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LSS immersion program offers ‘mini-mission trips’

Listen, join, work, and reflect. In just four hours, volunteers who take part in an immersion event, hosted by Lutheran Social Service’s Center for Changing Lives, will have a deep experience that is often more meaningful than what they expected.

The Center for Changing Lives is a unique partnership of Lutheran Social Service (LSS), community services, and Messiah Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis. When participating in an immersion event, church groups and companies alike will have the chance to hear about the lives being changed, serve and share a meal with people from the West Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis, work together as a team through a hands-on service project, and finish their day with a time of stories and reflection.

“The one thing I’ve witnessed is that people are visibly moved when they are there,” said Ann Fosco, volunteer services capacity builder at LSS. “I’ve seen women cry and I’ve seen men reach into their pockets and make a monetary donation. People are moved in ways they didn’t know they were going to be.

Participants in Lutheran Social Service immersion events support the ministries of LSS and then reflect together theologically about the volunteer work. Photo provided by Lutheran Social Service

Participants in Lutheran Social Service immersion events support the ministries of LSS and then reflect together theologically about the volunteer work. Photos provided by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota

At the end of each event, groups are brought together through a time of reflection. 

“That’s one of the beauties of this whole thing,” she noted. “We invite people to experience something … and bring it to a whole other level.”

Thomas Mueller, community engagement specialist at LSS, compares the experiences in leading mission trips. “My thought, and I’ve seen it happen, is that this is a shortened version [of a mission trip],” Mueller said. “It’s an opportunity to experience more diversity, … a chance to be part of a community meal. [It’s] not just a soup kitchen. … It’s a neighborhood coming together,” he said.

Community-based hospitality

Each immersion event is customized for the group attending. The types of groups vary; both businesses and church groups attend, as well as people of all ages (though it is suggested to be an experience for older children, 12 and above). Topics of focus can range from learning about affordable housing or how to support a young family coming out of a shelter, volunteering for a children’s program, or working with refugees or struggling veterans.

In addition to the hands-on volunteering, groups will get an overview of the impact of the work of LSS.

“As we talk about these issues, we let people know that they can help in these areas,” Fosco noted, saying that the conversation acts as a two-way street, especially with congregations, about “how can we help you and how can you help us,” she explained.

At the end of each event, groups are brought together through a time of reflection. The reflection, Mueller explained, gives the volunteers a chance to think about the day in theological or religious terms in order to answer the question “Did God call us?”

“We don’t have an answer,” Mueller said. “We let the churches answer that. Did it do what they wanted it to?”

To get to that, groups think about the open-ended questions, “What did you do? What did you see? How does faith speak to that?”

Immersion volunteers help with all aspects of the work at the Center for Changing Lives.

Immersion volunteers help with all aspects of the work at the Center for Changing Lives.

“It’s an opportunity to experience more diversity, … [It’s] not just a soup kitchen. … It’s a neighborhood coming together.”

“Whatever they saw, whatever they did, we’re [asking them], ‘Is that something you want to get more involved with?’” he noted.

“We hope one thing that they will do is continue involvement with LSS and [consider] how they will do that. We hope they will share with another person what they learned,” Fosco said.

An infectious welcome

While they don’t have exact numbers to mark the number of immersion volunteers who return to volunteer in another capacity at LSS, both Fosco and Mueller note that it is significant.

“People who experience this will call and want to bring other people from other parts of their lives to come and volunteer,” Fosco said.

“We have seen where others have been moved in ways they weren’t expecting and want to share that experience with people from other parts of their lives,” she said.

Immersion events take place on Thursdays in conjunction with Messiah Lutheran’ s weekly community meals. Groups of all types attend. The ideal size is 10 to 15 people, though they can accommodate more or fewer. With summer nearing, LSS encourages youth groups who are out of school to consider attending an event.

Information on the immersion program, including an overview of what a typical immersion looks like, is available on the LSS website at www.lssmn.org/immersion. Interested groups can also contact Ann Fosco at 651/879-5331 or email her at ann.fosco@lssmn.org.

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