EMU Cross-Cultural

Stories from Matella and Amritsar – India

Seeing the cities of India it is easy to believe that India is the second most populous country in the world with well over 1 billion residents. Ironically estimates place the rural population of India well in the majority with around 70% of the population living in towns, and villages of less than 1,000 people. A couple of days ago we met up with a group called SIDH that is working to improve education in some of these small villages in the Mussorie region of the Himalayas.

We divided ourselves up into 3 groups, each of which went to a different village. The village (Matella) I went to is located on the side of one of the mountains in the Himalayan ranges of India and consisted of 9 joint families (multiple relatives) totaling less than 100 people. The village is almost completely self-supported by farming. They don’t sell any of the crops that they grow; everything goes towards feeding the village. Each family is responsible for a portion of the 1 square kilometer of fields surrounding the village, but when it comes time for harvesting or other labor intensive activities the rest of the village pitches in too. Having grown up surrounded by fields of corn and wheat in northwest Ohio, seeing farming like this doesn’t even seem to compare. A field can be anywhere from fifty to a couple hundred yards long and varies in width from 10 to 30 yards wide. To get from field to field the villagers take something comparable to eroding goat paths that go almost straight up in some places and zigzag back and forth in others.

While there we helped them out with some of their farm work. Up by the school house there was a pile of cow manure that had been mixed with straw and left to sit long enough it was at least beginning to compost. One man and around seven women loaded up bags with around 25-30 lbs of manure, had us put them on our heads (you got chewed out if you tried to carry it any other way), and led us zigzagging somewhere from 200 to 300 feet down the side of the mountain to a field. When we would start walking faster on the way down or even up, the only one of the women who spoke English (a twelfth grader who normally went to school fifteen minutes up the hill by her reckoning) would tell us to walk slower and then continue asking us questions. One person in our group made the comment that here they work at a slow, casual speed all day and at home we work really hard, then take a break, then work really hard again, and take another break. In a community like Matella, the everyday tasks like farming and cooking are carried out without hurry or abandon. At this slower speed things get done just as well, the only difference is that you find time for communication and inevitably community along the way.

-Evan McCarthy

This past Thursday was a one day glimpse of the highlights of Amritsar, a city in the Indian state of Punjab. We first walked around Jallianwala Bagh, the site of the Amritsar massacre and memorial for the 319 lives of non-violent Indian protesters who were murdered by British soldiers in 1919. The Indians had been peacefully rallying against unjust treatment by British troops, giving testimonies about the abuses they had suffered, when 50 soldiers were ordered to fire on the crowd. As I stood staring at the bullet holes in the surrounding brick walls I took time to mourn the injustice and grieve the lives that were lost, praying that God would use that place as a reminder that lives are infinitely more precious that the struggle for power.

Next we visited the famous Sri Harminder Sahib (aka the Golden Temple), a place of worship for Sikhs.  Before entering the huge compound we removed our shoes, washed our feet, and covered our heads. Thousands of people come to worship at the Golden Temple each day so we waited 30 minutes just to get a glimpse of the inside of the temple. Of course, it was an Indian style line which meant that you crammed as many people into the space as physically possible (and then a few more yet), and in order to keep your spot in line you have to constantly be pushing against the people in front of you. After glancing around the temple and making friends with an old man with a scraggly beard (which involved shaking hands and smiling and nodding as he kept talking in a language we couldn’t understand) we headed to the dining hall for lunch. Every Sikh temple serves two free meals everyday for anyone in the world- they will turn no one away. We got a behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen where they cook the dal and curry in enormous pots and ‘manufacture’ chapattis by the hundreds. The many cooks, dishwashers, and servers are all local people who take an occasional day off to volunteer at the temple kitchen. When it came time to eat we sat on the floor in rows in a huge room filled with people. Our food was served to us from huge sloshing buckets and baskets piled high with chapatti. To receive the chapatti we reached out our open hands in the style of a beggar- a symbol that no matter what caste, creed, sex, or religion, we are all equal in God’s eyes.

We finished the day at the Wagah Border, the boundary line between India and Pakistan where the border security forces from both countries perform a special sunset ceremony. We sat on concrete stadium steps in an arena that seat 6,000 people, though they manage to fit in 8,000-10,000 each night for the ceremony as it is a highly attended event. From our seats we could see the Indian and Pakistani iron gates separating the two countries and beyond that a similar looking stadium on the Pakistan side.  The ceremony consisted of a very random flow of events including shouting chants as a crowd, trying to out-scream the Pakistan side, and watching the border security force guards, dressed in elaborate uniforms, as they marched, kicked, high-stepped, shouted, and blew their bugles. The gates of the border were opened and closed a few times throughout and the culmination of the event was the lowering of both countries flags. It was entertaining to watch but I couldn’t help feeling like I was in the cheering section of a high school sports game trying to build team spirit and shame the other team. For our dinner grace that evening we sang a verse of “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds” – a beautiful reminder that in God’s kingdom there are no borders or nationalities, but instead a single body of brothers and sisters each created in the image of God.

-Sarah Schoenhals



This has been such a powerful week for me. On Sunday Olivia, Steve, Andre, Ben and I returned from our week of free travel in Egypt. We found our way back to Old City, Jerusalem and to the Ecce Homo Convent. Thus began our week.

