During the first week of March, I went with a group of students on a spring break immersion trip. Last year we headed to San Francisco on a similar trip. This year, six students journeyed to Mobile, AL to work with the L’Arche community there. L’Arche is French for “The Ark” – a place of refuge – and it is a worldwide organization where people with intellectual and developmental challenges live alongside friends in a mutually caring relationship. You can learn more about L’Arche Mobile here larche
In Mobile, there are five homes where core members (those with recognized disabilities) live with team members. One night, we were eating in one of the homes when a team member asked if we were going to share music after the meal. Clearly, our reputation as being from Belmont had preceded us. We explained that we had left our instruments back on our van at the office a few blocks away. But if they insisted, we could fetch them. They insisted. And so we sang together after the meal.
One of the core members, David, had already gone to bed but wasn’t yet asleep, and we asked if we could sing to him. We were told he would love that, and his favorite songs were “Happy Birthday to You” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” So we went into his room and sang those songs to him – click here to see a video of this: David video
We found out the next day that David died that night, just a few hours after we sang with him. He was 74 years old, and although his mother had been told many years ago not to worry about his care because David would die before most of his family members, he actually outlived them all. As difficult as this experience was for our group, we were deeply thankful to witness something so amazing and powerful. And this was only one of the transformative experiences we enjoyed during our week in Mobile.
Because of the connectional giving of United Methodist Churches in the Tennessee Conference and others who support us with their gifts, all the students on the trip were able to attend free of any cost. As several of our students work to fund their education, the giving that supports these and other experiences enables students to encounter life-changing opportunities that they might miss otherwise. Thank you for giving in a way that makes such a difference in the lives of our students. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing their words about what the trip meant to them.
Lexi Buglio, Class of 2018 – “Mobile was a calling. It stood out to me for whatever reason, and I am so very glad I committed to the trip. Interacting with the L’Arche community opened my eyes to the capabilities of persons who are undermined greatly in modern society. A highlight for me from the trip was when we were able to contribute musically to David’s last day on this earth. Music became a huge contributor on our trip and being able to give the core members some good music fun made my heart full. Thank you to those who made it possible for our team to go to Mobile.”
Amy Burgholzer, Class of 2019 – “The Immersion trip to Mobile was such an eye opening experience. Not only was learning about L’Arche and what they do fascinating, but the way they interact with each other was something else. They are more than just a community; they are a family. Each person brings something different to the community, and everyone has a place within. As Belmont students, we brought our music with us, sang songs with the members, and I watched everyone get excited and sing along with us. They don’t get experiences like that very often, and I’m grateful I could be a part of something that made a lasting impression on this great community.”
Oliviah Johnson, Class of 2018 – “Going to Mobile was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. Not only were the people on our team wonderful, but also the people that I got to meet in
L’Arche were so loving. They accepted us right away. We played music, danced and ate together. I experienced God’s love on this trip. If I could do it all again, I would.”
Sally Ann Jones, Class of 2016 – “When I got home from spring break and my friends asked me how my week with L’Arche was, the best word I could come up with was only one word: beautiful. It’s a weird choice, but it is the best way to describe the way of life of the members of L’Arche. I have never felt a space with more unconditional love and compassion. Visiting Mobile gave me a reminder on how we should look on life with courage, kindness, and happiness no matter the situation”
Shelby Killoran, Class of 2019 – “Going to Mobile was an amazing experience, not because of the place but because of the people. The way that the members of the L’Arche community love each other regardless of age, race, gender, or ability level is inspiring. As Christians we are called to love each other, but that can be difficult sometimes. So I carry one of the key chains given to us by the community members as a reminder to love others unconditionally.”
Eva Sipic, Class of 2018 – “Going to Mobile to spend time with the members of the L’Arche community was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I don’t think I will ever forget it. I loved getting to know all of the members there and learning from them about loving everyone and treating everyone with kindness. These people don’t care what you look like or where you come from, they just love you, which is something that I think everyone can do for one another. A piece of my heart will always be in Mobile with my new friends at L’Arche.”