Tag Archives: featured

Chichicastenango

1 February 2016

This past weekend, we headed to Chichicastenango. Chichi is much smaller than Guatemala City, and I think we all really appreciated getting out of the city. On our way to Chichi, we stopped at Iximche which is one of the Mayan ruin sites in Guatemala. We had a tour of the 5 Plazas and learned some interesting facts about the Mayans. We learned that they never walked straight up stairs, but went sideways so that they never turned their back to the sun or the moon as a sign of their respect and thankfulness.

Group at Iximche
Group at Iximche

After this we continued on to Chichi. The geography of Guatemala is crazy because towns are built on top of mountains and to get from one to another you must go directly down the mountain and straight up the other. On our school bus, this was quite the adventure, but we luckily survived and may have even enjoyed the adrenaline rush a little. We arrived in Chichicastenango and Hotel Giron, and then set out to explore the beautiful town. The streets were filled with color and life, but they were nothing compared to the beauty of the people. Chichicastenango is a town filled with many Mayans who dress in beautiful clothes with amazing colors. We had the evening free after dinner and people used it to explore more of the town and shop.

On Saturday morning we traveled out to a small, small community to hear from a widow and survivor of La Violencia. [This is how Guatemalans often refer to the Guatemalan civil war years from 1960 -96.] She had us into her home and shared about the murder of her husband and how she was forced to leave her town and flee with her two children to Guatemala City. We had previously read about testimonies like this, but there was something about hearing it directly from the source that just displayed so beautifully the strength and resilience of these widows. One section of her testimony that really stuck out was how after she returned to her town, the men who had killed her husband were still around. She would often see them walking around the community. She said the hate and anger made her physically sick and she asked God to take that from her so that she could live. Wow! This was incredibly impactful to hear. The widows made us lunch and we had the opportunity to purchase some of their handmade clothes, blankets, headbands and more.

After our time with the widows, we returned to Chichicastenango and hiked up a mountain where some traditional Mayan worship/ceremonies were held. It was a beautiful view and cool to see one of these types of worship displayed. We had another free afternoon and evening where we did dinner on our own. We didn’t venture too far, and all showed up at the same steak house in three different groups. Majority of us got cheeseburgers and French fries; how North American of us!

We attended a small portion of mass on Sunday morning before venturing around the streets that had turned into a huge market. We spent some more time shopping before heading back to Guatemala City.

Overall, it was a really great weekend. Very refreshing to get out of the city for a little and speak some English! We are back in the city now, having daily Spanish classes and afternoons full of learning more about the history and culture, and relaxing.

Thanks for reading and for your continued thoughts and prayers!

-Emily Augsburger


 


Sinai

31 January 2016

My curiosity about the Sinai began when Linford announced we would be hiking and camping with a tribal group of people called the Bedouins. My interest, in the Sinai, turned to excitement when David Landis, a guest speaker during orientation, described the Sinai in two powerful words: rugged beauty. The Sinai is very different from any sort of wilderness in the United States. In the valleys the elevation is roughly 5,000 feet. It’s a place filled with rocks, mountains, rocks, a few trees or shrubs, and mountains. I have yet to encounter a place like the Sinai. It is dry like the Southwest of the United States. Its elevation is like the Rockies. It’s secluded as Minnesota. Put that all together and you are left with a place of beauty, unforgiving weather conditions, and peace.

Now that I have painted a picture of the Sinai I want to explain the highlights of the Sinai. We began our time by visiting St. Catherine’s monastery. This monastery is the oldest monastery ever. Its history began in the third century AD. One of its most famous visitors is Muhammad Ali. In the afternoon, after visiting St. Catherine’s Monastery, we climbed Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai isn’t an easy climb. 24726139836_120b4ccd92_kIts peak elevation is over 7,000 feet. The climb was made more difficult by cold winds, 750 stairs, and a 2,000 foot climb in elevation. This was my highlight of our time spent in the Sinai. The view was breathtaking. Mount Sinai allows a person to see the grandeur of the Sinai. Every direction you turn all you see are mountains.

