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Journey House offers fun, understanding

February 27, 2008

The Journey House Campus Ministry, the yellow house across the street from Karges, is stocked with everything you’d expect to find in a hangout: a kitchen, comfy couches, a TV, games, bubbles and all of the fun things that don’t fit in the average dorm.

The purpose of the Journey House, however, goes beyond merely providing a fun gathering place.

“We’re a campus ministry, so our purpose is to be a place for students who have questions about faith,” Yvonne Wilken, campus minister at the Journey House, said.

The Journey House welcomes students of all backgrounds and beliefs to visit.

“We don’t check your religion badge at the door,” Megan Wisbar, one of three student residents at the Journey House, said.

Visitors can stop by the Journey House just to watch TV or play games. Two computers and WiFi technology allow students to work on research and papers, and kitchen facilities offer visitors a place to prepare meals.

“We just ask that you clean up after yourself,” Wilken said.

The Journey House also opens its facilities to student groups hosting special events and holds some events of its own.

“It’s a lot of fun, but good, clean, parent-approved fun,” Wisbar said.

The Black Student Union’s annual Soul Food Dinner was held at the Journey House Feb. 27. The event, featuring such fare as cornbread, greens and fried catfish and chicken, was one of several events the BSU organized in honor of Black History Month.

This is the third year the Soul Food Dinner has been held at the Journey House.

“We choose the Journey House because it gives the students and the community a ‘home’ feeling and an experience of how a real soul food dinner should be,” Sanaa Jaman, BSU president and organizer of the dinner, said in an e-mail interview.

At 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month, the Journey House serves anyone who shows up “supper for a buck.” Different student groups take turns making the dinner with food provided by the Journey House. The Gay-Straight Alliance made shrimp stir-fry Feb. 28.

Other events held recently at the Journey House include an Oscar party and a crock-pot cooking demonstration. The next special event that the group has planned is a t-shirt craft night, which will take place 6:30 p.m. March 5 at the Journey House.

Students seeking religion-oriented activities can join Wilken and frequenters of the Journey House for “Coffee and Conversation” 6:30 p.m. Mondays at Lighthouse Coffee on Main Street. The group discusses the theology surrounding a pre-selected topic each week.

“Our only one steadfast rule is that you be open to the conversation,” Wilken said.

According to an e-mail newsletter sent out by the Journey House, sex was the topic of discussion Feb. 25.

An 8 p.m. Wednesday night program run by students under Wilken’s guidance is the only other overtly religious activity the Journey House offers. “Theology Pub” brings students together to discuss religious issues in a casual environment that includes snacks and soda.

“We’re not preaching to them because people don’t want that these days,” Wisbar said. “They can get that anywhere.”

No single denomination is elevated above the others at the religious meetings. Instead, the Journey House welcomes students of all religious backgrounds to join in the conversation.

Wisbar, who is Catholic, finds that showing tolerance and respect to those with different beliefs to be more important than converting others to her faith.

Living in such an open environment gives Wisbar a lot of chances to be social. She can have her friends over to study or get to know new visitors. However, the Journey House would be more fun if more students would come to the events held there, Wisbar said.

“That’s our biggest obstacle is communicating what’s happening here at the Journey House with the campus community,” Wilken said.

The group notifies students about events via email, posters and the UW-River Falls Web site.

“But it seems like I still hear, ‘I didn’t come to that because I didn’t hear about that,'” Wilken said.

Wilken welcomes the small but diverse group of students who do spend time at the Journey House to stop by her office for guidance if the weekly discussion sessions don’t help them work through all of their religious questions.

Part of Wilken’s job as a minister is to serve as a life coach and spiritual mentor to students struggling to make sense of their beliefs, she said.

The first floor of the Journey House is open to visitors 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Journey House may be open later on days when special events are held there.