Last summer, 16 Mercer University medical students and several faculty members traveled to Honduras as part of a World Baptist Mission trip. In an area with no running water or electricity, the students and physicians used generators to see as many as 300 patients who traveled miles on foot through rocky terrain, thirsty for health care and good news.
"The purpose of this trip, when we were planning it, was to develop our careers for Christ. We wanted to investigate what medicine looks like when practiced for reasons other than monetary compensation, country club membership and the picket fence," said Neal Burkhalter, a second-year medical student from Griffin, Ga. "It was a huge turning point for me in that I realized that, as a physician, I will be selling my patients short if I don't tell them about eternal life and a greater sense of health."
From Georgia Baptist College of Nursing of Mercer, 16 students and faculty had a similar experience when they traveled to the eastern European country of Moldova under the auspices of the Baptist Student Union.
"A typical day included going to a village in the morning and setting up a medical clinic," said Jean Fields, assistant professor of community health nursing, who accompanied the group.
"While some of the team met needs of the sick, other members either ministered to the children and youth or went with a translator to visit people in the community who were in need."
The steadfast commitment to service earned the University national recognition last spring when The Princeton Review and Campus Compact named Mercer one of the nation's best colleges fostering social responsibility and public service. The University is one of only two institutions in Georgia featured in the book, Colleges with a Conscience: 81 Great Schools with Outstanding Community Involvement.
Mercer faculty in all disciplines are committed to integrating service-learning into curricula, and students across the University – both graduate and undergraduate – are actively engaged in community service projects both inside and outside of the classroom.
When Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast in August, Sarah Holik, the Baptist Student Union missions coordinator at Mercer, said the decision to help victims or in clean-up was an easy one. With Holik's and others' coordination, both BSU and Wesley Foundation students went to work as one-day missionaries in Helen, where they cleaned up the grounds following the tornadoes spun off by Katrina.
"Most of us were not physically able to go and help those in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but here was a need we could meet," said Holik, a junior from Boston, Ga. "It really wasn't much of a choice in terms of what should be done. For me and those who went, I would say that we felt a call to serve, and the only choice we had to make was whether or not to be obedient to that call."
After consulting with Chris Fuller, director of Baptist Student Ministries at Mercer, Holik connected with Michael Flake of Georgia Mountain Resort Ministries and Jim Gant of Helen First Baptist Church. Eleven students made the trip where they spread mulch, moved rocks and cleaned up trash.
Holik said the trip affected her view of what exactly defines mission work. "God's been teaching me about what missions mean to Him over the past few months, and I'm learning that it's a lifestyle to be lived constantly. Sure, you can serve as a career missionary in a foreign country, but you can also be a missionary as a cashier at Wal-Mart, a teller at a bank, a doctor, and, yes, even as a student at Mercer."
In addition to the BSU's efforts, the Mercer community responded with its own relief effort dubbed M.A.K.E. (Mercer Assisting Katrina Evacuees) a Difference. The group of students, faculty and staff are assisting local evacuees by providing supplies and adequate shelter, mentoring those new to the Central Georgia area, and tutoring and babysitting, among others.
"[Everyone] was so encouraging in the way that they were willing to do whatever was asked and to sacrifice their time," Holik said. "I think that says a lot about the hearts of these students and what God is doing at Mercer."