by Samantha Leuschner
College students in America face unprecedented challenges these days. From increasing tuition costs, mounting student debt, elevated levels of depression and anxiety, endless war, political instability, and of course devastating climate change, young people in college face an unparalleled reality. How does a 20-year-old grasp these realities? Where do they seek respite and reprieve, hope and help in times like these?
Enter the rural immersion at the Agape Community. A community tradition for nearly 30 years, Agape has opened pathways not only of healing within these bleak realities, but also a way through them. Specifically, Agape has sought connection with local universities and colleges to build solutions to these realities together.
One college, Holy Cross, has been gracing Agape for nearly ten years, in a symbiotic relationship between Agape and the students in which evolving lineages of nonviolence and sustainability are experienced for the first time by students, while being anchored in Agape history.
Indeed, throughout this connection to Holy Cross, as I have experienced it as a staff member with Agape, each time students arrive, they bring with them perseverance, hope, and spiritedness. The latest immersion with five Holy Cross women in October 2019 is no exception.
Hope was in action during this immersion, evident in the relationship building which took place throughout the week. Despite many students not knowing each other personally, they came together and gradually built each other up. I observed that on occasion, even jokes had a certain degree of reservation.
While chopping wood old school, axe and all, these women did not shy from the challenge. Whether it was a hit or a miss, they found opportunities to encourage each other, encapsulating what it means to have hope in the struggle.
Perseverance was another theme that flowed throughout the week. Shortly into the immersion the women learned the tragic reality that Agape does not have cell service or wifi. For the next few days they would be in the present and the real. Instead of scanning facebook, they spent the time scanning the wilderness around them, and instead of listening to the latest news, they listened to one another in a deep sense. Friendships blossomed with this level of connection and presence to one another. Laughter and conversation filled the time doing tasks like stacking wood and sifting compost.
Wrapped up in the hope and perseverance was this level of spiritedness. Every woman brought spiritedness in her own unique way. Whether challenged with a provocative question about climate change or assigned a task of collecting kindling, these women evoked a spirit within that reverberated throughout the work that they did.
The work these students did for the land carries on, and the land in which they worked, carries on in them. Through opening themselves up to new, challenging experiences they opened themselves up to new ways of being. By working the land, they infused the landscape with hope, perseverance, and spiritedness. In return the land sustains them in their minds, bodies, and souls.
Samantha is a member of Agape’s Mission Council and a staff member at many college retreats