There is nothing like taking sixteen upper division units, doing constant missions work, fitting in Devotions and Shouts, traveling constantly, seeing a new city, and perform these things all while trying to get some form of sleep. That is the new norm for us on the trip and it didn’t take long for us to realize that completing homework was going to be an incredible feat. Unfortunately, taking class Around-the-World does not get any easier. As a matter of fact if anything they get more challenging. Nightly readings, constant written assignments, test and quizzes all show up in our agenda. The challenge becomes in balancing our schoolwork and missions while trying to get good grades. For me and a few friends we feel as though we cracked the code.
Ellie Johnson and I meet almost nightly. We do not meet to socialize or to play cards (something I haven’t played in months) but we are here to peer edit. We sit down, flip open our laptops, and dive into correcting our papers and discussing the reading. It is a great way to stay on track and turn in solid work even when we are tired or in a bad mood. This really comes from the concept living in a learning community. All of us “Rounders” have the same class and the same schedule. We have graduate assistants who eat and travel with us. We also have the ability to knock on our professor’s door at any given moment, day or night. We have difficult classes, yes, but we have an unbeatable support system. Most importantly we are learning we have each other.
Our service time in Chiang Mai, Thailand included aiding a local church and school with their building project. Promise Lutheran Church is partnering with local people to build dormitories for low-income students so that they can attend the schools in the city. The ATW II team brought both the resources and the laborers in order to complete the first stage of this building project. Robyn explains what we had done so far on that first day.
Before serving alongside the Missionaries of Charity at Mother Theresa’s House in Kolkata, India, I did not fully understand what the meaning of service was. If someone were to ask me what it means to serve I would say it is a selfless act of love shown to others, but I did not fully understand this concept until now. I had the opportunity to serve at Prem Dan, which is the home of the disabled, handicapped, and mentally ill elderly women. I was finally able to understand what service really meant through this experience.
While we were in India we read “Finding Calcutta” by Mary Poplin for our Service Learning Practicum class. I found a lot of correlation with the book and my time of service in the home. Poplin, says, “It is a very different task to bathe a soiled adult when you see him as Christ than if you are simply cleaning someone for your job.” This was something that I constantly reminded myself of when I was serving at Prem Dan. God was standing right next to me the entire time. It was more than just washing clothes, feeding someone, or helping them go to the bathroom. I would look at them and see Jesus, and that is something that I had never done before. Looking into the eyes of the women, I realized that God sent us to simply care for them and show them His love. Ephesians 6:7 says, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men” This is commanded to us by God and was lived out by Mother Theresa. What great examples for us to look to for our own lives.
I will be forever grateful and blessed to have been able to serve at Prem Dan. I am not proud to say that it took something like this to make me realize this and open up my eyes. God sent me to Kolkata to strengthen my abilities and knowledge in how to love and serve others. I realize now that true service is displaying the love of Christ that he shows to us every day and letting that resonate through our being. Prem Dan tore down every wall of pride that I entered with, which is completely and radically different from my day-to-day life. “The more we empty our focus on ourselves, the more he can fill us.” – Mother Theresa. I experienced what it was like to be totally emptied and filled up with Christ.
One of our projects in Thailand was to build a wall that would demarcate the new dorms for local students. Promise Lutheran Church in Chiang Mai is working with local people to accommodate students who cannot afford housing.The Christians in Chiang Mai have a vision for housing low-income students and allowing them to attend school, even when financial hurdles are crippling. To that end, the ATW II team was able to donate enough resources to start this project, and we were also able to participate in the building of the first wall.
As we were the first foreign team to visit this site, we experienced the fact that 37 volunteers are not always the most efficient means for accomplishing a building project.
However, the local church leaders and students were so thankful for our time that we were spending with them.
They considered our friendship a blessing, and the work that we accomplished alongside each other was a symbol of this new relationship. As we left that place for the second and final time, we thought about our time with people and how it is often more important than any wall we can build.
“Some of the most beautiful things you learn on the Around the World trip is that no matter where you go there is always a story to find. You can have a birthday in a different country or worship in the middle of nowhere. You can sail on a boat or ride a motorcycle to go to a secret destination were you will never go back again. The most beautiful thing is when you look back and all that matters is not where you went, but who did yo go with. That is one of the profound treasures of the trip”
Many adventures come up as we traverse the globe, and some of these are simply not possible in the States. For example, Howard and Josh drove their rented motorbikes around Cat Ba Island in Vietnam for the price of a sandwich.
Our time in Vietnam included working with the local commune leaders on a drainage system near the local health clinic. In the village of Phu Tho, the local government leaders were very welcoming and excited for us to work alongside them for this project. Students mixed cement and placed it where the trench was being built. Other students dumped dirt into the stagnant water, slowly soaking the water up and eliminating the mosquito-filled pond.
ATW II trench digging
At first, our project seemed mundane, even self-defeating. What happens when the drainage trench clogs? Why are we moving this dirt by hand when a tractor could accomplish the task in five minutes? We began to see, however, that our service project had less to do with the project and more to do with the people. We were able to work alongside them and to show them that we cared about them. We were able to tell them about ourselves and why we had come thousands of miles to mix cement with them. It was an amazing time to realize that we have not come to accomplish projects, but to love the people that we meet.
We were blessed with the opportunity to visit the Concordia International School in Hanoi and to facilitate a day of games and activities. We planned and implemented an “Around-the-World Day” for the younger grades, complete with activities that taught them about different places in our world. For the older grades, we led activities that would excite them about English and allow them to have a little bit of fun, even on a school day!
It was very enjoyable to spend time with these international students and to hear a little bit of what Concordia Hanoi has already been able to accomplish in a short three years of operation. The students as well as the staff were attempting to recruit some of our CUI students to come back and teach after just a few hours! Many of us hope to visit Vietnam again in the future, and to visit our friends at Concordia Hanoi soon!
Sometimes, life can feel like a television show. The Around-the-World Semester® is often a whirlwind of faces, places, and stories happening all around you. On certain days, things can get a little complicated. Lydia shows us that on days like that, even the little things can be dramatic.
From time to time, we try to sit down with our Rounders and catch up with how they are doing. However, because of the nature of our journey, these conversations often happen in places that are out of the ordinary. Here, I have a typical conversation with Kristine as we ride bicycles around an island paradise in Vietnam known as Cat Ba.