EMU Cross-Cultural


She stomped onto the bus, long, loose red curls swinging from side to side, framing her weathered face. With a gruff expression, she brought us to attention with a shout of “hello.” She leaned against the side of a seat, resting momentarily. After gathering herself, she stood up straighter, emboldened, and shouted forth what information she deemed critical for us to know: “let’s get one thing straight: I am not a missionary, so don’t call me that.”

This proclamation was bold, and instantaneously, I loved this woman.

Despite her disassociation with the term “missionary” the work Sylvia devotes herself to is bringing forward the kingdom of God. She moved to Bulgaria and has loved and been loved by the people for the duration of her time here. She is an anomaly: after her organization failed to provide her adequate funds, the Bulgarians supplemented her salary and supported her. This is completely unheard of and testifies to her work ethic and cultural sensitivity. Currently, she is working at one of the few Syrian refugee camps. For two days, she briefly allowed us into her world.

When we first entered the camp, everyone was forced to acknowledge a spirit of despair that permeated our beings. Our surroundings reinforced what we felt intuitively: the sky was dark, full of foreboding clouds, our feet sank into the soggy ground, and the land was stacked with rows and rows of temporary housing. The air was slightly damp and I noticed how quickly my fingers and toes seemed to turn to ice.

We stood at the gate, freezing, gaping at our surroundings for what felt like an eternity. Finally, our group was herded into another building to meet with the camp director. The residents at the camp had been informed that a group of Americans were coming and had formed a large group, waiting to see us. We marched through the clump of people, holding one another close. I looked up occasionally, stealing glances that I had been warned against. My eyes met blank faces of young men, older men, children, mothers. I remember the collective large, dark eyes. They did not look at me expectantly nor defensively, I was merely being observed and I have never felt more vulnerable.

I found myself ushered into a classroom reserved for the camp administration. The room had buzzing fluorescent lights, gleaming desks, and our muddy shoes squeaked as we trod over shining linoleum tiles. Enticed by the prospect of a view, I wandered toward the window. Looking out, I saw the large group of residents slowly making their way back into the grid of temporary housing, smoke billowing up from trash fires; I saw the wall that separated the camp from the city. On the horizon, I could see the outlines of communist block buildings. All I could see was oppression– current and historical traumas. And none of it felt real.

The week before, our group was exploring the city of Veliknovo, Turnovo. While in Turnovo, we had the opportunity to meet with several different men who shared ideas and perspective with us at the university. I felt particularly impacted by Marian’s discussion. He adamantly insisted that humanity is at its best when it is engaging in relationship.

As Westerners, we can find ourselves wrapped up in our individuality – thinking only of ourselves in a cyclic and destructive way. After establishing the prominence of this tendency, Marian asked us, in the most gentle and unassuming way, “what is the cost to love?” Our simple answer was a whispered response of, “nothing.” Marian continued, and telling us of the beauty that abounds when we break out of these cyclic mentalities. The most basic reward of relationship is to have the eyes of another, acting as mirrors for us to see ourselves. As we engage further, synergy of people and energy is produced. We learn how to give and be given to. The synergy molds us, changing us for the better.

I could not escape Marian’s words that day in the camp. I could not escape the vacant stares. I was nervous to engage with the residents.

Our group was organized into two before we left the classroom. A handful of us assembled groups of shoes to be dispersed to family groups. The rest of us spent the day slushing through mud, dragging metal bed frames from one building to the next, then assembling the beds.

Initially, we were watched as we carried the bed frames from building to building. The residents were curious about us, but withdrawn. An hour into the process, several young boys had enough of simply observing us. They joined in, happily running through the mud, meeting us as we emerged out of one building, taking the bed frames from our loaded arms, carrying the weight themselves. The boys were ecstatic — invigorated by the work and the opportunity to simply do. Each time they met me with expectant, outreached arms, eager to shoulder the burden of the heavy metal frames.

