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Turning toward home

I walked into the dorm room from my morning shower and he was cooking something on a camp stove on the windowsill. Curious, I asked him, “how long have you been traveling?” From his worn hiking pack and sun kissed face I could tell that he had spent time outdoors. “Since last Saturday, we’ve been hiking for about a week,” he said in a smooth Italian accent. It was like he was touching the words gently, almost glossing over them with a song on the tip of his tongue. Much different than the lady that gave us a tour of the catacombs beneath the Church of St Agnes in Agony. Her English was like a roller coaster, an exaggerated movie Italian accent. 
“How about you?” my tall hiking roommate asked.
“I’ve been travelling about 4 months, since January,” trying to hide a sheepish grin. 
“Ooh, wow,” was the response, visibly impressed with the length of my journey. Respect was established, a bond shared.

I met this man on my free travel to Assisi. He was only one of many people that we met along the journey. One of many people we will likely never see again.

As we sit here in the airport in Rome awaiting the plane back, we are filled with excitement and anxiety. Home is within sight, friends and family within reach. But how will we answer the questions? How do we begin to share this with the people who love us and long to hear our stories? What stories are even worth sharing? And of course the strict security, passport control, and jet lag aren’t helping either. But we are going home. If it still feels like home remains to be seen. Continue reading

Water

13. April 2015

As we enter our last stretch of time in the Middle East, the focus of our explorations has shifted to the sea – to learning and walking the different types of harbors, to studying Paul’s journeys by water (and land), to basking in the views of the seas from our hotel windows.

I’ve known water in a relatively limited way until this week. 
I’ve known living water preached about in church. 
I’ve known thunderstorms and flash floods. 
I’ve known peace like a river, love like and ocean, and joy like a fountain. 
I’ve known the cool, refreshing splash of jumping in a pool on a hot Texas summer day. 
I’ve known Palestinian water shortages and fewer showers.
Continue reading

La Finca La Loma and Holy Week in Antigua

6. April 2015

Coming back from free travel was both exciting and an adjustment for our group. After spending one week in small groups away from each other, it was a bit of a transition to come together as one big group again, however, we were all very happy to see each other. We all shared our adventures and experiences we had on our trips, and afterwards we prepared to go on retreat.

We left CASAS to travel to a retreat center in Chimaltenango called La Finca La Loma. It was a gorgeous venue that had everything we could want: places to be alone, a playground to have fun, restaurants to eat at, luxurious beds to sleep in, a field to play Frisbee and soccer, a paintball course, a zip line that really wasn’t a zip line, and two weddings! We were excited to theoretically crash the weddings, even though no one really did. The purpose of this retreat was just to relax after our week of traveling, and to further reflect on our overall experience while we also tried out a new method of communication…silence. Continue reading


One in One

One in One

What are the odds
that you’ll walk the Jesus Trail,
put your feet where His once tread,
gather the same dust upon your skin?

What are the odds
that there will be wildflowers,
blue skies full of birds,
And fields of wheat all along the way?

What are the odds
that your feet get sore,
that blisters will rise inside your shoes,
that your very bones will seem weary?

What are the odds
that a moving body
will mean a moving mind,
mulling over both the God
and your next meal in a seamless stream?

What are the odds
that a moving mind will turn
into a moving mouth,
the depth of conversation
pulling you up hills, over the rocks?

What are the oddsJesus trail 2015
that the trail will, at times,
seem endless and rough,
more a tiresome task
than beautiful privilege?

What are the odds
that it’s about way more
than four days of trekking,
and closer instead to a lifetime
of walking the trail with Jesus?

-Mariah Martin, sophomore


Jewish history and following Jesus’ story in the streets of Jerusalem

1. April

We arrived back from free travel and dove right back into the Old City of Jerusalem. We spent the week in a convent called Ecce Homo, which translates to “behold the man”. The arch that goes over the street adjacent to the convent has been suggested as the site where Pilate presented Jesus. The whole week has been focused on the Old City and how Judaism fits in there. We had lectures on Jewish history as well as 10 hours of Hebrew language.

