Tag Archives: featured


South Africa:

Bumping along in our small, faulty-but-still-chugging bus driven by Baba, with mini Table Mountains lining the landscape of our three-day trip from Joburg to Capetown, we compile this blog, attempting to blend together these many thoughts from the past week. We’ve decided as a group to release this first week of learning over the course of four blog posts, focusing on the essential themes. Not only do we welcome your questions, but we ask for them. We will read them as a group, discuss, and answer as best we can; we’re excited to say we’re looking forward to starting the conversation.

This has been a week of seeing Soweto through the wrinkled eyes of its majority rather than through the tints of its flashy few. Coming from the lifestyle of privilege that is normal in the United States, it is so easy to magnetize to it in any new context we find ourselves… and globalization has made it so that we could access it anywhere in the world. It takes organizing and preparation to travel somewhere else in the world and plan a trip of honest encounter with the Other, an encounter of intentionality. I feel grateful to have leaders who know the context of South Africa well enough in this way to craft a cross cultural that illuminates the reality of the (black) majority, while intentionally juxtaposing the lifestyle of those who have convinced themselves to believe they’re above it. (system?)

The Apartheid Museum and insight provided by those who are guiding us through, including South African pals connected through the Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA), laid a foundation for understanding apartheid in South Africa (SA). This is a system strategically set in place in the early 20c to impart hate, to divide, and to confuse, so that the black majority would never have more power than the Afrikaner minority. Having at least some basis coming in to SA, a question many of us had coming in was: how similar or different is the people’s history of racial discrimination in SA to that of the US? A few gleanings learned from this past week made the answer to this question clearer:

  1. A similarity: The native makeup – there are 11 official languages and in the regions we’ve been to so far, you can usually assume a black person is either tribally Zulu, Xhosa, or Sotho. Most people speak far more languages than my mere one, which allows for translating and compromising. Our host mom said she is usually the one to compromise in a conversation – when she hears that the person’s accent is Xhosa she’ll switch from her native tongue of Zulu to Xhosa; when she hears a Sotho accent, she’ll switch to Sotho. Communities like the one in Orlando of Soweto that we stayed in are a “mixed masala” she says – all black ethnicities live on one block. In the US context, this is most similar to the Native American population with its multitude and diversity of tribes and cultures, comprising the first population to live on American soil. Similarly, Native Africans were on African soil for centuries prior to any white man stepping foot on it, sustaining thriving kingdoms and knowing the land and its resources as their own.
  2. A difference: The system of apartheid was socially engineered – “perfect racism”, says Trevor Noah. The Afrikaner of SA felt threatened by the black majority of nearly 80%. The government therefore travelled to and studied other instituted systems of racism around the world – in Australia, in the Nazi regime, and in the US and Canada. “Then they came back and published a report, and the government used that knowledge to build the most advanced system of racial oppression known to man.” Land rights became one of the main ways that apartheid was installed and established, despite the irony of true black ownership of the land (insert pic) Overall, there were over 3 thousand pages of laws written to suppress the agency and power of Black, Colored, and Indian people; a new law was created in reaction to any time a non-white person attempted to squirm free from the system.
  3. A difference: The US has never had anything like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), for the deep harm that colonialism drove into the natives it subordinated, abused, and killed. We mainly learned about the TRC through Desmond Tutu’s book No Future Without Forgivenessand Pete Meiring, a TRC commissioner who spoke with us about his reflections and experiences on the commission. In wondering how to go about moving forward as a nation post-apartheid, brainstormers who were mainly theologians discussed whether it was preferred to have this process look more like Nuremberg (the typical retributive justice way), amnesia (forgive and forget), or a third way. That third way became “granting amnesty to individuals in exchange for a full disclosure relating to the crime for which amnesty was sought” (30). Tutu emphasizes that the basis of this third way is the concept of Ubuntu, which “speaks of the very essence of being human”, saying “I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.” “A person is a person through other persons; in other words, “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up in yours” (31).

