13 Feb

Alternative Breaks are often opportunities for university students, and others, to understand themselves, society and their interdependence with the earth, in new ways. The alternative breaks sponsored by the Ecumenical Campus Ministries at the University of Kansas are open to persons of all faith traditions and those who have none. They are influenced by the “critical pedagogy ” of Paulo Freire, an important educator of the 20th century, who was an education adviser to the World Council of Churches.

“Praxis” is therefore encouraged. It is a process of reflecting on the experience of the alternative break. This is done recognizing that the participant needs to be open to rethinking his/her own way of life as another culture or context than the one in which they had been raised is experienced.

Alternative breaks can be for the individual, very affirming. A participant can learn that they are not an “empty vessel” to be filled by the expertise of an authority figure in a classroom. Freire challenges such “banking education,”where students answer questions that have no relevance to their own experience. Unfortunately, at KU, not all classrooms are like this, and where, in contrast, questions raised from alternative breaks are welcomed. Both student and professor are recognized as having expertise.

As I reason or listen to evaluations of alternative break participants, I am often struck by how the learning experienced becomes connected to the possibility that they can effect change in society. A new or deeper understanding of their life story gives impetus to this possibility. The past becomes connected to the present in a way that a new narrative empowers them to explore their life as one where “their great joys (gifts) can meet the world’s deep hurts” (A paraphrase of Frederick Buechners’s definition of vocation).

The aspects of faith that are reinforced are numerous. In addition to possibly discerning their “call” or vocation in life, justice is understood as systemic in contrast to charity, thus love becomes a way to publicly affirm social change with compassion – an ability to “suffer with others.”..Faith becomes a verb that describes how one makes sense of life. It changes as one understands one’s life as a faith and with a sense of “grace” can accept the past as a way to learn and not be thwarted by mishaps that have occurred along the way. Often a sense of gratitude is evoked as the ability to be in solidarity with others who are different is experienced and the hospitality extended by the stranger is celebrated.

Journey” as a metaphor may be discovered as they have a change in perspective on social and political issues or a new appreciation of living interdependent with the earth is acknowledged. our own as liberation, i.e. Exodus, gains new relevance. One can be “reborn,” not in the sense of suddenly being “saved” and protected from l, but in being drawn int the very midst of living where the sacred and secular are missed and Holy is resent.


Thad Holcombe is the Campus Minister for Ecumenical Campus Ministries at University of Kansas since 1991. (Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Church of Brethren, Quaker, Unitarian).  A graduate of Oklahoma State University and the University of Allahabad, Allahabad, India, Thad attended  seminary at San Francisco Theological Seminary and hold both a B.D. and Th.M through them.  He is married to Linda Watts, School Social Worker and has two daughters Anna and Kara. Previous campus ministrie positions include United Ministry at U. of Tulsa, United Ministry at U. of Oklahoma.  He served at NCMA president 1991-1992.



  1. paul walley February 13, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Another goodie, Thad. Cannot agree with you more. Our alternative spring breaks were to the south as Advisor to the Campus Chapter of
    Habitat for Humanity when I was active as SCC Ecumenical Campus Pastor
    (SUNY New Paltz). We always came back renewed in spirit and feeling while we did not change the world, we made a difference in the lives of those we touched. Hope was reborn, lives were graced by God even without naming His/Her Spirit. Best thing we did all year.

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