Learning Hebrew proved to be quite the task, as our instructor informed us that she normally takes 50 hours to teach the letters completely. We only had 10 hours to learn the letters and some basic phrases. The pace of the class did not stop us from giving our best effort to learn. We ended up being able to sing some songs to help us remember how to say “good morning, evening and goodnight” and some traditional shabbat songs. Continue reading


Free Travel Viajes

Belize

Traveling can be many things, all at the same time: stressful, exciting, intimidating, life-giving, etc. For me, this past week touched on all of these things and many more. Our group was one of three that chose Belize as our final destination, but first we had to accept the challenges of getting there. We started with an early morning bus to Puerto Barrios, on the coast of Guatemala. After a late arrival came a hurried trip to catch a not-so-official looking boat to Punta Gorda, Belize. Another late arrival, and we managed to catch the bus towards Hopkins. The journey ended successfully with a four mile, hitched ride into town, hunkered down in the bed of a pick-up truck. The cabana that awaited us was seafront and serene. Palm trees, hammocks, sea water and salty air welcomed us to heaven. Throughout the week we would spend a lot of time enjoying all of these things, but we’d also learn quickly about what makes Belize so unique.

Lesson #1: People in Belize will be friendly and kind to anyone. Continue reading


Our Top Ten from Hannaton Kibbutz Week

10. Energetic Bar mitzvah Children (around 11 p.m.) – Unfortunately, we were unable to share in the children’s excitement for this new phase of life, due to preparing for our presentations and getting some sleep. 
9. Druze Meal – We shared a delicious meal followed by a short lecture about Druze’s history.
8. Search and Rescue Guy – A much appreciated, yet rare voice concerning the Israeli army’s rescue program. 
7. SNACKS ON THE BUS – Enough said.
6. Learning about Israeli Politics – We were able to be in Israel during a very rare, but exciting time. We learned about various political parties and got to see the election unfold first hand, while understanding its implications.
5. Mifgash with Soldiers – Soldiers our age spoke with us about their required national service.
4. Podcast – Tune in to Oranim College radio station to hear another annual podcast on our experience in Israel!
3. Akko – Another breathtaking view of the Mediterranean… and even a quick dip! Also, shout out to Lauren Sauder for having a timely birthday, giving us a baklava treat!
2. Talking with parents of Bat-Chen – A powerful presentation by parents who devote their lives to the path of peace, despite having lost their daughter in an attack.
1. Helen Goldstein – Without potentially spoiling anything for groups to come, this performance was a display of complexity and comedy, all the while touching every person in the group in a new, powerful way.

-Lexi Link and Erin Nafziger


As we say goodbye to Jerusalem

16678513300_732ebfc2ce_kWe arrived back from free travel and dove right back into the Old City of Jerusalem. We spent the week in a convent called Ecce Homo, which translates to “behold the man”. The arch that goes over the street adjacent to the convent has been suggested as the site where Pilate presented Jesus. The whole week has been focused on the Old City and how Judaism fits in there. We had lectures on Jewish history as well as 10 hours of Hebrew language.

Learning Hebrew proved to be quite the task, as our instructor informed us that she normally takes 50 hours to teach the letters completely. We only had 10 hours to learn the letters and some basic phrases. The pace of the class did not stop us from giving our best effort to learn. We ended up being able to sing some songs to help us remember how to say “good morning, evening and goodnight” and some traditional shabbat songs.

On Tuesday afternoon, we had the opportunity go investigate Yad Vashem, one of the official holocaust museums of Israel. Its name literally translates into hand and name. The hand (yad) has been used to refer to many monuments in the country. And name (shem) is used to remember all of the names of those who were killed in the Holocaust. Continue reading


Learning from Geography

February 20, 2015

We’re in Jerusalem at last! The center and capital of Israel. A city that was fought over, over 2000 years ago and is still being fought over today. A walled stone city and a modern sprawling metropolis all in one. It is truly something you have to see for yourself to understand. Nonetheless, I will try to give you a small glimpse into our world as of late (since providing everyone who reads this blog a ticket to Israel would probably cost too much…)

