EMU Intercultural Learning

South Africa: Jeffreys Bay to Pietermaritzburg

Week 9, 10, & 11 (J-Bay, Mdumbi, PMB)

Spring break on the coasts of South Africa was a blast. We started off the week at Jeffreys Bay where we stayed at the Island Vibes backpacker just a stone’s throw away from the beach. The waves were wild but fun. We celebrated two birthdays there and had some time to relax and enjoy the beauty of South Africa. Early Friday morning we loaded up the bus. We drove through winding mountain roads till the asphalt turned to dirt. Then that dirt road disappeared and we had made it to Mdumbi. Mdumbi took some getting used to, especially for those who found Gecko droppings on their beds. Eventually, we all began to see the beauty of the space. It was there that we began to dig into and debrief all that we had learned and experienced so far. The mornings were a time of reflection and discussion. The evenings were a time to enjoy the beautiful rolling hills and sandy beaches. 

Taken seconds before the frisbee’s fatal final flight. This hill overlooks African Enterprises, our home for the duration of our stay in PMB. Ben was the one who lost the frisbee but he didn’t pay for a new one.

We have two hosts here in Pietermaritzburg. Our “little while home” is at African Enterprise’s beautiful campus of cabins, chalets, forests, and waterfalls, while Church Land Program (CLP) coordinates and guides our time in the Pietermaritzburg/Durban area. An NGO dedicated to accompanying the landless poor in their struggle for justice and dignity, CLP created our schedule and is guiding us through our time in Pietermaritzburg. CLP welcomed us warmly and led us in reflecting on the journey we’ve been on so far. We received booklets with a collection of essays, reflections, encouragements, and tributes, part CLP’s “padkos” (“food for the journey”) program. This program also includes gatherings of the CLP community, one of which we were able to attend the following week. We enjoyed a lovely evening of tasty food, wonderful conversation, and an inspiring though a poignant film about the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969 entitled, “Summer of Soul.”

So far, we have journeyed with CLP to Edendale/Georgetown, Bombayi, and eKhenana (eKhanani?). Georgetown is one of the many communities which make up Edendale, Pietermaritzburg’s black township. At the Georgetown Library we were introduced to members of the Georgetown History Project, which seeks to research and preserve the history of the community. Unfortunately, much of this history—especially pre-colonial history—has been erased or forgotten, but this amazing group is determined to reverse the world’s stubborn amnesia about their home.

We also visited Bombayi, a community within the city of Durban, with CLP. There we meet GOLDCO (“Glory of the Last Days Community Organization”), a grassroots organization dedicated to protecting the vulnerable and feeding the hungry within their neighborhood.

In addition to the learning experiences we had this week we also did some fun activities. Our first Saturday in Pietermaritzburg we went to an aquarium and waterpark. We saw a large variety of fish, from seahorses to sharks, to eels. Then we had the opportunity to go to the waterpark. There were all sorts of slides and a lazy river. The day was a big highlight for the group. 

On our second Saturday, we went zip lining at Karkloof Canopy Tours. We flew over rivers and dodged rocks and trees as we made our way through ten zip lines to the bottom of the mountain.


Week 12 (PMB)

Scene from the toxic tour. Oil is piped into the refineries from the ocean.

On Monday, April 3rd, our group went on a toxic waste tour around Durban. The tour was led by the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA). The work of SDCEA deals with the intersectionality of environmental justice and social justice in oppressed communities. We drove around Durban looking at different oil refineries and storage units, noticing how proximate they are to residential communities. The development of the areas surrounding the refineries and plants (or lack thereof) connects directly to the legacy of apartheid, which included the forced relocation and separation of Black people, Colored people, and Indian people. These people were forced to live extremely close to the oil refineries, and the following generations are now direct recipients of an array of health implications caused by the chemicals that the plants leak underground as well as into the air. SDCEA helps surrounding communities to resist and actively fight against the toxic living environment that the refineries and pipelines create. SDCEA advocates for disparaged communities and empowers community members by educating them on hazardous chemicals and how to identify them with specialized equipment. The alliance has a vast network of people from different communities around Durban that notify leadership when something is wrong with the air or water in certain communities. The people work together to collect evidence of the toxic chemicals that were dumped into their living spaces, and they put pressure on authorities through the media and other forms of communication to hold the oil companies accountable in their waste management. SDCEA has been incredibly helpful in improving the living conditions of South Africans inside of Durban. The tour was a good opportunity for us EMU students to see some of the detrimental effects of oil plants on the surrounding land and its people, especially whenever there is a leak in the underground pipes. It was also a chance to witness some community organizing and environmental justice in action.

On Wednesday we paid a visit to CLP (Church Land Programs) at their offices and got a tour of their facilities in addition to the opportunity to meet and have conversations with all of their employees. After hearing about how individuals contributed to CLP as a whole, we came together as a full group for a processing session where we processed some of the questions that had arisen for us during our time with CLP, which covered a broad range of topics including funding for nonprofits, inequality, race, and gender. 

