Since 1964, Lancaster Theological Seminary has been taking Master of Divinity students to nations around the world, helping them understand more deeply the lives and faiths of people very different from themselves. These journeys are not vacations or mission trips. They are educational experiences designed to expand the world view of the seminary’s students. Before, during and after, students are invited into reflecting theologically on every aspect of their trip and the communities where they will be visiting.
Nearly every graduating class names the cross-cultural experience as being one of the most important aspects of their theological degree. The trips typically last 14-21 days. Each group of students is accompanied by as many as three leaders depending on the size of the group and the host location. The expenses for each trip vary by country, and the average trip costs $3,200 per person. The Synod of the Trinity distributed $2,500 to the seminary to help with costs for a trip to Kenya in 2017. The funds were pulled from the Mary Meade Maxwell Vocations Scholarship and awarded through a Student Study Grant.
Among the educational goals of the cross-cultural program is for students to experience poverty and wealth, visit another country with a primary language different from one’s own, engage in situations where Euro-American culture is not dominant, and experience different theological and political convictions.
In 2018, the cross-cultural program will take Lancaster Seminary students and leaders to Mexico. What follows are different personal accounts experienced by the leaders and students during their 2017 trip to Kenya:
Day 2 (by Amy and Michelle)
A difficult moment came when a young boy, about 10 years old, after being coached by his father, ran alongside our van asking for money, because he had no food. The traffic was stop and go, so he remained with us for what seemed like an eternity. This was very difficult to see and comprehend. How can we see God at work here, in this boy and his father, especially since we were on our way to the wealthiest neighborhood in Karen, where a meal was waiting for us in a gated, guarded, secure compound?
Kenyans work very hard. They are not afraid to work. As Winnie, one of our local guides told us, they are the best salespeople. We saw God in the smiling faces. Seeing their spirit and beauty caused us to wonder that if they came to America, would they see the same smiles, spirit and beauty, or more importantly God, in us?
Day 3 (by Matt)
The worship service at Kileleshwa Covenant Community Church and subsequent small-group home visits reinforced for us a sense of shared humanity under God’s umbrella. Our time spent with our neighbors in Nairobi made us all – U.S. and Kenyan citizens alike – seem very much the same.
Following a community lunch with members of the pastoral staff, we adjourned as small groups to the homes of various church members. Through shared meals and fellowship, our collective sense of being neighbors in creation was only amplified.
Day 5 (by Jane)
This morning we visited HAART – a social service agency working to prevent, educate and rescue individuals who are sex trafficked – men, women and children. Urban legend of people being found in bathtubs with their kidneys removed is not legend after all.
I pray each of us remembers the devastation of what we heard and saw today. And discern what and how to do something. And then do it.
Day 6 (by Lisa)
We left Nairobi around 7 a.m. and arrived at Mtito Andei by 1:30 p.m. Our journey was uneventful, but long. The highlights of the journey to today’s destination were great conversation, views of Mount Kilimanjaro and much needed sleep for others.
Community seems to be a prevailing theme on our journey. We have experienced so many different communities on our trip, communities filled with love, hope and support of one another. As we travel along, our little band of community grows stronger with each passing day, as we grow and evolve from this once-in-a-life experience, each maturing into what God is calling us to be within our respective ministries.
Day 7 (by Kecia)
Today is Mother’s Day. We rushed to get to church and attended the Magnificent Celebration Church here in Watamu. The service was four hours long. Yes, four! As Jonathan explained to the congregation, through an interpreter, that we were on a cross-cultural trip, he did not realize that the outcome of that, two hours later, would be a request for us to do a one-hour service for their second service. Thank God for LTS!! We jumped right into our roles with everyone participating in a way that honored their talents and gifts, including those that were revealed through thoughtfulness and care. “We are Seminarians! We can do this!”