While in Jerusalem we are staying and studying at Jerusalem University College. JUC is a small university (we’re talking 50 people max on campus) that offers a place for undergraduates to study abroad for a semester in Israel, or students to complete a master’s degree in Biblical Geography, Hebrew, or Current Affairs. We are taking a 2-week intensive Biblical Geography course. Many days we spend out in the field, leaving at 7a.m. and not returning until dinner. I should perhaps be more specific about what I mean when I say, “in the field.” Through this course we have the opportunity to travel all 16804993415_9ce706a072_kover Israel; we have “field days” in Jerusalem but also down to the Negev, out to the coast, and up to the Jezreel Valley, Galilee, and the Golan Heights, where we are learning about the events that happened in the location while we are at the location. The days we are not in the field we spend in the classroom, listening to lectures on topics we will be exploring in more depth in the field later.

It is exhausting. We’re traveling all the time. We are being thrown so much new information. But it is also so cool!

This course adds an entirely new perspective to my view of the Bible. It also adds to my general knowledge of things that I never knew I wanted to know. For example, we’ve learned about the three main types of limestone found in the Holy Land “and why it matters.” We have learned what a “tel” is, have stood on top of one too many, and if you ask us about it we’ll be happy to “tell” you all about them. We’ve had fun as well, doing things like swimming (or rather floating) in the Dead Sea, sitting on top of Mt. Carmel, singing on the banks of the Jordan River, standing on top of an extinct volcano looking out over Syria, and playing in the snow in the old city of Jerusalem.

We take buses to most of our destinations so we have ample time to think about what we have been seeing. Here are three things that have struck me especially this past week or so.
1) Israel is so small! Everything is so much closer together than I imagined it growing up. For example, you can walk from Jericho to Jerusalem in one day. You can also drive from Jerusalem to Nazareth in about 2 hours.
2) Israel is an extremely diverse country climate wise. If you wanted to, you could drive from the barren desert to rolling hills, harsh wilderness, wide valleys, flat farmland, Mediterranean coast, and humid forest all in one day.
3) My knowledge of the Old Testament is getting some serious refreshing and upgrading. It has been fun to relearn some of these stories from a new, and more physically and historically accurate, perspective.

– Sarah Sutter, third-year


 

“Context is everything,” the saying goes. And if our place of origin, 16705854342_5f2f846995_kour home, helps define us- then the context of that home is so much more than everything, isn’t it? Visiting the old city in Jerusalem today, it became so clear how the natural space we were in defined the physical place we were visiting. Simply put, it created the physical place we were in. Civilization upon civilization created the hills, just as much as the hills created the civilizations.

When I first heard we would walk across the Hinnom Valley, I imagined a day-long trek. But a quick trot up some stairs took us in and out of the valley, to view JUC from across that space. Building on top of, and around, previous cultures created a chaotic harmony of completely unique Jerusalem culture. Viewing that culture from the rooftop today was strange. Bizarre, even. Ruins melted into new construction. Local children dodged crowds of elderly tourists. Israeli soldiers fit into the spaces between Mennonite students.

Jerusalem – a culture all its own.

It definitely made me look with new perspective at where I come from- my location, my home base, my culture and context. In Oregon the sunlight seeps up from the ground, so I highly value the warm light of grass and moss. A horizon line of mountains means I need- yearn- for that feeling of being nestled within the slope of the land. Today I learned how the Holy Land has created Jerusalem- and how Oregon has created me.

– Bethany Chupp, sophomore


Pig Brains & Fried Plantains

11 March 2015

Pig Brains & Fried Plantains

1//

Roaming through the crypts, so ominous, so overbearing, we are greeted by the thickening of the dead. Trees tower above, providing shelter from the sun. Their leaves cast soft patterns against the crypts. I smell something fragrant. Broken glass from a crypt reveals the scent: bouquets of beauty reek of life. I see crows overhead…

We move past the brush into a clearing. Colorful scraps, broken glass, tattered cloth – really anything you could imagine – blankets the ground below. The crows loom greedily above and an overpowering scent fills my lungs – I try not to gag. Figures scurry among the sea of trash, searching for food or anything of value, while others are simply there to make a living. A little home is nestled among the scraps, secluded form the chaos, yet still so dependent…

How can something that resembles such death smell so fragrant? And how can something that gives and provides such life smell of death?