On Thursday we attended our second contextual Bible study which was sponsored by CLP at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. We focused on 1 Kings 21, which is about King Ahab and Queen Jezebel killing Naboth in order to gain his vineyard. We unpacked the text by engaging with a series of questions, and then concluded with a discussion on the difference between racial inequality in the United States and South Africa.

On Friday our group took advantage of an extended weekend and went down to Durban for a beach day. After stocking up with some goggles we were excited to explore the ocean and the tidal pool that bordered it at the beach. Some of the group headed out to the beach to lay in the sand, while others went to the tidal pool to swim around. In the tidal pool, there were schools of fish, ranging in sizes, and some tropical. There were also coral, urchins, and many other types of sea life. Unfortunately, the coral was sharp enough that a handful of us went home with small battle scars. As the tide came in, waves would hit against the walls of the tidal pool causing huge sprays of water which was fun to play in as well. Others played in the ocean, although there was only a small flagged area that was safe, as the current and waves were pretty strong as they came into shore. After the day was over, we headed back to Pietermaritzburg to clean up, and have dinner together. 

After worshiping throughout Lent with a variety of churches, we celebrated Easter this Sunday with Calvary Community Church in Pietermaritzburg. We got to be part of a joyful and creative worship service, including both English and Zulu songs that we’ve become familiar with in our time here and some familiar songs from home. The church youth put on an Easter play focusing on Jesus’ grace and healing power, which was appropriately reverent but still very joyful and funny! A small but stalwart group of us also braved the chilly fall morning to hold our own brief outdoor sunrise service. We spent the afternoon with new friends, the Philpots, learning to cook a proper South African Easter braai (cookout) and enjoying good fellowship and discussion.

-John, Caleb, Reah, and Laurel


South Africa: Week 8 – Hermanus/Zwelilhe

 This past week we spent our time in Hermanus, with homestays in the neighboring township Zwelilhe. We were split up among 8 host families, where we spent our evenings and early mornings. We spent the majority of our weekdays at Volmoed – an intentional community and retreat center. During that time, we took part in a contextual Bible study alongside youth from Zwelilhe who were involved in the Volmoed Youth Program, a program that cultivates youth leadership. The contextual Bible study focused on the Triumphant Entry passage found in Matthew 21. We explored themes of violence and peacebuilding through historical study, scripture re-enactment, and group discussion. We navigated how to apply these themes in our current contexts, both in South Africa and the United States.

An Ode To A Contextual Bible Study

By Molly Piwonka 

Journeying towards new understanding
Collectively working to disassemble peace and violence
Cloudy concepts
Concepts of complexity
Questions arise
Is one black and the other white?
This dissection leaves not two, but many tiny fragments
Can one exist without the other?
Not within human understanding, but maybe beyond those limits

Did the Prince of Peace cause disruption?
Tables turned over
An act of violence?
Ideas turned on their heads
An upside-down kingdom
Human acts might need disruption
Society might need shaken
If you’re to “be woke” don’t fall into passivity’s sleepy spell 

Is peace inherently good; while the other bad?
Try again
Is violence inherently bad; while the other good?
Try again
Don’t you see?
These are difficult distinctions
They depend on perception
Good; bad
All is relative

Don’t lose hope
This all takes time
Do feed on this feast of ideas
Do quench your thirst on this stream of thoughts
In time points might be woven together
Or more questions might be produced
Either way this journey is filled with much interest and support
Don’t be discouraged


Other activities this week included a drum circle where we were taught the basics of Djembe drumming by an animated veteran of the instrument named Bevel. He employed various teaching strategies including having us drum on our neighbors, scream as loud as possible, and showing us the basics of how to visually identify a good drum.

Later we were also
graced with a chance to meet John DeGrutchy, prominent South African theologian, and author of two of the books our group had been reading. Our conversation felt brief but included such weighty themes as the relationship between faith and politics, who God is, and who humans are in relationship to him.

On Friday, we took a road trip to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. We played in the waters where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. A place of natural beauty, we were awed by jellyfish, snails, sea-urchins, crabs, rocks, and sting rays. The rest of the weekend was spent soaking up our final moments with our host families. Some of the EMU students were able to experience a traditional Xhosa umgidi ceremony, where the community celebrates the homecoming of young men from the bush. Virtually every Xhosa boy will travel to an initiation camp and undergo various challenges in order to earn their manhood. Umgidi attracts the entire community and includes lots of dancing, eating, and drinking. Other Saturday plans included walks along the harbor and a classic braai. After church on Sunday, we said our goodbyes to our dear friends and families from Zwelilhe. From Hermanus, we rode the bus to Jeffrey’s Bay where we had plans for rest, rejuvenation, and a debrief surrounding the events of our intercultural semester so far.


