Collectively, Multnomah students provide more than 38,000 hours to communities each year — and their contributions span the globe.
They serve as role models for at-risk teens in Portland. They partner with nonprofit agencies in the greater community. And this Friday, the men’s basketball team is heading to Taiwan for a trip filled with service projects, community outreach and basketball games.
The Lions will compete in nine games, including Lovelife, a high-profile annual event that raises awareness and money for children with cancer. Teammates will present the Good News during each half-time.
“This trip is important because it’s an exceptional opportunity to share the gospel,” says sophomore business major Tanner Schula. “God has blessed us with the platform of basketball for ministry. Through basketball, we can first connect with the Taiwanese on a personal basis — and then share Christ.”
During the nine-day trip, the Lions will visit several schools, churches and an assisted living facility.
“It’s exciting that a small Christian school can have such a large capacity for ministry,” says Schula, “This trip displays Multnomah’s expansive reach.”
‘What Multnomah is all about’
Head Basketball Coach Curt Bickley puts a heavy emphasis on outreach and community service; he’s led his teams on mission trips to the Czech Republic and Taiwan for the past seven years. This is the fifth time the Lions are traveling to Taiwan.
“We’re looking forward to seeing old friends, spreading the Gospel, and playing basketball in a great place,” says Bickley. “It’s very exciting that our university has such an emphasis on mission work and that we get to take part in such a great trip.”
The athletes don’t stop serving when they’re back in the States. For the past eight years, the Lions have hosted a free basketball clinic for children at a Native American reservation in Washington. The clinic gives the team an opportunity to impart their skills — and share their faith. “Kids have gotten saved at these events,” says Bickley.
The Lions also volunteer at Providence Children’s Hospital, just down the street from campus. The athletes connect with boy and girls, some of them terminally ill, for a few hours each week. They play games, read, color or just talk.
“Our outreach is extensive,”says Bickley. “This team reflects what Multnomah is all about.”
Communicating values through action
The trip to Taiwan closely follows another service event Multnomah has observed for decades — Day of Outreach. Once every spring and fall, students volunteer at several locations in the Portland community in need of their time and energy. A volunteer site can be anywhere: a nonprofit organization, a school, a community center. Even a neighbor’s home. MU cancels classes for the day so students can devote their whole morning to service.
Senior psychology major Brenna Coy has been attending Day of Outreach since she transferred to MU as a sophomore. “Volunteering encourages me and other students to reach out to our neighborhood,” she says. “It builds bridges in the community.”
Theology and philosophy professor Dr. Mike Gurney agrees. He appreciates the opportunity to impact local organizations while interacting with students outside the classroom. Multnomah requires half of its professors to participate in each Day of Outreach event.
“As Christians, it’s not just about what we say; it’s also about what we do,” he says. “We want to communicate our values through action.”
One fall, Gurney and Coy joined a group of student volunteers at Portland Metro Arts (PMA), a nonprofit community arts organization in Southeast Portland. For several hours they dusted, wiped, polished and swept.
Nancy Yeamans, PMA’s executive director, played classical music from a small boom box as students bustled around her. A vacuum hummed in the background, and the smell of Windex hung in the air.
“I know you think that cleaning is probably not a big deal,” she says. “But to us it’s a huge deal because we rely a lot on volunteers. It’s meaningful beyond what you can imagine.”
‘We need to love people’
Besides international trips and Day of Outreach, students participate year-round in Service Learning, a campus-based program that connects them with local nonprofits. Students volunteer weekly at more than 70 organizations across the Portland metro area. They also gain priceless wisdom from field specialists who double as mentors.
“We’re committed to helping students integrate what they’re learning in the classroom with real life,” says Service Learning Director Dr. Roger Trautmann. “Whatever service God puts on their hearts is a possibility. From skateboarding to helping the homeless, from children’s ministry to working with seniors, we can connect them with more than 1,500 churches, ministries and service organizations.”
Sophomore Bible and theology major Katie Mansanti says Service Learning connected her to Adorned in Grace Design Studio, an outreach to at-risk teen girls in Northeast Portland. People donate all kinds of fabrics to the nonprofit, where volunteers like Mansanti teach the girls how to sew. The studio aims to prevent sex trafficking by empowering young women to become advocates on behalf of their sisters and friends.
Volunteers provide snacks, help with homework, offer workshops, run a mentorship program and lead a Bible study. “This is a safe place for them to hang out after school and have someone to talk to,” Mansanti says.
Mansanti’s knack for sewing and heart for teens was a perfect fit for the studio. “It’s nice to take something that’s second nature to me and share it with these girls,” she says. “We all need someone to nudge us along and tell us we’re doing a good job.”
Volunteering may be a time commitment for students, but Mansanti doesn’t see it as a burden. “Service Learning allows you to give back,” she says. “Helping people is important to God. We need to love people and be Jesus to them.”