Surprises along the way to Guatemala

An update from the second Guatemala Global Partnership team, from Montreal and St. John’s:

Carla, Inter-Varsity student, doing art at the Creative Art Ministry site in Guatemala.

Carla, Inter-Varsity student, doing art at the Creative Art Ministry site in Guatemala.

It’s been more than ten days since we arrived in Guatemala. Sixteen of us have been participating at 7 Ministry Sites: Media, Health Care, Agriculture, Appropriate Technology, Sport, Creative Art and Micro Finance. This journey hasn’t come easy; especially for Carla from Vanier College. Here is her beginning of the journey:

“My trip was really an adventure and full of surprises from God. When I arrived on time at the Montreal airport to meet with the group, I was so happy. Everyone was checking in, ready to enter the US custom (our connection flight was at Miami). When it was my turn to check-in, the lady was looking at me with a strange look and told me that I couldn’t go to Miami with the group, because I don’t have an American visa. (Carla carries a Lebanon passport and she has a Guatemala visa) Getting shocked and disappointed by her comment after months of hard work and prayers. But Shu Yin (Inter-Varsity Ministry Director in Quebec), with great faith, told me, ‘Don’t worry, we will find a way!’

The group had to enter US customs and I could only wait outside anxiously. Long story short, Inter-Varsity’s travel agency was able to find me a new flight ticket going to Guatemala without going through US. After 15 hours eventually I arrived safely at Guatemala airport, but no one seemed was there to pick me up. Not knowing how to speak spanish made me feel very nervous; suddenly I remembered an Emergency Card was given to me when I arrived at Montreal airport. I immediately found a phone and called those phone numbers. At first no one was answering until the SI Field Director picked up the phone and told me that he will send his daughter to pick me up. So that was a long day from the Montreal airport at 4 am until at Guatemala 9pm, I was able to join my group again. Praise The Lord.”

Carla (right) with other students from Inter-Varsity in Guatemala

Carla (right) with other students from Inter-Varsity in Guatemala

Please continue to keep us in your prayer. Many of us are struggling to understand the poverty we see here at Guatemalan life.

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Update #2 from High School Ministry team in Guatemala

Cómo estás? Things are moving forward here in Magdalena, Guatemala. Our team has officially been in Guatemala for 7 days, 3 of which were orientation in Antigua, and the rest have been in Magdalena where we are serving.

 

Randy WSW-3

If you ever have a chance to talk to a North American who has visited Magdalena I am sure one of the first things that they will mention would be the fact that the town is built on the side of a mountain, or the large amount of stray dogs. They may mention the poverty in Magdalena and the surrounding communities, and how around 4:00pm men and women return from the surrounding mountains with their collection of firewood strapped to their backs.

However, what many people will also mention is that as you walk up and down the street everyone will say ‘Hola’ or ‘Buenos (Dias, Tardes, Noches). They will tell you about the amazing sense of family, the amazing views, and about how delicious the freshly made tortillas are.

Our team is quickly coming to love this town and country.  We are staying with host families with whom we eat breakfast and every other dinner. I am sorry to say that their english is better then our spanish, however the hospitality and love that we are trying to show one another goes beyond any language barrier. We are being blessed by their hospitality and patience.

Learning to wash laundry from the local women.

Learning to wash laundry from the local women.

Three people from our team are serving at a local school here in Magdalena. They are able to communicate not only through laughter, songs, and games but also in the ‘language of Math’. As the grade 1 & 2 Guatemalan students learn how to add and subtract, our team is learning how to count to 20 en español. We are being blessed by the children whom we are here to serve.

Please pray for our team as we are getting comfortable. Pray that we would continue to lean into the hard places. This trip is about serving the people here in Magdalena, but it is also about learning from God. We want to leave with more then just pictures and a few neat souvenirs. We want to leave with the names of people embedded in our memories, and have stories to share about how through our serving we actually learned more about ourselves, each other, the world, and God.