South Africa: SADRA to Table Mountain

Week 7: Muizenberg Pt. II

Oscar and SADRA 

We spent Monday and Tuesday with Oscar Siwali, the head of the Southern Africa Development and Reconstruction Agency (SADRA). Oscar welcomed us warmly and introduced us to SADRA’s mission: to intervene in conflict and to teach others to intervene in conflict. Despite having only three full-time staff members, the organization partners with a wide variety of community groups and leads trainings and workshops across Southern Africa. The project we

spent the most time learning about was the Peer Mediation Trainings, a program in which the most at-risk students in high schools with high levels of gang involvement and violence are trained in mediation and conflict de-escalation and positioned as peer mediators within their school. We were amazed to learn how well this project works; the average violent conflicts per week have dropped from 15 to 3 across the schools SADRA has partnered with!

On Monday, we had lunch with a variety of community leaders who work with SADRA and heard more about the changes they are creating, as well as enjoying live musicians who called several of us up to play along! On Tuesday, we got to know a group that runs reading clubs for kids to work against illiteracy, which is a huge problem in this area of South Africa. Also on Tuesday, we met with one school’s peer mediators and talked with them in small groups about their experience with SADRA trainings and acting as mediators in their schools as well as how their lives have been different after attending training camps.

– Laurel Evans

Robben Island 

As mentioned in the previous blog post, we had anticipated visiting Robben Island on Friday of last week, but due to traffic from a sporting event downtown we had to reschedule our tour for Wednesday, March 1. With a tour departure time of 1 pm, we left our backpacker by 9 am so that we wouldn’t risk losing our tickets. Once we arrived at the V&A Waterfront, we spent some time reflecting on the books that we have been reading and having space to debrief our time in Cape Town thus far. Eventually, we headed over to where we would load onto the ferry for our ride to the island. Personally, I was feeling a little nervous about how rocky the boat might be and potentially feeling a little seasick, but all of us made it through with our health intact. Once we landed on the island, we walked to the prison where our tour guide met us and showed us around the group prison cells and individual cells. This included the cell that Nelson Mandela lived in for 19 years. We then hopped on a bus to tour the rest of the island, seeing some of the houses that guards and wardens lived in while the prison was in use. Now the island is inhabited by those who work for the museum. 

– Anya Kauffman

Dion and Stellenbosch

We visited Stellenbosch on Thursday and met Dion Forster. Stellenbosch is a beautiful city full of wineries that we could see from the mountaintops. However, Stellenbosch is also the most economically unequal city in South Africa. We began our time at the University of Stellenbosch with Dion Forster. Dion is a professor at this university with a focus on public theology. He explores the differences and ties between secular and religious beliefs. 

Apartheid theology was birthed and developed within the University of Stellenbosch. As a result, the Seminary of this University focuses its studies on two things: Constructual  Engagement and Critical Deconstruction. Constructual Engagement has a recognition of black consciousness, exploring what it means to recognize the blackness of South Africa and what it was designed to be. Critical Deconstruction, however, explores the internalization of lies about race (and gender) that lives within South Africa or even the world itself. 

Engaging with Dion was a great time of listening and learning. He gave us an opportunity to ponder and share how we could use our fields of focus (nursing, business, photography, etc.) to change the world until “that day comes”; reference to Revelation 21. After, we explored the little town of Stellenbosch with eateries and shops. Our group had a great time eating lunch together and learning about the cultural significance of wine in South Africa.

– Natallie Brown

Table Mountain and Rugby 

On Friday we hiked up table mountain which was much more exhausting than I thought it would be. The trail was composed of stairs and switchbacks, with climbing almost straight up for two-plus hours. The view from the top was hidden by clouds which was very disappointing. We took the gondola down the mountain so a few of us could get back in time to surf for an hour before dinner. On Saturday the majority of us went surfing one last time before heading to a rugby game in the afternoon. The game was the Durban Sharks against the Cape Town Stormers, and it was quite exciting even if we didn’t know what was going on. It ended up being a close game with a final score of 29-23 in favor of the Stormers. 

– Grant Leichty


South Africa: Colesberg to Cape Town

We departed from Jo’burg on the morning of Saturday the 18th. We woke up, said our goodbyes to our hosts at St. Benedict’s, and hit the road. That day was a nearly 9-hour day on the road with a stop for lunch. We occupied ourselves with some games, music, conversation and a lot of procrastination of reading. We finally arrived at our destination in Colesberg that evening. Soon after arrival, we trekked about a mile to downtown Colesberg to eat dinner at a little restaurant in the area. The next morning, about 6-7 of us in the group decided we wanted to hike the little mountain beside our backpacker before church.