The most interesting part of the view was the church and mosque right beside each other on the peak of Mount Sinai. Since the story of Moses is a story told by Islam and Christianity, each religion wants to claim Mount Sinai as a holy place, which plays into the importance of land and religion in the Middle East. In the Middle East the people feel a connection to the land. Part of this connection to the land comes from the stories taking place so close to home. Which becomes difficult when three different religions share common stories that connect to the land. One of my favorite quotes, regarding the multiple conflicts in the Middle East, is: “These problems have roots. We need to understand the roots.”  Before we can judge the Middle East or even try to help we need to understand the conflict and the people.

-Peter Dutcher


Guatemala City

26 January 2016

Greetings from Guatemala!

We are finally here! We landed safely in Guatemala at about 3:00 in the afternoon on Thursday the 14th. Both flights went well and we have all been enjoying our first few days in Guatemala City. We spent the first two nights at the CASAS-Semilla guesthouse, where we participated in activities that taught us more about the culture we had just arrived in. For example, on Saturday morning we went to the downtown of Guatemala City, where the central palace is, as well as the central plaza and a Catholic Church. From the plaza, we split up into groups to complete a scavenger hunt of the downtown area. The different groups explored all of the downtown area, from the Central Market, the post office, the movie theater, to the Catholic Church.

After seeing downtown, our group readied ourselves to meet our host families that same evening. We have all been with our individual host families since Saturday night, and we are enjoying getting to know them and seeing more of Guatemalan life through their eyes. We are grateful to all of the families for opening up their homes to us.

rooftop view from CASASOur group has also been enjoying our Spanish studies. Every morning at CASAS (Central America Study and Service), the school, we study Spanish from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Then, in the afternoon we participate in an activity to learn more about Guatemala and its culture. For example, on Tuesday we went to the Guatemalan National Cemetery. The cemetery was huge and it showed all of the different groups of people that have been a part of Guatemala’s history. It was definitely a sight to see!

Overall, our group has been having a great first week in Guatemala City and we are looking forward to many more weeks of new and exciting adventures!

Sincerely,

The Guatemala/Cuba Cross-Cultural Group


 

Reflections on the Empire

It has been two full days of Egyptology! Pyramids, the Sphinx, Tahrir Square, street markets, Museum of Cairo, a carpet factory, and a scenic drive out of the city to the Coptic Christian retreat of Anaphora. We’ve seen artifacts from before 4500 BC, trekked inside (and then sang in!) one of the pyramids of Giza, battled jet lag, and tried to absorb as much information as possible.

I spent the day thinking about empires. The world has always been divided into two groups – citizens of the Empire and those left on the outside. The Empire changes over the years – Egypt, Persia, Rome, the Ottomans, the British, and now America. I find myself a citizen of the Empire trying desperately to understand what life is like on the outside. American citizens regularly fail to understand and appreciate the power and privilege and opportunity they have simply by belonging to the Empire.

I wonder if today’s Egyptian citizens dwell on the past a lot. I wonder if they long for the days when the world belonged to Egypt. It saddens me that everyone is so poor in a country with the richest history of them all. I couldn’t miss the irony of a street salesman stuck in a dead-end job pushing their wares onto tourists, the wares themselves depicting their very ancestors ruling the world in great glory. Egyptians today find themselves outside the Empire looking in, while Americans today usually miss the bigger picture of the human condition – the privilege of the Empire allows this impossibility. I wonder of the Egyptian citizens of the Old Kingdom at the height of its power were similarly absorbed in their own lives, while roaming bands in outlying provinces yearned only to be Egyptian and to belong to the Empire.

I look forward to developing this theme on the trip. In Christianity, God intentionally chose the world over the Empire. Jesus went to the conflicted and dangerous place, not the place of power and stability. Jesus chose the outside, not the center. If Jesus returned to Earth today, there’s no doubt he’d go to Syria or Congo or Honduras or a hundred other places before America – we are the Empire.

Christianity was never intended for the Empire. Constantine adopted it after a war and it became the official religion of the Roman Empire – the greatest one of them all at that point. The religion was changed beyond recognition and groups wouldn’t be able to attempt to reclaim the original message of Christianity for over a thousand years. This project is clearly ongoing. As citizens of the Empire, we are particularly ill-equipped to try and access Christianity in its original form. Our idols are security and materialism, our sins are fear, racism, sexism, and xenophobia. I wonder if the citizens of Egypt and Rome were equally prone to the same missteps in the face of the message of a God who proclaimed peace and goodwill toward all men – not just within the Empire.

