EMU Cross-Cultural

Spain/Morocco 1

Spain/Morocco 1We all signed up with different expectations, thoughts and intentions. Our journey was set off right with the blessing and “see-you-laters” distributed between family and friends. The plane ride was 6 hours but preoccupied us by unexpected and fascinating technology. Spain, our first taste test was a challenge for some and a delight for others. With that said, we are figuring out things we never knew we liked, a blessing in disguise. Back and forth in the metro we go! To the big city of soul.

Soon after our first-come-first serve flight to Tangier, our group of mainly independent women and one guy versus pushy European men put up a fight through…(this is to be taken with humor, of course).

Morocco begins with narrow windy roads (led by a professional driver) that leads us to Chefchaouen. They call it the Blue City, Chefchaouen, our blue town but no image in our minds could depict the mastery and gracefulness of this place. After what felt like miles traveling, we entered out palace-like house, Dar Meziana. Everything is hand-crafted, from the bathroom to the tiles, to the coffee cups…all running around to claim the best rooms, to find out that the host has already assigned them. To no surprise, every room is drenched in beauty, each unique in design.

For lunch and dinner we order from a confusing menu and pass all things around. This is a very giving group. We eat and to the market we go. The pressure is on in the Medina. Men try to bargain and sell us everything. We are becoming good at it. From 120 dirham to 100 to 80… Ach, Hamdulilah!!!

The journey through the medina is a moment to remember when you are walking with Queen Latifa, Obama’s sister, and Shakira.

The mountain hike makes me think of words like exhaustion and unbelievable beauty. The people live on the hills of the mountains and live sustainable lives. Donkeys, sheep, and goats fill the place, as well as cats. Cats are everywhere! At last, standing at the top of the mountain, we look down at the town of Chefchaouen …the buildings and houses, small enough to fit in our hands but the people in them big enough to fill our hearts. That much beauty will never be forgotten.

Out differences are slowly diminishing and transforming into similarities. The bargaining, no matter how stressful is teaching us life lessons. The town so open to our arrival and as time starts to fly by we seem sad and unsteady about out departure. After learning so much and mastering our way through the back allies, we must leave. One day left, one day to cram this beautiful place into out pockets and carry ons.

We are your eyes to this place, …all I can say is too little paper to tell it all and to enjoy all the beauty around us.

-Melissa Lewis

Final reports from Mexico II

Guatemala/Mexico 11Family

The part of cross-cultural that I was most nervous about was being so far away from family without any real contact with them. I should’ve known that my fear was silly. Early in our time in Guatemala Sara asked a missionary couple we were visiting, how they can be away from their family for so long, and the answer is something that will stick with me for a long time. She said that of course it’s hard to be away from them but that you make more connections and your family grows. In that simple statement she taught us that family isn’t limited to family trees and blood relations, and every home stay that I’ve experienced since then has backed up her words. I don’t really understand it, but in the last three and a half months my family has become four times bigger than it was when we left January 14. And I’m not just talking good friends – I mean honest-to-goodness family. From my free travel family hugging me and saying “Te quiero, hermana” and hearing those words echoed from my Semana Santa family in Mexico City to movie night with and reassurances that “nuestra casa es tu casa” from my mom and sisters in Guatemala City and hugs and “no llores” from my mom and brothers in Puebla, I know that we’re family.

– Amy Layman

Universidad de las Américas Puebla - Allison Sherer and Karla Mumaw with host family Impacts

Wow, the semester is almost over. Tomorrow we get on a plane and fly home, okay EMU, but it’s close to home. We have learned a lot, seen a lot, and talked a lot. I have grown in so many different ways because of this, some of which I still can’t explain and don’t know if I will ever be able to. One thing that will stick with me is the impacts. This is a quote of what I said one time, “There is some reason I need to be here, I might find it out or I might not, but God wants me here.” I continued to use this idea to explain many more things on this trip and why I made the choices I made along the way. There is some reason God chose us to be where we are. We may find out now or in the future with our life paths or we may have had an affect on others we met, not knowing in what ways we affected them. I have met many different people, some I know their names and others I just pass on the way. All these people, including myself, could have had some impact. I know some things I learned from the people I met will change my actions in the future: being more grateful, conserving resources, using my Spanish, sharing their stories. How did I affect them? Is it the smile I shared, the interest I had, the relationship I made. It could be all of these, but this is the side that I will have the least interaction with, the side I will most likely never see. This is okay; we are not supposed to know everything. What I learned during these three and a half months will challenge my interactions in the states. To know that what I do is bigger than myself.