We woke up early and started the hike up the mountain. We sort of had to pave our own way as there was not really a definitive path. We eventually made it to the summit and spent a couple of minutes admiring the view before starting the trek back down. We made it down the mountain almost unscathed and showered before church. That morning we worshiped at Grace Community Church in Colesberg. Right after church we enjoyed a braii at one of the churchgoer’s homes, and then hit the road once again. This day we only traveled for about 3 hours and then arrived at our backpacker in Beaufort West. That night we grabbed dinner at our backpacker and went to sleep right after as most of us were pretty exhausted from our days of travel. The next morning we woke up early, grabbed a quick breakfast, and got on the bus to complete our last day of travel. After about 6 hours of travel through the Western Cape we saw the ocean, indicating we had made it to our destination.

Today was our first full day in Muizenberg and we had a free day so we could transition into a new place. The most exciting part of the day came after lunch. As a big group, we walked to the surf emporium, rented wet suits and boards, and got a one-hour surfing lesson! There was a lot of falling, splashing, and spluttering, but by the end, a few of us were able to stand up and are very much looking forward to surfing again.

This morning we met with Caroline from The Warehouse. She gave us a lot of background on Cape Town and took us on a driving tour. A lot of the driving tour consisted of observing our surroundings and noticing the stark contrasts between the informal settlements/townships and the wealthier areas of Cape Town. We drove through luxurious Bishopscourt with wineries and lush greenery to overcrowded and condensed townships with countless small iron corrugated shacks shoved into a small area. Seeing these differences really didn’t sit well with me and it left a lot of us wondering how such poverty and wealth can be in such close and obvious proximity to each other. We had the opportunity to eat at Mama Nox’s house found in a local township for lunch. She gave us wonderful food and company before we continued on our way to the township of Langa. There we toured the Dompas Museum and learned about the struggles of black movement during apartheid. During apartheid, the government forced black people to carry passes (the dompas) that cleared them for traveling out of their township, into their township, and within their township. If they left home without it, they were subject to arrest. It was a very educational day and a great introduction to our “home” for the next few weeks. Continue reading


South Africa: Host Families

For the past few Sundays, we’ve been worshipping with different local churches in South Africa. On February 12th, we went to Orlando Baptist Church. On February 19th, we went to Grace Community Church, where we worshipped with congregants from both Colesburg and Cradock. At the different churches, we are regularly called upon to sing a song or share an encouragement with the church. Andrew Suderman has already been asked and successfully delivered two sermons. As an EMU group, we have performed a couple of renditions of the song Siyahamba. The church services have been a jubilant and energetic gathering time for us; a time to clap, dance, and hold one another, both as strangers and family.

This week we began volunteering at Soweto Kilptown Youth (SKY). The purpose of going was to experience the community and be present with children as help was needed for things such as homework. So each afternoon, we ventured off to Kilptown and many children who were joyful to be with us. We struggled with the concept of relating with these children for a week, only to leave and never return again. Therefore, we had several conversations about this with one another, but our questions did not stop us from having an amazing time at SKY.

Monday, we met Bob and got to know him as he shared about himself with us. After, we took a tour around the community in which these children come from. The rest of the week, as mentioned before, we got to know Bob, Thando, and all the children that make up SKY. We had moments where we helped with homework, stood in a circle to sing songs, and lots of laughter and hugs. Each day ended with singing “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers and reciting two prayers on being the Lord’s Prayer mentioned in Matthew 6:9-13. We left Friday, truly challenged by our experience and cherishing the moments we did have. Yet, I am happy to say a fire was sparked in most of us to continue to learn and be changed while changing others!

This week we spent our evenings at host families. We were divided into four groups and had dinner every night with a family. During this time, we had the opportunity to try new foods like chicken feet and samp. This time together gave us a chance to get to know each other better. On Friday, the final night with our host families, three groups had a braai together having the opportunity to meet different host families. The fourth host family spent supper also having a braai at their home cherishing the last night they had together with each other.

Friday we celebrated the ending of our time in Johannesburg. As a group, we reflected on the sites of struggle we had visited over the past three weeks and the knowledge gained from these sites. Throughout this time, the idea of pilgrimage was emphasized, specifically when thinking about our own journey through South Africa. To further this reflection, each individual in the group wrote a word on a rock that they felt encapsulated their time in Johannesburg. These rocks were placed on an altar in the middle of the room.

One of the key parts of this reflection time was communion. For this communion, there was an assortment of breads and fermented drinks placed on the altar. These breads and fermented drinks represented the different people and cultures of the world. For example, saltine crackers represented the elderly and disabled. After the description for each bread and fermented drink were read out loud, the group was able to taste the breads and drinks.

After communion, we had the opportunity to listen to two poem readings. The first poem was inspired by one of the sites of struggle we visited, the site of the Marikana massacre. The second poem explored the dynamic between bones, breath, and blessings.