Adiós

Update from the High School Ministry team in Guatemala

GOOOAAAAALLLLLL! Cries of joy and sorrow erupted from the streets of Antigua, Guatemala as our high school team sat chatting on the roof of our hotel’s. There is nothing like being in Central America when the World Cup Final is happening!

There is also something very unique and special about taking high school students to a foreign country. This is Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship second year doing a high school global partnership. Once again, we are partnering with Student International to help serve and work in Magdalena, Guatemala. Before we go to Magdalena and actually begin working and living with the local Guatemalan people there, we have spent 3 days in Antigua learning about what it means to enter into different cultures and how to work in team. Below is one story from our time in Antigua.

Be Open, Watch, and Learn. These were the instructions for our team as we went out in pairs to the central square of Antigua. Surrounded by colonial spanish architecture and different shops students were invited to find a bench and ‘Be Open, Watch, and Learn’. The purpose of this exercise was to help our team begin to see beyond the tourists and shop stands and begin to ‘see’ the Guatemalan people. This exercise was framed with a study of the first half of this article (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/reject-apathy/things-no-one-tells-you-about-going-short-term-mission-trips) ending with studying Mark 9:33-37. With this article and Scripture shaping our experience, students pointed out all that they had seen and learned. They identified the different type of people groups who seemed to be walking around the square.

Students shared all the great things that they observed, and asked questions about the things that didn’t fit in their North American cultural worldview. Already, the team is growing in love and compassion for the people of Guatemala. Desiring to be open to the Guatemalan culture and to learn from it, but also desiring to move forward in reciprocal relationships.

It is Monday, and we are heading to Magdelana this evening to meet our host families and begin serving at our work sites tomorrow. There is a sense of excitement and hope in our team as we prepare to enter into the experience that we came here for. After our study of Ja’irus and the Bleeding Women, we are also aware that Jesus wants to restore us as well as those around us. Please pray for out team as we live, eat, serve, and laugh with the Guatemalan people and each other. Pray that God would soften our hearts for what he is trying to teach us about his heart for not only us but also the world he created. 

Montreal Urban Partnership update

An update from Stephen Schalm, Campus Minister of International Student Ministries at McGill University in Montreal and Director of the Montreal Urban Partnership.

Montreal Urban Partnership team of 14 students and 2 staff are exploring God's heart for the city of Montreal.

Montreal Urban Partnership team of 14 students and 2 staff are exploring God’s heart for the city of Montreal.

 Day 2 of the Montreal Urban Partnership (MUP) and already changing plans… While flexibility is the name of the game in a program like MUP, I was still nervous to announce to our team that we would be changing plans – turning a night of reflection and sharing into extended communal worship and prayer. I could already hear the potential responses, “But what I really want is alone time right now”… “What do you mean ‘cry out to God’?”… “Already showing how ‘P’ you are on the Myers Briggs, Steve?”… Regardless, it was obvious from some prayer preparation that God was asking me a hard question- will MUP run on human strength, solid teaching and thoughtful planning, good intentions? Or would it be fuelled by a move of the Holy Spirit? How deeply do we want to see the move of God to bring resurrection in us and in this city?

Many of you have been hearing about Montreal Urban Partnership for the past few years- we are at it again, this time through the month of July! A team of 14 students, 2 staff, with help from an ever-growing number of partners throughout the city, will be exploring the heart of God for the city of Montreal- especially for its more marginalized parts- searching for what it would look like for the shalom of God to break into places of brokenness, despair, poverty and injustice, and for us to participate in both receiving and partnering to bring resurrection here!

As we dig deeply into scripture, get to know some great partner communities/organizations, work through our own poverty and brokenness and learn to imagine urban redemption in Montreal, what we really need is Holy Spirit-renewal – Holy Spirit-driven justice, Holy Spirit- driven repentance and transformation, Holy Spirit-driven healing and deliverance, Holy Spirit-driven prophetic imagination… Pray for us through the month of July as we learn to cry out to God for an out-pouring of His Spirit among us to empower us to become a people of justice and righteousness who seek the shalom of this city we have been called to! And pray for Montreal- that it would be made whole again in the name of Jesus! Follow our team on Facebook!

