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Christian colleges and universities were among the 195 higher education institutions represented Wednesday in Washington at the launch of President Obama's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.

The White House initiative, first announced in March, aims to mobilize college students of various religious backgrounds for community service around the nation.

The Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) said in a spring newsletter that the initiative provides a major incentive for Christian schools to demonstrate growth in the area of reconciliation and solve challenging community problems. The letter describes the initiative as both an "innovative government project" and an "excellent opportunity for Christian leadership." As of Wednesday, nine CCCU schools had signed on to participate in the interfaith service challenge: Bethel University, Bluefield College, Campbell University, George Fox University, Gordon College, Messiah College, North Park University, Trinity Christian College, and University of the Southwest.

Participants have been encouraged to submit service project plans that incorporate students from divergent religious backgrounds (the plans are to be implemented during the 2011-2012 school year). So far, nearly 250 institutions have submitted proposals for service projects ranging from daily community involvement to semiannual "service days." Exemplary projects will be recognized next summer at a White House gala.

Sarah Shady, the lead for interfaith service at Bethel University, said the school plans to expand on 20 years of connections with Muslims in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota. "We will be sending student leaders to the neighborhood this fall to listen to community members ...

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