Between the reflections on the sites of struggle, communion, and listening to the poems, we were able to celebrate and reflect on our time in Johannesburg. While we are sad to be leaving Johannesburg and the connections we made, we are excited to travel to and experience time in Cape Town.


South Africa – A closer look

Weekend Activities:

We attended a soccer game between the Pirates and the Sundowns on Saturday. This is an important aspect of South African culture. We were on the jumbo tron/TV at least four times and took in the loud and enthusiastic atmosphere.

We went to church at the Brethren in Christ Church in Hillbrow and were called up to sing in front of a congregation of around 300 people. It was Music Sunday so we experienced a variety of loud South African church music, and heard Andrew preach a sermon. Following the service, we spent the afternoon at Montecasino, an indoor casino with shops, a movie theater, and other fun activities. The church was in a poorer part of the city, while the casino was in a wealthier part, so it was interesting to see the contrast.

Later in the week we also learned how to do some popular South African dances.

Voortrekker Monument/Freedom Park:

During our time here in South Africa, we have studied the history of colonialism as well as the fight for freedom before, during, and after apartheid. The theme of colonialism was a major part of our Monday. We visited the Voortrekker monument which is a place of remembrance for the Dutch and French colonists (Afrikaners) who made their way from the Cape to the north of South Africa in the 1830s. This monument has been a place of controversy as the history of Afrikaners highlights white supremacy. The next morning we visited Freedom park, directly across from the Voortrekker monument. This place of remembrance points to the history of people who fought for freedom in South Africa. We walked past thousands of names of individuals who fought in various wars, or who died in different ways in the fight for the country.


This week, we met with a variety of theologians for conversation. In addition to our leaders, Nkosi and Mzi, we got to talk with Dr. Piet Miering, who served on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Drs. Thomas and de Boer of the University of Pretoria, and Drs van Wygaard, Kritzinger, and Mdingi of the Dutch Reformed Church of Pretoria. Throughout the conversations, we noticed the themes of humility, justice, and the importance of living out your theology. We also learned in more detail the history of the Bible in South Africa, both as justification for oppression and as a source of hope and liberation.


This week we visited two different community nonprofit organizations one in the township of Soshanguve just outside of Pretoria and another in the Pretoria inner city area. The first that we visited was part of a larger Faith based organization called innerCHANGE South Africa. In Soshanguve innerCHANGE is committed to bettering their community by creating safe environments for the youth of Soshanguve. Their programs range from cake baking and Bible studies for the younger kids and study hangouts for the teenagers to after-school soccer and basketball training for all ages. They even have a theatre program that rehearses in an abandoned church building. They operate through the generosity of their community both inside and outside of the churches. The second nonprofit was called the Tshwane Leadership Foundation (TLF). Over the past 20 years, they have created many sub-organizations for helping the people of Pretoria. They have many housing units made affordable through government-subsidized rent for women and men, old and young. They also have clinics started to help the homeless with health issues to get care or have a safe place to die with dignity as well as shelters for women experiencing gender-based violence. TLF works closely with the University of Pretoria and many of the churches throughout Pretoria.


South Africa

Jan 28 – Feb 3

Saturday was hot, but pretty relaxing. It was mostly a free day, so after breakfast we had time to hang out, journal, and catch up on some reading. A group of us even went over to the field at the school across the street and played ultimate frisbee and soccer. Once we were nice and sweaty, which didn’t take long, we went back and hopped in the pool to cool off. In the afternoon, we got to experience a traditional South African Braai! Three different kinds of meat were barbecued: brisket, chicken, and sausage. We hungrily hung out while they cooked and after a few hours and a couple of snacks we were finally able to indulge in a delicious and very flavorful dinner with people from the community. 

Sunday morning we attended a church service at Mondeor Community Church. The husband of one of our hosts is the pastor there and we had a great time experiencing our first church service in South Africa. We got to talk to a lot of people and hung out with the kids for a little while before heading to The Raspberry Farm. A student from Germany who is currently staying in South Africa with his Godmother has joined our group on a couple of outings. His Godmother owns The Raspberry Farm and invited us all over to check it out. While there we got to eat lunch from some of the vendors and taste fresh raspberry frozen yogurt, cheesecake, slushies, and more. We even got to pick 2 buckets of raspberries to take back to St. Benedict’s and then we were invited to swim in the pool on their property! Here is where Andrew introduced us to one of the best games in existence: watermelon rugby. It is exactly what it sounds like – rugby, played with a watermelon, in the pool. After a few intense rounds, we headed back to St. Benedict’s with a new favorite game and a few new bruises.

