Despite the miles that separate Northern Ireland and South Africa, the two countries share something in common: a history of bitter strife and segregation that eventually inspired sincere efforts at reconciliation.
Deborah Dunn, professor of communi- cation studies, led a group of 10 students to these disparate countries. Omedi Ochieng, a fellow communication studies professor, taught public discourse before they left campus.
“Northern Ireland and South Africa seemingly have nothing in common,” Dunn says. “But they share legacies of colonialism and religious sectarianism. Students studying conflict and reconciliation found two similar yet different case studies to compare and contrast. They also encountered sobering and heartbreaking realities as well as stories of grace and courage.”
The group met with Peter Thorrington, a Westmont trustee who grew up in South Africa, and two alumni with Bridges of Hope, Chase ’05 and Lisa Phillips ’04 Armour. Thorrington spoke about his work with Opportunity International, which provides micro loans to the poor throughout the world. The Armours described the ministry of Bridges of Hope to South African children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
In both countries, students visited sites of oppression and conflict: the bleak prison on Robben Island in South Africa where Nelson Mandela was confined for many years; and Falls Road and Shankill Road, an embattled area in Belfast, Northern Ireland. They found a different environment at Corrymeela, a reconciliation center on the northern coast of Ireland that provides a safe space for effective conflict resolution.
Vanassa Hamra, a senior double major in communication studies and English, found one experience particularly moving.
“During a service in South Africa for victims of HIV/AIDS, the pastor emphasized the westmont college magazine summer 2008 9. that Jesus saw the blind man he healed.
“The traditional Zulu greeting, ‘Sawu bona,’ translates ‘I see you.’ It says to the other person: ‘I see your humanity, I recognize you.’ When we truly encounter another human being, we see their pain and beauty, and we get a glimpse of God. C.S. Lewis wrote in ‘The Weight of Glory,’ ‘We never encounter an ordinary human being. If we saw people in all their eternal glory, we would fall down and mistakenly worship them as God.’
“The South African pastor powerfully illustrated these points when he instructed the congregation to turn to the people next to us and say, ‘I see you.’ The woman next to me was named Mary. Her Bible and hymnal were tattered at the edges, and she sang the hymns with her eyes closed because she knew them by heart. When we turned to one another, she said, ‘I see you,’ as she embraced me. Her gesture challenged me to really see her.
“So often we ignore people who make us uncomfortable, whose condition is difficult. In South Africa and in the church, people ignore those afflicted with HIV/AIDS, but Jesus sees them. He doesn’t preach elegant words to them; he comforts them and loves them. I want to see those people most would rather ignore. I want to love the ones most find unlovable.”
Westmont in the Holy Land
During three weeks in Israel and Jordan, a group of students learned about the geography, history and religions of the Holy Land. In additional to seeing well-known biblical cities such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, Nazareth and Emmaus, they traveled to Petra, Masada and Qumran, which are important historical sites. Bill Nelson, professor of Old Testament, led the tour through biblical history.
“Professor Nelson was a really well- informed guide who knew all the spots,” says Nathan Kemp, a junior religious studies major who made the trip in May. “He did graduate work in the region and speaks some Arabic and Hebrew, which was helpful.
“It was great to put context to the Old and New Testaments,” Nathan says. “Seeing the sites really enriches reading the Bible. The most interesting place we visited was En Gedi springs. It sits in the middle of a huge, barren desert where a slight crack contains this luscious oasis. We drank from the water and swam in the falls. It was a beautiful, natural site.
“A challenging aspect of going to the Middle East is visiting an area of conflict and getting first-hand experience with the people who live there: Palestinians, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Armenian Christians, Greek Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Messianic Jews and seeing how they all relate. It’s definitely a place where you put a lot on the line for your faith. I was expecting lots of tension between peoples. But when we visited the Dome of the Rock, it was actually one of the most peaceful spots. I played soccer with a group of Arabic children with their parents nearby. But these children were really happy to include us. We couldn’t communicate past yelling, ‘Goal!’ but it was a significant cultural experience for me.”
Lisa Rasmussen, a junior kinesiology major, also says the trip made the Bible come alive. She appreciated the people they met. “We had lecture-format conversations with a Palestinian Christian, a Muslim and a Messianic Jew. We took a class on Israel, and one of the focuses was the current conflicts. We saw the wall that separates Israel and Palestine, and the Palestinian side was definitely poorer with a lot of abandoned buildings, political posters and graffiti. The security was strict, but it wasn’t a problem that we looked like tourists because tourism is their economy, their livelihood.