We spent our free time on Sunday evening exploring the Old City and getting ourselves reacquainted with the area. (A week seems like a long time to be away!) Monday began our program for the week. We started with Hebrew class. Woo! That was amazing! By the end of the few hours we learned how to introduce ourselves and say common phrases like “thank you” along with some of the alphabet. It was wonderful to go out that afternoon and be able to say some of these things to the people. It kind of felt like we were in Syria all over again practicing our Arabic. That afternoon some of us spent time shopping and getting to know some shopkeepers. We became really good friends with some of them and later in the week got invited to have dinner with their family by one of them. That was an experience! It was a true Muslim family dinner which I absolutely loved!

The rest of the week consisted of us hearing a lecture about the holocaust and Jewish tradition. The same day as the lecture we went in our own small groups to Yad Veshem, the holocaust museum. That was an incredibly moving experience for some and not so much for others as we learned when we debriefed about it that night. I thought it was moving personally. It was so hard to think about how something so horrible could actually happen. It seems like something that would be in the movies and not reality, but it was real and the stories were real in that museum. During the week we took a tour of the four quarters of the old city (Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian quarters). We stopped in each area and discussed them. I loved getting out and walking around even if the rain came down on us. We also heard from a Rabbi. That was such a fascinating lecture. He was such a peaceful person. I could feel it coming off of him. More Hebrew class followed near the end of the week. It actually made me want to learn more Hebrew when I get home.

Another really amazing thing that happened occurred when I was with Aly. We were walking back to Ecce Homo and stopped by the group of soldiers. We had really wanted to talk to one and now was our chance. We went up to one and had a good conversation with him. They had to leave to go to the Western wall, but invited us to walk with them. It was so cool! We had the chance to follow and observe what they do. Also near the end of the week we got to participate in a true Shabbat. It was fascinating! Before having a shabbat meal with the family of the man who lectured us and gave us a tour, we went to the western “wailing” wall. In this area there is generally praying at the wall and socializing and celebration in the other areas. There was dancing, singing, chanting and praying. To see everyone out and in such high spirits was wonderful. Some of us even went to the wall to pray. That was definitely another moving experience. I was praying at the western wall!!! Dinner was fantastic. There is a whole process of prayer and ritual to the meal that includes blessing of the wine and bread along with songs and prayers. Oh my goodness was that a blast! Those were the main things we did, but it is more of what I did on my own or in small groups that was moving.

Jamila and I got up early one morning to go to the Holy Sepulcher hoping we could get into the tomb of Jesus. We could not, but it was wonderful to get up early and try anyway. That didn’t stop me from trying again either. I am a Catholic and consider myself to be a born again Christian so being here means the world to me. We had a chance to do a few things. This included walking the Via Dolorosa (basically the Stations of the Cross) where tradition holds specific events happened as Jesus carried the cross to his crucifixion. I walked the Via Dolorosa and it was so moving to me. Standing in these places such as the area where Jesus fell on his walk and reading the passage from the Bible changed everything for me. It took over an hour to walk this path and it was worth every second of it. Along those lines we also did what was called “Walking with Jesus in Jerusalem”. This was amazing to me! We went to three places: The Garden of Gethsemane, Peter of Gallicantu (where Peter denied Jesus three times) and the Garden tomb (the other assumed crucifixion and resurrection site). I felt God so much in all of those places and it was absolutely mind blowing to be standing in those places. My faith definitely soared higher than ever before. What an incredible opportunity I had to be there! In between doing the Via Dolorosa and the walk with Jesus I was able to meet with a priest in the convent who did confession with me for the first time in years. That was an amazing thing for me and something I wanted to do before I am rebaptized in the Sea of Galilee at the end of the Jesus trail. God just really came into my life last week.

One of the best things that happened with me occurred in the Holy Sepulcher. I had bought some anointing oil from a store on Saturday and was near the sepulcher so I figured I would run over there and try to get it blessed by a priest or someone there. I made it there and the next thing I knew I found myself in line waiting to go in the tomb of Jesus. I made it through the line and into the tomb in about an hour. It was unbelievable! I carried this little thing of oil through the tomb and back out in less than two seconds, but it was an amazing 2 seconds. After I left the tomb I found someone and asked if they would bless the oil and told them it was for my mother. The man took off and came back 5 minutes later telling me the priest would be down in a few minutes. About 5 minutes later a priest came down, took time to take me all the way to the chapel and blessed the oil. He even sat down to chat for a while. This is not a common thing for someone in the sepulcher to do so I knew God intervened in this. I felt so blessed to have this chance and when I return to the states I will have holy oil to bless my mom with. This week for me has been one week that I will never forget. To be in such a holy place and to experience the wonders of Jerusalem changed my life. I am blessed to have the opportunity to be here and I cannot wait to share further stories with others when I return. Until then.  Blessings and shalom!

-Mariah Elliot

Poetry from Guatemala

Mexico/Guatemala 10

I am tired of not being allowed to study where I wish
And yet studying anywhere is a privilege
I am tired of not being able to decide what I eat
And yet having food is a privilege
I am tired of not being able to wash clothes, dry dishes or clean my own room
And yet many people would give a lot to have respite from these things
I am tired of not being able to communicate
And yet many people do not have a voice in their own country

I am amazed at my exhaustion, frustration, and sometimes counting of weeks here
It is a great privilege to be here, especially with a group and professors –
a very unique experience
My host parents make sure I am well taken care of
and every day the beautiful view from the third and fourth floor of CASAS makes me
pause and take notice again
It is an interesting balance: knowing how to take one’s feelings seriously
and then how to give perspective to them from a wider context …

– Stephanie DeHart

Rachel Hershey and her host parents

Power, desired by the world
The world, wanting more, bringing pain.
Pain, walls built, space between.
Is there a difference between the world and I?
Power, obtained through the money of the wealthy
The wealthy, exploiting, consuming, bringing pain.
Pain, money doesn’t bring joy.
Is there a difference between the wealthy and I?
Power lacking in the lives of the poor.
The poor, working, striving, falling, bringing pain.
Pain, the walls keep getting steeper to climb
Is there a difference between the poor and I?
Power, something I have.
I, wanting control of my destiny, bringing pain.
Pain, my plans fail.
Will we ever let go of power?