-MK Bomberger


On Monday we visited the homes of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, as well as Regina Mundi Church. As we toured the Mandela home, we learned about the extraordinary struggles of the Mandela family and observed the remaining bullet and scorch marks on the brick building from the antagonization of state forces which had hoped to intimidate the family into silence. After our brief walk through the small home, we gathered under a tree are buried and had a long discussion about various subjects, including the museums representation of Winnie Mandela and how the popular framing of her as a person is often at odds with both the representations of “black heroes” such as her husband who could do no wrong and of “white villains”, who received much less attention for much greater atrocities. 

At Regina Mundi Church we heard the story of how police massacred peaceful student protesters of the Bantu education system inside the church. We saw multiple bullet holes and other damage to the church caused by either police or hordes of fleeing students. The church also has kept the old stained-glass windows from that event, and an examination of the bullet holes in that glass provides testimony that the police used live ammunition.

 -John Jantzen

On Tuesday we went to visit Soweto. As we drove through the streets and made a few stops such as the Hector Pieterson memorial, we learned about the unfortunate circumstances the people living in this area were dealt with. Small houses, made in cheap ways, which also contain very little resources cover the neighborhoods. These houses might be small, but as Andrew Suderman says: they are large homes from within. There might not be much space, but those that live in Soweto are very welcoming and hospitable; happily willing to add another to their compacted living spaces. This community also radiates hope. These streets are painted with streams of colors. Blue, red, green, yellow, purple, orange etc. Those living in Soweto contain a good deal of creativity. From advertisements painted on walls to street vendors to full-out murals, every corner contains something of interest. This street art helps to keep the atmosphere alive and shows how it can uplift those around it with its bright and colorful nature. Art is culture and even though those in Soweto have dealt with many harsh realities and pain, they seem to show up day in and day out with welcoming spaces and creative spirits that no one can ever take away.

-Molly Piwonka

On Thursday we visited Marikana, a mining town that was the site of a massacre where miners protesting for more livable pay, were answered with bullets. This event from 2012, is still raw in the community and we were honored to visit the community and site it took place. Napoleon, a local activist welcomed us into his four-room home to watch a documentary of the event entitled Miners Shot Down. He was a gracious host who pushed us just outside our comfort zones physically and emotionally. We learned the power of the everyday person in a fight for justice and the importance of sharing stories together. A beautiful moment from the day was sitting on top of the hill where miners sat on strike against the mining companies. The view over the landscape was stunning but hindered by smokestacks and huge industrial buildings. The domination these companies have over the community and land was apparent. But Napoleon didn’t let us leave with the idea that the people lost. They hadn’t, wages increased and the movement displayed the resilience of the community.

-Nathan Oostland

On Friday we had a vigorous Zulu lesson before we had to fend for ourselves. Andrew and Karen split us into pairs, gave each pair a grocery list in Zulu, drove us to the mall, and expected everyone to translate the grocery list into English by talking with strangers in Zulu without our phones. It was a terrifying experience for some, and an exciting experience for others. After a lot of stumbling over words, everyone got the list translated and we headed back to St. Benedict’s for a relaxing and free afternoon/evening.

-MK Bomberger


South Africa: Off to Johannesburg

 On Friday night our group hosted Ariel, a previous student with the South Africa 2019 intercultural group. She was able to share some insight as well as tips for us, as we continued with our journey forward. 

The next day was a bit more of a relaxed rest day. However, after dinner, we reconvened, and as a group attended an NBA game in Washington DC, to watch the Washington Wizards play the Orlando Magic. The Wizards were able to easily win, and it was a fun night spending time together as a group, as well as enjoying the hyped atmosphere of the arena. 

On Sunday, our group attended church at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church. It was a very interesting experience for our group as a whole and differed vastly from our previous experience at the Baptist church. Here, we were invited to the very front of the church to reserved seats, as special guests of the church. It was a new experience for most of us, though a few had previous experiences at Catholic churches. Regardless, it was very enjoyable and interesting to be in an atmosphere of a new place and meet and talk to new friends. After church, we split up and explored Anacostia in different small groups in order to find lunch. Sunday night was spent hanging out around the apartments in a group as well as watching a football game. Finally, we all focused on making sure that everything was packed as we began to prepare for our long travel the next day.


Waiting for a Silver Line train to Dulles International Airport

After ten days in D.C., we finally set out on the long journey to South Africa on Monday morning. Since we had to be out of our hotel rooms at 11:00 am, we spent the morning packing up before hopping on the bus and metro to Dulles International Airport 10 hours before our flight was scheduled to leave. Those hours were spent playing with the hacky sack, reading, playing cards, or sleeping. Finally, we boarded our plane at about 11:30 pm. The first leg of our trek lasted about 10 hours and despite desperately trying to sleep, many of us got only between 1-5 hours of sleep. We landed in Istanbul, Turkey at around 4:30 pm local time on Tuesday and were shocked to see such a massive space with dozens of restaurants and stores. The final leg of our trek took off around 2:30 am local time and was again about 9 hours. FINALLY, we landed in Johannesburg around 11:00 am local time on Wednesday. 