– Karla Mumaw

Final reports from Mexico I

Guatemala/Mexico10This week has been full of lots of different activities as well as end of year wrap-up activities. Each of us has been working very hard on writing a paper on a cultural theme about Mexico. Although the paper is not a huge stretch many of us have been nervous about the presentation over our topic in Spanish. Need less to say there has been a mix of emotions from happy to scared and nervousness throughout the group. Aside from the regular activities at the university we have been on a couple of excursions throughout the area.

On Friday we went and visited a bull ranch nearby. It was really interesting to see where the bulls are raised after seeing a bull fight; which is the end of the bull’s life. The ranch was decorated with lots of bull heads on the walls giving the name of the matador, where the fight was and how many ears the matador received after the killing. Each room was decorated to make you feel like you were in the rustic Wild West. Each ranch has its’ own chapel and they even hold their own services on Sundays.

After a delicious breakfast at the ranch we went out on a tour of the outside of the ranch. Each bull is classified by weight and breed and kept separate in different pens. We learned a lot about the bulls; one thing in particular that was interesting to me was that bulls are never attracted to the color red it’s actually a myth. The bulls are attracted to movement because they are color blind, so the color of the cloth has little to no importance to the bull.

We ended the tour by going to the practice ring on the ranch. Here we saw a two year old calf being tested for breeding qualities. The ranch hands took turns taking passes at the cow. The cow was quite young but she sure did have a lot of energy and knew exactly what she was supposed to do in that ring. Some of our group members even had the chance to go into the ring and try their hand at being a matador. A tradition on this particular bull ranch was to have their guests play dominoes in the bull ring. Each person would in turn run into the center of the ring and lay their domino on the ground and run back out; all the while the ranch hands are enticing the cow to charge and run around the ring. It would have been way more dangerous and scary had the cow been bigger!

As my time here in Mexico is coming to a close I am sad to be leaving my host family. All throughout this trip I have been met with such generosity and hospitality being a complete stranger to the country as well as each family and their homes. I have learned a very important lesson about hospitality and just how far people are willing to go out of their way for those they do not even know. Here I am in the middle of a country I do not know, with a foreign culture and language; yet here is a family that is willing to open up their home to me and to give me everything I need and more. I have made a very meaningful relationship with my host family and as a result have learned a lot about their culture and gotten to know my family in unique and wonderful ways. I can only hope that back in my own culture in the United States I can extend the same hospitality to those that come my way trying to adapt to a new and foreign language and culture.

-Nicole Yoder

Mexico City

Guatemala/Mexico 9It is hard to describe in full what we did on our weekend in the Federal District, which is more commonly known as Mexico City, but I will try briefly to describe to you some of the places we visited.

For many of us, who are not city people by any means, the idea of going to one of the largest cities in the world seemed more daunting than exciting. However, my presumptions proved wrong for I had multiple rewarding experiences on this weekend trip in the city. We visited many places including Teotihuacan, the Basilica de Guadalupe, and the National Palace among some of the destinations, but none were more fascinating to me than the Ballet Folklorico. Now don’t let the name ballet fool you. The Ballet Folklorico is for both men and women alike and is not intended for the aristocracy. Instead, the Ballet Folklorico was truly an amazing and unique cultural experience that I am very pleased to have experienced. The show’s purpose is to preserve the many unique styles of dances found across Mexico and to present them to the general public. This performance is usually held in the Bellas Artes theater house, but due to renovations, the dance was held in the Museum of Anthropology’s theater. Although it was held in a different location it was still a breathtaking experience none the less.

Mexico City -- Ballet Folklorico One cannot simply sit down and describe to you the performance with words alone. Indeed I hope not to do the show injustice for attempting to explain through words alone for one can only truly appreciate and understand the show if you see it with your own eyes.

Every region of Mexico has a different style of dance, music, and type of clothing so that everyone was intrigued with the performances. Each dance was unique in itself and the variety of colorful clothing and styles of music was truly pleasing to the senses. We sat in the front row and were so close to the dancers that one was able to feel the movement of air as a dancer passed by and one could even smell the different perfumes or colognes of the dancers.  And, if one was fortunate enough, one could even make eye contact and exchange smiles with the dancers.

