Students Report on ‘Life-Changing’ Cross-culturals

“May I see your photo ID, please?”

Everyone entering Lehman Auditorium Wednesday morning, Apr. 23, for the final chapel of spring semester was asked to produce a personal identification or “please step aside.”

Students in EMU’s semester-long Middle East program acted as border guards as people convened for the chapel service as reminder of the reality that people experience daily at checkpoints separating Israel and Palestine.

08 Middle East cross-cultural students return
Students Kelly Brewer, Daniel Akers and Lindsey Reinford light candles of hope at the close of the chapel program for the people they met in the Middle East. Click here to see more photos… Photo by Jon Styer

The group of 30 students left campus Jan. 11, led by Linford L. Stutzman, associate professor of culture and mission at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, and Janet M. Stutzman, former director of alumni/parent relations at EMU. They returned Apr. 22.

The group lived and studied in Israel and the West Bank, immersing themselves in the ancient/modern world of Jews, Christians and Muslims. They studied in Jerusalem and worked in an Israeli kibbutz and at Nazareth Village, a recreation of first century village at the time of Jesus.

‘Following Jesus’

“We learned firsthand about following Jesus by being in the very places where he walked,” said EMU sophomore Grace Schrock Hurst from Harrisonburg, Va. “We are home wherever we have our anchor in Him, the foundation of our faith.”

“We heard many stories and experiences of Israeli and Palestinian people,” noted EMU junior Kelly Smucker from Canby, Ore., and sophomore Jenny Hochstetler from Iowa City, Iowa. “Both have valid concerns. There are no easy answers. They all want the same thing – a sense of security and a future for their children,” they said.

“We came back with a sense of hope amid many difficult questions,” added EMU senior Hannah Yoder from Hubbard, Ore.

Guatemala and U.S/Mexico Cross-cultural

The 19 students in EMU’s semester-long Guatemala and U.S/Mexico Border seminar, led by associate campus pastor Byron J. Peachey and faculty member Deanna Durham, led a chapel service Monday, Apr. 21. They reflected on “early culture shock” as they hit the ground running, quickly immersing themselves in intense language study.

08 Middle East cross-cultural students return
Brian Hackman imitates their cross-cultural leader, Byron J. Peachey, while others sit in the “bus.” Peachey provided entertainment and humor on the many long bus rides, students said. Photo by Jon Styer

Before arriving in Guatemala, the group spent 10 days on the Mexico-Arizona border, talking with persons working on all sides of the immigration issue. As one student stated: “This experience really helped put faces on this many-faceted story.”

EMU junior Chris Hollinger from Lancaster, Pa., said his most “unforgettable” experience was a visit to a huge cemetery and sprawling city dump in Guatemala City, watching people pick through garbage. “This is a way of life for many,” he said. “They do it just to survive. How do you tell them that God loves them?” he asked.

An eye-opener for EMU sophomore Chris Esh from Philadelphia, Pa., was discovering that “Guatemalans drink inferior coffee while their best product is exported.” He came away convinced of “the need for more cooperatives that produce fairly-traded coffee, pay workers a fair wage and give greater respect for God’s creation.”

Among other highlights for the group: living with their host families and “quickly feeling loved and accepted,” field trips to awe-inspiring sites and seeing community service projects that “give local people a sense of dignity.”