Road Warrior: Elmhurst student athletes serve and grow at the Niebuhr Center for Faith and Action

May 8, 2014 | by the Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Jordan Bartolazzi is accustomed to spending time on the road.

A junior with majors in organizational communication and religion and service, Bartolazzi is also a member of  Elmhurst’s track and cross country teams, so his daily routine includes 6:30 a.m. runs and afternoon distance work with his teammates.

But his travels are hardly limited to the roads radiating from Elmhurst’s campus. In recent years, Bartolazzi has made mission and service trips to Haiti, Israel, Jamaica and East Africa, inspired by his desire to see the world and serve the people he meets. Bartolazzi says Elmhurst’s Niebuhr Center for Faith and Action has been instrumental in supporting and cultivating his interest in service.

The Niebuhr Center has been super great to me,” he said. “I’m drawn to service, and that’s what the Niebuhr Center is all about.”

As a high school student, Bartolazzi spent two summers working with a mission group in Jamaica. During his freshman year at Elmhurst, the Niebuhr Center helped fund a trip to Haiti, where he worked in an orphanage. And in early 2012 he traveled throughout Kenya and Uganda for five months, working with groups trying to stop the spread of AIDS and pitching in to build a community center for women of the Masi tribe.

During part of his stay in East Africa, Bartolazzi lived in sprawling, big-city slums and in tents on the savannas of Kenya, where one of the chief concerns was maintaining nighttime camp fires to keep elephants from wandering into campsites.

“I got to see what another kind of life was like,” Bartolazzi said. “I learned quite a bit.”

Bartolazzi didn’t neglect his running workouts during his time away. He did training runs with some of the legendarily gifted distance runners of Kenya, including one veteran of the London Olympics. He said the experience has changed him for the better.

“I think being able to travel has made me a more thankful person,” he said. “I try not to take
things for granted now.”

High on Bartolazzi’s list of things to appreciate is the Niebuhr Center. He credited the center
with helping him understand the importance of service in his life.

“I think as ambassadors for Christ, we have a role to play in reconciling all things back to God,” he said. “The Niebuhr Center has played a big part in helping me work that out.”

For Bartolazzi, such insights grow not just out of classes and service projects, but from simple, everyday encounters.

“When you walk into the Niebuhr Center, you never know what kind of interesting conversation you’re going to have,” he said. “I love that about the place. I’ve had so many great conversations with Rev [Dr. Ronald Beauchamp] and with Trudy [Sulita] and Mark Draper. And I’ve been able to flesh out what I believe because of those conversations.”

The Niebuhr Center also helped Bartolazzi secure a 2012 summer internship with the nonprofit group Evangelicals for Social Action, where he traveled to college campuses to help establish campus chapters of the group. Bartolazzi, who plans to attend seminary and enter the ministry, said the internship helped him develop his professional communication skills.

One of Bartolazzi’s other goals has remained more elusive. He spent the last track season on the verge of breaking the two-minute mark in the 800-meter run, but was not quite able to reach the milestone. “It was frustrating to be that close for that long, without being able to break it,” he admits.

So did Bartolazzi ever wonder if all those grueling workouts, all the extra effort, was worth it?

“During those 90-minute runs you have time to talk with your teammates about anything in
the world,” he said. “I think it really helps build a closer relationship with your teammates, and
that has been really cool.”

Sometimes, it seems, the journey itself is a kind of destination.

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