– Rachel Hershey

Ruth Maust with her host mom

Today I smiled at
The preoccupied woman
Who I pass almost daily
The preoccupied woman and the hurried student
One day
As I make my way to the bus stop
I will greet them both
Buenos Dias

This day twice a day and every day
Buenos Dias
To the guardia of my colonia
One day
I will ask
A veces le aburre su trabajo?

Some days
I run into neighbors
I chat with CASAS staff
I start conversations with my mamita in the hopes that
Some day
When I leave this place
Something will remain

– Ruth Maust

Kiersten Rossetto, Joel DeWald, Marta (their Spanish teacher), Ruth Maust, and Rose Byler after the final presentation


A million ants carrying
10 million leaves as
250 tons of cocaine is carried past
250 young soldiers.
Using a relative of cloves as
Mosquito repellant,
Campesinos harvesting palms –
Carrying Jesus into Jerusalem.

– Rose Byler

Jenn Leaman with her host family

Kaleidoscope Hope
Colors swirl, blend, and mingle.
Bougainvillea, bird of paradise, trajes, huipiles and dirty clothes alike.
The cloth, the flowers, the eyes, and the smiles.
Everything Guatemala seems brighter,
Except the history and perhaps the future.
Oppression, discrimination, corruption
All here too.
Glazed hungry eyes beg for food
While golden Quetzals sit atop a chandelier
And preachers fly in private planes.
Where is justice for them, other than their own
Doll-like hands?
When government officials and “men of God” alike
Are corrupted by greed and power?
The poor?  The children?
Where is justice now?
Cuidado nena, little one,
This kaleidoscope of bright color quickly turns dark.
Don’t give up hope, justice will come for you, and
Hopefully your hungry eyes will see that day.
Hopefully your dirty, doll-like hands will grasp tonight
And never let go.
Hopefully brightness fills your kaleidoscope future.
Hope.  Fully.

– Jenn Leaman


Free Travel reports from Israel

Middle East 8While many of our group chose to plan ahead and have a relaxing time, James, Tim, and I decided to leave much of our trip open-ended. The first day we spent at Tim’s uncle’s house in a town near Tel Aviv. All the people in that family were characters, and we had a good time listening and learning about the life of an Israeli family. In particular, Tim’s uncle Jon had many insights about Israeli culture compared to American culture. We then took a combination of busses to get to Nazareth to pick up some camping gear and pick up some tips from Dave Landis, and then the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In three days we hiked from the southern tip to the northern tip. Contrary to what you might think, each day was full of varied experiences. However, there was always one constant. Pita. It was our main source of energy, and despite the quantities eaten none of us are sick of it.

Our adventures around the Sea included a hike up to the ancient Roman city of Susita/Hippos, which may have been the inspiration for “a city on a hill cannot be hid”, as well as finding our way through fields of reeds, crossing streams almost up to our waist, stumbling upon grapefruits so ripe they fell off the tree (which we of course saved from going rotten), and generally being amazed at the luscious fields of wildflowers that had sprung up thanks to the rain of the previous week.

We ended the week by finding a ride with a friendly Israeli to Yehudiya N.R. with its beautiful waterfalls, exploring Tiberias, and relaxing at the hostel in Nazareth. Free travel was such a great experience, and I am so glad that we had the chance to have the responsibility of our own food, water, shelter, and transportation depend solely on ourselves in an area where we couldn’t always depend on using English.

-Joe Hochstetler


Students relax in the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem Freedom. That’s what free travel is. This past week we all finally had absolutely complete freedom over our schedules and it was utter bliss. The group split into several smaller groups with some going to Turkey, some to Egypt, some hiking in Israel, Aly stayed with a somewhat local Jewish family, and Jamila, Joel and I went back to Palestine for a few

Going back over the wall was a very strange feeling. For me, it felt like coming home. Jamila and I stayed with my old host family, the Awwads, while Joel stayed with Samer (our tourguide). There were two boys from Sweden who were also staying with Samer and we ended up spending a lot of our week with them.

We went back to Hebron where we hung out at a demonstration. It was incredible to see Palestinian flags waving around as the people chanted for unity of Gaza and the West Bank. There is something completely beautiful about people peacefully protesting. Later, we sat with a shopkeeper, Mohammad, for a couple of hours while watching soldiers hold up Palestinians for no real reason. Mohammad told us about his 7 year old cousin who was found a week before in a well. Dead. Another innocent life was gone. He was afraid of the dark. His family doesn’t know why he was walking alone at night. I don’t know why anyone could kill a 7 year old.

Most of our time in Palestine was either completely relaxing or ridiculously fun with either our host family or our new Swedish friends. I was very sad to say goodbye on Thursday afternoon as we packed up and headed back over the wall. We spent the remainder of our time relaxing in Jerusalem with the Turkey people. It was so nice to walk around the city and not be pushed for time. On Saturday, our hostel had a Purim Party and some of us dressed up and had a lot of fun. Around midnight we went out with our Swedish friends to see what others were doing. We ended the night with a rather large dance party in the streets. Think of it as a huge Halloween party where everyone wants to have fun and celebrate the book of Esther.

