EMU Cross-Cultural

Study Break: Tikal

29 February 2016

Thursday night we all stayed at CASAS because we were to leave early Friday morning at 4:45 a.m. for our 6:30 flight to Petén. Half of the group played the card game “Scum” in the airport. It was a lot of commotion at that hour, in such a small airport, but was tons of fun. The flight was about an hour long and we were all excited to receive Pringles and Chikys (chocolate cookies) on the plane. We arrived at out hotel “Gringo Perdido” (meaning “Lost Foreigner”). Although the day was slightly overcast, many didn’t think twice about putting on their bathing suits and spending the rest of the day in the lake paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming, and boating. The only obligation we had that day was dinner at 7:00, which consisted of amazing tomato soup, marinated chicken, rice and cooked carrots, with chocolate cake for dessert. While we were waiting for dinner, everyone split into three groups to play card games: “BS”, “Scum”, and “Resistance”. It is fair to say that the games got loud and rowdy. At night, it was a new experience for most of us to sleep under mosquito nets in a little cabin without any windows, only curtains.

Saturday, we headed to the Mayan Ruins in Tikal which was about an hour away from our hotel. We spent the next 4 or so hours exploring beautiful, ancient temples. We were able to climb up many of the ruins. One of the ruins only took 204 steps to get to the top…only ha ha. For some, fears of heights were faced and conquered. Not that we are competing with the hacky sacking competence of the Middle East CC group or anything, but we played some hacky sack on top of some pretty big temples. You know, no big deal. Throughout the tour of Tikal National Park, we saw beautiful toucans and monkeys! After the trip, we got an amazing lunch at a local restaurant. Back at Gringo Perdido, many got back in the water. Some went in early and relaxed in the hammocks for a few hours until dinner.

Sunday we packed up and headed to the town and island of Flores to meet EMU grad Jeanette Nisley and her family at their restaurant, where they made us some amazing food. Lunch consisted of mashed potatoes, pork, broccoli, bread and JAM! It was a nice taste of home. While we were there, she told us the story of how she moved to Guatemala after a cross-cultural experience and began working with the healthcare system. Their hospitality was amazing! After lunch, some of us went on a boat ride tour of the lake and the little town, while a few stayed back and explored the city by foot.

It is safe to say that this weekend was nice and relaxing for us, and we all wanted to stay there for a few more weeks. This is a weekend that we will never forget!

-Jennifer Kuhns & Liza Brenneman


Wadi Rum and family stays in Palestine

Wadi Rum, Jordan

On Thursday, January 24 we arrived at Wadi Rum, Jordan after staying in Aqaba, Jordan for one night. What we had planned in Wadi Rum was a two night Jordanian Bedouin camp stay which included a three hour camel ride into the Wadi Rum desert. Once we arrived at the Bedouin camp we were able to choose our Camelrideroommates, each tent was a double with the exception of one triple. My roommate was Michelle Mahia, who is a very good friend of mine. The Bedouin tents were not what I expected. When you are told you will stay in a Bedouin camp you expect to “rough it” (at least that was my initial thought) but these tents had indoor plumbing (toilet, shower, sink), indoor electricity which I believe is powered through solar power, beds, and even carpet inside. We were all so amazed at how incredible the tents were. After we settled down in our tents everyone went out to explore what surrounded us. Most people went to climb this huge rock that was behind the camp which gave you an amazing view of the area, while others walked into the desert to explore what else was out in the area.

The nights in the Bedouin camp were cold but not the coldest we’ve experienced. You definitely had 24547183194_991f328445_kto wear some extra layers going to bed. I wore a hat, gloves and two pairs of socks to bed apart from my usual sleeping attire. The next day, Friday, right after breakfast we had our camels waiting for us in front of the Bedouin camp. Most of the camels were sitting and ready for us.

– Brook Vazquez

Palestinian home stays:

Traveling constantly from place to place this past month has given me the opportunity to talk with lots of people but not truly get to know them on a deeper level past, “My name is Susanna and I come from the United States.” But the moment that Janaya and I stepped through our host family’s door, I knew that was not going to be the case with them. As soon as our host mom saw us she stated that she had three rules: we were to treat her house as our home; we were not allowed to be shy; and we were to speak in Arabic. She should have added a fourth rule that seems to be an unspoken one, which is to eat until you burst and then eat some more.

Food is their life, truly. Making and eating food is what they pour their energy into since there is little else to do for fun, and it is one of the few pleasures that is relatively unaffected by all of the constant changes negatively impacting their lives. They have good reason for the pride in their cooking and baking as each meal is a delicious cultural experience and history lesson. They talk about their food as old friends, calling it a particular name and then reminiscing when it would be made for different holidays. I had high expectations for food coming into this trip and I have not been disappointed whatsoever!

