, spring break was a chance to experience and learn alongside BreakAway Ministry’s partners in cities scattered through North America.
According to its mission statement, BreakAway Ministry strives “to create opportunities for personal transformation by having Wheaton staff, faculty, and students serve together during Spring Break." Launched in 1999, BreakAway operates under the leadership of the Office of Christian Outreach and a student-led BreakAway Ministry Cabinet.
“BreakAway trips give students valuable exposure to completely different cultures or ways of life that could inspire a calling in and outside of ministry,” said Wheaton College junior Daniel Hanson, chair of the Breakaway Ministries Cabinet. “This year’s trips were super exciting because we had such a broad range of available opportunities for our students.”
This year, 18 trip leaders and 58 students flew or road-tripped to six locations: Angola Prison in Louisiana, Mexico City, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, and Kansas. Leading up to their departures, each of the teams gathered together to get to know one another, learn about the unique ministries they were partnering with, and discuss how to best step into new spaces for a limited amount of time.
“Our spring break trips as service-learning opportunities,” said Assistant Director of School Year Programs Jared Falkanger. “I see these trips as chance to provide students with an opportunity to come together during spring break, hear people’s stories, and come alongside our ministry partners to assist in any way we can within the limited time-frame of our trips.”
While all six BreakAway trips share the same impetus and vision, each experience looked very different. Here’s an inside-look into each of this year’s Breakaway trips:
For more than 15 years, Wheaton students have traveled to Louisiana State Penitentiary to spend a week at the largest maximum-security prison in the United States. Inside, the correctional facility, which is called Angola for short, there are 30 different church congregations and even a seminary. Through the years, this trip, started by Wheaton’s Assistant Director of Facilities, Dave Haidle, who passed away last year, has become one of the most sought-after BreakAway trips. “Traveling to Angola provides an amazing opportunity for students to learn first-hand how to look with compassion upon people and to see the power of God’s forgiveness and redemption,” said Falkanger.
Mexico City, Mexico
On BreakAway’s inaugural trip to Mexico City, the team partnered with Brave Heart Collective (Corazon Valiente), an organization that strives to support ethnic minority artisans by teaching business strategy and buying and reselling artisanal crafts at fair prices. BreakAway’s Mexico City team stayed downtown, joining Brave Heart Collective’s work of empowering native ethnic communities through economic opportunity. During the week, the team participated in jewelry-making, prayer, cooking, conversations, and an after-school program. Students and leaders were also welcomed into the Warm Heart community, a hostel and coffee shop founded by Cynthia Ramirez-Martinez ’08, and worshipped alongside Ramirez-Martinez, her husband, and the current residents, while also completing projects around the hostel and serving a fundraiser dinner. The OCO hopes that this trip will be the beginning of an ongoing partnership between BreakAway and the Mexico City-based ministry.
Deering, New Hampshire
For the ninth time, BreakAway Ministry sent a group of Wheaton students to His Mansion Ministries, a Christ-centered recovery community for those who have struggled with addiction, past trauma, mental health, and eating disorders. Wheaton students had the chance to hear from those who are part of the program, both staff members and year-long discipleship program participants, as well as help complete some ongoing projects. “This is one way that addiction recovery is done within a Christian perspective,” Falkanger said. “It’s about participating in and understanding His Mansion’s philosophy of ministry.”
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Wheaton College has a strong history of relief work, sending students and other volunteers to highly-impacted disaster areas for many years. This year, through a partnership with Send Relief, 24 Wheaton College students provided hurricane relief aid to communities still without housing and electricity in San Juan, Puerto Rico. "We were super excited to have a team in Puerto Rico this year, prepped to serve with hearts of listening and learning,” said BreakAway cabinet member Elizabeth Maki, who planned the trip.
For the past eight years, teams of students have journeyed into to the Cumberland Mountains to partner with Mountain T.O.P., a ministry based in rural Tennessee that strives to meet the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of all of the people they encounter. “Mountaintop essentially does community development work with impoverished rural communities,” Falkanger said. “They do construction projects, after school programs with kids in the community, camps, and more multi-level community development work. Wheaton students have annually helped the ministry build wheelchair ramps and work on other camp-related projects.”
Started in 2010, the BreakAway trip to Wichita, Kansas provides students interested in the pre-health field with a chance to explore potential careers in a Christian context. This year’s participants shadowed medical professionals, including doctors, physician’s assistants, and nurses through GraceMed, Clinic in a Can, and Ascension Via Christi. Wheaton student Piper Wenzel, who participated in the trip last year, said: “As a pre-med student, this experience has given me a better picture of what my future could hold and increased my desire to pursue medicine.”-Lyndi Tsering