Students serve the broken of Tampa as an alternative spring break

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Instead of going to the beach or sitting around the house surfing the Internet all day, students from local universities chose a different alternative for Spring Break by serving the homeless and the broken.

For six days, 66 students gave up the comforts of home to participate in the Tampa Mission Experience (TMX). TMX provides students with the experience of inner-city missions by bringing them to the heart of Tampa to serve those in need. The Underground is a network of micro churches within Ybor city involved in helping the lost and the least by connecting them to real relational community organized TMX.

“We want them to be inspired by regular people who live regular lives,” Jeremy Stephens said, a staff leader from the Underground church and TMX director. “We want them to love people as God loves them.”

During the day students were taught how to love and serve those in the community, then in the afternoons they participated in different internships and simulations. They took turns cleaning the Good Samaritan Inn, an inn that accepts anyone for $13 a night in Ybor City. They visited the fields and experienced what it’s like to work as a migrant worker through simulation and role-playing. At night, Created, a micro church from the Underground that focuses on going out every Friday night to offer help and shelter to women who solicit sex on the streets, drove students down Nebraska Ave to talk and pray with women.

Brittany Messineo, a 20-year-old student studying psychology at the University of South Florida, participated in all of the internships and was deeply impacted.

“I always knew injustices were bad, but now I have a real glimpse as to what people experience,” Messineo said.

For Juan Lima, visiting a hydroponics farm and simulating the role of a migrant farm worker hit close to home because of his Latino heritage.  “The way they yelled at me made me feel like I was useless. I’m already a slave so I’m being dehumanized, but to be yelled at dehumanized me further,” Lima said. “The simulation only gives you a glimpse of life as a migrant worker, but real life is much more harsher.”

Jeremy Stephens taught the students about consumerism in America.

“The whole thing was focused on living simple,” Messineo said.

To teach them the value of appreciation, students were given a total of two, five-minute showers throughout the whole week— and only half of the students got hot water.

“I never took a shower under 20 minutes,” Messineo said, “but it was fun because we got to race each other and really appreciate the shower we did get.”

In addition to participating in the simulations and internships, students also organized an all day conference for the homeless on Thursday, March 11. The Jubilee Conference consisted of multiple stations where people could walk through and receive items such as food, clothing and hygiene supplies, assistance with filling out forms for social security cards, food stamps and health care, getting haircuts, and look at a list with the names and numbers of multiple shelters and jobs that are hiring.

Michelle De Jesus made calls throughout the week trying to find employers who were hiring. “It was really difficult because barely anyone hires people who have been convicted of a felony,” De Jesus said.

Many people who are homeless are trying to get back on their feet but De Jesus explained that it's difficult. “A job is part of the recovery, it’s a way for them to get back on their feet and be independent,” she said.

Jesus Diaz, a military veteran, moved to Tampa 10 years ago and was doing well until he lost his job. Now he’s finding shelter at the Salvation Army and gets up every morning at 4 and tries to get picked for a day job in construction. “Sometimes they say yes, and other times they say no, but when you get picked they work you hard for the day and you only get paid $50,” Diaz said.

One thing students were taught at TMX was the ministry of presence, which is caring and spending time with people.

“This is probably the most important one,” Messineo said. “People are human beings. They aren’t second rate and they deserve the same dignity and respect as everyone else.”

Diaz spent the afternoon at the Underground playing table games and talking to students. “I was in an environment were I felt like I was with family,” Diaz said. “They asked me questions and really cared, it wasn’t just a ‘How are you?’ and that’s it.”

Through TMX, the Underground wanted students to experience God’s love for the broken. “We want students to think about birthing new missions based on the love they have received from God for others,” Stephens said.

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