Now the group is back together and we are continuing our study in Jerusalem. Some of us are glad to be back together while others long for the sunny beaches (it is currently raining here). Either way, we all had fantastic independent travels. We all got a bit wiser, or a least a bit more tan.

-Jamie Heiner

India – Taj Mahal, zip-lining, camels, Delhi, and more

India 8Let’s play a game. I’ll say a word, and you say out loud what your first thought is. I know that I’m just a journal entry, but just do it anyway, alright? So what do you picture when I say “India?” I would bet 100 rupees that you just thought of the Taj Mahal, which is that big white building that you can never remember the name of. The Taj Mahal (crown palace) was built by a king in love for his wife who died during its construction. The state that this building resides in is known as Rajasthan, which is an awesome place. When people think about India, Rajasthan is usually what is thought of.

There is a city within Rajasthan that is called Jaipur, which has many beautiful palaces and is pink. Now I bet you thinking, “but Justin, how can a city be pink?” I tell you what, I did not believe it myself, but lo and behold, the city was pink. The buildings were painted pink because it was the color of welcoming, and the city received a visit from the Prince of Wales.

Justin RittenhouseFurther on in our adventure, we came to the blue city called Jodhpur. Jodhpur also had some amazing forts and palaces, but the best part was the zip-lining. “Isn’t this supposed to be an educational cross cultural trip, Justin? What were you doing zip-lining?” Well my good sir/madame, I learned a great deal about how intimidating and adrenaline inducing physics can be, plus we also learned about the history of a fort in Jodhpur, so there.

We visited a desert area for a little while, and it was a lot more exciting than a bunch of sand hills; there’s a lot more to deserts than that! In fact there were… lots and lots of sand dunes. Alright, so maybe the desert is just sand and more sand, but still it was one of the most enjoyable places that we have visited. We got to ride camels! Sure they made my tuckus feel sore the next morning, but to be able to ride on the back of a wobbly creature was so much fun. A highlight in Rajasthan in general is the dancing, and we had a very good performance in that desert as we all dressed like we were maharajas and their queens.

Udaipur was the Indian Venice, except there were cows instead of gondolas. There were beautiful lakes there, and one of them reminded me of Lake Atitlan from Guatemala. It turns out that the James Bond movie Octopussy was filmed there! The best part about our time in Udaipur was Holi day. Holi day is now my third favorite holiday because of how awesome it is. There are fireworks and bonfires everywhere, and people throw colored dust at each other! Our group was so colorful by the end of the day that we looked like we tie died ourselves. Unfortunately, blue is really difficult to clean out of a mustache…

-Justin Rittenhouse


Tracy Moyers, Sarah Shoenhals, and Gabe Brunk all celebrated birthdays in one week which was a big deal Since our time here in India, the place we keep returning to is Delhi. We’re currently in our third stay here in the city, and we’ll have two more visits before we fly out in April. Needless to say, we’re starting to know the area pretty well. We all have our favorite restaurants that we return to often, we’ve taken the new city subway system all over the area, and have visited more monuments and temples then most of us would care to remember. However, tearing away the touristy cover to our trip, I and others have also come to realize that Delhi, and indeed most of the major cities we’ve visited, have numerous recurring problems.

For one, they all have problems deciding what to do with human waste. Soda bottles, pieces of cardboard, broken shoes, wrappers; some burn the trash publically, other times it’s seen in back alleys, but more often than not it’s simply laying directly next to the road or actually in the street, with people adding to it as they pass. A related but slightly different issue is that of public urination. We’ve grown accustomed to the sight of seeing men standing next to a wall relieving themselves onto it, even though there might be a public urinal just down the block from them. Yes, it’s a cultural thing, but it also adds to the feeling of general apathy towards public health.

Another factor is that with the recent push towards urbanization, combined with the overarching issue of overpopulation. The city is having a tougher and tougher time being able to sustain the massive amount of people that are tunneled through the system on a regular basis. Public transportation, such as the subway system, simply can’t keep up. Cars are constantly full to bursting, with hardly enough room to hold onto anything for support.

These are large scale, multi-generational problems, ones that have been building over the past decades, and ones that will continue to develop if no changes are put in place to stop them. We recently had a lecturer come in and talk about the history of the city, which put into perspective just how much these issues have grown. There are people working on these issues, but it’s going to take more than a band-aid to fix these problems.

-Gabe Brunk


Globalization, coffee, chai, and more

I am not sure that the best cup of coffee in India could beat the worst gas station coffee from the U.S. in a taste test. Just as Indian food in the U.S. only tastes half as good as a generic curry in India, the quality of many U.S. staples gets lost in translation/transportation on their way from the west to the east. The pasta sauce here tastes like ketchup, the french fries are distinctly Indian tasting, and the coffee is weak, artificial, and sweet. I am someone who needs to savor smooth, dark strong coffee on a daily basis. My search for coffee in this Chai fueled country has taken me to some interesting places and has provided a handful of learning experiences.

One might ask, “why not drink chai?” and I would respond “I do” But chai is sweet, creamy, and not as potent as coffee. I enjoy drinking chai, but it does not satisfy my thirst for coffee quite like coffee does. I thought my thirst would be satisfied in Bodhgaya when I saw coffee on our hotel’s menu. This coffee turned out to be made from an instant powder like most of the coffee we are offered here. It is widely available, but is often sweeter than chai and not as tasty. Chai beats instant coffee any day.