The interconnectedness of black struggle, around the world, became glaringly clear throughout this week. From the Foreword of a required reading by Steve Biko entitled “I Write What I Like,” which explores his philosophy called Black Consciousness:

Biko’s Black Consciousness (in which the term “black” includes all people of color) stands on the shoulders of this history. It is grounded in the recognition of the high costs of truth. Biko wants the people, all people, to seewhat was going on in South Africa and all over the world. He wants us to see the connections between South African black townships, the black ghettoes in England, the United States, and Brazil, and the many similar communities in South Asia and the Middle East. Many of us share his insight today when we seek those whom we call ‘the blacks’ of their society, even if they may not be people of African descent.

Asturias, Spain & the Camino de Santiago

23 April 2019

It’s a place that reminds me of home, but feels utterly alien. We are constantly surrounded by green mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, with only a strip of land in between. Yet it is not my way, my camino, that draws my eyes as it may have in the US. It is the absolute contrast that I find in sweeping my eyes from left to right, rather than the dirt under my feet. Everyone calls Ireland the “Emerald Isle”, and thus from what I’ve seen, Asturias should be called the “Emerald Shore”. It is here, through conversations, through interacting with nature that God has opened my eyes and helped me to see. I see that, despite all my worrying, things turn out well. I see that, despite all my work, all my knowledge, I am insignificant to the world, yet I can do so much. I see that, despite my strengths, God can work through my weaknesses, but only if I can let myself be vulnerable and trust him. Trust him to guide my feet as I follow his way; trust him when the path curves and doesn’t make sense; trust him to put me exactly where he needs me, when he needs me, especially when I think I know better. God’s way is like the Camino de Santiago. It twists and turns, is muddy, has crossroads, and is cluttered with whatever is blocking the way. But the blue and yellow shell signs pointing the way always appear. The mud eventually turns to dirt and to grass, and there is always a path through the obstructions. Following God isn’t always clear, but if we follow the way of Jesus, we’ll find a warm place at our journey’s end.

-Austin Engle

Spain: Cadíz

From markets filled with fish, fruits, and fresh breads
To watching the sunset each night on the beach surrounded by friends
Host families, street music, living with a partner, and plenty of new food
When in Spain there’s no reason to worry, never a day seemed blue
Doing good takes not much, if the heart is feeling giving
Some apples, oranges, and crackers may mean an extra day of living
It’s not often you see so many stray cats, scattered along your walk to school
Yet we see plenty of the fancy pet dogs, in their sweaters looking cool
Learning is fun, with classes taught by those who love to teach
Classes four days and no homework, who wouldn’t want to spend Fridays at the beach?
Cadíz is the place to be, to study, to explore

But the adventure won’t stop here, there are still two weeks more

~Kellie Serrell

A text to my parents

Still studying, this is the last week of school though. We have an exam and final presentation on Wednesday and Thursday this week and we leave at noon on Friday to go to Córdoba for a few days and then to Llanes on the north coast for 4 days, and then after that we have free travel and returning to the US. Learning Spanish is harder here, since we’re all in one group together, and I have the worst Spanish out of everyone, but I still feel like I’ve been learning. Last Saturday and Sunday we were in Ceuta, which is a Spanish city on the north coast of Africa (surrounded by Morocco), learning about immigration. The Spanish border is appalling similar to the US border with Mexico, minus the guns. People desperately try to make it into Spain and a few do successfully, but the vast majority don’t make it and either get deported or held by Spanish border control. Some people who make it into Spain destroy their passports and official documents so the border patrol doesn’t know where to deport them to, when they are caught.

~Andrew Nord

Blessed are the butterflies who rise above human borders

14 April 2019

Fresh off our settlement experience, we spent last week in Haifa, a port city on the slopes between Mount Carmel and the Mediterranean. Our days, organized by Oranim College, were filled with lectures, documentaries, and museum visits. That included a preview of this past Tuesday’s election, in which Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party effectively remained in power. After his pre-election promise to start annexing the West Bank, the future looks even bleaker for our friends back in Beit Sahour.

We also had many a mifgash, or “encounter,” with Israelis. Two of my favorites were a talk with Benji, a 20-year-old combat soldier, and a day spent with best friends Yael, a Jewish Israeli, and Rawan, an Arab Israeli. They took us to each of their homes and talked about the ways their lives are similar and different.

During our free time, we had to balance exploration of the city—the Baha’i Shrine and Gardens were beautiful—with academic work: unfortunately, we don’t just get to travel and have fun all the time. Most evenings in Haifa found several students in the lounge, sharing portable keyboards and typing out research papers based on interviews we’ve been conducting throughout the semester. Toward the end of the week, we all sat in a circle to read our thesis statements out loud, and it was cool to hear the 26 different topics we’ve been digging into.