Most of the dances centered around one of the following themes: love, hunting, and/or conflict. There were around ten different acts, each from a different part of Mexico. My personal favorite was the dance entitled Danza del Venado or ‘The Deer Dance’ in English. This dance is from the Yaqui people who still live apart from modern society and continue to hunt with bows and arrows. The Yaqui dance celebrates the life of a deer by portraying the final minutes of a majestic stag’s life, which is represented by a man wearing a hat with a deer’s head. The deer pranced around the stage for some time to the tribal drums beating in the background. Eventually, two Yaqui hunters came onto the stage and proceeded to shoot the majestic deer. As the stag began to die the drums started to slow down and one would realize the drums are supposed to represent the deer’s heartbeat. When the drums stopped beating, the deer finally died. This moving act was truly a unique experience that I was thrilled to have witnessed.

– Austin Shenk

Bull fight -- Puebla On Friday March 26, the only thing on anyone’s mind was the bull fight that we were going to watch that night. I was particularly excited to go to the bull fight. After reading “Mexico” by James A. Michener, I felt like I knew everything I needed to know for the bull fight. Once we got to the stadium, I quickly realized how wrong I was. There were so many things going on at once that I had to keep asking Sonnie and Amy what was going on. Despite the confusion, I felt like I was able to appreciate the whole experience more. The book “Mexico” made me realize just how dangerous this sport really is.

The matadors were everything I was expecting them to be. Their bright colored costumes were fun to watch as they sparkled in the light when the bulls ran past them. Each Matador went one at a time and they all got two bulls each. The second Matador is a famous matador from Spain, so he got a third bull at the end. He was my favorite matador out of the three. We left before he finished his third bull, but we were able to see the most exciting part of the whole performance. The last bull jumped the fence and started running around in the audience. The staff workers were able to quickly get the bull back in to the arena before anyone got hurt. It was the thrill that I had been waiting to see. After this I didn’t want to leave, but it was already 11 pm and everyone was tired. If I had another chance to go again, I would. The smoke and the crowds were well worth the experience. If you have a weak stomach for animals then I would not recommend this for you. For everyone else, if you get a chance to see a matador go up against an angry bull, then I recommend you go. And take me with you.

– Jerica Martin

Iglesia Evangelica Anabautista Fraternidad Cristiana -- Allison Sherer, Katie Jantzen, Brent Anders, and Sara Beachy This past week was Holy Week, and we spent the week with a Mennonite church in Mexico City. We did a variety of things around the city, like visiting one of the largest universities in the world, and going to Chapultepec and spending some time at a zoo, castle, or just wondering around. We painted the church, which was an all day project. In the evenings we spent time with our host families, talking with them or going to various places.

The church had services almost every day because it was Holy Week, and we participated, singing in some of them. On Thursday night we had the Last Supper and footwashing. I really enjoyed this part, and seeing the interactions between two very different groups of people. It was amazing to see how we could cross cultural barriers and connect with each other by the simple act of washing someone else’s feet. On Friday we went into town to watch re-enactments of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. This was very different from what we’ve ever experienced on GoodIglesia Evangelica Anabautista Fraternidad Cristiana -- Don Clymer and Sara Beachy Friday, because we saw in real life what actually happened. Saturday we went to a water park where we had baptisms, including Sara from our group. Following this we went to Tula, some ruins. One thing that stuck out to me this week was how we affected the people in the church. We had gone to serve them, especially by painting their church, but at the same time they were there to serve us. Since this was Holy Week, most of them had off from work, and they basically spent the whole week with us. Almost all of our meals were at the church, so they had to prepare large amounts of food. Anytime we went out into the city a group of them would accompany us. Many of them opened their homes so we would have a place to stay for the week. It was a blessing for them to be able to spend time with us, and build friendships. We had gone expecting to serve them and take part in their Holy Week celebrations, but I think that they served us more, and were very glad to do so.

Overall it was an excellent week, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it all. By the end none of us wanted to leave, because we had made such strong connections with the people in the church. The last day we were sad as we were taking pictures and saying goodbye.

– Allison Sherer

Mexico City -- Catholic reenactment of Christ's death Semana Santa – Holy Week. The time of year when we celebrate one man’s death. Pretty exciting, right? Heck yes it is! At least when that man happens to be the Son of God. And especially when He doesn’t stay dead. No, indeed He is risen.

