Summer study trips provide unique faith-building opportunities
School trips have deep impact in faith lives of students
Most Westerners love to travel. Students seem especially susceptible to the travel bug, often leaving home for the first time, eager to explore their ancestral roots or other regions of interest. Many Christian universities and seminaries are harnessing this hunger to explore by implementing summer study trips to further students’ biblical literacy and enhance their understanding of their spiritual roots.
“There is a phrase I learned years ago that says, ‘the way to the future is through the past,’” says David Sherbino, professor of Pastoral Ministries and Spiritual Formation at Tyndale Seminary.
Sherbino has led many study trips throughout his career; some followed the missionary journeys of Paul, others explored the Holy Land. This spring he is leading his students to Ireland, to explore the beliefs and practices of the Celts, as they carried Christianity to the pagan Britons.
“A lot of people today are rediscovering their Celtic roots. I believe the Celts have a lot to teach us about how to relate the culture. We are living in an era that some would say is post-Christendom. The Celts found themselves in a similar situation and what they did was try to discover how they could relate to the culture and be influential in [introducing] Christianity.”
Students in the “Celtic Spirituality” course will re-trace the route of Christianity as it spread from Ireland to Scotland and eventually to northern England. The course examines a range of Celtic teachings, as well as the lives of Saint Patrick, Saint Columba and the community of St. Aidan and St. Hilda.
Sherbino says these trips allow students to experience what they are studying, providing them with learning opportunities that prove invaluable.
“There are different ways people learn: some are auditory, some visual and some experiential,” he explains. “This kind of learning experience embraces all three. I think it enables students to explore a broader world and their horizons are greatly expanded.”
Elfrieda Lepp-Kaethler, an assistant professor at Providence University College in Manitoba, sees similar benefits for the school.
“Studying abroad allows us to achieve our goals as an institution by facilitating a deeper and broader learning experience,” she explains. “Study trips offer students the opportunity to integrate academics with ‘the real world’ in a way that is difficult in the classroom. Students also gain unique cultural experiences and develop deeper relationships with their peers and professors.”
Providence is currently offering trips to Israel and Brazil. Lepp-Kaethler says studying in different cultures provides the opportunity to see different ways God is at work around the world.
“For me personally, it is deeply satisfying to help young people make sense of the world through travelling and studying together. Because the trips are intensive experiences, there are more opportunities for discipleship and mentoring.”
While the school’s Israel trip focuses more on theological studies, the Brazil trip, which Lepp-Kaethler is leading, targets English Second Language (ESL) students, providing diverse cultural experiences.
She says the trip also gives students “the opportunity to experience the increasing global role of English as it is felt in Brazil.”
Providence’s Israel trip was partly organized by fourth-year student Daniel Rempel. In his first year of college, at Briercrest College and Seminary, Rempel heard students talking about a planned Israel trip. Although he didn’t have the money at the time, he held onto the idea and raised it with the dean when he started attending Providence. The faculty jumped on board and together they started making arrangements.
The group of nearly 15 students will leave for Israel April 28 spending 11 days visiting Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and the Garden of Gethsemane.
“What I love about this trip is that it has something for everyone,” says Rempel. “Most of us have never been to Israel before, but we will visit Old Testament and New Testament sites, and even sites like Megiddo that have really important archaeological digs.”
Rempel believes the trip will help expand his worldview. He says walking in the land of the Bible and seeing the places Jesus lived will help him understand “the world behind the text.”
“It’s always the goal of biblical study to get a greater understanding of the text. I’m really hoping this trip allows me to gain greater knowledge of Israel, the geography and the travels that would have taken place. I think the biblical narrative as a whole will start making more sense.”
Heritage College and Seminary student Ian Ewing participated in a very different kind of study trip. With nine of his peers, he spent six weeks travelling in Colombia, encouraging local churches and speaking at youth retreats.
“We ran ESL teaching sessions regularly as a means of outreach and we were given the opportunity to spend time in the slums ministering to children and pregnant teenage mothers,” he says. “It was a comprehensive experience giving us opportunities to grow personally and to bless those whom we came in contact with.”
Ewing says the trip gave him a profound appreciation for the opportunity to study the Bible and the call God has for him. He says he came back from Colombia a changed man, growing in his love for God and God’s people.
“The impact this journey had upon my faith is difficult for me to put into words,” he says. “Any response I give feels like a massive understatement. There is something in leaving the environment of a North American church that gives you an appreciation for what faith truly is. Faith is not easy, but to live in faith is to live as Christ did, and that is a challenge well worth accepting.”
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