“The program really tied a lot of things together for me; it helped me further understand the history of my faith. It was also a great community experience.”
Charles Farhadian, a Westmont religious studies professor, took 18 students to India for five weeks. They studied Hinduism and mission and social justice, read books about Christian missionaries, and volunteered in orphanages and hospitals in Chennai (Madras), Calcutta and a Hindu village. Viji Cammauf, who teaches at American Baptist Seminary and founded an orphanage in India, joined Farhadian in leading the program.
“Visiting an active Hindu temple creates a sensory overload with the fragrance of incense and the sight of elephants,” Farhadian says. “The students were moved by the degree of poverty they found in Calcutta. They worked in several of Mother Teresa’s homes, and I was so impressed with the way they went right in and started to massage sick, suffering and dying people.” Farhadian and Cammauf encouraged students to wear Indian clothing, and the women found it protected them from unwanted attention.
“We got to work in the place that Mother Teresa devoted her life to and actually met people who knew her,” says Allyson Arendsee, a junior art major. “It was incredible. Teaching English at a rural orphanage, Little Flock Children’s Homes, profoundly impacted my life.
“The communication barrier was not as difficult as I thought it would be; a lot of people speak English. At the hospital, words weren’t necessary as people needed a physical touch or a helping hand.
“I have a new understanding about how huge and diverse the world is, and I learned a lot about world religions. It challenged my faith to see how every part of an Indian’s life is devoted to Hinduism, while my American life is private, material- istic and individualistic.
“At Mother Teresa’s hospital there were people from all over the world, Christian and non-Christian, yet we under- stood that we all had an inner desire to help those who needed help. It was a turning point in my relationship with God, how I see myself as a human being and as an American —and what it means to me to live for Christ.”
Dustin Jones, a senior physics major, says that traveling to India strengthened his faith. “I saw the uniqueness of Christianity,” he says. “The problem of pain is a big hang-up for some people, but in Hinduism and Buddhism it defines life.
“I gained a global perspective of the church. It took my mind off of the American- centric approach that brings Western culture to the East and seeks to make people more wealthy. The Indians laugh at the Western mentality and the small Western-style churches we set up. You have to use what’s in the native culture to spread the gospel.”
Social Entrepreneurship in China
The 18 students who participated in this new program saw first-hand the contrast between China’s powerful, modern cities and its struggling, rural villages. Business- minded guest speakers described their attempts to fuel development in both environments. The students not only met people involved in non-profit work, but did service projects for these organizations.
Three professors from the economic and business department, Carter Crockett, Paul Morgan and Edd Noell, led the trip with assistance from sociology professor Xuefeng Zhang, who was born and raised in China. For photos and a blog of the program, see http://westmontinchina.com.
A major focus of the trip was studying social entrepreneurship, which involves lending money to the poor who lack access to banks and want to start small businesses. This kind of microfinance can address social and environmental needs and bring hope to blighted areas of the world. Not only did students broaden their global perspective, but they learned more about poverty and projects that alleviate it. “We want students to see how they can apply their Westmont education in ways that benefit needy people throughout the world,” Noell says.
Cleo Koh, a senior English and social justice major, found several thing surprising. “The coolest thing we did was go to a factory making rows and rows of American products,” she says. “So many of the people making these cheap items had no idea what they were, things like Hannah Montana products. It put a really interesting perspective on the American commercial system. We also went to a rural village, which was a real eye-opener. We were the first visitors to ever reach it, and the people were so excited we were there, they brought out food and gifts. It was a very small agricultural village with pigs running around.
“We had hoped to focus more on micro finance, but the Chinese government clamped down on a lot of tourism, and we couldn’t do as much as we’d planned. They were keeping a close watch, and our group of mostly white, American men looked suspicious. The Chinese were especially strict because they were preparing for the Olympics in Beijing.”
Jean-Marc Apalategui, a senior with a double major in economics and business and music composition, served as the official blogger for the trip and recorded some of his impressions. He found the lack of automation in some of the Chinese factories surprising. “Many of the jobs are still carried out manually,” he wrote. “After first-hand observation on the factory floor, it’s hard to remain so idealistic about every workers’ right to continued employment or salary requirements.”
The students attended an English service of a church in Hong Kong. “It made a profound impact on me to come to the other side of the world and find people of the same faith and a growing church body,” Apalategui wrote. “From what I remember, some 7,000 people wait in line to attend church on Sundays. That is unheard of in the United States. Even more amazing are the people in China who have to gather in secret in private residences because of fear of persecution.”