As a junior in college, I knew firsthand what it meant to be a stressed student. My classes were getting harder, the future was up in the air, and I felt further from my faith than ever. With the typical college distractions of friends, relationships, social outings, and overall societal pressure, it is often easy to feel sidetracked from keeping God the main reason for everything.
As I embarked on my first Real Break trip, I was not too sure what my expectations should be. I just knew I wanted to come back with a re-focus on God, and for that trip, I will be forever grateful to OCF for Real Break because it more than exceeded my expectations.
The Real Break New Orleans trip is a partnership with International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) to help re-build houses lost during Hurricane Katrina. I thought I knew how tragic Hurricane Katrina was from the media, but I did not expect the chills sent down my spine when we saw it all firsthand. Almost twelve years later, houses are still dilapidated and families are still displaced.
The amount of pain that this city endured is apparent on almost every corner of the neighborhoods that were hit the hardest. It’s been so long, yet my heart was still breaking for this catastrophe. I never want to know what it means to have your entire livelihood and loved ones taken from you in a matter of hours, yet too many residents of New Orleans in 2005 knew this feeling.
For almost an entire week, we worked with Habitat for Humanity to re-build two houses for families with children. It was perhaps some of the most fulfilling days of my college experience. The stories behind the families that were about to live in these houses were absolutely heart-wrenching, and to know that our manual labor could help them even just a little bit, put smiles on our faces. Along with working on the houses, we had cultural immersion experiences in which we visited an exhibit that broke down every minute of the days of torture on the city during the hurricane.
Perhaps the most defining moment of our trip was a night of visiting a local Orthodox parish. The hurricane caused the entire church to flood almost up to four feet. When the priest finally opened the doors days later, an icon of the Virgin Mary floated towards the doors first, the front completely unstained. It was inexplicable, and close to impossible. It is miracles like this that make us realize the glory of God is so much greater than we will ever begin to comprehend.
That night, on the van ride back to where we were staying, we all were quiet and speechless trying to understand the story we had just heard. We began to sing “Down to the River to Pray,” and the camaraderie of that environment was a moment I’ll never forget. There is something so glorious about having your best friends surrounding you as the night comes to a close, forgetting about all else, that makes you feel like Jesus is sitting right next to you. The smile on my face was so big in that moment, and I’ll never forget what it felt like to have all I needed right next to me.
After our trip and our return to reality, I learned that no one else in my life mattered as much as God does. He is my reason for everything, and His plans are so much greater than I will ever know. So all we can do is treat others with respect and kindness, because moments like Hurricane Katrina really put into perspective how precious every minute is. If you have the opportunity for a Real Break trip–do it. Go with all your heart, and the biggest smile, and treat others during your experience the way God would want. I promise you, you will be changed and your heart will thank you.
A dog lover and wanderlust traveler, Isabella is currently a senior Levine Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She started her university’s OCF chapter three years ago, and now has 50 OCF members who are as close as family. When she’s not behind her Nikon, or volunteering at Ryan Seacrest Studios at Levine Children’s Hospital, she’s working as the Public Relations Student Leader for the OCF national Student Leadership Board.
Most people on a college spring break go on cruises with friends or to the beach, but when I told people that I was going to Jerusalem, I won’t lie, I received interesting reactions. Some people supported my decision, saying that it would create a one-of-a-kind experience to last my lifetime, whereas some completely disagreed with my intentions to go, due to safety concerns and not being able to make memories with my friends at school. Nonetheless, I decided that this would be the ultimate trip of a lifetime to which none would compare; it was completely so.
The only concern I had going into the trip was how exactly I was going to manage to raise the money to go. Day by day checking the mail, I quickly realized in spiritual opportunities like this so many people felt a calling to send me on my spiritual journey. But it’s also interesting to see how God will provide in these types of situations. It was a beauty to see and I cannot thank everyone more for supporting me in my decision to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
While we were there we saw so many holy sites, churches, monasteries, and shops. I cannot tell you how many we went into, there were so many. However, what I can tell you are some of the highlights on the trip.
The stone in which the cross was affixed
We saw the Ascension of Christ; it was located in two churches. A Greek Orthodox cathedral and a Russian Orthodox church are dedicated to the Ascension of Christ. I got to see Christ’s footprint and venerate it, and that was hands-down the most powerful moment of my life. It was so surreal. Having the chance to witness something so magnificent that the average person can only visualize in their mind was life-changing.