By the time we reached Kolkatta, I had not had coffee since I drank my last precious sip of Dunkin Donuts in Dulles airport. As I was walking through the streets trying to avoid the beggars and hawkers, I spotted a sign that advertised real Italian coffee in a shop called Lavazza. I immediately abandoned my original plan and ducked into the starbucks-esque store in hopes of scoring a good quality cup-o-joe. Immediately upon stepping through the door I felt as if I was back in the states. With exception of the Indian customers and the bad grammar on the signs, Lavazza’s interior could have been that of any US coffee chain. It turns out that Lavazza is a chain based in India that has recently opened branches in India. Globalization at work. But my experience has been that globalization is not laying-waste to indigenous cultures as those of us in my “Globalization and Justice” class had feared. Western products are certainly available. I was able to find a decent cup of coffee, but it was difficult. I could, though, find a cup of chai within 5 minutes at pretty much a moments notice for less than 5 rupees. McDonalds is available, but it costs ten times more than authentic Indian food from the street. Not only is it not as desirable to Indians, but it’s also way more expensive. In a country of more than a billion people, a few will develop a taste for coffee and western ideals, but cultures have an enormous mass. There will be McDonalds and coffee, but they will never have the momentum to substantially move the Indian population away from their Chai and Curry.

I think this idea can be applied to larger cultural trends. Capitalist economics are certainly in place, but well within the Indian culture. The desire to employ a large number of people seems to supersede the efficiency that is sacred in western economics. It would not surprise me to see three people working together to brew me a cup of coffee: one to grind the beans, one to turn on the machine, and one to pour the product into my cup. It takes a lot of jobs to employ 1 Billion people. There seems to be a number of traditional values that make the economic system uniquely Indian.

This tension is not limited to economics either, but also comes into play in the culture. Just tonight I enjoyed the best cup of coffee so far in India. This restaurant, run a by a chef who has cooked in a number of European countries, has been an oasis for our group. The pasta sauce at this restaurant does not taste like ketchup. This restaurant is one restaurant that serves western food on a street full of Indian restaurants. I sat there on the terrace drinking real imported Italian coffee and watched the opening ceremonies on the “Holi” celebration of color. This uniquely Indian holiday is famous for the “color fights” where children throw brightly colored powder at passersby. This opening ceremony was marked by fireworks, bonfires, and Hindu traditions that I cannot begin to understand. In the square people were dancing to Hindi music over the loud speakers. At one point I recognized Shakira’s “My Hips Don’t Lie” and my friends and I lit up at the familiar beat of this American hit, but the rest of the night we were serenaded by blaring Hindi music. Looking out from my western bubble I comprehended nothing on the street below.

The other day I got up from breakfast leaving some Starbucks “real” instant coffee that my mom has sent me in a care package in my mug. One of our leaders who is known for his humor teased, “you better drink that, there are sleeping children in India”. This did not bother me because I know that children in India are not asleep thanks to some caffeine deficiency; I wouldn’t be surprised if Indians drink as much Chai as we drink coffee. This notion quelled some of my fears about the fate globalization has in store for the world’s local cultures.

-Ben Bailey


Today began with jeep rides in the desert. Our guides rode up front, while we all sat in open seats on the back. We passed many small houses and mud huts with thatch covered roofs, standing starkly against the barren landscape. How do people survive out here? Vegetation consists mainly of small, thorny plants and scrub-brush; the rest is red rock and sand. We stopped briefly at one hut where a man (the only blacksmith in the village) demonstrated the art of metal work. His wife diligently kept the fire going as he skillfully pounded a knife out of an old car part. About a mile farther, we visited a villager’s home. Nearly 25 children crowded around us, their mothers keeping an amused, but watchful eye from afar. We were shown the kitchen building, and the circular hut beside it that functioned as both a living room and sleeping quarters for its occupants. The courtyard area between these buildings had been recently resurfaced with a fresh layer of cow dung, which forms a very hard shell and is easy to keep clean. We were led around the corner of the house, and were met with a chorus of 7 bleating goats, including three babies only four days old. Beside them lay an upturned metal cooking bowl, which wouldn’t be so unusual except that it was two meters in diameter! This bowl is used at weddings and other special occasions to cook food for the entire village. Once back on the jeeps, we drove down several nearly vertical sand dunes, and I was sure each time that we were plunging to our deaths. We sped passed a wild peacock, and several antelope bounded away at our approach. We got out of the jeeps for a while, and ran/jumped down the dunes for as long as our bare feet could handle the heat. This afternoon I got sunburned by the pool, and in the evening we climbed (in pairs) on top of single-humped camels to carry us out to the Desert Camp. The camels knelt in the sand while we climbed on their backs, but they lurched to their feet with such ferocity that Steve and I nearly toppled over our camel’s head. A strange feeling riding atop a camel, something like riding a dinosaur I imagine. Our ride to the desert camp lasted about an hour and half, and though it was an awesome experience, I wouldn’t recommend camels as a primary mode of transportation. They’re lacking significantly in the comfort department. We arrived at the camp in good spirits, and changed swiftly into our nicest Indian garb, red turbans and all (they are very popular here in Rajasthan). We watched, and even participated in, a dance performance, and feasted on a delicious, traditional Rajasthani meal in the white dinning tent. It was a beautiful evening, and the desert had cooled to a perfect temperature. After we finished eating, we walked back outside, beneath a sky now filled with moonlight and stars. I pulled the tail of my turban down over my nose and mouth as the jeeps tore off back down the sandy rode to our hotel. Orion’s Belt glistened just above our heads, and the desert glowed in the cool light of the moon. I will sleep well tonight.”

