Category Archives: Middle East 2017

The Journey is Home

It’s really difficult to sit down and only write about one or two things that we’ve been doing on this cross-cultural. I feel like there is so much that I want to share, and so many incredible, spectacular sights and landmarks that have been so meaningful to everyone on the group, and I wish I could tell you about all of that. However, I also feel that so many times those at home or on EMU campus hear about how our trip is going and only take away the flashy names of places and things, but don’t realize that the people they care about are changing and growing so much while at these places. So, I wanted to have a blog dedicated to showing a small example of how we’re changing and growing.

We are currently staying at Ecce Homo in the Old City of Jerusalem, and spent the day contemplating Jesus’ final days here in the places mentioned in the Bible. To finish off the day, we all met in the chapel of Ecce Homo and took communion and read scripture together, which was very cool to be able to do as a big group. After we finished our last song, the group was sensing that our service was coming to a conclusion. However, at that moment, one of our group members came forward and began to speak about her experience of losing a loved one a few days ago. This took the group by surprise, because she had not previously opened up about this, and the group was captivated by her sharing and stories. When she was finished, I looked around and could see that most of us were pretty emotional.

This segued into a call for prayer requests, and then something remarkable started with our group. Slowly, one by one, members of the group began to share about family members that were ill or not doing well, and soon it became apparent to me that half the group had offered a prayer request for a loved one. Everyone seemed to be opening up and sharing deep, personal things about themselves that no one had really known or thought about before. We prayed, and then at this point, Janet stood and shared how much the sharing time meant for her, and then she left us with an idea to live by while missing family or feeling unsure about the future: “The journey is home”.

Janet explained how it can feel so alienating being halfway across the world from your family as things might not be going well there, and you can start to feel lost and disoriented. However, she offered that while we may be on the other side of the Atlantic, we have each other, and that’s enough to feel a little bit at home. At this point, it really struck me how much of a home our group was, together. Everyone had opened up and felt so comfortable with one another, and I realized how close we had become as a group. We had truly become a family, and our home was found in one another. And that, my friends, is something that makes a cross-cultural experience irreplaceable. That is what this trip is all about, and what I’ll hold onto much longer than plane tickets or pictures or souvenirs. This trip is teaching us about who we are, and who we will become. And I love that.

Blessings from Jerusalem,

-Adam Harnish


Prayers for Coach O. from Jerusalem

Whether you’re at home with your loved ones or across the world engrossed in other cultures, no one can remain untouched by news of friends and family experiencing deep suffering. Our cross-cultural group was saddened and upset by the news about former coach Britten Olinger and the extent of the injury he sustained in the accident. Two of the students in the group had been coached by Britten during his time at EMU. Many others had not personally known him but had known of him and the impact he made on others while he coached at our university.
Concern for Britten and his recovery is falling on ears across the world, and prayers are being lifted up all over. Our group wanted to share both our prayers for Britten’s health battles, as well as a deeply touching experience we were privileged to have in praying for him.
The morning we heard the news, our itinerary had already been planned weeks/months in advance. In the midst of hearing about the incredible suffering of those at home, God granted us the small blessing of being able to pray for Britten in some of the most sacred, meaningful places. The first stop on our itinerary brought us to a location known as “the high place,” which is a place thought to be the location of the last supper, as well as the location of the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first delivered to the world. Here we held a time of devotion and prayer for Britten and all the loved ones affected by the accident. We prayed that in the midst of their pain and fear, Britten and his family would feel God’s presence and peace holding them in His arms. We prayed that their loved ones would be blessed to be able to bring them much needed love and comfort. We prayed God would hold Britten in his hands, watching over his life and healing his body.
A scripture had been chosen to be shared during this time, from John 5. This scripture tells the story of Jesus healing a lame man at the pools of Bethesda. For us, this was a testament to the miracles of healing that we know He is capable of, and a prayer for Britten both for a miracle as such, and for patience and strength. The pools of Bethesda and the location of this miracle, unknown to those who chose the scripture, was one of the locations we were to visit that day. Britten and his family were on all of our minds while we stood in a place that had witnessed God’s healing hands.
This family continues to be on our minds and hearts as we travel, eagerly awaiting the news of progress that is beginning to happen. We are continuing to lift up prayers for healing, comfort, and peace for Britton, his friends and family, and his doctors and health specialists.
-Sierra Martin

Hope and hospitality

Hope and hospitality; the two words that I feel best describe our time in Beit Sahour, Palestine for the past three weeks. Given the opportunity to stay with local families while we’ve studied and explored here has opened my eyes to an exciting culture and to the challenging realities of living in this land. I enjoyed feeling a part of this community through memorable breakfast conversations, morning walks to school, and searching the friendly streets for favorite lunch items and practicing our progressing Arabic, of course! Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus, Jericho, Ramallah and many other destinations have been awe-inspiring classroom settings. I’ve never learned more about the rich history and capability of a people, than I have here. With an instilled sense of home, I have felt hospitality. With an informed sense of resilience, I have felt hopeful.