Bangladesh Update #5

Bujhi na.

It’s become one of my favourite phrases here in Bangladesh.  I use it everywhere. As I navigate transportation in the city, when I’m hanging out with Bangladeshi students, and every morning at placement.

At any given point you can likely hear someone on our team say it, usually prefaced by “Oh no.”

Bujhi na.  It means “I do not understand.”

It’s because there are still a lot of things that we do not understand here.  Things about culture and gender and issues of justice. Even the massive language gap attests to how very much we do not understand on a daily basis

But in spite of our constant state of “bujhi na,” I’m amazed by the depth of relationships that have been built here in Bangladesh. Surely these are signs of the Kingdom, growing among us as we partner with our Bengali friends.

Today, the team went to placement for the last time.  After a month of building friendships at various locations across the city, it’s a sad and hard day.  But also a beautiful one. Together, we have witnessed the power of love and intentionality, especially when it’s in the name of Jesus. No matter how big the language barrier, there were many tears, a clear sign of the lasting impact these relationships will have in our lives.

As we enter our final five days in Bangladesh, there will be many more experiences like today.  These days will be filled with goodbyes, as we reflect on the ways that God has grown our love for the people of this country.

So It might be true that there is much we still do not understand, but our hearts have been irrevocably changed by this experience.

As we navigate this season of ending, would you please pray with us:

Pray for our placement locations—the students at the Student Friendship Centre and the HEED Arts School and the women and children at the Children Uplift Program and Centre for the Training and Rehabilitation of Destitute Women.

Pray for our team as we grieve and process this time of transition.

Pray for our Acts manuscript camp, as we  head into two full days of scripture study with Bengali students.

Israel Update: A (miraculous?) early morning encounter

One shouldn’t use the word “miraculous” casually. Within the natural order, many strange coincidences occur: the unexpected and the unlikely happen often enough but they still cause wonder. People of faith know that God our Father is the great choreographer in the dance of the universe.  And  we are in Israel, the land of many miracles, including the resurrection of Jesus, who was dead and in the grave and is alive forever more. So I will describe for you what happened and you can tell me what you think.

The student conference was over – it had been intense. As you would expect! Israel is a land of profound ethnic, religious and historic divisions. Students from many shades of belief and unbelief had gathered in the firm conviction that God’s love is for all people. The unity in diversity had been powerful. Now they had scattered back to their universities and families.

We – the thirteen Canadians – were exhausted and happy to have an evening to de-brief and rejoice. Dom announced that she was feeling unwell. Something she ate? Over-tiredness?  A flu bug?  She grew worse and took to her bed. The big danger in such a hot climate is de-hydration and she could not keep anything down.

At 3:30 am Ian decided to take her to the hospital and set off immediately, not sure where to find a hospital in nearby Tel Aviv. The roads were very dark and very deserted. Ian pulled into a gas station, uncertain if anyone would be there. Suddenly, a man appeared – he had been putting air in his tires and Ian asked the way to the hospital. The man replied in English, “I am a doctor. Can I help you?” Really?  A doctor? On an empty country road at 3am? Even, as a final twist of humour and assurance from God, the angel-like doctor was a Canadian from Montreal now living in Israel!

After careful questioning, he recommended that they not go to the hospital. “They have much more urgent cases. Give her lots of water and she should be fine soon.” Back to bed for Dom. Back to much needed sleep for Ian. All around relief.  And great thanksgiving to God. The doctor was right. Three more people had this slight flu and all recovered quickly. We went on our way rejoicing.

Vancouver Urban Partnership

Thoughts on pigeons from the Vancouver Urban Partnership (May 25, 2014).