-Josh Kanagy


This past week we had the opportunity to visit an organization called St. Matthew’s in Udaipur, Rajasthan. St. Matthew’s is comprised of an English Medium School (grades 1-12), a church, an orphanage, and a seminary. We visited the school one morning and organized games for approximately 150 students, grades 6 through 8. We had a blast interacting with the kids, playing games, and testing out some of our Hindi language skills. The students come from varying religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. St. Matthew’s accepts many disadvantaged and slum children and provides a quality English education at a subsidized cost. For these kids the cost of the school is one fourth of the average cost for an English Medium school in India. An English education is extremely important in this day and age for Indians who are looking for employment. The school started off with 5 students around 30 years ago and has grown to 850 students today. It’s always refreshing to see thriving non-profit organizations such as this amongst the poverty and hardships that we’ve witnessed everywhere in India. Through generous donors and faithful teachers the school has been successful for many years now in breaking the cycle of poverty for many low income families.

After spending some time in the morning with the students at St. Matthews we walked over to the seminary which was located near the grade school. We sat in a room with a group of seminary students and we were talked to by the director of the seminary. After an explanation of the history and the mission of the organization, a discussion was opened up between us and the seminary students. It was fascinating hearing stories of how these students became followers of the Christian faith. Almost all of the students were first generation believers. They came from mostly rural areas in northern India. Many of the students have become Christians after witnessing healings done by Indian Missionaries (either physical healings or healings from spirit possession). Despite the obvious fervor of these young Christians in their faith, it was evident that many of them face many hardships because of their beliefs. When converting to Christianity in rural India, many people experience persecution from fellow villagers and abandonment from their families. It was interesting thinking about how different of a faith journey that these people have had from my own. It makes me appreciate the freedom I have to practice my own faith in North America. It does however make me somewhat envious of the excitement and extremely strong faith that these first generation believers have. Overall it was a great visit to St. Matthew’s and I was encouraged by the positive things that I saw being done by the church in India.

-John Reesor

India – two reports

Kathakali, translated as “story-telling,” is a classical dance-drama that dates almost 400 years ago. Actor-dancers, dressed in voluminous colorful skirts with elaborate headdresses and jewelry, act out climatic stories of love and valor involving frenetic drumming, emotional singing, and rhythmic movements. There are singers who sing the storyline in addition to the actor-dancer applying facial movements and mudras (hand movements) to convey emotions and dialogue.

I attempted to learn this dance form for a period of two and a half week, which was not nearly close enough to learn the basics. It was difficult, painful, and sweaty work. Class involved eye exercises that stung and brought tears to my eyes, the footwork required rolling your foot outward in such a way that your ankles were supporting your weight rather than the flat of your foot, and body technique entailed squatting so low with your back perfectly vertical and your thighs horizontal to the ground. Regardless of the physical exhaustion, which once made me collapse on the ground during class, Aashaan, my Kathakali master, was so impressed with my ambition that I was offered the opportunity to attend one of his performances and observe the entire process of a Kathakali performance. I got myself involved in an unforgettable experience.

Aashaan could not come and get me, so I accompanied his four students, who knew little English, to the temple where the evening performance was to take place. It was immediately uncomfortable considering the fact that I was one Caucasian with four Indian Kathakali students. I witnessed the four hour preparation of make-up, costumes, and stage setup. During the three hour performance, I sat front row with a mother who knew English and was the mother of one of the students. At the end of the performance, I ate with all the individuals involved in the production of the evening’s performance and then took a rickshaw ride back home with one of the Kathakali students. Considering the language barrier aside from Aashaan and the mother, my cheeks were sore from smiling the entire day to show my appreciation of the event, and by the time I arrived back to our home at midnight I was exhausted and yet so full of astonishment from the experience.

-Tracy Moyers


Cars, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, and rickshaws surround our bus which is driving in the other lane into oncoming traffic just barely missing the truck that is coming towards us in the lane we should not be driving on in the first place all to pass one car that is going too slow. All of this taking place on dusty roads filled with endless bumps and potholes. Accompanied by the constant honking of horns. This has become a normal part of our bus trips through India.

In the almost two months we have been here we have spent a lot of time traveling on a bus. This description provided above is normal driving in India. There really are no traffic rules. A road that has two lanes quickly turns into five or six lanes of traffic. Motorcycles pass you on every side followed by rickshaw drivers and cars that think they are small enough to squeeze through the tight space past our huge tour bus. Throw in mobs of people running across the streets or street venders knocking on the bus window trying to sell you their product. In the mist of this craziness we sit safe in our tour bus as it maneuvers its way through the crowded busy streets of India.

I have enjoyed time spent traveling on the bus. It provides us the opportunity to see the cities we drive through without having to deal with the mobs of people who try to sell you things if you were to walk through the streets. Bus rides also provide multiple changes of scenery. We travel through cities streets which lead us to roads where no matter what direction you look out all you see is rice fields then back to the busy city streets. Our most recent travel was by bus from Agra where we were able to see the Taj Mahal to Jaipur the “pink city.” Bus rides not only provide time to appreciate the scenery but also give us time to sleep (if you can on the bumpy rides), read, journal, listen to music, talk, play cards, and just have a good time together as a group. As we continue to travel and see different sites in India we get more and more used to the traffic patterns and no longer are worried about crashing into oncoming traffic. We continue to look forward to what new modes of transportation we will get to experience. We can check off bus, plane, train, and rickshaws. We await our elephant and camel rides as well as hopefully taking jeep rides through the dunes of the desert. India has been a crazy different experience everyday and we are excited to see what the next month and a half has to offer.