Another assignment was to split up into groups and each present the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an interesting way. On Saturday night, we gathered to enjoy each other’s performances, which ranged from finger painting, to two people talking while divided by a curtain, to breaking the world record for the most consecutive readings of the Balfour Declaration. They were all excellent, but the most meaningful for me was a group that depicted an Arab mother and a Jewish father reading two different bedtime stories to their children simultaneously. Sometimes the books said the same things, but many of the pages had slight differences that described the divisions between the two groups and the way they view this land.

This week, we moved on to Nazareth, Jesus’s hometown and our last major stop in Israel. For two days, our group split in half to learn about Roman occupation and resistance (I got “stabbed” by a zealous Linford) and to volunteer at Nazareth Village. The Village is a re-creation of a first-century town like the one Jesus lived in, and it gives us a more realistic view of the place where he spent about 25 years of his life. Some students dressed up in first-century clothing and picked weeds like peasants as tour groups passed, while others stayed in shorts and t-shirts to haul rocks, clean stables, and work in the gift shop.

For the rest of the week, we embarked on our last big physical challenge of the semester, a 65-km trek on the Jesus Trail. The trail was started ten years ago by Maoz Inon, an Israeli, and Dave Landis, an EMU grad, to allow people to walk in the places Jesus walked and connect some of the important sites from his travels. When we started out from Nazareth, Linford read us the Bible passage where Jesus tells us not to worry by saying, “behold the birds of the air” and “behold the lilies of the field.” As we walked, Linford encouraged us to observe the things around us and pick out something new to behold. Here’s what we came up with:

Behold the trail we walk: sometimes straight and easy, sometimes crooked and demanding, but always a fun adventure. –Graham

Behold the snails which cling to the flowers. Though easily overlooked, God notices all.  –Rachael

Behold the cows of the pasture, for they peacefully accept strangers and are slow to anger. –Jessie

Behold the barbed wire fence, almost invisible amongst the lovely flowers that now surround it on both sides. –Silas

Behold the roof that provides shelter and comfort from a world that can be harsh.  –Nealon

Behold the trees and flowers rooted to withstand the wind and rain. –Natalie

Behold the highway, a deadly risk, yet wonder and promise drives us on. –Elliott

Behold the confusion. For it seems as though we go the wrong way, yet we are led down right paths to shade and nourishment. –Luke

Behold the beholder in the eye of beauty.  –Isaac Andreas

Behold the trail blazes that take the place of our physical Jesus in directing our path.
– Lauren

That afternoon, we made it to Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine and where we beheld a delicious dinner. The next day, we set out through rolling countryside and fields of beautiful flowers. Between chatting, playing music, and doing funny impressions of people we’ve met, we meditated on Jesus’s parables, where he compares the Kingdom of Heaven to ordinary things:

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a well-paved, level path. Weary travelers do not stumble because of it. –Marianna

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a plowed yet unsown field; something will eventually grow but it can be anything you want it to be. –Tor

The Kingdom of God is like the orange tree. Though we cannot reach the upper branches right now, we can still enjoy the fruits it produces and sweet aroma that surrounds us.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a city viewed from a distance: you can’t see a path that leads there, but you know that there is one.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like the sun, always there but not always appreciated.  –Audrey

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a field of wheat sown with careful intentionality, full of uniformity, yet defined by individuality.   –Isaac Alderfer

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a foreign language. It’s hard to appreciate when we don’t understand it. But once we begin to understand, we can see and hear it everywhere.