Pigeon Park

Inner city neighbourhoods crawl with pigeons. They are kind of gross, eating everything, seen as unclean, avoid them at all cost! The rats of the air.

Doves were the birds for sacrifice. Except if you were poor: you brought a pigeon.

Pigeons are now a sign of Jesus’ presence in the neighbourhood for me.

Israel Update

From Susan Norman, National Advocate of Graduate Students and Faculty Ministry, May 27th, 2014.

“I am an ex-religious Muslim. I am searching for God but He does not show Himself to me. How can I find Him? –  a Technion student.

“The Koran tells me all I need to know about Jesus. He was a prophet.” – a young Muslim in a Bible study who, despite his opening statement, said he would like to come again.

“I used to be a Christian but I don’t want to follow a lot of rules.” – a medical student

Good questions! Fascinating discussions! I, personally, rarely find such open, serious search for religious truth in Canada. A pastor here told me, “In Israel, everyone believes there is a God. Everything else [what He is like and how we can know Him] is a matter of intense debate and division.” Of course, there are many secular Israelis, but there is a consciousness of Him here, where three major religions co-exist in a somewhat tenuous relationship.

A week ago, after the student conference, we ventured onto seven Israeli campuses in five cities, all feeling a little nervous, more than a little uncertain, but very excited to learn what campus life is like and welcoming the opportunity to go deeper in the friendships we formed at the conference. We stayed with families, in dorms, in student apartments, on the floor of a local Messianic congregation – great ways to mix.

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been our discovery that students here are much the same as friends and classmates back home. They have the same longings: to get a good education and find a place in the adult world, to find purpose and meaning beyond themselves, to enjoy the good things that life offers, to know others and be known by them, to love and be loved. Like Canadian students, they may seek for these things in all the wrong places: in drinking too much and indulging in casual sex, in materialism and academic success, in the idols of fame or instant gratification which cannot deliver on their false promises.

We have had great discussions with students with different shades of religious belief: Arab Israeli Muslims, nominal Arab Israeli Christians, Messianic Believers (the word here for Jews who believe in Jesus), practising Jews who don’t accept Jesus and who are suspicious of Christians, lots of secular Jews – who are atheists and agnostics or dabbling in Eastern mysticism. We have joined them in barbecues, Bible studies, discussion groups, for coffee and dessert. We have had the great privilege of visiting in their homes. One student took his new Canadian friends to his village where about 150 of his relatives live in close proximity. They went from house to house feasting, talking in at least two languages, and getting a taste of Arab hospitality!

Benjamin, David, and Sarah on campus at he Technion University in Haifa.

Benjamin, David, and Sarah on campus at he Technion University in Haifa.

I was about to write “The highlight for me was . . .” but then I realised there were many highlights! One was the regular Christian gathering at the Technion, which is one of the world’s leading universities in advanced technology. They have a small group of seven or eight who attend regularly but their invitation to “come meet our Canadian friends” attracted new people, including several Muslims curious about Christianity. We had to keep expanding our circle of chairs. We shared our stories of coming to faith and talked about the difference in Canada between nominal faith and genuine, life-transforming belief in Jesus. The questions were good; the one-on-one conversations afterwards were even better!

The following night, some of our Technion friends joined with the Christians from the University of Haifa for a delicious barbecue on the beach. We watched the sun set over the Mediterranean, sang songs in Arabic and English, and again talked about life and faith. Another highlight was a trip to Akko at the College of Western Galilee. We went with Rasha, who is the staff worker for all of the Arab students in this region. She had been asked by some of the students from the college to start a Bible study. We sat on the grass on the lovely campus and studied the story of Jesus healing and forgiving the sins of the paralysed man. That miracle happened a short distance from where we were sitting. According to Rasha this was the first ever Bible study on this campus. When the lively discussion ended, everyone said they wanted more. Please pray for Rasha and other staff workers, who move effortlessly from Arabic to Hebrew to English, who reach out with truth and grace to newcomers and inquirers.

