The Orthodox Christian Fellowship's (OCF) Real Break program provides an alternative spring break for Orthodox college students across North America. This year, more than 50 students from 36 universities participated in the six service projects around the world in locations such as Constantinople, Mexico, Guatemala, Romania and Texas. This following OCF report summarizes the impact of Real Break, 2012.
As the week was coming to an end and all sat in the dining hall eating the typical meal of beans and tortillas, University of Illinois freshman, Anthony Jonas, notices Brayan with a sad face and not touching his food. Jesus Brayan is one of the 31 young boys living at the St. Innocent Orphanage in Rosarito, Mexico. Anthony says to him,
“¿Qué paso Brayan?” (What’s wrong Brayan?)
Brayan replies, “Me duele el corazón.” (My heart hurts.)
“Saldran en pocos dias.” (You all will leave in a few days.)
Anthony related to the team that night, during the debriefing session, that his heart broke after his conversation with Brayan. Tears began to form in his eyes as he came to realize the importance of personal interaction and how much the very people he had come to serve had impacted him.
The encounter Anthony had in Mexico is not the typical spring break experience for most college students. Anthony, along with 54 other students from 36 different universities across North America, chose to spend their spring break loving and serving the needs of others on one of Orthodox Christian Fellowship’s six Real Break trips offered this year.
Orthodox Christian Fellowship, the collegiate campus ministry organization of the Orthodox Church in North America, has provided such trips through its Real Break program for 12 years. Since its beginning, over a thousand college students have served numerous people all over the globe. From roofing in Mexico, building a home in Houston, and feeding the homeless in Toronto, to refurbishing a half-way home in Puerto Rico, caring for orphans in Guatemala, and restoring tombs in Constantinople, the Real Break program offers college students the opportunity to do something “real” during their spring break; to encounter Christ in a deep and profound way through serving the needs of others.
To provide such an encounter with Christ is crucial, especially in our day and age, where young adults often seek to answer the question, “Who am I and how do I fit in this world?” without reference to Jesus Christ and his Church. Real Break provides students an opportunity to explore who they are as Orthodox Christians by encountering Christ in the poor, the marginalized, the orphaned, and the forgotten. By clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and visiting the sick, college students who participate in Real Break have a chance to live out the faith described for us in Scripture (Matthew 25) and cultivate a deeper personal relationship with Christ by integrating their experience into their own spiritual lives.
The OCF Real Break experience begins as soon as a student registers for the trip. Real Break trips are not the cheap Spring Break get-aways, catered to the average college student budget. With trip costs ranging from $700 to $2000, students write letters, make announcements in their parishes, approach family members and friends, hold fundraisers on their campuses, and pursue other creative means to fund their trips, giving them a taste of the life of a missionary and providing the whole Church with an opportunity to come together to support the incredible work our students do in service to Christ. This takes some time and effort, but the response has proven to be overwhelmingly positive.
Each Real Break trip is lead by a priest who has experience in campus ministry. He, along with a lay advisor who is also experienced in campus ministry, prepares the team for their service prior to the trip and leads them in orientation and debriefing sessions throughout the trip. This allows students a chance to process the experiences of each day, maintain a united community serving together in Christ, and come to a deeper understanding of how their service draws them closer to Christ, be it putting on a new roof for an orphanage or restoring abandoned tombs in a cemetery. Having a clergy trip leader also allows students to ask questions about their faith and seek guidance concerning some of the daily struggles they face on campus.
With the constant bombardment of distractions, negative influences, unorthodox ideologies and teachings which dominate many college campuses, OCF seeks to provide programs for students which lift the cloud of distraction and confusion in order to reveal the light of Christ in each moment and in each person. Anthony Jonas and the 54 other students who participated in Real Break 2012 received this light and became lights themselves to the world through their service. It is our hope that this light continues to shine well after they return to their college campuses.