Tales From Abroad: JAM Summer 2015 Sep08

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Tales From Abroad: JAM Summer 2015

Justice Along the Meridian is unlike any other study abroad program I have ever heard of. When I told my friends where I was going – England, Spain, and Ghana – they were confused as to why those three places. It does seem kind of random unless you understand the context and framework of the program. We have studied issues related to poverty and other injustices in Dallas over the past year, applying theory and practice for contextual learning. Now, we have taken our justice minded perspectives to three completely new contexts. England, Spain, and Ghana are so entirely different, especially when you experience one after the other. Most study abroad programs seem to barely focus on classes and are more geared for leisure travel and tourism. We definitely had some of that, but I feel like this experience was so much more than anyone could ever expect for a study abroad trip.

There are many reasons as to why our study abroad experience was so incredible. I think at the root of our experiential learning was the size and cohesiveness of our group. Eight of us had been in Dallas together all year, but FaithAnn, Nicole, and Samantha were such great additions to our team. I struggled to live in community in Dallas for many reasons, so I am extremely thankful that I was able to make new, deep friendships with all three girls. Secondly, we had incredible professors who were knowledgeable about each place we went. This was not only comforting but also helpful to our learning.IMG_3176

While having an awesome group and professors was so ideal, the learning and growth within me came out of our experiences. There were so many wonderful people we met and places we visited. We were tourists but had our eyes open to see beneath the surfaces. In England, we met Robin, Chris and Catherine, and Carly, all of who were seeking justice in their communities. Robin lives in the community of Barton to better meet people’s needs and to build genuine relationships. Chris and Catherine live in community with other families in order to better open their door to those who live around them. Carly runs an incredible secondary school in inner city London so that young teenagers will have a holistic and transformative education. We also met with some Muslims, Dr. Taj and those at the Ahmaddiya mosque. Dr. Taj is a reformist, hoping to bring the Islamic faith back to its foundation of following the Qur’an. The Ahmaddiya sect is expressing justice by defending their faith in light of media attacks on certain radical groups.

IMG_3192In Ghana we met with Dr. Azumah, a Christian teacher of Islam. He attempts to teach Islam in a way that Westerners can better understand the different faces and dimensions of Islam. Although he is a Christian, his family is Muslim, and he aims to create space for interreligious dialogue. We met another Christian named Fred at Village of Hope. I could go on and on about how incredible its six ministries are, but essentially Fred recognizes the need for Christian education, especially for orphans in Ghana. Furthermore, all of the children are encouraged to go back into their communities after they finish school. Many times kids want to get out of their bad communities and never come back. Thus, the communities never improve. Another woman we met who understands this is Rafietu. She has known Dan and Brenda since she was a little girl, and they helped raised her when her father passed away when she was 15. They helped her go to university, but while she was there she began selling bracelets she made. She started Beads of Hope, employing vulnerable young women on the streets or widows in the north of Ghana back in her hometown.

All of these people and their stories deeply inspired me. Other people in the world are actually making a difference in their own communities, just like we did in Dallas last year. Everyone also talked about the struggles and challenges faced when seeking justice and positive change. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s part of the experience. We had our own sets of challenges in Dallas that we had to overcome even when we wanted to give up and go home. On this trip, there were times when we were made uncomfortable, physically and emotionally.

IMG_3170More so than all of these other encounters, my time at Elmina castle was the most moving. The fact that it is now a place to tour is a sign of justice. Ghana only recently received its independence, and prior to that the Europeans had used this slave castle for hundreds of years. As we walked through the cells and slave quarters, I felt the overwhelming real presence of evil and suffering. It is estimated that three million slaves had gone through just this one castle, two million of them dying before being transported. There were two churches in the central courtyard, one Protestant and one Catholic. Christians justified slavery in the name of God. If I were a slave, I wouldn’t want anything to do with this God. We were standing in the cells that reeked of death and then saw the governor’s secret entrance where slaves would be brought up for his own sexual pleasure. I was disgusted and infuriated. Every American and Europeans needs to take a walk through Elmina. Let’s hope that we can learn from history so that we will never redo past injustices.

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My experiences in JAM have made humble; I have more than enough and I am not as smart as I think I am. I am so entirely smaller in this world than I thought I was. The world is so large, and I have only seen a few countries. The world needs a lot of justice and peace for its people. I hope to seek beauty in the human face, because it changes everything. Say all the insults and derogatory comments you want about homosexuality, race, economic status, or religion. Your tune changes when those things are being said about people you know. My tendency is to sort for difference between things, so I usually see the wrong before I see the right. For example, I tend to focus on the differences between Islam and Christianity instead of the similarities. This trip has taught me to focus on commonalities between people so that I am able to better understand them. It makes me less hostile and frustrated when I do this. There may not be one right way to do life or to reach God. I always want to be right, but I think I need to be less concerned about who has it right. Rather, I need to continue living out what I believe for the sake the world: standing for justice and seeking peace. Justice and peace can be defined in many ways, but we ought to use our source of wisdom (the Bible) to be more like Jesus in the world. The world is broken yet so beautiful, and I hope to search for God in everything, for He is everywhere. Above all else, I need to love others well. I’m still trying to figure out what that means and how to do that, but I think that love will ultimately win.