We were rewarded at the end of the day with a dinner fit for a king and heavenly fudge brownies in Ilaniya. On Thursday, we had to leave early for our longest day, which took us through mud and over the Horns of Hattin. Linford read us some of Jesus’s statements like “blessed are the peacemakers” and “woe to you who are rich,” and we thought about the kinds of actions that we want to encourage or discourage in today’s world:

Blessed are those who seek beauty, for they will always find it. -Karissa

Blessed are those who stand in treacherous waters to help others safely cross. –Skylar

Blessed are those who actively listen to people who are very different from them. –Collin

Blessed are those who change their mind, for they will be given wisdom. –Allison

Blessed are those who listen joyfully and graciously.  –Carly

Blessed are those who offer a helping hand over giant mud puddles and wet are those who don’t accept it. –Anisa

Blessed are those who appreciate the person right in front of them. –Mary

Blessed are the weary, for they shall find rest. Woe to those who rest too long, for that shall bring unrest. –Daniil

Blessed are the butterflies who rise above the borders humanity has made. –Erin

In Arbel that evening, we were blessed by hot showers and a cool pool to splash around in. For the final day of hiking, we went over the cliffs of Arbel, through herds of cows, and down to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. On a hill where Jesus may have given his Sermon on the Mount, we tried to put ourselves in the places of the tired, downtrodden, ordinary people who came there 2,000 years ago. We imagined what they might have thought about Jesus, who was preaching a radical message that threatened to disrupt their relatively peaceful lives under Roman occupation, but who also offered a view of a new kind of kingdom in which they could truly be free.

–Ben Stutzman


Middle East: West Jerusalem, Efrat, observing Shabbat

2 April 2019

I quickly grew fond of the Abraham Hostel after arriving on Sunday afternoon. This place has created a memorable atmosphere for itself. In most of the rooms, each wall is a strikingly different color than those adjacent, and everywhere you look there are fat, slightly cryptic stenciled messages like ABRAHAM – THE FIRST BACKPACKER and DON’T WORRY – WE’VE GOT YOUR TOWEL and IF YOU MUST RUN – RUN. Among other delights, this West Jerusalem hostel features a spacious lounge/dining hall where the majority of guests and visitors enjoy each others’ company. During our first evening here, our group ordered pizza – evidently the best in Israel – and enjoyed listening to some talented music from hostel staff and Jam Night volunteers.

Monday and Wednesday looked a little bit different for each student in our crew, because  they were both very free in form. We were given only a checklist of six sites to visit around Jerusalem on our own: The Temple Mount, the Burnt House in the Herodian Quarter, the Tower of David Museum, the Mea Shearim, the Bible Lands Museum, and the Israel Museum. The Temple Mount is easily the most famous as well as the most sacred of these, which explains why the line to the top seemed half a mile long. This was well worth it to see the large and lovely Dome of the Rock up close, as well as the El Aqsa mosque that it often outshines. As much as visiting this and the other locations paid off, I think I enjoyed the Israel Museum the most. It features some fascinating exhibits on history and culture specific to the Jewish people, the most complete collection of Palestinian artifacts in Jerusalem, the Shrine of the Book that holds the fabled Dead Sea Scrolls, and some truly mesmerizing artwork from various movements in time. If you ever find yourself pacing these halls, I highly recommend taking your time in the “Eye to Eye” section, which uses modern art that is provocative and often creatively interactive to discuss conflict, communication, and their relationship.

On that note, in the midst of exploring these locations at our own individual paces, our group gathered on Tuesday morning to meet Yuval and Husam, Israeli and Palestinian partners in peace. They introduced themselves with stories of boys who were taught to fear any contact with the other side but grew into men with the understanding that this very contact is vital to building anything positive together. They led us around West Jerusalem, pointing out sites of suicide bombings and uprooted burials, sharing insights on the dialogue that is needed to address past and present injustices. “Both sides obviously have pain,” I remember Yuval saying. “We won’t get anywhere until we are all willing to talk about the other side’s pain even more than our own.”

On Thursday, we bid our lovely hostel farewell and loaded a bus headed for Efrat, an Israeli settlement town not far southwest of Beit Sahour. On the way, we visited Hadassah Medical Center, one of Israel’s largest and most impressive hospital complexes. We then stopped at the Pat BaMelach Artisan Bakery for lunch and a bread baking workshop. (Yes, we got to eat our projects, and I’ve certainly had worse.) Finally, we arrived at Efrat and met our host families, which are composed of some fascinating people from across the globe.

Over the next day, we listened to all sorts of speakers on topics including fears of terrorism, response to tragedy, the lifestyle of seminary students, the controversial founding of this settlement area and coexistence surrounding it, and the expectations of Shabbat. Hearing these voices presented some areas of the ideological spectrum that our group had not yet been exposed to in person. Whether we always reached an agreement or not, it was a valuable experience for us and a vulnerable one for those sharing their views. Another quote that stuck with me from one of these discussions is, “Try not to see it as someone trying to convince you of something. Look at it as someone’s story that has made them who they are today.”