Day 8 (by Rose)
If we had known that our day would turn into an adaptation of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, many of us might have opted out. On the other side of the day, however, we’ve all agreed that this day offered each of us opportunities to overcome our fears and to accomplish physical feats beyond our imaginations.
By 10 o’clock we were joking and laughing while we followed a winding wooden bridge into the jungle of Mangrove trees to check out a restaurant that is only open “in season” and serves as a tourist destination. Decks built above the Mangrove tree roots allowed guests access to the most spectacular views of the inlet. Even the walk to one’s table signifies a dining experience unlike any other.
Minutes later our laughter of joy turned to nervous giggles as we eyed the boat on the other side of what seemed to many of us like a 1,000-mile walk through unknown waters. “Did he say to take off our shoes?” We waded in what I call brown water on account of the brown floor makes the water seem brown and you can’t see your feet, or anything else for that matter, once you’re an inch into the water. We waded through this water to get to the boat. A boat I doubted could hold all of us.
As we used the outdoor facilities, joking that even in the jungle there is a line to the women’s room, we wondered what was planned for us. We should have known where this was going when we were introduced to the local snake hunter. Naively, we expected an educational presentation.
Our first stop on the tour was a small village where a few of us held a newborn goat, chatted with school children whom we distracted from their studies and were in awe at one heart-shaped front door. We were, once again, humbled by the simplicity and efficiency of this village. We were challenged to reconsider our preconceptions of what defines poverty. If asked in those moments, “What does this village need from you?” I would have answered, “Nothing.”
We continued our slow march through the jungle, many of us in flip flops. When we thought we couldn’t handle one more bug bite, after several hornets stung Matt, we turned around. As we skirted the beach side of the village we passed a family of baboons. Our guide said not to worry since he had texted the baboons to leave us alone. When we were safely seated in the plastic chairs, our guide prepared our lunch. One loaf of bread, three small tomatoes and a small block of cheese would feed us all. It was loaves and fishes. And we were thankful.
Our final push at Mida Creek forced us upon our return from the island to step out of the boat into two feet of brown water occupied by giraffe-patterned jellyfish the size of my head. When it was finally my turn, I swung my right leg over the edge of the boat and hesitated. I told the men I couldn’t do it. I thought that after everything we had been through this was the thing I couldn’t do. This was my breaking point. Death by jellyfish. Death by panic attack. Either way, I was paralyzed on the edge of the boat.
Our guide told me not to look down and pulled me from safety into the brown water and forced me to walk forward. His friend took my right arm over his shoulder and the guide took my left, we were all three hip-to-hip swinging our feet out in circular sweeps to clear the jellyfish from our path toward the mainland. The deeper brown water became a narrow clear water path surrounded by quicksand. “Stay in wet path!” the guide yelled. And to calm me down he joked, “Remember, I called ahead to tell the jellyfish a bunch of Americans were coming and not to sting you!” He called ahead on our behalf. Such a charmer. When the last person made it through the jellyfish and quicksand we rejoiced. We thanked the guide and his friends for guiding us, and we thanked God for keeping us safe. Not one of us was stung.
Day 9 (by Cindy and Kellie)
This past day or so our hearts and minds have been turning toward our loved ones and the things left undone that will require our attention upon our return. But we are not coming home as the same people who left Lancaster a few weeks ago. Rather, we have touched and have been touched by new people, new places, new experiences that are forever woven into the fabric of who we now are. Most of us, we venture to say, have more questions than answers as a result of this experience.
We left the beach town of Watamu with a full mixture of feelings – sadness to leave, bitter-sweetness that we could not do more, gratitude for this opportunity, eagerness to return home to our own lives.
Perhaps the biggest question of all from this experience is – What will we do with all that we have been shown? How will this time in another culture be incorporated into the work that we have been called to? As we rest in this minimal space between worlds waiting for our final flight home we pray that we each may be a force for good, that we will keep our sights set on the Spirit of Life that shines on everyone and that we will allow that Spirit to guide our steps in ways that truly serve.