At the start of this summer, I had the privilege of traveling with Wheaton in the Holy Lands for three weeks in Israel, a week in Greece, a week in Turkey, and a week in Italy (this year was the program's 42nd annual trip abroad). The classes I took were with professors in Wheaton’s bible and theology department, but I myself am not a theology major—I study history and international relations.
While I loved every minute of visiting churches and historical ruins, our visit to Jerusalem—one of the most relevant cities in the world with regard to International Relations—was my chance to engage with the sites of the modern-day State of Israel.
As a student of history, I firmly believe that to understand anything about current affairs, one must understand the history behind them—too often, onlookers try and jump in and offer a solution without actually understanding the underlying historical roots behind the conflict. Thanks to classes we took with the Shalom Hartman Institute, we got the chance to engage with the culture, history, and identity of the Jewish Israeli community. Marci Lenk, a scholar at the institute, gave us an introduction to Jewish life from the past couple of centuries.
These lectures helped pieces of the puzzle begin to come together for me. Suddenly, I understood what a Kibbutz was, why the streets were empty on Saturdays, and the explanation behind the variants of Jewish clothing. By learning about the past, we were able to better understand the present.
Not only did we engage with Judaism on a historical level, but the Institute also allowed us to engage with Judaism on a cultural level. For example, Dr. Lenk graciously hosted us for a Shabbat dinner. By participating with her, we were taking part in a tradition that has been practiced every Friday for thousands of years.
As Shabbat continued, Dr. Lenk invited us to Synagogue for a Shabbat service. We were able to see for ourselves the differences and similarities in which both Christians and Jews worship. I was able to observe and engage with a Jewish community at large. The entire experience is not really something I can even put into words.
The only thing I can say is I doubt that I will ever have the chance to witness and engage Jewish culture in that way again. The Shalom Hartman Institute gave me invaluable exposure—an integral part of my understanding of Jewish culture and identity—that will help me better understand the past, present, and future. No amount of books I have read, classes I have taken, or lectures I have heard could have taught me what I learned from the experience of engaging with the Jewish community of Jerusalem.
Elena Miles ’15 is a senior studying history and international relations. Photo credits from top: Gini Pera ’16 takes a study break in Jerusalem from the roof of the Jerusalem University College campus; Students celebrate after they conquer a hike to a ridge in the Judean Wilderness between Jerusalem and Jericho.
Initially, I applied to become a Youth Hostel Ministries team member at Wheaton thinking it would “complete me” by forcing me out of my comfort zone into great conversations all around Europe that would magically strengthen my faith and make me bolder. That wasn’t at all what I experienced during my summer “vacation,” however—I instead found myself working through trying circumstances and practicing spiritual disciplines that broke me to pieces, trusting they would ultimately bear fruit.
While YHM was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, it was also one of the most beautiful and rewarding of my adventures to date.
The 200-mile “spiritual pilgrimage” our team took on El Camino de Santiago was a precursor to five weeks of work at The Pilgrim House welcome center in Santiago, Spain (a hostel started by Nate '97 and Faith Wen Walter ’97, two Wheaton College alumni). Throughout our journey on El Camino, we walked as a team, but in many ways had to learn what it meant to be individual pilgrims.
I learned throughout this time how to take the loneliness I occasionally felt and turn it into a time of solitude in the presence of the Lord. I learned that the pain of walking hundreds of miles with blisters on my feet kept me conscious and aware, and in the moments I had no strength left of my own, it was only God who could get me where I was headed. He provided exactly what I needed to make it through each moment, whether it be a good conversation, kindness, or the majesty in His creation.
Working with Nate and Faith at Pilgrim House in Santiago, I learned there’s beauty in God’s timing that comes from devoting yourself to following Him. Faith told us in their kitchen one evening that if they had known 10 years ago how long it would take to finally open Pilgrim House, they might never have begun. In the same way, had I known how difficult the Camino (let alone the rest of the summer) would be, I might not have had the desire to begin the journey. But God, just as He did with Nate and Faith, provided for me, and was with me every step of the way.
Instead of YHM “completing” me, I came back in pieces. In the same way my Camino shell (a symbol worn around your backpack to signify your participation on the El Camino pilgrimage) came back broken after our two-week hike, so too was I broken and scattered. My YHM journey wasn’t easy, but it inspired me to pursue the passions God has placed on my heart more than ever. On the pilgrim road, I realized my journey is far from over, and I want nothing less than to walk it well. I desire a “Buen Camino,” and I encourage everyone to consider a program like YHM during their time at Wheaton.
Alley Kammer ’16 is a junior studying interpersonal communication with a Spanish minor. She participated in Wheaton’s Youth Hostel Ministries program this summer. Top: Alley and Nico Lasta ’15 on El Camino de Santiago; Above (l to r): Pilgrim House founder Nate Walter ’97, YHM team members Luke Rynbrandt '16, Brooke Thompson '14, Nico Lasta '15, Alley Kammer ’16, and Pilgrim House co-founder Faith Wen Walter ’97. Read more about the Pilgrim House in Wheaton Magazine.
Well, that went fast. It’s on all of our minds as we Wheaton College seniors prepare to complete our undergraduate degrees this spring. I can still remember my first day moving into Traber dorm four years ago: I was trying to squeeze all of my belongings onto one half of the room when my roommate suddenly appeared with 11 members of his family, including two toddlers and a crying infant. It’s no wonder this day is emblazoned in my memory.
After a quiet and strictly academic freshman year (some of my floormates referred to me as “the Hermit”), I felt challenged by God to step out of my comfort zone to deliberately become more involved in extracurricular activities. This led to my participation in Honduras Project (HP), an annual student-led mission trip to install a gravity-fed potable water system in a rural village in Honduras.