The next day, our group organized games and activities for the children in the camp. We found ourselves in a similar classroom as the day before, one that felt completely surreal and entirely unused. We threw down crayons, markers, face paint, balloons, and candies onto the shiny, unblemished desks. Children and mothers flooded in, and in moments, the room was transformed. The room, once stale, now housed squealing children, proud mothers, and all of the resultant joyful noise. I thought of the synergy that Marian spoke so passionately of — here, I could see it blooming.

For the hour, I painted faces of the residents. I was given the opportunity to give all of my attention to each child in the seat right in front of me. I tried to give safety and affirmation to each person as I traced simple hearts onto pure cheeks. The smiles I received in return made me swell with affection. I will cherish those exchanges for the rest of my life.

Throughout, I considered the paradigm shift that I experienced. I moved from fearfully stealing glances and seeing vacant stares to learning how to maintain meaningful eye contact. Before establishing relationship with the residents, I hated my reflection in their eyes. In that mirror, I saw my privilege and felt nothing but guilt. As the relationship evolved, so did the reflection. I began to appreciate the ways that I could give and be given to. I hope that my eyes mirrored back the beauty that I saw, the resilience, the hope.

I will also never forget Sylvia’s initial greeting: she does not proclaim to be the sole giver. She engages in relationship. She stands beside the hurting. She makes room for synergy by not claiming superiority. She is not found in vacant classrooms — she will be found trekking through the mud, delivering shoes, exchanging smiles, giving meaningful squeezes. Within Sylvia’s synergistic relationships, she is constantly moving, constantly changing, constantly learning. She is constantly giving, constantly engaging in relationship, constantly learning how to love more fully.

-Hanna Heishman

Photo - C. Schlabach

Lithuania 2014

Kenya students 14

Kenya: Summer 2014

Hah Jambo (hello) from Kenya!

We have had quite the busy week and a half. We have been experiencing so many things not only about the Kenyan culture but also about ourselves. Last week when we arrived we toured Nairobi and all the ladies bought a Kanga to wear when we are doing one of our projects. We have planted trees to help offset the carbon emissions that we will produce with the total air miles we are accumulating. Our tree planting experience was an interesting one in the fact that none of us really expected to only plant a couple trees each. At the place that we were staying for this we had a tour guide named Mark, who is working on biodiversity and is in my opinion the Albert Einstein of trees and plants. I found the experience a very humorous one and our first real look at how Kenyan people normally don’t go from point A to point B in finding a solution but going around in a circle until an answer or conclusion is reached. Continue reading

Cadiz Plaza Espana

Cadiz, Spain: Summer 2014

The Ups and Downs of Puebla

After leaving the hustle of Mexico City, we were pleasantly welcomed by the more relaxed atmosphere in Puebla. As soon as we arrived at the Spanish Institute of Puebla, we had a brief orientation to the Institute, then if was off to our new host families. In contrast to our host families in Guatemala, we were 2 or 3 students to a family. This helped to ease the transition, and took some pressure off of our Spanish skills.

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Jerusalem and the Galilee

13445984425_d85ca739c2_zAfter a week of various independent travel experiences, all 30 members of our cross cultural made our way back to Jerusalem. Coming back to a now familiar city almost feels like returning home after a semester of almost never returning to a place twice. However, this week we had the new opportunity of lodging in the historic Ecce Homo Convent in the Old City. The ancient Roman road of the Via Dolorosa, the road that Jesus walked on to his crucifixion, runs through the basement of the convent, the victory arch made by Hadrian is built into the chapel, and the roof has a beautiful view of the Dome of the Rock. There really is nothing comparable to living in the heart of the Old City of one-of-a-kind Jerusalem.