We also went to the Sea of Galilee. This had to be the most peaceful part of the trip. This was towards the middle of the trip and we had quiet time to write in our journals to reflect on our pilgrimage thus far.
We saw the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem and even got to go to the Bethany school, a school for Palestinian girls. The women who run the school there are so down to earth and love seeing Christians making the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
We went to Jacob’s Well and got to drink the water there. Also, we went to the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. We even got to watch baptisms happen in Spanish right beside us! The language barrier was not an issue for this because baptisms are such a beautiful moment.
Believe it or not, Christianity isn’t an easy concept. There are so many key elements to our faith that are hard to completely understand and grasp. If you are looking for a trip to answer all of your questions while still testing your faith, this is the trip for you.
The Jordan River
Real Break Jerusalem has changed my life. This trip gave me the utmost reassurance of my faith. I cannot explain how much it has confirmed and strengthened my relationship with Christ. There’s no other place in the world to compare to the diverse culture and history that Jerusalem brings to our world. To say that I’ve been to a place where most people only can dream of going to makes it that much more special.
If you are looking for a trip that will enrich your knowledge in the Orthodox faith and grow your relationship with Christ, I strongly encourage you to go on this trip. There are no other words for me to say other than it has left a huge impact on my life and I cherish the memories and friendships that I made from this trip.
You can register for Real Break Jerusalem, as well as learn information about our many other real break trips, right here!
My name is Natalie King. I’m from Richmond, VA. I’m a junior at Virginia Tech studying Political Science and Communication Studies. A fun fact about me is that I play club field hockey for Virginia Tech.
So you’ve decided to go on a Real Break trip. That’s great! All the pictures and stories that you’ve seen and heard from previous trips are getting you super excited and you can’t wait for spring break to roll around. There’s only one thing standing in your way: your bank account (you are a college student indeed).
Check out all the Real Break trips OCF has to offer!
But don’t worry! I’m here to tell you that there are SO many ways to raise money so that you can go on what may be one of the best experiences of your life (if you don’t believe me check out the testimonials on our blog).
Around this time last year, my roommate convinced me to sign up for the Real Break Jerusalem trip. I figured it was a great opportunity that I had to take advantage of. How many people at our age can say that they’ve literally walked in the footsteps of Christ? Pretty cool right? I gave myself a couple of minutes to freak out about the price, and then I got down to business (to defeat the Huns! No, wait, not that).
I created a GoFundMe page and shared it on my Facebook every day. I asked my relatives and friends to share it on their pages, and I was pleasantly surprised when people I never expected made a donation on my behalf. Even a small donation goes a long way.
Next, I sent personalized emails to family members, godparents, and parishioners from my church at home. Believe me, godparents are a definite go-to in this case. You may not always get an answer, but just have faith because there always is a way. People will rarely refuse to give you money if you tell them that you want to spend your spring break on a pilgrimage or building houses and working in an orphanage.
I’ve compiled a list of some alternate fundraising ideas that you could try out if the ones I listed above do not work.
Ask your priest if you can pass a basket at the end of church, and give a short blurb about Real Break and why you’re interested in going.
Send a letter to the archbishop of your jurisdictions and ask his blessing to send letters various parishes that you may have attended in the past.
Along with that, ask your jurisdiction if they offer any scholarships for any sort of traveling.
Set up a fundraiser where you sell things that you’ve made by hand (e.g. prayer ropes).
Reach out to local women groups in your jurisdiction, such as Philoptochos and Antiochian Women.
Also, look into our Fundraising Packet for sample email templates, support forms, and more.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to ask because no one will come up to you and miraculously hand you the money that you need to pay for the trip. The most important thing that I learned from the whole fundraising ordeal, was that it’s OK to ASK. I doubt that many of us are comfortable asking others for money, but what do we have to lose? Worst case scenario people just say no. Best case scenario, you raise the money early and you can stop stressing about the cost and focus on preparing yourself spiritually for an amazing journey.
I wish you all good luck and I hope that you all consider registering for a Real Break trip, now that I’ve (hopefully) assuaged some of your concerns about the cost. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns.
Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven. Matthew 5:16
Oana Grigoras is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh studying Biology and Religious Studies. She serves this year at the Real Break Student Leader on the 2016-2017 Student Leadership Board.