The past week happened to be no less than amazing. Many things could be said about it. But the reenactment of the moments leading up to and culminating in Jesus’ death stand out clearly as one of the highlights of the week. So let me ask you something before I continue. How many times have you read the story of Jesus’ crucifixion? Probably too many. Why? It’s easy to forget what really happened and read with indifference the words “Pilate handed him over to be flogged” and “They crucified Him.” Do you realize what Jesus had to go through to save the world from their sin? DEATH! And not just death, PAIN! Pain so painful He was literally sweating blood before it all really even started, not to mention the nails piercing the nerves in His hands and virtually no more skin left on His back after the floggings. Surely we must not forget SO GREAT A SALVATION! Indeed He is risen.

One thing’s for sure – the Mexicans here sure know how to do a reenactment. Ya ain’t gonna see this in North Dakota! Complete with a “real” crown of thorns and “real” blood. The Roman soldiers actually flogged Jesus in the reenactment. Though it was with whips that were just made of rope, it still had to hurt. The soldiers yanked Jesus around like he was a dog, spat on him, and kicked one of his followers off of the stage. In the procession that followed Jesus’ sentencing, where Jesus and the two other prisoners carried their crosses to “Golgotha,” the Roman soldiers continually whipped the cross-bearers (though they stopped to rest a few times and make sure the people were actually okay). I have never seen a more accurate account of what actually happened to Jesus (at least concerning the violence) other than “The Passion.” I think the scariest part of the reenactment, however, had to be when the Romans put the crown of thorns on Jesus. The crown looked extremely real, and when they shoved it down on his head, blood dripped down his face. Thankfully, we found out later that it was indeed fake blood.

So was Jesus’ death in real life this bad? No, it was much worse. They didn’t care to stop on the way to Golgatha to make sure Jesus had enough water, and they didn’t care to use fake blood. Jesus actually died, and you can rest assured it was painful beyond what any of us have felt. But what happened three days later makes Jesus’ death a wonderful, joyful thing. Praise God! INDEED HE IS RISEN!

-Cody Stutzman

Free time reports from the Middle East

For the week of free travel, four of us (Drew, Nathan, Lucas, and I) chose a low-cost, high-endurance option: borrowing a tent and sleeping bags from JUC, writing down the names and numbers of “trail angels,” buying some dried fruit, peanut butter, and cereal in Jerusalem’s Old City, and hiking a roughly 120 km portion of the Israel National Trail (INT) from the Mediterranean Sea to the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Everything went mostly as planned despite our unhelpful touring map that contributed to losing the trail on multiple occasions and misjudging the distance we had travelled (and had yet to travel).

“Trail angels” are people along the INT who open their homes to hikers who call a day or two in advance. This proved to be one of the highlights of our experience: we stayed in our tent for four nights, and stayed in peoples’ houses for three. We met many interesting people –including at least two men who fought in the ’73 Yom Kippur War. One of these men’s parents met in a concentration camp after their previous spouses and children had been killed (“I owe my existence to Hitler,” Miki the veterinarian said). The other man, Noam, was a former IDF officer who served as a military attaché to a high-level NATO official in the Netherlands for seven years. I spent over an hour talking with Jehudit on our last night of free travel while she prepared dinner for us.

We learned about the distinctiveness of the Bedouin population within Israel and their reluctance to identify with the broader Arab minority when we departed from the trail for a day and instead walked through Shibli, a Bedouin town near Nazareth. Several men running a shop along the road stopped us to offer water, chairs, coffee, and eventually a ride partway to our destination. In another circumstance, an Arab-Israeli family in Kabbiya gave us four full bottles of cold water when we came to their town and offered us a place to stay at their home.

There were a few hitches in our hiking — not only the “lost” variety, but also the “ride in a car” variety. We found that hitchhiking was fairly easy despite our four large hiking packs. We were picked up by a wide range of people: Shalam, a young religious Jew who spoke almost no English; Akram, a Bedouin who also spoke almost no English; two Israeli soldiers fluent in English on a weekend trip to Tiberias, and Zaer, an elderly Israeli Jew who kindly took us to the top of Mt Tabor so we could see the church… and then merrily waved and drove away, leaving us farther back than we had been 24 hours before.