Thankfully, we made it through customs and got our Visas without any problems. The first step out into the fresh air of Jo’burg was incredible for many reasons including that it meant the long-awaited journey of our time in South Africa had begun but also because we hadn’t been outside in 40+ hours. We boarded the bus to where we will be staying during our time in Johannesburg which is St. Benedict’s House. Many of us mentioned as we drove that the only thing really reminding us that we weren’t in the United States was that we were driving on the opposite side of the road that we are used to. 


 A few people were able to stay up for a bit longer talking, but I was utterly exhausted and passed out around 8:30 pm local time.


-Anya Kauffman

Our first full day in South Africa began with a delicious breakfast of Fat Cakes mincemeat accompanied by some oatmeal, fruit, and a variety of tropical juices. After breakfast, we meet in the chapel within St. Benedict’s with our group as well as two of our local leaders from Johannesburg, Mzi and Nkosi. We went around the circle introducing ourselves, explaining briefly why we wanted to come to South Africa, and what we expect from our time here. This hour was filled with lots of laughs and thoughtful reflections from our own group and our leaders. After a short bible study on Genesis 41-42,  we got ready to leave. We left the “ranch” (as Andrew calls any place we stay for more than a couple of days) and went to a mall to pick up some snacks and toiletries we were missing. From the mall, we made the trek out of the city to Marupeng (which translates in English to Cradle of Humankind) which is the location where the first humanoid bones were discovered. When we arrived, we grabbed some lunch, and then went into the museum built on the premises. We started off our trip through the museum with a little Disney World-esque boat ride through some tunnels that showed representation of the 4 elements that sustain life on earth. After hopping out of our boats, we explored the different exhibits of the museum that showed the evolution of humans through the years. We spent close to an hour in the museum and then left out the back doors. To our surprise, there was a beautiful 180-degree view that we took in as we exited. (seen below). We sat in silence for a while taking in the view. Then we engaged in an impromptu hour-long discussion about theology and evolution, inspired by our learning in the museum. Afterward, we trekked back to the “ranch” and ate dinner together. Finally, several of us ended the day with some soccer in the courtyard. Our first full day in South Africa was a success.

-Ben Alderfer

Friday, Jan 27 

After another wonderful breakfast at St. Benedict’s and a brief tour of St. Peter’s School, the private school adjacent to St. Benedict’s monastery, we set out for downtown Jo’burg. Our first stop was the Apartheid Museum. 

The museum begins nearly 3000 years in the past and tells the story of the many people who have lived on and fought over the land of South Africa and the riches it holds, with special emphasis beginning in the 1940s. In the last 80 years, South Africa has seen the rise of the Nationalist Party, the Afrikaner government which instituted apartheid; the rise and constant evolution of the opposition (anti-apartheid) movement; the downfall of apartheid; the hard work of establishing democracy which followed; and the creation and work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

South Africans (especially blacks, but also coloureds, Indians, and any whites who dared to question the status quo) faced constant indignities, displacement, intentionally bad education, complete lack of economic opportunity, unimaginably violent murders, and horrific human rights violations. In spite of the rampant hatred, violence, mistrust, and fear, South Africa has shown a truly remarkable capacity for endurance, forgiveness, reconciliation, truth-telling, and peace.

Constitution Hill was next up on our agenda. We enjoyed a picnic lunch on the grounds of the former women’s prison before going on a guided tour of the men’s prison just down the hill. The three prisons (one for white men, one for non-white men, and one for women) were shut down in the 1980s due to human rights violations, including overcrowding, malnourishment, and rampant crime and disease. These prisons held everyone from political prisoners to hardened criminals.

We finished the day at Little Addis, an Ethiopian restaurant, where the owner and chef treated us to wonderful food, wonderful coffee, and wonderful stories of his childhood in Ethiopia.

-Emma Nord


South Africa: Start in Washington, D.C.

First Week

On Friday, January 13th, sixteen EMU students and the Suderman family of five were sent off to begin our semester-long South Africa intercultural experience. Our first week was spent in Washington, D.C. We spent the week visiting museums, taking walking tours, and exploring the city. We began to get to know each other and prepare for our upcoming flight to South Africa.

On Sunday, we visited Alfred Street Baptist Church. This church allowed many of us to gain insight into a church service very different from our home church services. The congregation was very welcoming, making the environment and service very informational and enjoyable.

On Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we went on a walking tour with Dr. Kimberly Schmidt. We walked through the National Mall and visited the numerous monuments and memorials. Part of the focus in DC was to start looking at race relations in America, as race relations and the legacy of apartheid will be a major part of our studies in South Africa. With each monument we passed, we talked through the different versions of history that each monument represented. We talked through the importance of truth-telling, even if it reveals the faults or mistakes of our country’s leaders. One highlight from the day was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. It was a profound experience, walking around his memorial on his national day of recognition. It was a very reflective day, filled with insightful conversations and probing questions.