 

 

Israel Update

One of our Global Partnership teams is in Israel partnering with students in the local IFES movement. Here are their first few updates.

May 18th, 2014

Into the conference centre’s spacious green grounds came bus loads and cars full of Christian students from all over Israel: Arabic speakers, Messianic Jews, and a sprinkling of international students from Korea, the US, Poland, Rwanda, Italy, and Denmark. They were joined by former students of the FSCI (Fellowship of Christian Students in Israel) now graduated and working in various jobs around the country.

Some people, we learned, came with some apprehension. They were in an unfamiliar situation: a place where love for God and his people is stronger than years of ethnic and religious hatred. One Jewish man said he was concerned, not to say frightened, when he found he had five Arab roommates! The same thing happened in reverse to two of the Arab students!  Others were excited and happy to renew acquaintance from previous conferences. Love triumphed!

Together we sang in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. We talked like old friends. We listened to impassioned biblical teaching, given by Arab, Messianic Jewish and International speakers, attended helpful workshops about reaching out and loving people on our campuses (a few of which resonated very deeply with non-Christian friends of the FCSI students). We ate foods both strange and familiar. A small band of dedicated Canadians made over 300 pancakes for breakfast and carefully distributed the maple syrup we brought with us. Fierce – but friendly – soccer games broke out. Frisbees flew.

What drew us together and gave us unity? A deep sense of God the Father’s love for each of us, faith in Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice, and conviction from the Spirit that we must strive to love one another. Our whole time at the conference was a blessing: a foretaste of heaven when we will praise the Lord together throughout eternity.

The Tower of David in Jerusalem.

The Tower of David in Jerusalem.

May 13th, 2014

Jerusalem the Golden, bathed in glorious sunlight! Madly singing birds. An old stone hostel with tall, narrow arched windows, shutters wide open to let in the cooling breeze, and a fig tree in the courtyard. We are in the land of thousands of years of world-changing history and profound religious experience. Jews, Muslims, and Christians have loved and fought for this land for centuries. Our small pilgrim band – four Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship staff workers and nine students from across Canada – sang praises to God as we drove up to Jerusalem through the breaking dawn. We had landed at Ben Gurion International Airport in the middle of the night, some of us from Vancouver, some from Toronto – a long and exhausting journey by way of Poland. Now we find ourselves actually here. Thanks be to God.

The adventure began even before we got here from Vancouver and Toronto. Our stopover in Poland was brief but full. . .  As preparation for understanding the Holocaust and the founding of the state of modern state of Israel, we visited the Warsaw site of the agonizing of 1944 spring uprising and the horror of the ghetto.  It’s odd, our friend who showed us around (an IVCF student from UBC on exchange in Warsaw for the year), studies psychology in the former headquarters of the SS and his residence is inside the old ghetto walls, right next to the platform where 300,000 Jews were sent to their deaths – the world moves on. Of course, it the most cheerful of subject matters but so important to understand as we relate with the people of this land.

 

Bangladesh Update #4

What does suffering for the gospel look like and how do we receive joy amidst suffering?
How do we appropriately engage and grieve issues related to people at our placements?
How do we hold positions of power and authority given to us as foreigners?

These questions and more are what we as a team are asking.  We’ve just passed the halfway point of this GUP. We’re beginning to feel more settled in Bangladesh,  relationships are deepening, and growth is happening and we are also challenged by the poverty that we see and are wrestling with questions as we encounter differences.

We’ve reunited as a team and welcomed back our Rajshahi conference team. David and the 6 students who went with him had an amazing time spending time with BSFB friends, leading Scripture and praying as 40 people made a first time commitment to follow Jesus!

The next 2 weeks will be busy as we reconnect as a team,  prepare for a manuscript camp we are hosting at Grace House, and continue to invest in relationships at our placements and with BSFB.

A recent trip to the Botanical Gardens with new friends.

A recent trip to the Botanical Gardens with new friends.