WestBankHome life is a constant reminder of how families are all together in spirit no matter how scattered they are around the world. Our host family receives calls hourly some nights from daughters, sons-in-law, aunts, and brothers from America and Cyprus. They share their daily life with their extended family, from showing each other what they are eating, to what they are wearing for an infant baptism to the celebrations of an engagement party. It is heart wrenching to hear my host mom talk about the good old days before her four siblings, daughter, and greater extended family moved away from Beit Sahour to live abroad. Some of them she hasn’t seen for more than six years and she doesn’t have a strong possibility of seeing them in the future.

And yet despite so much of the hopelessness that surrounds our host family, they continue to trust God and live life as normally as possible. They bolt from their seats the moment they hear their grand babies voices, they plan church retreats for the youth group to Greek Orthodox monasteries, and they moan over their school students failing theology tests which I think I would also struggle with knowing how my host mom is as a teacher. My host dad believes that I will forget about them when I go back home to the States, but that would be almost impossible as this place has become like a second home to me.

-Susanna Sewall

A scarf, a border crossing, and learning empathy first-hand

5 February 2016

I bought a purple and gold scarf in a market in Luxor on the banks of the Nile. He started at 220 Egyptian Pounds, but by lying about how much money I had and threatening to leave, I got him down to 70 pounds, which is ten dollars. The scarf is royal and majestic, and I was very pleased with my haggling and purchase. I intended the scarf to be a present for my mother, but figured I’d wear it around myself a bit. I’m starting to bond with it now, though, and I’m not sure that I’ll ultimately want to give it up.

Today we crossed into the Israeli-occupied West Bank. I put the scarf on that morning in Jordan, not really thinking about it, but when we got close to the border some mentioned to me that maybe it’d be better to take it off. Anti-Arab sentiment runs pretty high among Israeli border security officers, and Arab-looking scarves and kaffiyehs on people trying to cross the border isn’t a great idea. I thought about taking it off, but it was such a small thing, and I left it on.

After I stepped through the metal detector, the man I had just handed my passport to asked me to take off my scarf and jacket. He asked to see the label on the scarf, and then told me to go sit in an area off to the right. I asked for my passport back, but he kept it. After a minute or two I was moved from the waiting area into a little room all by myself, where a man soon appeared to question me about EMU and our trip. He grilled me for a while, and then asked about the scarf. I told him it was a souvenir from Egypt, and then added, “It’s a gift for my mother.” Appeased, but not happy about it, they told me to retrieve my backpack, gave me my passport, and directed me towards the next line.

All in all I was delayed perhaps twenty minutes. It really wasn’t a big deal at all. But psychologically… I don’t know, it sort of was. I was detained by border security. I felt small. Even with all my power and privilege, I had no control over that situation. I knew I was completely in the right, had nothing to hide, had all the proper documentation, but it was still scary. Even with literally everything going for me and only one possible outcome, I was still stressed out and even afraid.

Today I got the tiniest possible taste, on the smallest possible scale, of what it must be like to be a refugee or immigrant. I can’t imagine being detained overnight or being stuck in a line for days because of a missing piece of paperwork or some system not checking out. And yet there are untold millions who live this hell every day – stuck at or behind borders, unable to travel freely to see their families, unable to leave their refugee camp, stuck in endless lines and starving.

We learned at the MCC office that Jordan has absorbed 1.5 million refugees from Syria. This influx raised their population by almost 20%. In all this 1.5 million, there was not one recorded instance of an ISIS fighter sneaking in as a refugee to cause trouble. The United States is squabbling over the entrance of only 10,000 refugees, with vastly more resources and personnel at our disposal for both vetting and resettlement.

The horrible truth of the above paragraph is enough to make me so angry I can’t see straight. The United States’ grand destiny was supposed to be a home for the tired, huddled masses – a beacon for those who are lost. Imagine how wonderful it would have been if we had led the charge in resettling those fleeing Syria and enfranchised the Muslim world. Instead we have marginalized them and been ruled by fear and hate. I’m so disappointed at the sorry state of my country in response to this huge gulf of human suffering. The cries of conservative leaders to ban Muslims from entering the country and blaming all sorts of things on the refugees is an abject absurdity. If Jordan can play nice, so can we.

Of course, Syria isn’t the only place generating refugees. Tonight I will fall asleep in the West Bank, an area containing many Palestinians who have been forced off their ancestral land and into camps. We have arrived at the central chapter to our trip. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict touches many threads; economics, security, foreign policy, religion. I felt today a sharp turn in the kinds of things we will be seeing and talking about. The last two weeks have been steeped in the Old Testament – now we’re going to start talking about things that are happening now.

I have no idea what it must be to be disenfranchised. What hardship have I ever endured? I’m so grateful for the chance to come see the other side, where movement is restricted, where rights aren’t recognized, where an entire ethnicity and religion is demonized, where you can be detained just because of a scarf.

I think I’ll keep it on, though. My host sister said it looks pretty.

Welcome to [the West Bank]! I have already found reason to hope here.

-Eli Wenger



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



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!


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



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