Tuesday we visited the African American History and Culture Museum where we learned more about the struggles of African Americans in the United States. We traveled through time and heard stories about their fight for freedom and equality. After spending the morning in the museum we split into groups and explored the city. A group of students found Rob Gronkoski on their walk back to the apartments where we are staying.

The best weather and warmest sunshine was on Wednesday. In stark contrast to the weather that awaits us in South Africa, DC was frigid and wintery. After our walking tour in Georgetown, where we learned about the gentrification of African American communities in that area, we found a playground to play on for a little while.

On Thursday, we paid a visit to the National Museum of the American Indian. While there, we were able to learn about different American Indian groups, treaties made between the American Indians and U.S. Government, and American Indian culture. After leaving the museum, the group traveled to Alexandria to talk to Pastor Kirk Hanger, the pastor of New Hope Fellowship Mennonite Church. Pastor Kirk allowed the group to gain insight on being a pastor in a multicultural community.

Throughout this past week, we learned about the histories and cultures of African Americans and Native Americans, as well as the history of colonialism, enslavement, and displacement throughout history. It was an important start to our education this semester. Our learnings in DC help us better understand the world and systems around us, the people around us, and ourselves, too. We look forward to our next big thing – the plane ride to South Africa!

-Reah Clymer




Hiking the Inka Trail

Spending four days hiking the Inka* trail was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The first day was full of breathtaking views, and we were surprised with almost gourmet meals set up for us by our team of porters along the way. When we sat down for lunch, we were served a cup of juice and a bowl of soup, and we gobbled it all down, thinking that was our only food for lunch. When we finished, we were promptly served 5 large trays of food to choose from, from veggies to ceviche to french fries.

Needless to say, we were very well-fed. Each morning, we woke up to  the sound of knocking on the tent and a voice offering, “Mate de coca, mate de coca?”

We sleepily sat up, unzipped the tent, and were handed hot mugs of coca tea to wake us up for the day. Many of our porters only spoke Quechua, an indigenous language of Peru, so we learned the word for thank you in Quechua: Sulpayki.
We were warned ahead of time that Day 2 would be the most

difficult, but how were we to know just how difficult it would be? I think it’s fair to say that Day 2 tested all of our resilience as we climbed, quite literally, into the clouds. Even as there were moments when I wasn’t sure how long my body could keep carrying me, I found a sense of calm and of a weight being lifted off of my shoulders (metaphorically of course… I was still carrying a backpack) because after so many weeks spent trying to navigate a new culture in a noisy city, my mind full of “How do I say that in Spanish?,” “Am I offending someone?” “Is this a safe street?,” etc., all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other, make sure there was air going in and out of my lungs, and allow myself to sink into the incredible beauty all around me. In one day, we trekked through climates that felt like deserts, prairies, jungles, and finally, into the clouds, and each time I stopped to catch my breath (which was admittedly quite a few) when I turned around, the beauty gave me strength to keep going.
Day 3 was the longest but most beautiful day. We spent most of the day in the clouds, passing through the occasional natural stone tunnel, a beautiful pond, a couple of original Inka sites, and we stopped many times to ask ourselves whether we were dreaming. After lunch, we had to dance to some High School Musical and Backstreet Boys to get our energy back for the rest of the day. We were becoming a bit hysterical, giggling as we hobbled along down the last few stone staircases when we found ourselves at one of the most beautiful lookouts that we’d seen so far. We took some pictures, collapsed into the grass, and promptly found out that one of our guides was a massage therapist when she offered to crack our backs for us.
The morning of our last day, we were woken up at 3 am and emerged from our tents to a view of magnificent fog-covered mountains. Our reward for the morning’s hike was arriving at the famous viewpoint of Machu Picchu from above… only to see a blanket of white fog. We decided to walk down to meet the rest of our group, and finally, we were able to see the magnificent Machu Picchu up close and personal. After our tour and once the clouds had receded, we decided to do one last hike back up to the top to see the view that we missed that morning. The feeling of standing up there looking down at the wonder that is Machu Picchu is something I can’t describe. I felt both deep awe at the beauty and life that the Inkan people created and deep sadness to know that such a beautiful culture was wiped out by the Spanish conquistadors.
After we hiked down, we said goodbye to Machu Picchu mountain and our amazing team of guides and porters with hugs and tupananchiskama, a word in Quechua that roughly translates to “Until another day.”
-Hannah Beck
*Peru has been gradually implementing new spellings for indigenous names, particularly Quechua ones, instead of traditional Spanish spellings, since a standardized alphabet for Quechua was adopted by the Peruvian government in 1975. So Inka goes with other unfamiliar spellings like Qusqu for Cuzco/Cusco.  -Editor
Jaylen with host mom