-Adriana Santiago

Guatemala – report from Lake Aititlan

Mexico/Guatemala 9Coming into the last 2 weeks of our time here with our host families and Spanish classes it seems that some of us are starting to get anxious for the end. For others it seems sad because they are just getting to really know their families and they already have to leave. It is so hard to believe that we have been in Guatemala for almost 7 weeks. I, for one, am very excited to be going on free travel at the end of next week and then after that heading off for Chiapas, Mexico for two weeks of living in a small rural community.

This past weekend we went to Santiago Atitlan right on Lake Atitlan and stayed in a hotel with an amazing view of the lake. We left early from CASAS on Friday at 11:00 a.m. and had a 4 hour bus ride up to the lake. On the way to the lake we stopped in at a coffee cooperative and they talked to us about what they are there for and all the different work they do advocating for change in labor laws and helping organize coffee workers on their land so they receive a better and fairer wage. We arrived in Santiago at around 5:30 p.m. in the evening and had a little bit of free time before dinner. As I mentioned earlier our hotel had an amazing view. We found ourselves on the roof of the hotel taking tons of pictures of the sunset and mountains/volcanoes around the lake. That night we had dinner at a little restaurant and after that the group split up and some of us found our way down to the docks and others went up the hill to the central park which was full of little stands with people selling everything you can imagine. You could buy anything from fried chicken, French fries and something that tasted kind of like Cracker jacks to mangos, used clothing, tamales, corn-on-the-cob with salt, mayonnaise, ketchup and lime, and lots of hot and cold drinks.

Saturday we got up bright and early and headed to breakfast back at that same restaurant. After breakfast we went up to the church and looked around and then learned about the priest who was murdered by the Guatemalan army during the civil war. Then we were taken on a tour of Panabaj which is a tiny little town outside of Santiago. Our guide worked with the ANADESA cooperative which is there to help the community and talk with the government to help get things done, especially after a devastating mudslide a few years ago wiped out half of the community. Many houses were buried and many people died. Slowly they are rebuilding their community. We ate lunch with them and then afterwards had time to buy natural shampoos, cleaning supplies and bead jewelry which they make and sell to produce income.

The group in front of Lake Atitlan.Sunday we were again up bright and early and off for breakfast. At 8:30 a.m. we got on a boat and headed across Lake Atitlan over to Panajachel. The boat ride took about 40 minutes and once there we had the rest of the day to shop on the main street. A lot of people wanted hammocks so Javier (the brother of one of the CASAS staff) took us out to try to get the best deal we could. At 12:30 p.m. we all met at the end of the street and loaded up the bus to head back to Guatemala City and complete an awesome weekend.

-Peter Labosh

The past and present in Guatemala

Mexico/Guatemala 8Throughout our stay here in Guatemala, we’ve been learning about Guatemala’s violent history. This week we had a lecture about human rights in present-day Guatemala, and we’re learning how the past is affecting present-day Guatemala. I have had a hard time comprehending the extent and intensity of the violence, but one experience last week helped me to understand this violent history a little bit better. We had the chance to visit the Forensic Anthropologists Foundation, which works to exhume bodies of individuals or of mass graves. The bodies are identified when possible, examined for trauma, and returned to their families for a proper burial. We were able to see a few skeletons currently under examination. Then we went to a storage room filled with boxes. Rows and towers of boxes stretched from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, only leaving enough room for pathways to pass through the room. Each box had an identifying case number, a date, and a place. Each box contained a skeleton that was waiting to be examined. Walking through that room was a sobering experience, and somewhat unnerving. Knowing what was in the boxes, it was difficult to walk through the room. I would have rather been somewhere else, but it helped me to better understand how the past is affecting present time. Guatemalans cannot forget or escape from what happened in the past. Thousands of families whose loved ones disappeared or were killed still to this day do not know what happened or where the bodies of their loved ones are resting, waiting to be unearthed and given a proper burial.

As a citizen of the United States whose family long ago laid roots in the US, I can assume that my ancestors have not endured much persecution, if any, in the last several decades or centuries. As a US citizen, I was born with rights and access to medical care, security, education, housing, and so much more. I have the right to have a name. I have access to capital. I have opportunities to study and travel, to spend a semester in Mexico and Guatemala. I can live in relative freedom and peace. I take these things for granted. These are things that some Guatemalans do not have.

To my knowledge, none of my ancestors’ towns or villages have disappeared. Unarmed communities were not attacked or bombarded. No one had to flee to survive, and no one disappeared. None of my ancestors endured physical or psychological torture. My ancestors did not have members of their community turn against them. They may have had to fight for some rights, but future generations reap the benefits, and forget any struggles that their ancestors may have endured. My ancestors did not live in fear of violence. They may have faced hard times, but most likely their lives were nothing compared to the lives of Guatemalans here who have faced these atrocities in recent decades. My ancestors did not have to live through a genocide. Unfortunately, many Guatemalans today have.