Empire is a thread that runs start to finish on our trip. Like the Bible, we start in Egypt and end in Rome, with a lot of the real world in between. I hope we find human moments of peace and goodwill in the middle, hindered though we are by our citizenship in the Empire.

-Eli Wenger


 


Coptic traditions at Anafora

We had the opportunity to spend a few days at a Coptic Orthodox
retreat center an hour out of Cairo called Anafora. The Coptic church traces their roots back to the apostle Mark and a visit he made to Egypt. So this experience was a chance to worship with one of the earliest church traditions.

The leadership at Anafora are working to create a place where people can come to seek retreat and new life. They have started to build biblical structures, the Amanmesia, which means remembering, to help explain some of their beliefs. So far they
have built a replica of the tabernacle, the Sea of Galilee, the Mount
of Olives, a small version of the ark of Noah, and a model of
Jerusalem. They are currently working on painting the walls of a
church building showing different Bible stories and of the 12
apostles. Overall, Anafora is doing well at creating a relaxing
environment where all feel welcome despite the differences in color,
culture, and religious practices.

We got to take part in the Epiphany service which was in a mix of
Coptic and Arabic. The Coptic and Greek Orthodox churches celebrate the baptism of Jesus as part of Epiphany. The service starts with two hours of prayers, then an hour and a half mass, and finishing with a ceremony of placing a cross into water. The mass was a new experience for many of us who come from the Mennonite tradition, which doesn’t feature as much liturgy and sacraments. The mass had us using all of our senses. When entering the chapel, we were overwhelmed by the smoke and smell of incense. We listened to the sound of songs, spoken liturgies, and cymbals. We saw the different icons of crosses and apostles, took part in passing the peace by touching hands, and observed the taking of communion.

IMG_0509After the mass we received candles and processed to an
amphitheater which included an island surrounded by a pool of water. Following some singing and liturgy, Bishop Thomas placed three baskets on fire, an anc (an Egyptian cymbal used to represent the cross), and a cross into the pool. Upon the completion of the service, everyone enjoyed a meal together as the Coptic Christians had been fasting for Epiphany.

It’s fascinating to witness how Christians in all different traditions
and cultures used different practices and traditions to listen to God.
In the Mennonite tradition we use four part hymns and in the Coptic
tradition they use incense and liturgy. After processing this, it made
me realize that the way Christians pull in parts of their culture to
encounter God is an example of how God can not be bound by
traditions. He moves and speaks in all places and through many ways.

A section of the liturgy used in the Epiphany service:
O King of peace, grand us Your peace, establish for us Your peace, and forgive us our sins.
Disperse the enemies of the church, and strengthen her so it will never shake.
Emmanuel, our God, in His Father’s Glory with the Holy Spirit, is now in our midst.
That He blesses us all, purifies our hearts, and heals the sickness of
our souls and bodies.
We worship You, O Christ, with Your good Father and the Holy Spirit for You were baptized and saved us.

-Janaya Sachs and Rachel Holderman


 


Egypt

18 January 2016

So, we are finally in Cairo and I am jet lagged, but am so excited to
see the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Cairo has a distinct smell to it, a
mixture of smoke and incense. The streets are chaotic and bustling
with life and everyone is trying to get you to buy something. The
streets get busier in the evening when the shops open up and there’s
traffic and cars everywhere. The people don’t follow typical traffic
laws and walk in between cars when and where they like. The drivers themselves aren’t law abiding citizens either. The constant honking is something that you learn to ignore.

When we came to the pyramids, we were all excited to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Was I really here? I felt adrenaline rush through me as we walked around and listened to the tour guide tell us the history of these amazing architectures. I honestly was expecting the pyramids to be further out into the desert, but they weren’t. They were right outside the city, and you could actually see part of the pyramid while driving up. When we came up to the third biggest pyramid, we all got tickets to get to go inside. It was a great
experience. It wasn’t anything out of this world, but just being able
to say “I was inside the pyramid”, is just the best feeling. Kind of
like bragging 😉 After we saw the pyramids, we went down to see the
Sphinx. There were so many tourists there and like everywhere else, the locals tried to sell us souvenirs. Later we went to a papyrus shop and saw how papyrus was made. We could also purchase some papyrus paintings there, and mostly everyone decided to get at least one. I am looking forward to seeing and experiencing new things.