Then we reached Shabbat itself, initiated at sunset on Friday with the lighting of our family candles. My first Shabbat synagogue service was much more lively than I expected, and even though the entire event was in Hebrew, that was no excuse not to participate in a circle dance and attempt to mimic the mouth noises of those around me. My highlight of Efrat was probably Shabbat supper that night and lunch on Saturday. Not only was the food heavenly, the conversation was long and meaningful. Graham and I learned as much as we could about our host family’s background story as well as their Jewish lifestyle. Both are full of intricacies. Outside of meals, we did great amount of reading and napping, something highly encouraged by the Jewish sabbath. There are a lot of rules to follow on this holy day, such as no flipping light switches, no writing, no tearing paper, no driving, and plenty more, but its purpose is to help one disconnect from typical routine hustle and take a break from any exertion, physical or creative. Some might call it glorified laziness, but I’d like to recommend the phrase “gratitude for just being present.” I was sad to see this special time end.

We concluded our time in Efrat with an engaging film and discussion about border checkpoints and factors involved, followed in the morning by a visit to The Magic Place, an adorable and empowering kindergarten program with its focus on music, art, and environment. My last memory of this settlement will be a colorful room full of toddlers performing interpretive dances to Flight of the Bumblebee, and I cannot complain.

-Silas Clymer

Guatemala: A day in my life

Reflections on a day in my life in Guatemala

Every morning I feel a small tug from sleep by my sister at 4 am. Phone flashlight, towels thrown, and makeup to be applied in the light of the hall. When she shuts the door to leave for her long commute, I am left to sleep for 2 more hours…

6:30 alarm sounds accompanied by pit bull puppy growls, dishes being washed outside and Spanish worship songs. My sister yells through the window “¿estás viva?!” She’s surprised every day I didn’t die in my sleep.

Dad is always full of animation to see me in the morning. Even with tired eyes and sleepless nights, he makes a bomb breakfast. My favorites are eggs with una salsa, tortillas, and beans, Nescafé and pan dulce if I’m lucky.

I break conversation or silence to brush my teeth with the door open so my sister can continue to tease her “hermana gringa.” “Con cuidado” says my dad and sister, and I’m off with a prayer/blessing.

I walk to Andrew’s house (other EMU student), there is a rhythm to my walk orchestrated by my neighbors. First comes the dogs on the roof who come out to greet or growl. Then comes the older couple walking their dog, then that man wearing too much reflective gear on his bike; it ends with the older man at the corner grinning, “bye bye” he says. No it wasn’t creepy, just eccentric. The sun, the wind. I rap on the door of Andrew and his mother invites me in. I greet the daughters and son in that classy, bohemian, houseplant paradise until Andrew shuffles in with his sandals and massive sombrero: We walk to the bus station and cram into that hot, crowded bus pumping rageton. “Pasaje en mano, dale, dale” says the money collector. He rapidly spews nice sentiments, not wanting to be a bother, tells us we’re all very nice as he pushes more and more people into that bus. I sway in the bus, shifting, move on my tiptoes, ducking as people enter and leave. We jump off the bus, quick to get off before they close the door, quick to get past the back of that bus and the black soot sure to follow.

We arrive at school CASAS. I fill a cold mug with coffee, sit in the sun, switch to shade and greet my friends. I watch my teacher Albertina strut in with her head held high and all the confidence and command of womanhood. I mean that, she has a presence. The gardener and Reina, who makes our lunches, greets us.  Alfredo who also works there, but is closer to our age greets us. He’s an incredible painter by the way. I cram in homework I didn’t have the motivation to do the night before and drag myself up to the third floor where our classes are held.

In class we study grammar, intermixing the subject with real conversation, debates and stories about boys, the bus, questions, beliefs. Our class is often rightly accused of laughing, yelling and talking too loud. Albertina is patient with our sass, exaggerated complaints and growing Spanish. She plays music, she tells us to get up and dance and lets us get up at any time to refill our coffee cups. Somehow, I learned more about life and Spanish in that class than in any class before.