2//

Clusters of brightly colored flowers are neatly parted to reveal a cobble stone path towards the door of the church. The church stands tall and white, while hundreds of us walk through its threshold, the sanctuary opening up before us. Wooden trellises and benches, candles, altars, and images of Jesus: some of these things I find foreign, others beautifully familiar. A few of us crowd onto a bench near the front. I am chilled by the cold air, but curious. A woman in front of me covers her head with a piece of brightly colored cloth. Urgent whispers of petition and reverence and gratitude come from behind. A man places burning candles in specific patterns with care. Many rituals, many minds, one purpose.

3//

Fresh mangos and rooftop porches.

Stacks of colored houses surround the alleyway.

Opened window panes,

Breezes dance with curtains.

A church bell rings in the distance.

My father comes home from work, bringing stacks of warmed tortillas;

Mama turns up the radio.

I step outside to see the sunset.

Stained-glass colors fill the sky.

Children dart around corners, mothers hush their little ones.

My brother emerges from around the corner.

He hurries up the steps, laughing, chatting excitedly on the phone.

He offers me a wide smile and a quick16837432101_0599e88d82_k kiss on the cheek before stepping inside.

I take a deep breath and smile.

My Guatemalan home.

-Rebekah Hertzler

 


Today, I’m thankful for a healthy mind, the ability to learn, and the privilege of studying and living abroad. As a group, we keep having these moments; moments where we once again recognize that we are on cross-cultural. It sounds cliché, but each time it seems just as incredible and impossible as the last time. This past weekend, we certainly experienced those moments.

On Friday after a short morning of Spanish classes we loaded up the bus and traveled to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. After slowly swerving through the bumpy roads and a minor accelerator mishap, we arrived in Santiago. We checked in at Posada Santiago, and all eagerly went exploring the new area. The hotel overlooked the beautiful lake, surrounded by volcanoes and low clouds. We walked into town, and there were countless comments made about wanting to live there. The town is quaint and quiet; the people are friendly and sincere. Somehow a few of us ended up walking through some small alleys and dirt paths, and we eventually found ourselves on a dock over the lake, with wooden canoes lining the shore. Behind the canoes were “fields,” little gardens/farms, beautiful in the remote area. We walked a ways and encountered three gentlemen who told us they live and work there in the fields and fish on the lake. It was not a super important conversation or about anything in particular, but striking up a conversation in Spanish with people from the town was awesome. It feels great to be able to use our Spanish conversationally.

In the morning, we visited ANADESA, a community development association and co-op run with aid from MCC. This co-op began after Hurricane Stan in 2005. ANADESA provides a space for women to come together for support, and also to learn and improve skills to better their community. There are also language classes and programs for children. There was a lot of devastation in this area, but there is also a lot of hope and courage in the people there.

16631149377_d9210811bc_kWe took a ferry across the lake to San Juan La Laguna and toured an organic coffee plantation, Cooperative La Voz. It was great to see how such a huge commodity goes through the process of ending up as a warm beverage in my mug. We took the ferry again to Panajachel where we spent the night. Dinner along the lake with the sun setting was gorgeous and the time together was appreciated, as always. There are many street vendors in Panajachel and many of us made use of that and made purchases for ourselves and those back home. My favorite part of bargaining is when I’m able to actually talk with the vendors and maybe learn a thing or two about them. This trip has taught me a lot about the importance of human relationships and how life-giving they can be.

We returned to our homes on Sunday evening, exhausted from a full weekend of learning, and most importantly, building relationships. Homework of course waited until Sunday night, but in my opinion, taking the time to get to know those I’m traveling with better is always worth a little less sleep. We do not have much longer with our host families, so we’re trying to soak in as much as we can about our environments and really be present during our time here. Personally, it will be difficult to say good-bye to my family, and most of the group is experiencing those sentiments as well. We are studying in Guatemala City for only one more week, and by next Thursday, we will all head our separate ways for a week of free travel. I feel I have learned a ton of Spanish, more than I imagined I could in this time, but my mind is also ready for a break and a time of relaxation. We are all looking forward to what the rest of the trip has to offer.

-Karisa Martin