-Jessica Longenecker


 


Tibetan experience in Xiahe

6 November 2015

The town of Xiahe, in one of the four Tibetan regions of China, has been the most memorable part of my cross-cultural. Only accessible by winding, rarely paved roads, Xiahe (Shah huh) is set back in the ridged steep mountains covered with auburn leaves and evergreen trees. The culture alone was completely different from anything I had ever been engulfed in: monks wandering together in their deep 1105.2red robes, chanting prayers under their breaths as their hands slid up and down their beaded necklaces; children running through the streets in animal fur, cheeks red from the brisk wind; the sidewalk covered with merchants selling wool, cashmere, and trinkets; not a single building over three stories. The ruralness of the region had me thinking about my home in the mountains, but the people and buildings looked like how I envisioned a foreign mountain town.

When visiting Xiahe, we travelled to a 2,000-year-old village set in the middle of the most beautiful grassland I had ever witnessed. After climbing the ancient city wall I could look out and see where civilization met untouched nature. I didn’t see anything that was westernized and, for the first time in China, I had seen something entirely self-sustainable set in a few acres. The farmers used their bare hands to plant and harvest their crops. The shepherds walked with their flocks of sheep up and down the grasslands and through the small village. The most profound thing I saw was smiling children playing with each other and a sense of community that was set far beyond the reaches of a big city.

After spending a day in the grasslands, feeling the spirit of the land and the people, the owner of our hotel, an ethnic Tibetan, gave us a personal testimony about the suppression he and his people had gone through culturally and individually.1105.1 When reflecting on the conversation, I found a lot of questions coming to mind about the country I was spending three and a half months in. Why do people in the West not know about the difficulties these people endure? What could China possibly gain by suppressing a minority in a mountainous region when they are one of the most powerful countries in the world?

For me, the Tibetan plateau raised more questions than answers, but there is no denying the inherent beauty of the people who live there. Visiting Xiahe was an amazing experience.

-Jemma Hedrick

 

 

 

 

 


Host Families

5 October 2015

I was so nervous as I waited to be claimed by my host family. It felt as if I was a young child in an orphanage waiting to be adopted. As my family approached me, I was relieved that the mother was there and they looked fairly young. My first impression was that they were very friendly and they seemed wealthy, because their car and clothes looked expensive. They did not speak English very well, and my Chinese was even worse, so I was worried about how we would communicate. As soon as we got home the mother had to go to work which upset me, because I did not know how to talk to the father or two children. I spent a lot of time looking around, because their home was so modern. The apartment building consisted of thirty-seven floors and is surrounded by restaurants, shops, movie theatres, and even karaoke bars.

A few hours had passed and it was dinner time. It was then that I got to meet the whole family. The grandparents cook and clean, the mother Ivy and her husband worked, and the children were very entertaining. Evan, who is 9, usually dances and sings as Didi (who is two) just points and laughs at absolutely everything. It seemed like everyone had a role to play in the family. The food was always very good and usually included rice, some type of meat, a vegetable, and green beans, which are my favorite.  I liked everything about the family but I wanted to find a way to connect with them on a deeper level. Days passed and we were not doing much together because of the parents’ work schedule. Finally, the father and children invited me to walk around the garden area outside of the apartment. As we were walking I came to the conclusion that maybe I should change and become more open. When the mother was home, I would try to talk to her until I was ready for bed. She tried to teach me Chinese while I would teach her English.

Going out together was my favorite time. The first place was karaoke with her colleagues which was very fun because there were a lot of American songs for me to sing. Some of her co-workers knew English, so it was great to have a translator. The next time we went to a hot pot restaurant, which was amazing. After hot pot we ended up at a movie theater to see “Mission Impossible 5.” I was excited because I was waiting to see the movie and it was in English which made it ten times better. Next weekend we have plans to get massages with hot rocks and go hiking up a mountain. I am very excited to see what other places we plan to go. I am feeling a lot more comfortable since we are spending more time together. When the time comes to leave, I know I am going to miss them very much. Overall, I like my host family a lot and I am excited to see what the future has in store for us.