When I finally return home it’s about 5:00. Andrew and I walk the highway talking about faith or lack thereof, silly ideas and relationships. We greet who we pass. The boys sitting outside the mechanical shop giggle and practice their English on us, a mother, her husband and baby have a little snack stand where I regrettably never bought anything. We cross the streets, me running faster than Andrew. We turn corners and walk under the tarp creating a makeshift restaurant with plastic stools on the sidewalk, an open grill, scraps of food shoved to the side. Trash, buses, and motorcycles cover the streets. We wait to cram into the microbús. Smiles, curious looks, and random conversation may start with our fellow passengers. We yell for our stop and we’re finally to our neighborhood. We greet the people outside the local tienda. They recognize us by now and make sure to greet us. I reach my house and rap on the door. Eventually my brother or father comes. They’ll hind behind the door and slowly show their face as if they don’t know me or throw open door with a hug and kiss. We recount our days around coffee or tea and pan dulce. Henry talks extensively about his day in the hospital, Julian is accused of not eating enough and then there’s the joke of needing exercise which only Henry and Lorena partake in. Maybe there’s a telenovela on tv, the news or animal channel until it comes time to eat. I put out the vasos, set the table. “Cuantos personas somos?” asks my sister or mother because I can’t count. Mitz nails me in the side and we accuse each other of being too crazy, singing or dancing badly or talking too loud. After dinner we read a chapter of the Bible. It’s horrendously boring. We are in Leviticus. Everyone fights to keep their eyes open, winking and slapping each other to stay awake. Discussion follows mostly between my dad and brother, my sisters (whom are typically more insightful) may share a bit too.


I wish I could share the total richness, push, grime, fullness, belly laughing, warm days, but you’d have to be here for that.

-Maya Dula

Middle East: Old City of Jerusalem

24 March 2019

Back in Jerusalem again! After a week of relaxing free travel we returned to what has become a pretty familiar city. We spent our week staying at the Ecce Homo convent in the Old City. The convent itself commemorates and stands at the location where Pontius Pilate scourged Jesus and declared “Ecce homo!” Or “Behold the man!” The building is built out of beautiful stone work and houses a chapel, classrooms, and underground cisterns. My favorite part of the building by far is the terrace on the second floor that overlooks the Old City and the Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount. The convent is located in the Muslim Quarter so we enjoy hearing the echoing calls to prayer from the various neighboring mosques each day.

Our location allowed our group to experience a vivid diversity of cultures and religions. Though we are in the Muslim Quarter, the Christian boulevard of the Via Dolorosa runs through and with it brings a large number of Christian pilgrims. The Via Dolorosa was the route where Jesus was taken along at the time of his crucifixion. It ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where tradition places the tomb where Jesus was buried and resurrected. Each day tour groups can be seen walking the route carrying large wooden crosses and singing in their native languages.

Our curriculum this week was a mixture of classes and getting out to experience the area. We learned a lot of new information about Jewish culture and heritage from guest speaker Debbie. Our guide for a day Jared also gave us a modern tour of the Old City seeing the four quarters Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Armenian and how they are similar and different. After learning so much about the ancient peoples who lived here it was fun to see and learn about Jerusalem’s modern day residents.

We also enjoyed a week-long Hebrew class with our Israeli teacher Sarah. Our inner child was brought out as we learned through songs, dance, and sometimes even puppets. By the end of the week we had learned the Hebrew “Aleph-bet” and were joyfully singing our favorites songs we had heard that week.

Outside of class, we had a great time exploring this new part of the city and all it has to offer. This Thursday evening at sundown marked the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Purim. Celebrations can be best described as a mixture of Halloween and Mardi Gras. People of all ages dress up in costumes and fill the streets singing and dancing. It was fun to see everyone come together and celebrate, and really get to experience local culture. Many of us also had the valuable experience of visiting the Western Wall during Shabbat. As the celebrations of Purim wound down the day of rest began at sundown on Friday and people began to file into the plaza near the wall. It is really amazing to see so many people gather together for prayer. In the plaza people gathered to sing traditional songs and circle dance to celebrate the end of the week as well.

Jerusalem is truly a city like no other. It is a place where the monotheistic religions of the world converge into a beautiful diversity of culture and backgrounds. The combination of this with the ways in which visitors are able to walk quite literally in the footsteps of Jesus has made our time here a wonderful time of reflection on religion, values, and culture.