In the past, some Guatemalans were afraid to stay, while others were afraid to leave. Many were afraid to say what was wrong, and those that did may have faced persecution, discrimination, or torture. Life was not easy. However, life here is improving. It’s a process, but Guatemalans are discovering and using their voices. The indigenous are no longer invisible, and they’re becoming active in a society where Ladinos, or those of European decent, are much more powerful. Programs have been implemented in school to help the younger generations become aware of what happened. Some people today still don’t realize or believe the extent of the war, but more are learning the true reality of everything that has happened in Guatemala’s history.

Through reading books, visiting places here in Guatemala, and hearing lectures, our group is also learning more about what happened here. Sometimes it’s not easy to hear what happened. Even after being here for several weeks, it’s hard to fully understand how the violent past has affected present-day Guatemala. As I’m learning about what happened here, I’m taking the time to think about my own life, my country’s history, what my family has or hasn’t endured, but most of all, how fortunate I am. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to live here for a few months, to study the language, but also for many more things including this country’s history. Most of all, I’m grateful for my rights, and I’m trying to figure out how to not take them for granted as I live in this country where many people are still fighting for their rights.

-Melanie Sherer

From Palestine to Israel

Middle East 6This past week we have been staying at Jerusalem University College (JUC) and begun studying Biblical geography, history, and archaeology. The transition from Palestine to Israel has been tough for me, but JUC is a wonderful place to be staying and I wish we could be here for more than two weeks. The JUC campus is beautiful and we have enjoyed meeting the students who are here for the semester. The purpose of our time here is to begin to understand the way the land of Israel influenced the Biblical story and the people who inhabited the land. In the first week we explored around Jerusalem, including the original City of David, Hezekiah’s tunnel, the Mount of Olives, and Mount Scopus. We also traveled to places like Shiloh, Beer-Sheva, Arad, Madaba, Qumran, En Gedi, Ashkelon, Azekah, and Beth-Shemesh… the list could go on. The volume of information we have been given is overwhelming.

The first day we arrived in Jerusalem was my birthday (as well as Jamila’s – it was awesome to get to celebrate our birthdays together!). That Sunday, I woke up in Beit Sahour and realized that about 2000 years ago Jesus was born within five miles of my house.

I have been trying to understand the significance of this – that I celebrated my birthday in the land of Jesus’ birth. On that day I saw Bethlehem and Jerusalem, where Christ was born and where he died. I am starting to realize how importance the incarnation is to my faith; how important it is to me that I could have met God on the road to Jerusalem, that he walked in the Judean hills, that he might have known the burn of muscles from hiking through Wadi Qelt. Being in this land that for some reason is important in a real, eternal, mystical, crazy way to the story of humanity Students plant grape vines at Tent of Nations. and God and redemption and love and life – being here is making me love the incarnation. It makes me love that Jesus had a body that probably ached at the end of long days (maybe he helped clear fields of rocks like I did at Tent of Nations; maybe he helped his father plant some grape vines like I did that day). I love that Jesus lived in a place with thorns and that he didn’t shy away from pain. I love that I can envision my savior with the dark hair and expressive eyes of the people who live here; that when I pass an Arab man on the street I can think maybe Jesus looked like that. I have found a piece of a crazy, hard, strange religion that I love and this helps me understand the weird parts (like, for example, the story about the Benjaminites’ wife-snatching that we read at Shiloh).

It is so good to be able to read passages from the Bible in this land – especially after visiting Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. We read the story of Samuel at Shiloh, about David and Goliath at Azekah, and Christ before the crucifixion on the Mount of Olives. I think I can speak for our whole group when I say that whatever our faith looked like when we first drove into Jerusalem, we will leave changed.

A few other interesting things: we got to see the Stutzman’s boat SailingActs in Ashkelon, we were able to swim in the Dead Sea, we’ve been seeing military people everywhere, and our bus broke down one afternoon. One final thought: as we enter into the second half of our traveling and some of us are growing weary of continually packing our things up and moving out, I find it meaningful to think about how in the Bible, from Abraham to Paul, God seems to be especially present in the lives of those people who are consistently on the move.

-Emily Harnish

Aly Zimmerman and Jamila Witmer find themselves a bit dusty after exploring ancient tombs. I cannot describe what I felt. I can only describe what I saw. Jesus’ town, Capernaum, nestled along the shore of the lake. Big rocks he might have envisioned building with, water he might have splashed in. A rainbow appeared and birds flew past as I watched the waves creating spots of white water across the lake. A scene he might have enjoyed on a winter afternoon on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, remembering the rainbow’s promise. I walked through the ruins of the synagogue. Jesus was here! And then the courtyard, stone floor and open space, the deep carvings of lines in the ground where the children played games as their parents prayed. Jesus taught here. He spent time here. I looked over the village, the stone houses built together with common walls, like city rowhouses almost. Which one was his? My eyes rested on one close to a synagogue entryway. Maybe. Again I scanned the village, looking at the basalt stones in place upon each wall. How many of these did he touch? How many did he himself- the builder- put into place? Inside each house lived a family, a family he interacted with, visited, fixed things for. My Jesus lived here. This was his chosen home base.

This past week in our field studies at JUC, I saw Jesus in a completely new light. Learning the context and how some of the things we have come to take for granted might be imprecise translations has completely changed my idea of who Jesus was. His life seems so much more concrete and real now. So much more realistic. Easier to imitate, even. After learning so much about the context of the Bible, I now look forward to reading it again with new insight. The last two weeks were intense, but definitely worth it! And now we get to enjoy free travel.

–Jamila Witmer