It was a good set of experiences, a good way to see and meet a variety of Israel’s geography and people, and of course, extremely physically strenuous and rewarding (our longest day of hiking was at least 30 kilometers). In all, it was an amazing cross section of Israeli society that we had yet to see in any of our group travel and learning.

Kaitlin Heatwole

Whenever you start out on a trip with a small budget, a friend, small backpack, and no guarantee that you will even reach your destination, you know that you are in for a great adventure. That is how my free travel week with Larisa started out. Our destinations were Beirut, Lebanon and eventually Damascus, Syria. No EMU student has ever gone to Syria for free travel before. Since Lebanon and Syria don’t allow people that have been to Israel to enter and Syria makes it difficult for United States citizens to enter, we had no guarantee that we would get in when we bought our plane tickets from Amman to Beirut. We had been careful to keep our passports clean and hide all traces of having been in Israel, but one wrong stamp at the Jordan river crossing and we would have to scratch our plans. Since so much was up in the air we made reservations for one night in Beirut and nothing else.

We left JUC around ten on Sunday morning with David and Rebekka, bound for the Sheik Hussein bridge. After spending a large portion of our budget on transportation, one exorbitant exit fee, and visas, we arrived in Beirut, Lebanon at our hotel around nine at night. The people at our hotel heard that we wanted to go to Syria and laughed as they said good luck. Early Monday morning we set out for the bus station, bought tickets, bought zaitar bread for breakfast, and boarded our bus to Syria. After about two hours, we arrived at the border and said goodbye to the bus as we prepared for a long wait with books at hand. Five and a half hours later we got the good news that we had permission to enter Syria! This was the beginning of an amazing three days in the Old City of Damascus.

The Old City of Damascus is without a doubt my favorite place in the Middle east. Tourism is not as common so the culture has not been adversely impacted like many cities in Egypt. Food and lodging were ridiculously cheap, a massive market that put any North American store to shame, and friendly people provided for a unique experiance. Words are worthless in describing the souq (market). Just try to imagine a clean, old market with hundreds of large sacks full of every spice imaginable, coffee, dates, dried fruit, coconut, and tea. Shops overflowed with textiles from every corner of the world, clothing, kitchen products, antiques, metal ware, and anything else that you could ever want or need. No need to buy here, the sensory overload was enough to let one standing in a state of shock unable to take it all in. To make it better, for the first time on the trip we could walk down a street without being hassled by a shop keeper. Some of the things that you could find included damask tablecloths from Damascus of course, handmade wool rugs from Iran, paintings from Iraq, saffron from Vietnam, coffee from Brazil, and antiques from the Ottoman era. It brought the spice and silk trade of the history books to life.

If the sights of the market were not enough to fill our time, there was the Omayyad mosque to visit. It is the third or fourth most important mosque in Islam and the most important one that westerners can visit. The mosque houses a shrine to John the Baptist and the supposed location of Jesus’s return, according to Muslims there. Larisa and I spent most of a morning here and found it interesting to see pilgrims from all over the Middle East including Iran. During the call to prayer, we got a free laugh as the singer stopped to cough! It provided an insight into the diversity of Muslims. Our brief time in Damascus also provided opportunities for great conversations with locals, meeting with Mennonite connections, and walking down straight street (think Saul or Paul). As the time came for us to return to Beirut on Wednesday afternoon, Larisa and I found it to be a bit bittersweet as we found ourselves longing to return.

Back in Lebanon, we spent a day enjoying the corniche and pigeon rock along the Mediterranean coast of Beirut and another day enjoying the coast of Tyre in the South. Lebanon has not known much peace over the last two decades. This was especially evident in the south as we saw Hezbollah posters, bombed out buildings and dozens of UN peacekeeping troops. Both Syria and Lebanon are home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and Iraqi refugees. This has destabilized both countries and added numerous challenges. Syria alone has had 20% inflation each year for the past two years. Now, why would they be upset with the United States foreign policy? While, I don’t endorse either government, the experiences I had in both countries reinforced the need to solve the Palestinian and Israeli conflict in addition to ending the war in Iraq. This was a wonderful learning experience and I find myself a bit envious of any future EMU student that gets to study in Syria.