-Erin Beidler

Middle East: Independent Travels

Independent Travel

Last week was one we’ve all been looking forward to for a long time: free travel! After our final exam at JUC, we split up and began a week of exploring on our own. Anisa, Carly, Emily, Erin, Rachael and I went to Turkey. We flew into Istanbul and spent a night there. After exploring the city a bit and visiting the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, we flew to Antalya and then took a bus to Kas. This small, seaside town was where we spent the majority of our week. The highlight of our trip was a boat ride around the various sites of Kas. We visited a small village only accessible by boat, swam over an ancient, sunken city, and explored the ruins of Roman town. For the last few days of free travel, we took a bus back to Antalya and stayed in the old city, Kaleici. There, we did a lot of walking, shopping, and eating yummy food. I personally loved all of the free roaming cats and dogs that are both loved and cared for the people of Turkey.

– Audrey Hershberger

Below are some of the highlights from the rest of the groups:

Our group devoted time to Israel and a couple of her choice cities: Netanya and Tel Aviv. Both being costal, we were able to take many relaxing walks on the beach and experience life by the sea. In each city, we all took time to chill, cook, watch movies, shop, and explore. There were some interesting moments, especially noting the city scene during Shabbat (everything was closed except for the bars, and they were jam packed!) and hearing the sirens, explosions, and loud speakers in Tel Aviv during the rocket mishap. All in all, our group would agree that the week consisted of well needed rest and appreciation for some of Israel’s cities.

-Marianna Lipold

Myself, Nealon, and Tor ended up traveling to Istanbul for our independent travel, staying there for the full week at a little Airbnb apartment about ten minutes’ walk from Taksim Square. Over the course of the week, we ended up traveling throughout a lot of Istanbul and visiting its many historical attractions – the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, the Turkish and Muslim Arts Museum, and more. Istanbul has a quite deep and rich history that we got to appreciate a bit during our time there, thanks to its position as a major city in the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires (under the names of Byzantium and Constantinople previously).

On the final day we met with a Turkish friend of Tor’s dad who showed us some of the classic Ottoman mosques that are not well known enough to be considered tourist attractions. His deep knowledge of Istanbul and Turkish culture in general gave us more insight into modern day life in Istanbul, something that visiting historic sites fails to reveal.Besides the history and culture, we also got to enjoy a lot of local cuisine – kebabs, Ottoman food, burgers, and tea, among other things. Nealon’s father also joined us for part of the trip. He was able to give us the perspective of a more experienced traveler and helped us to organize our days better than when we were by ourselves; as well as appreciate our time there more fully as he is 73 and was not able to make the trip until now.

During our time here, we got to get around town a lot using the metro system here – once you get used to it, it’s quite cheap, and will take you to pretty much all of the major sites. We also saw at least a few hundred different cats during the week there; it seems that Istanbul takes care of its cats, with many food and water bowls out and about in small nooks for the various felines if you look for them. All in all, it was an excellent experience and an enjoyable window into Turkish life.

-Graham Stauffer

Some of our trip statistics: three people, six countries (Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey), 101.3 miles walked, one giant chocolate bar, three hostels, four buses, two airplanes, and one heck of a week.

Some of our highlights: (Allison) In Prague we stayed at Art Hole Hostel for two of our nights. As interestingly beautiful as the sites in Prague were, I probably could’ve spent most of my time there. The hostel employees and guests alike were inviting, hospitable, and very willing to have a conversation. In Vienna we got to experience an opera soloist in the state opera house. Even though I (Jessie) don’t really care for opera that much, it was an incredible experience. The energy in the crowd and the passion of the soloist gave me a whole new appreciation of this form of art. In Turkey we bathed with the locals in the famous Turkish Baths. I (Isaac) went alone because they were gender segregated. It provided a sauna, a shower, a bath, awkward conversation, and a unique perspective of the Turkish middle aged man.