Our focus for the week was learning more about Judaism, studying a bit of Hebrew, and of course visiting some more of the countless historical and Biblical sites in Jerusalem. This was the first time that Janet and Linford sent us off on quite a bit of independent exploration in the city. As great as our group is, it’s also nice not having to maneuver through crowded marketplaces with a group of 30 people. Some of the highlights of these explorations include walking the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa, 13445808283_09fdcb405c_zvisiting the Garden Tomb, walking on top of the walls of the Old City, and finally getting a chance to visit the Temple Mount after waiting in an impressively long line. Also, throughout the week we had about 9 hours of Hebrew lessons from out amazing teacher, Sarah. She taught us the entire Hebrew alphabet, quite a few words, and lots of songs, which have been stuck in many of our heads ever since. One of our more somber afternoons in Jerusalem was spent visiting the Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem. While this wasn’t the most energetic of days, this museum definitely helped us to better understand the past of many Jewish Israelis in a meaningful way.

Eventually (March 23rd to be exact), the time came for us to leave Jerusalem, the city that became many of our group members’ favorite city on the trip so far. We headed back out to the Galilee, where we had briefly visited with JUC already, but this time came to stay at a kibbutz in Hannaton. A kibbutz is an agriculturally based intentional community. Some have completely shared resources among members, while others like ours have more independent families. This week in the Galilee region was planned and led by our guide Lori, a Jewish American who immigrated to Israel just a few years ago. Our schedule included a wide variety of lectures and “mifgashim” (face to face interactions) with everyone from Israeli college professors to descendants of Holocaust survivors, to soldiers fulfilling their 2-3 years of service in the Israeli army. These “mifgashim” were some of the highlights for me personally. Israeli young adults are some of the most articulate people I’ve ever met, and I learned so much about their individual beliefs as well as the beliefs of Israelis as a whole. And I think that all of us in the group have gotten pretty good at explaining both the purpose of our trip as well as who Mennonites are, after having to explain these so many times.

Our week in the Galilee ended with a free day to explore the coast city of Akko before we headed to our next and final location in Israel, the town of Nazareth. This semester has kept us moving right along through locations and information, and even so, we are still just skimming the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning everything about this fascinating part of the world.

-Melissa Jantzi

Independent Travel

April 5, 2014

Spring break came a week later for those of us across the pond, but it brought the same feelings of joy and freedom.  After completing an intensive course in biblical history at Jerusalem University College, we appreciated the week of independent travel. Small groups of travelers departed Jerusalem for Tel Aviv, Eilat, the Galilee, Bulgaria, and Turkey without the leadership of our faithful professors Linford and Janet.

Ind.travel in front of Hagia SophiaFor the group who went to Turkey, we were met with yet another new culture in our adventurous semester.  While I enjoyed Israel, it was nice to see something fresh. We landed in Istanbul and spent most of our time in the Sultanahmet area with the most famous sites the city has to offer.  The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia loomed nearby and captured our attention throughout the week. A rainy afternoon was a good time to explore the grounds of the Topkapi Palace which included numerous exhibits of Ottoman artifacts. Finally, the Grand Bazaar provided plenty to do in between. We carefully navigated the scores of shops, hunting for the best possible bargains. In all of these experiences, I felt the rush of adrenaline that comes with witnessing the magnificent.

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Rivera mural

Marvels of Mexico

As the plane began to descend we saw just how vast and colorful Mexico City is. Some were sad to have departed from their lives in Guatemala City, others were ready for a new adventure, but no one knew what to expect here.

Group Mexico CityWe arrived at a Quaker guest house, Casa de Los Amigos, exhausted and hungry from our long expedition to Mexico City. We were welcomed with warm hospitality as we found that we would be eating chili and corn bread, a more westernized meal, after eating beans, eggs, and tortillas for the past couple of months. That evening, some went to the revolution monument that is lit up with red lights at night. We watched a beautiful fountain of lights while being serenaded with typical music of Spanish guitar and flutes. We all were content with not having a strict schedule there, which allowed for a better transition to Mexico.

The next day we explored the city and all of the locura that it embodies. While walking down the street we saw an entertainer with floating balls, and a flash mob take place. We made our way to the famous Zocolo where we visited the Cathedral and the Palacio Nacional. The Palacio Nacional is filled with murals of the famous artist Diego Rivera. We had a guide explain to us the rich Mexican history from Mesoamerican times until the time of the Revolution, that Diego Rivera incorporated in his paintings.