-Chrissy Krieder

Free Time Reports from Guatemala

Guatemala/Mexico 8Las Gringas Perdidas
We went to Antigua, where we spent loads of money on gifts (feel loved). We dined on cheesecake and cappuccino slushies. A random shoeshine boy offered Sara some weed. (Don’t worry. She declined.) We raced around in tuk-tuks, and Amy lap-hopped around a chicken bus. When we left, we hopped the wrong bus. Fortunately, Karla is smart and we´re good at robbing ayudantes. When we got back to CASAS, we took a taxi to the bus station and enjoyed stadium seating in the bus to Carcha, where the adventures really began.

Las Faldas Confundidas
Sunday began early, as we left Carcha with Galen and Phyllis Groff, EMM missionaries, at 5 am. We picked up a random hitchhiker (OK, not so random. He was the MCC SALTer, Luke, who we hung out with all week). We rode 3 hours into the jungle in the back of a jeep, and then hiked another hour into a village. Sara was thrilled out of her mind. Sara and Amy were wearing traditional Q´eqchi garb borrowed from Phyllis, and were very glad on multiple occasions that they had worn pants underneath them. Our Q´eqchi hermanos and hermanas graciously fed us two delicious meals. After church and playing with the little ones, we hiked back to the jeep, where all skirts were promptly ditched. We drove another hour to Laguna Lechua National Park, where we hiked 45 minutes to a cabin on the lake. We spent the evening swimming, eating PBJ, staring at the most beautiful array of stars we’d ever seen, and talking about God around a campfire.

Las Nietas Quemadas
We got up early to see the sunrise. Sara went for a trek through the jungle by herself. Sonnie, Amy and Karla saw a crocodile in the lake. It was then when we understood why the sign said not to swim past 50 meter. (Amy and Sonnie did their best to ignore said sign… and were successful on multiple occasions, and everyone returned in one piece.) We feasted on bread-what-whats and were lazy in the sun for the rest of the day, until journeying back to the home of Galen and Phyllis in Carcha.

Las Patitas Amusadas
This was our first day volunteering at the Bezaleel school. We taught an English class, met the students and learned Q´eqchi words and phrases, most of which we promptly forgot. We followed Luke around all day like ducklings, and there was much laughter mostly caused by Luke. That evening, we moved in with our Q´eqchi families. Karla and Sara had an impromptu sewing lesson with one of their sisters. Sonnie and Amy were killed via “slingshot” more than 20 times, thanks to their 3-year-old nephew. All 4 paritas began to develop our tortilla making skills, to the amusement of our families.

Las Jugadoras y La Enfermerita

Upon our arrival at Bezaleel, we began our day with an impromptu music class on the soccer field. Then, we divided up to teach English classes. Amy is fairly certain the only word her class will remember is “kiss”. As part of English classes, we took some of the kids on nature walks. After English classes, Amy left with Phyllis to volunteer at the clinic and tour the hospital. Luke, Karla, and Sonnie taught the younger kids to play Capture the Flag, while Sara played soccer with the older ones.

The Dream Team
Our project of the day was to paint the library red and bright yellow. We got high on paint fumes and accomplished our task. For English class we taught American slang, including “What´s up?” and “ditto”. We sat and talked with kids for hours, exchanging Q´echi and English words and phrases. It was extremely hard to leave at the end of the day. When we got back to our homes, we had the delightful pleasure of taking bucket baths. (Seriously, we loved it!) After baths, Amy and Sonnie played Dutch Blitz with 2 of their siblings.

Semuc Champan- Karla Mumaw Las Aventureras Traviesas
We dawned early and took a micro bus to the town of Lanquin. Then we rode in the back of truck to Semuc Champey (thereby fulfilling all of our transportational desires). Semuc Champey is a gorgeous waterfall that Luke told us about. We spent the day swimming and climbing. And as we remembered sunscreen, we did not repeat the experience of Monday. We returned to Carcha to enjoy our last evening with our families. Amy and Sonnie attempted to balance water jugs on their Heads. Epic Fail! Karla and Sara played the ultimate Mennonite game… and won!

The Brokenhearted Girls
We´re sitting here in the park in Coban, dreading returning to Guatemala City. It’s been a day of goodbyes to new families and friends. And our hardest goodbye is yet to come, as we leave Guatemala tomorrow.