After my first trip to Honduras in 2012, I was privileged to serve on cabinet as HP’s communications coordinator in 2013. Both of my years with HP were unforgettable. I learned about leadership and service while making lasting relationships with both my teammates and the villagers I worked alongside while laying piping for the system.
During my sophomore year, I also applied for Wheaton in the Holy Lands (WIHL). This study abroad opportunity with bible and theology faculty members involves traveling during the summer to lands of the Bible. We spent time in Israel, Greece, Turkey, and Italy, journeying to sites where Scripture was brought to life. There are no sensations quite like splashing into the ‘sea’ where Jesus once walked or sweating in the baking sun in Jericho. It made the stories of the Bible come alive in my heart and mind as they took on tangible, beautiful new meaning. On the final morning in Jerusalem, I watched the sun rise from the Mount of Olives and wondered if Jesus had ever taken the time to soak up this view.
Now, during my last semester on campus, I’m working as an editorial intern at Wheaton magazine. In addition to carrying out traditional copyediting tasks and attending editorial planning meetings, I’ve also been able to publish the magazine’s print material online. My professional skill set has grown—I can now operate within a content management system (I didn’t even know what that was before I started here), maneuver through software like Photoshop, and conduct official interviews.
I’m an introvert—but that doesn’t mean I can let opportunities pass me by due to my uncertainty. Stepping out from my studies to engage other facets of experiential learning has transformed my life, and I’m so thankful for God making each risk worthwhile. As I look to the future that lay before me, I trust that God will continue to provide for this Hermit, wherever He leads me.
Beau Westlund ’14 is Wheaton magazine’s editorial intern. A senior from Bettendorf, Iowa, Beau is graduating with a degree in English with a concentration in writing, and hopes to work in the HR/PR/media field.
For the first time in my life, I had to face winter. And not just any winter, but a record Chicago winter. Prior to coming to Wheaton, I had never seen or touched snow before. The high elevation in my home country of Rwanda always provided cool weather throughout the whole year, with 82F average high and 58F average low. So my Kinyarwanda language did not even have the vocabulary word for snow. The cold winter was one of many new and exciting things I was able to experience during my first year at Wheaton College Graduate School.
I just completed my first year in the M.A. in Systematic Theology program. I had many challenges at the beginning of my program, such as adjusting to the rigorous pace of graduate studies and speaking and writing in English, my fourth language. But Wheaton College offered me the best studying environment that I could ever imagine. I lived with four roommates who were also international students, and each of us was from a different continent; what a great blessing! Though we all came from different cultures, we had a common culture of being Christian brothers.
I also had to leave my wife Hope and our three children: Moses (11), Esther (8), and Sandra (4) in Rwanda when I started my Theology program. Though I was apart from my family, Wheaton College became my family away from family. The Christian interaction between students, professors, and staff provided an excellent learning environment. Professors at Wheaton are so amazing! I always wondered how these professors are so knowledgeable, yet so very humble. They are not only academic professors, but also spiritual mentors.
Back at home, I am a church planting pastor and a theology teacher, where I serve as the General Secretary of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Rwanda; an association of indigenous churches that a team of 12 pastors and I founded in 2007. Since then, we have planted 33 more churches to bring our total number of churches to 45. This summer, I look forward to being home in Rwanda with my family and to return to my ministry. The first year is already gone and it seems that the time was so quick. I look forward to finishing my second year with great courage.
There I was, sitting casually in Dr. Barrett McRay’s class, sneakily checking my phone, when I let out a shriek. Before I knew it, everyone’s eyes were turned to me. I couldn’t unglue my eyes from the subject line of my most recent email: “Federal Bureau of Investigation—Congratulations!”
Over the next few weeks, as I weighed the offer to accept an internship with the FBI in Chicago, I reminisced about the excitement I felt when I met my first FBI agent in middle school. There was the idea of working for something greater than yourself: for justice.
Today I sit at my desk at the Bureau downtown, amazed at the chain of events that have occurred since I was offered my internship over a year ago. I’ve gone through a polygraph test, background investigation, internship credits, a hiring freeze, job applications, and an endless amount of questions: What does the future hold? Why do I really want to work for the FBI? And furthermore, can a career with the U.S. government build the Kingdom of God?
As I reflect on my years at Wheaton, I can’t pinpoint a specific class, experience, or individual person that has brought me to the place I am now. I wish we offered a class called “Working for the Kingdom of God and the FBI at the Same Time,” but that hasn’t made it into the course catalog (yet). What I can pinpoint is that my time at Wheaton has instilled in me an innate desire to use all I have to build the Kingdom of God.
Each day I walk into the office with a few questions on my mind: What is my ministry? How can I share experiences and interact with my co-workers in a manner that exudes Christ’s love? Each of these questions have been formed, honed, and modeled for me through my classes, conversations, and experiences at Wheaton.
What was a seed planted in my life by the living Gospel has been cultivated during my time at Wheaton. My desire to serve Christ’s Kingdom has been stroked, pruned, broken, challenged, revived, and most of all, empowered. It’s painted on a stone by Admissions, and proven in the lives of the people on this campus: Wheaton College truly stands “For Christ and His Kingdom.”
Somehow, for some reason, my resume was plucked out of a stack of hundreds as I made it to FBI Chicago with a badge and a desk—but also with so much more. The Lord has given me the unique opportunity to join the FBI, but Wheaton has given me a passion for Christ, for His Kingdom, and an army of believers to share this passion with. It is with this hope and truth that I step out in faith every day to build the Kingdom of God.
This post was written by a Wheaton College student who is currently working for the FBI and must remain anonymous