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Sevilla courtyard

Sevilla

It’s true. The sun does shine here in Sevilla. A lot. It shines until it is 100 degrees (10 second pity party- my house has no AC and no fan. Also, this is my second attempt at this post because I somehow messed up after writing for a solid 35 minutes…I’m all smiles right now).

The transition to a new city has been rough. We went from going to the beach everyday to avoiding the sun as much as possible; seeking any shade we possibly can. From spending free time together to taking advantage of siestas to recover from our exhaustion. From exploring a great little city to sticking to the streets we know.

Sevilla is the capital of Andalucía (the region of spain we are visiting) and is much larger than Cádiz. Even after three weeks in Cádiz, I felt like there was so much I didn’t know about it. Coming into Sevilla, I knew I would only be here two weeks. And two weeks wouldn’t be enough time to really get to know a city this size. Regardless of all this, even the heat, Sevilla is a beautiful city, and it’s been a great experience.

along the river in sevilla.

Our days are full here. Mornings consist of either history classes and a tour or volunteering. Evenings are spent with the group. Classes are so interesting. I love learning about the rich history of Spain. Again classes are taught in Spanish, so I feel like I am missing a lot. But our leader translates as much as possible, and we have handouts for each lecture. After lecture we go to different areas of the city and apply what we just heard. We have been to different alcázars, city ruins, cathedrals and museums.

alcázar in sevilla.

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gardens at the alcázar in córdoba.

Two days a week we volunteer. I loved my volunteer placement, Hospital de la Caridad. It is a retirement-like home for elderly men. Built in 1674 by Miguel Mañara, a wealthy man who was going through a difficult time in his life. He lost his wife at a young age and was struggling emotionally, physically, and spiritually. In order to find peace, he sold all of his possessions so he could help others like him. He built a church and a hospital. This hospital was for men who didn’t have a home and needed medical assistance. Both the hospital (now similar to a retirement home in my opinion) and the church are still functioning. It was great to have the history of such an amazing place as our foundation before we began serving the residents and staff.

We started the mornings playing memory games and bingo with the residents. Man do those men love bingo! After bingo we would go for a walk. The first day, a nurse “assigned” each of us a chair and showed us the way out. It was overwhelming because none of us knew if the nurse would accompany us, or if we would be flying solo. Thankfully the nurse walked with us, showing us which streets to take and helping us manage the bumpy roads. Just imagine six young, American girls, each pushing a wheelchair down Sevilla’s crowded cobblestone streets. If that doesn’t make you chuckle, it should. Even as we were walking, I couldn’t help but smile at the sight our little caravan must have made. I wish we would have had more time with the men at Hospital de la Caridad.

go ahead. chuckle.

Time is something I have thought a lot about on this trip. The first couple weeks went by so fast. Now, we are only a week from departing this beautiful country.  I often long for more time. More time to enjoy all that I have been given. Sevilla has been a breath of fresh air for me. Afternoons are free for us as the whole city seems to take a two hour siesta because it is so miserably hot. some days i take advantage of siesta and sleep. But others, the Lord has given me energy to dig into the Word. Something I have been so thankful for. There are no distractions. The city sleeps. God has been using this trip to open so many doors. Doors to friendships and great conversations. I pray these friendships would continue to grow as we finish our time abroad and as we return to the states. We only have a few days left in Sevilla. And then five quick days together in granada. Where did the time go…

-Rachel Yoder

la catedral de sevilla.


Spain

Immersed in the Babel

The Tower of Babel-Genesis 11: “So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” Since coming to Spain, I have been in awe of the many babbling voices I hear. The rapid talk of my cashier at Supersol, a loud mom walking her child to school, cigarette in one hand, child in the other. And the laughter, flavor, and expressive musical tone I hear on the streets, markets, and beach. The echoing Spanish, French, English, etc. that I hear all around is becoming my new normal, and I love it. I recalled this story in the book of Genesis as I sat with my host mom. Learning a new language and listening to the babel made me wonder what it would be like to bring the whole world together. What an incredible, awesome babel that would be. I also wonder what it would be like to have a universal language. Perhaps it would be less complicated. Maybe connections would be easier and long distances would seem less intimidating. But I think it was certainly God’s plan to have a beautiful mixture of languages. It is my wish that others would desire to broaden their knowledge and understanding by immersing themselves in the babel and unknown. It is extremely nerve-wracking, eye-opening, and entirely refreshing. Enjoy God’s music and the sweet babel of the world’s peoples.

-Anne Marie Baer

 


Utooni sand dam

Clean water and spiritual refreshment

This past week was full of ups and downs. Our group as a whole was quite nervous about our stay at Utooni for our sand dam project. We had no toilet, no shower, slept on metal cots, and ate the same food every meal for 5 days. For a typical American, it sounds a little terrifying. Surprisingly enough, looking back on our experience it was our favorite part of the trip for many of us.
The sand dam project that first began in 1978 has been becoming more and more popular as time passes. Sand dams are reinforced concrete walls built on a rock bed across seasonal rivers to capture and hold water under the sand over a rainy season. The sand dam that we helped build and fund will decrease the distance for families to get water from 11 km to 2.6 km which will decrease the amount of time spent getting water from 6.2 hours to 54 minutes. Most families need to pull their children out of school to gather water for survival. With water close and more available children can spend a lot more time investing in their education. This clean water supply not only goes towards clean drinking water but it assists in water supply for cooking, watering crops, and washing injuries to prevent infection. We learned that this project will DIRECTLY improve the living conditions of 2,000 people.
Through difficult manual labor we learned the value of community and God’s presence. Three different communities came together to complete a project that would have taken many weeks for only one community. The amount of love and compassion was completely humbling and indescribable. The Kenyan communities with little to no water supply view this sand dam as nothing but a blessing sent straight from God. During work days, the daily routine was filled with laughter, singing, and dancing. Our views of incredible hospitality continued even through the sand dam project. Never did we feel out of place or unwanted even as minorities.
Throughout our entire stay in Utooni, God seemed to always be in the center of everything. For myself and the majority of my group we felt a sense of spiritual refreshment. Many of us have not only just been on a cultural journey but also a spiritual journey. Kenyan people have reminded us over and over again that they trust in God to provide. In the midst of being surrounded by nothingness we were able to strip ourselves away from what we always see, and view life in a different manner. We were able to distinguish poor from rich and many times we viewed our society as poor. Poor not in an economic way but a spiritual way. The society we have been submerged in has forced us over and over to see past materialistic patterns and look for the spiritual ones. As a whole the Kenyan society embraces the love for each other, but most importantly Jesus Christ. Never once have I heard anyone complain about their situation, but they are always praising Jesus for the many ways they are blessed each day.
-Katie Miller

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


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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

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

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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