-Amy Layman, Karla Mumaw, Sara Beachy, and Sonnie Seigfried

Finca Ixobel, Tree House Cabin- Bethany Johnson, Allison Sherer Friday – we left as soon as we finished our classes at CASAS in order to get an early start
Saturday – we saw 2 quetzal birds
Sunday – we slept in tree houses
Monday – we slept in hammocks
Tuseday – we hiked/hacked through the jungle for 7 hours and visited 5 caves
Wednesday – we rode horses back from the jungle
Thursday – we spent 8.5 hours on buses and had peanut butter/Nutella sandwiches for lunch
Friday – we spent the day swimming through caves by candlelight, tubing down a river, and swimming in the pools of Semuc Champey
Saturday – we explored the incredible market in Coban

-Katie Jantzen, Allison Sherer, and Bethany Johnson

“Been there, done that”

Middle East 5Before I left on the trip I decided to make a map on Google to show where all we are going.  I’ve gradually updated bits and pieces while here, but as of the last two weeks, it will take me many hours to make any progress. We’ve been studying at Jerusalem University College.  We’re told that we are doing a semester’s worth of work in a two week period.  Feels like it.

We have traveled all over Israel; from the Negev up to the Syrian Border, stopping to look at the geography of the area and place it in Biblical contexts.  As some have put it, we “stand on one hill to look at another”. We spent the last four days in the Galilee area, staying at a sea-side resort.  After the long days of studying and climbing, nothing was better than wetting our feet and sitting on the beach.

I wish I could list all the places we’ve been, but I’ll just say if it has any significance, we’ve probably been there.  If it’s named in the Bible,  we’ve probably talked about it.  And if it has at least 2 tour groups a day, we’ve definitely done it.

Some highlights from these past two weeks include; swimming in the Sea of Galilee, bobbing in the Dead Sea, hacky-sacking EVERYWHERE, yelling “Eagle!” from heights, frolicking in meadows…what day doesn’t come with some good times?

Boat ride at the Sea of Galilee: Michael Swartzendruber We are about half way done with the semester as we head into free travel (which is not free in a monetary sense by any means).  I think we would all agree that the semester is speeding up and before we know it we’ll be leaving Rome for the US.  How do you take it all with you?

-Michael Swartzendruber

Scripture comes alive in Israel

Middle East 4We are at the end of our time here at JUC (Jerusalem University College). Over the past two weeks we have found ourselves in a different sort of adventure each day, whether looking out at the battlefield of David and Goliath, sitting on the side of Mount Carmel, or floating in the Dead Sea.

Scripture has truly come alive to me as we have not only been studying but also experiencing this land.  The stories that we have read and discussed in specific locations take on a new meaning.  For example, as a group we have constantly been revisiting the ideas of shepherding, farming, and fishing.  The imagery so often used throughout the Bible of these three things makes so much sense as you are looking out into the dry and arid Judean Wilderness, hiking down into the lush Sorak Valley, or out on a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

As we move from JUC, I hope to not only remember what I have experienced here, but to forever allow this land to be a part of me and transfer this information into the different contexts of my life, and ultimately that through it all I may come to know God more. (Jeremiah 9:23)

-Ellie Barnhart

Exploration in Guatemala

Guatemala/Mexico 7We left for Tikal, Peten, at five in the morning. Most of us were dead on our feet until we received our brown bag breakfasts consisting of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and yogurt. As of lately, peanut butter has become a hot commodity in our group. You could bribe someone with just a jar of peanut butter. We took a small plane that arrived in the densely forested Peten around eight in the morning.  And surprisingly, it was not hot. Apparently, a cold front was going through the area, which proved quite nice as we hiked through the jungle that surrounded the ruins at Tikal. The Mayan ruins were beautiful and inconceivably old (proving that there is something older than Profe Donaldo). To reach the top of the tallest pyramid, we had to climb wooden stairs, which might as well have been Tikal -- Don Clymer and Stacy Kinkaida ladder.  There above the trees, we could see the tips of the other pyramids and the mountains far off in the distance. How strange it must have been for the Mayans to see this world, a vast expanse of trees that seemingly ended where the mountains began. In Mayan tradition, they tell a story about ancestors who could see everything in the world. Nothing was hidden from them. Had the Mayans been able to see the whole world like their ancestors, perhaps they could have seen beyond the mountains that bordered the valley. But as it was, it seemed that everything ended with the mountains.