-Allison Shelly, Isaac Andreas, Jessie Landis

My group (Collin, Lauren, Silas, Karissa and I) spent our time on the southern coast of Turkey. We flew into Antalya, making a 5 hour drive along the scenic coastal route towards Fethiye. On our way, we stopped in to visit Linford (and his boat), which was definitely a highlight from our trip. The week was a nice mix of slowing down and relaxing as well as getting out and exploring. Some of our other highlights consisted of visiting 2 different beaches, driving to Pamukkale (thermal pools located by an ancient Roman city), getting Turkish baths (THAT was an experience), and renting out a speedboat on the Mediterranean. Now we definitely have some stories to tell about them—those are for another time, though. All in all, Turkey is gorgeous. If you enjoy seeing the sea, lush green valleys and snow-capped mountains at the same time, Turkey is the place to be!

-Austin Yoder

This week, Isaac Alderfer, Luke, and I hiked a section of the Lycian Way in southern Turkey, from Fethiye to Kaş. We loved the diversity of terrain the trail took us through, from beaches along the Mediterranean to mountains with a bit of snow still left on them. Another highlight was walking, eating, and sometimes staying in small towns that showed us a less-accessible side of the country. Although we had a couple of rainy days and some trouble finding lodging in the off-season, we took advantage of the generosity of strangers (hitchhiked) a bit to make it to our destination on time. We ended with two relaxing days in Kaş and Antalya, including swimming, sunsets, and Turkish delight.

-Ben Stutzman

For Skylar and I, our week of spring break was spent touring around the cities of Europe. We were able to visit Budapest for two days, Prague for three and Vienna for two, stopping in Cyprus for a few hours as part of our layover back to Tel Aviv, Israel. In each place we walked and rode public transportation to see the different famous sites: the Schoenbrunn Palace and Vienna State Opera in Austria, Buda Castle and baths in Budapest, and Prague’s many museums and churches. Each place had something different to offer in their cities while at the same time were all very similar in feeling and architecture. Over the course of the week our emotions and physical states ranged high and low but resulted in experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.

-Natalie Stoltzfus

Middle East: Field Studies with JUC

15 March, 2019

This past week was our second and final week at Jerusalem University College. After taking our first test Saturday morning and a free afternoon, we started off strong with field studies again Sunday morning. This past week was quite a bit different from our first week at Jerusalem University College as we spent much of our days and nights on the field.

With Kaitlyn, our instructor, we traversed the Mediterranean coast from Ashkelon to Cesarean Maritma, explored the hot dry southern area of the Negev, visited the Golan up by Syria, and sailed across the Sea of Galilee by way of Capernum. We learned in freezing wind, scorching heat, hail, and ate countless pita sandwiches. We also visited many tels  and ruins of historical significance such as Kirebet Qumran, Beer Sheeba, Ceasarea Philipi, Magdala,  Megiddo, and Dan (in fact there are over 35 places where I recorded notes). Now, thanks to Kaitlyn, we can all locate said places on a map, describe its soil type, draw the major routes which go through it, and name the Bible story which took place there.

Learning and reading Bible stories in their actual locations will forever change the way in which I read the text. It is still surreal to think of all the places we walked, and my understanding of the Bible has grown from standing in Caesarea where Paul was imprisoned, the ruins of Megiddo where Josiah dies, and Mt. Carmel where the Israelites worshiped Bael.  The most impactful story was seeing the types of rock which Moses hit in the wilderness of the Negev instead of speaking to it like he was supposed to.   This rock usually has water built up behind it, thus Moses striking it was not a reflection of Gods power, as it was when he struck the rock in the Sinai, but rather a portrayal of his own selfishness. Learning this information transformed how I understand this particular story.  Kaityln also continually encouraged us to examine our own faith and ask deep questions such as: what do we as people of faith do when the archeology and the text don’t line up?

While we spent much of the week taking in and processing vast amounts of information, we had plenty of time to enjoy ourselves and soak in this once in a lifetime experience we are having. Some highlights included swimming-rather floating in the Dead Sea, hiking Hippus at sunrise, and Isaac Alderfer beating the JUC record of running up Masada by one second with a time of 2:31. My own personal highlight was the hotel we stayed at which was right on the Sea of Galilee. Not only was the buffet scrumptious, but our bungalows were right on the water which served as a beautiful backdrop to our academic learning. The proximity to the sea was perfect for morning swimming as well as sunset swimming, and, of course, night swims.

Now, after taking our last test, our time at JUC has come to a close and we are all splitting off in groups for our free travel, for a much needed break before we transition to the next part of our program.

-Anisa Leonard