I think it’s safe to say this has been an unforgettable stay in Beit Sahour. Nonetheless we all have different outlets on this journey, and have been actively expressing them. Some students have been willing to share excerpts of their personal reflections of their time in Beit Sahour. Whether it be through poem, prayer, picture, or journal, we hope you can get even a small glimpse of our impactful experiences. Enjoy!

-Elizabeth Resto

Continue reading


Jordan: desert community to current issues


Marhaban! (Hello in Arabic)

Our group is now settling into host family life in Beit Sahour, a small town just outside of Bethlehem. We are looking forward to the next three weeks of getting to know our host families, and embracing the challenge of learning Arabic.

Before we arrived here we spent eight days in the wonderful country of Jordan. Each day was full of experiences and learnings in many different areas such as Biblical sites, history, and modern day issues. After spending a night in a resort in Aqaba (a good place to regroup after a somewhat stressful border crossing), we traveled to a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum. Here we got our first taste of Jordanian hospitality, and even though the cold desert winds would blow through the camp, we were very content in sitting around a fire, sipping tea, enjoying delicious food, dancing, and enjoying each other’s company. A highlight of our time here was a trek through the desert on camels.

From Wadi Rum we traveled to Petra, the ancient Nabatean city carved in stone. We all marveled at the beauty that the Treasury and Monastery buildings displayed. We enjoyed a free day choosing different hikes to go on and being in God’s beautiful creation.

Our last stop in Jordan was the capital city of Amman where we spent three nights. We met with the current MCC representatives in Jordan and got to hear about the work they are currently doing with the refugee crisis. It is good to hear that our Mennonite community is supplying aid and support to these refugees at a time when our government is helping a small percentage.

A highlight of Amman was also listening to presentations about the Syria conflict and the religion of Islam. I think it is safe to say that these presentations opened all of our minds to the realities of the world that we live in. We are looking forward to many more of these experiences as we continue with our travels in the coming months.

Thank you all for your continued support in thought and prayer.

-Erik Peachey on behalf of the group.



From Cairo to Luxor to Sinai

Hello from Jordan!
This is our first night in a country other than Egypt, and it is safe to say that we are all excited to see what adventures this new place holds. But first, here is a quick summary of our time in Egypt.
When we first arrived in Egypt, we drove through crowded, loud streets to the infamous Ambassador Hotel. Little did we know that the madness in the streets was only a fraction of the Cairo traffic we would experience over the next week.  We spent three nights in the Ambassador Hotel, touring ancient ruins and papyrus shops during the day, and getting to know each other and the night life of Cairo in the evening.
We left Cairo and drove for a few hours through the desert to Anafora, an Orthoox Christian Retreat Center. The compound was full of white buildings with colorful carpets and lots of cats. While at Anafora we explored their grounds, which featured an impressive replica of a Biblical-era tabernacle and mud brick village. We also participated in their Epiphany celebration service and candle lighting. Anafora was a stark contrast to the busyness of Cairo, and many of us found it a helpful place to unwind from the travel and chaos of the first few days.
After Anafora we flew to Luxor, another city located along the Nile River. Luxor was full of ancient ruins such as the Karnak and Luxor Temple. It also had a small market where many of the shopkeepers were open for conversation as well as business. A highlight of Luxor, and of the trip so far, was a hot air balloon ride featuring breathtaking views of the Nile and surrounding countryside just as the sun was burning the mist from the fields.
We finished our time in Egypt at Saint Catherine’s monastery, where we stayed for two nights. It took around six hours to drive through the Sinai desert, passing under the Suez Canal and through various military checkpoints. The monastery is at the base of a mountain range that includes Mount Sinai, one of the most likely options for the mountain that Moses climbed when he received the Ten Commandments. Saint Catherine’s is also the home of the burning bush, and several of the oldest relics and manuscripts connected to Christianity. On our second day at Saint Catherine’s, we climbed Mount Sinai. The mountain posed a serious challenge, but we reached the summit in plenty of time to enjoy the incredible sunset view and sing a few hymns that seemed to fill the thin air with praise.
We left Saint Catherine’s early Wednesday morning and spent most of the day traveling east through the Sinai and then along the Gulf of Acaba, heading towards the Israeli border.  At the border we said goodbye to Samer, an Egyptian who had been our guide through Egypt since day one. He had welcomed us into his country with oranges and guava juice, and had filled each day with knowledgeable lectures and an abundance of fun facts about the region. Leaving Samer at the border was definitely a loss, and it also revealed yet again our privilege as American citizens to travel basically freely between countries.
We crossed in to Israel, where the buildings and people immediately looked different than what we had seen in Egypt. About half an hour later we crossed into Jordan, where the buildings and people again looked different. Three countries in one day is a bit of a challenge for a group of thirty-three, but now we are settled into Jordan for the next few days.

Our time in the Middle East has already been a whirl wind of new places, faces, and food. As one member said, if we went home today we would think back on the week and a half in Egypt as a really great and transforming cross-cultural. It is incredible to realize we still have three more months of discoveries to make and friendships to build!

Peace to you all!
-Grace Burkhart for the group