After the palace, we ventured up seven flights of stairs to a restaurant where we got Rivera muralto see a great view of the Zocolo and taste the picante of authentic Mexican food.

We then took public transportation to Coyoacan, birthplace of Diego Rivera’s wife and also famous painter, Frida Kahlo. Some decided to stay and visit her home which is now a museum of artifacts from her life. Others went to the plaza where there was un chorro of people relaxing and enjoying their weekend.

I personally decided to go to the Frida Kahlo Museum. After doing several projects and learning about her, she has become an inspiration for me. Never in my life did I think that I would get to go to her Casa Azul in the corner that I first learned about in 8th grade, and yet there I was, filled with excitement. In a time when women didn’t have a say, Frida spoke her opinion and went against the current. She experienced so much pain in her life from Polio, and an accident she had when she was a teenager. She expressed this pain through paintings, mainly of herself. She embraced her suffering and found a positive outlet to express it, which is something admirable. She was an outspoken woman of courage and talent and I am pleased to say I got to cross something off of my bucket list by going to visit her house.

Also in our time in Mexico we took a double decker touring bus all around the city to sight seeBallet Folklorico and learn a little history about where famous events took place. One night we dressed up and went to see a Baile Folklorico, or a folkloric dance in the Palacio de Bellas Artes. We watched in awe the women in their colorful traditional dresses accompanied by men in their sombreros float around the stage as they tapped and danced to Mariachi music. None of us wanted to blink in fear of missing out on the amazingly beautiful dances.

After four wonderful days in the city, it pained us to leave, but we were ready for our next adventure in Puebla, Mexico.

-Rebecca Cardwell


The Bible in context

Again time has elapsed. We have just finished a two week intensive course at Jerusalem University College which mostly consisted of extensive field trips to biblical sights. The focus of this program was to look at the influence that geography, archeology and history have on biblical interpretation.

Our time at JUC has been so rewarding. The stories of the Bible and especially Jesus’ ministry are so much richer with the historical and cultural context which has been explained to us. It is incredible how much context matters and how much more elaborate the story becomes when placed alongside the cultural context of its day. It is so refreshing to see myself and my classmates learning so naturally outside the typical classroom.

We spent some time towards the south of Israel/the Negev, at the Mediterranean and nearby sites, then did a two day trip to the Dead Sea area where we visited Masada, Ein Gev, and Kumran, the location of the Dead Sea scrolls.

13011209903_b100fcb93e_zFollowing that we did a four day, three night trip to the northern part of Israel, the Sea of Galilee which was central to the ministry of Jesus. Galilee, due to its location is this “cosmopolitan hub” where the international community is connected through trade, so it is a lot more secular than other regions in Israel, like Jerusalem which is more isolated and therefore more conservative. I find it so fascinating that this is the location that Jesus chose for the majority of his ministry. It just goes to show how strategic Jesus was in placing his ministry in this geographical region where it could spread so easily. The message wasn’t only for Jewish people, it wasn’t restricted to a gender, or race, or tribe, or anything! It was for everyone, no exceptions. Jesus took his message and life to the crossing point of the world at that time, and that’s huge! I love it. For me this is a sort of confirmation that we are called to a radical life of being uncomfortable, of going out into the unknown, into the most worldly places to interact with people who are different than us; a place where we can share the good news of Jesus and continue His ministry to the ends of the world.

With JUC now behind us we are passing swiftly on toward further darkness, but we’re also moving toward a new sun. We’re getting pretty good at this transition stuff, and with each passing one we come closer and closer to the end of this journey. I can only speak for myself when I say that the beginning of the end is coming all too quickly! I have been so privileged to have this experience and am saddened that it is drawing to a close.

Time has definitely not been on my side this trip– there is simply not enough of it!

Thank you all for your prayers, I know our God is listening!

-Natalia Derstine