After lunch, we headed to our hotel, El Gringo Perdido (in other words, the lost white guy). The hotel was snuggled against Lake Peten Itza. Our little rooms, covered with a thatched roof, opened onto a beautiful view of the clear lake, which provided some excellent swimming all weekend. There were also coconut trees, which Cody shimmied up and retrieved an unripened coconut from. We ate our meals at the hotel, which disappointingly did not include tortillas, but the homemade bread was very good. And for supper, we even got dessert, quite a commodity seeing as dessert is not a norm in Guatemala. The geckos, monkeys, and brightly colored birds were the only things that called us back to the reality that we were, in fact, in Guatemala.

On Sunday afternoon we left for the airport, making it back to Guatemala City in an hour, and the general consensus was that we never should have left Peten…..and used more sunscreen.

-Stacy Kinkaid

Tikal -- Bethany Johnson This past week, Jessica and I stayed in Coban for an extra day, because my Compassion child, Blanca, lives in town called Tamahù which is just south of there. A man named Ivan from the Guatemala City Compassion International office was supposed to pick us up at 9 a.m. Unfortunately, there was a teacher’s strike which blockaded the highway and didn’t move until noon. And when Guatemalans are stuck in traffic, they just drive in the opposing lane, which, of course, creates a massive traffic jam. Poor Ivan spent 5 hours in traffic, and finally arrived at our hotel around 3 p.m. Fortunately, Blanca and her family live within walking distance of our hotel, and the director of the Compassion project where Blanca goes to school had brought them to our hotel earlier in the afternoon.

The visit in itself was not terribly exciting. The hotel had a playground, so we stayed there and played for a while and talked. Blanca is very shy and quiet, so her brother Henri and her dad Filoberto did most of the talking. Jessica took lots of pictures. On the surface, it was rather platonic, but it’s something that has continued to be on my mind and heart for the last week. For the last almost 5 years, I have received letters and pictures from this little girl, and I’ve spent the last 6 weeks learning about her country. Somehow this meeting was more of a culmination point, and it was incredibly humbling. Filoberto thanked me multiple times for helping his daughter. Yet, I feel as if I am somehow the one who has been blessed. It’s an overwhelming honor to be able to give this gift to this family. Even as I sit here, it’s a struggle to express how much this one simple thing meant.

For the last several weeks, I’ve had a difficult time seeing the poverty and brokenness of Guatemala and being unable to do anything helpful. It’s so easy to be completely overwhelmed by the violence, both past and present, and by the number of people who are barely surviving. Meeting Blanca has made me realize that though I can’t change the world or Guatemala, I can change the world of one little girl in tiny Kek’chi village. And it’s made me realize how big God is; that He can bring together two random people – a college student from Pennsylvania and a little girl from Tamahù. I feel incredibly privileged to be part of what God is doing in Guatemala.

As a slightly humorous after thought, we left Tamahù around 4:15 to make the 4 hour trip back to Guatemala City. There was an accident, and Jessica and I had the pleasure of experiencing a Guatemalan traffic jam. And poor Ivan got to spend two more hours in traffic.

-Sondra Siegfried

Bringing peace, burying bones

One of our sessions included a field-trip to the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG).  Our entire time here everything we learn seems to connect in some way to the years of violence Guatemala has experienced.  Over 200,000 people have died or disappeared in the conflict and despite the signing of the peace accords in 1996, peace is still a hope more than a reality.

One way that peace is being pursued in this country is by shedding light on what has passed during the violence.  Stories are being told and lives shared.  The FAFG is working to help families discover and bury their dead loved ones.  A family can come to the FAFG and say that they think their relative was killed and buried in a certain spot.  The FAFG will use their technology to discover if there is a body there.  Then once they get a court order they can exhume the body, identify it, discover how the person died, and return it to the family to be laid to rest.  This gives the family the opportunity to properly mourn their dead, as many of them did not have the chance at the time.

We took a tour of FAFG’s facilities and saw their storage rooms.  The room was filled from floor to ceiling with boxes, each containing a skeleton and evidence, representing a person with a history and a family and a life lost in a pointless violence.  Despite, these seemingly hopeless boxes that filled the place, there is hope!  These people are being remembered and that alone can bring peace and relief from sorrow to the communities they left behind.  As a biology major interested in bringing peace and healing, this was a touching place, I hope to be able to use my knowledge to bless others as the FAFG does.

-Bethany Johnson