– Taeshia Frank


 


On the streets of Nanchong

21 September 2015

The first thing you need to know about Nanchong streets is that they are filled with people, especially in the evening, especially on weekends, and especially at lunchtime. Now, when I say, “The streets are filled,” I don’t mean every single street – far from it. For a city of 1.3 million people (on par with Dallas), Nanchong feels decidedly uncrowded, especially compared to an American city of similar size. The places where Nanchong does live up to its size, however, are perhaps not where you would expect, especially if you have grown up hearing a Western narrative of China.

So where, then, are the people of Nanchong? Are they at the new underground shopping area at the center of the city, or the sparkly shopping mall downtown that looks unsettlingly like an American Sears? Or even the large McDonalds on the corner of the busiest intersection in the city? Well, no, not really. This is not to say that there are no people in these areas, because there generally are, but there are a lot fewer than the stereotypical view of an “overcrowded consumerist China” would lead you to expect.

Instead, the places most frequented by Nanchong citizens are far more community-oriented. Of these, the most notable are, as we call them, the “food street,” the “market street,” and the parks. These are the places where the true spirit of Chinese culture shines through, debunking American media’s favored narratives of totalitarian oppression and consumerist culture. ring tossThe food street, right next to our university, is lined with food carts and noodle shops (here, a bowl of noodles can cost as little as $.75), and full of good-humored college or high school students. On another street, closer to my apartment, an entire three blocks of sidewalk (clear for most of the day) spontaneously transforms into an open-air market every afternoon, as peddlers bring in their wares on an assemblage of rickshaws, carts and scooters. This same street, in a remarkable show of fluidity, changes again around 6 p.m., turning into an open-air hot pot restaurant. And the parks! At a park in Nanchong, one might join a crowd in listening to a man practice his karaoke skills, watch a group of people participating in a spontaneous line dance, or appreciate music drifting from a local band’s weekly street-side practice. But the most striking part of it all is the thousands of other Chinese who are simply content to be alive and to be outside, strolling happily with a friend or spouse.

This is where the people of Nanchong are, and this is why Nanchong feels so strikingly different from any American city I have ever been to. In all of these places, the buoyant spirit of the Chinese manifests itself in a way that reflects in stark contrast with the typical American view of China and its people. Call it consumerist if you like, but it certainly is not American consumerism. It is China. To distill it to anything less, anything else would be unfair to the unique spirit and palpable humanity that pervades modern Chinese culture.

– Harrison Horst (sophomore)


 


A divine appointment in the Beijing subway

On Sunday, our second full day in Beijing, we boarded the subway and headed to the Forbidden City. I was standing on the escalator when several people from our group asked for someone who could speak Spanish to join them. I immediately made myself known. A lady pushing her two-year-old son in a stroller asked where she could exchange her Euros for Yuan.  Ling (one of our leaders) provided the Yuan needed and soon the lady was walking with us.  She was elated that I spoke Spanish and began telling me her story.  “Andréa” is a single mother who works as a nurse and was traveling to Beijing on her vacation. She didn’t speak Mandarin and knew little English, which resulted in no breakfast, poor lodging conditions and a morning’s struggle of trying to get to the Forbidden City.  Not too long into our conversation, she asked me where I learned Spanish. I responded that I had lived in Cusco, Peru for six years. Her facial expression changed from curiosity to deep joy and then tears of gratitude as she told me that she was from Cusco. She had been praying for someone who spoke Spanish, and God went above and beyond to meet that need.

DSC_0490I wondered what she was doing in China with an energetic toddler who would constantly jump out of his stroller and escape through the crowds.  Andréa was recently divorced and traveled to distract herself from life.  Andréa’s faith was so strong and she believed that God would take care of her.  She explained that though she once was a Seventh Day Adventist, she was no longer tied to a specific religion, but strongly wanted her son to have faith in God. Andréa and her son, Inti, entered the Forbidden City with us, but once we were inside we split ways.  It was very clear to me that this was a divine appointment used to help Andréa and to build both of our faiths.

I left thinking, God has such a great sense of humor. Living in China has been a dream of mine since I was nine. I had been asking God what I could do in China with my God-given gift of Spanish. This encounter with Andréa showed me His goodness, provision and faithfulness to answer prayer.

-Hannah Shultz