I remember what it was like, sitting in that classroom on Wheaton College’s campus in May with the 43 unfamiliar faces I'd be spending six weeks abroad with. Six weeks traveling across Israel, Greece, Turkey, and Italy. The air of mixed excitement and uncertainty was prominent, as Dr. Chris Vlachos stood at the front of the room giving a pre-trip lecture on the climactic moment of Jesus' ministry when He looked upon His disciples and asked:
But who do you say that I am?
Then the waves were crashing along the shoreline at Caesarea Philippi. The air was warm and the sun bright. We sat upon the rocks and the passage was read once more. The 43 faces around me were more familiar now—somehow the late hours together and sweat from a blazing Israeli sun cultivated a kind of friendship that couldn't be bought. And being there with them, the question seemed to ring louder, as if it were being asked not of the disciples but of us. In a world that denies, twists, and confuses His identity,
Who do you say that I am?
It was not asked of a single person, but to the whole of the group; an open question in need of response. I imagine them looking around at one another, letting the words hang uncertainly in the air. Perhaps the answer was what all of them were thinking. Perhaps it had not yet occurred to some of them. But it was Simon Peter who stepped forward with the bold reply:
You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
It was the last event of our last day: the Scavi tour underneath St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Those 43 were no longer simply faces but beautiful souls with whom I'd experienced the journey of a lifetime. We went below, 12 at a time, to a small room containing an even smaller box that held the purple-stained bones of an elderly man who died in the first century, the bones more likely than not of Peter: the first person to openly declare Jesus as the Christ. The passage from Matthew 16 was read once more, closing the six-week long circle. Wheaton to Israel to Rome, the lingering question remains. In our speech, in our actions, in our lives;
Who do you say that I am?
Jillian Hedges ’17 is a Communication (Media Studies) major who traveled abroad with Wheaton in the Holy Lands this summer. Photo captions (from top): He is the Christ, the son of the living God (Enxi '17, Daniela '17, Abby '17, Jillian '17, and Caitlyn '17 in Caesarea Philippi, Israel); His provision abounds like a stream in the desert (Arad, Israel); Lifting up our voices in the most incredible places (Abby '17, Casey '17, Peter '17 and J.R. '16 in Metora, Greece); Finding peace where there should be none (Judean Wilderness, Israel). Photos by Dan Chung ’17. Tell us about your summer experiences abroad using the hashtag #MyWheaton.
Choosing to participate in Youth Hostel Ministry, or "YHM," has proven to be a wise decision for many more reasons than I expected. YHM appeared to be a program that would allow me to travel, practice my Spanish, and get outside of my comfort zone with my fellow travelers in Europe. Though those things have all proven to be true, the crux of my learning has been within my heart: toward how I view the world and what God wants to do with me for His Kingdom.
Traveling through Paris was a time of frustration for me, as my team struggled to meet other travelers in our hostel. This resulted in discouragement for our team. I was joyful to be in a large city, but there was something about Paris that shook me the wrong way: The city lacked spirituality. I saw a dark place, bustling with Parisians and tourists interacting in a mundane, empty way. Seeing Notre Dame felt like a tourist destination rather than a beautiful cathedral sharing the beauty and love of our God. Parisians of all classes riding the metro with distressed, sad looks on their faces allowed me to see the desperate need for the Gospel in this city.
This darkness is not unique to Paris, though—many cities around Europe, and the world, are craving hope and truth in their lives. My journey, I've learned, begins with studying the development and problems of cities. I hope this equips me with a deeper understanding of such cities, transforming my discouragement into deliverance of His love.
In Barcelona, our team saw an example of a lack of respect for human dignity. My team and I were in a restaurant in Barcelona when I witnessed deep, cruel racism involving Spaniard patrons and some Asian employees. After our team chatted with the employees, we learned they chose not to kick the unruly men out because then they would not earn enough money for the day. This is what they deal with on a daily basis in order to make a living in a place they should be able to call home, a place that should be a comfortable work environment. These issues are magnified in cities as a result of the racial diversity cities typically retain.
As a result of my experiences in these European cities, my passion for urban environments has grown. It is clear that this is an area of study I wish to pursue further during my time at Wheaton. As I prepare to end my time with YHM and begin my program with Wheaton in Chicago this fall, God gives me both personal and global perspectives: He continues to ignite my fascination and passion for urban studies, while unveiling to me the united and broken urban communities throughout the world.
Ann Szeliga ’17 is a junior studying international relations and urban studies who took part in Wheaton’s Youth Hostel Ministries program in Europe this summer. Photos (from top):
Ann's YHM team in Amsterdam (left to right): Ann Szeliga '17, Emily Trowbridge '16, Ari Kim '16, Sara King '18, Lexi Carlson '17; A stone fountain in Notre Dame, Paris reads in Spanish, "I am the way that seeks travelers." Photo credits: Learn more about YHM on their website, and tell us about your summer experiences abroad using the hashtag #MyWheaton.
Hearing one’s home language is like coming home. I saw how home was created here at Wheaton for me during my past four years on campus through friendship, love, knowledge, brokenness, and family. For a short moment, in preparation for a prayer I was asked to deliver at Baccalaureate on the day of graduation, I thought, How could I welcome ‘home’ many of the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and all who will be present?
Beyond making that day a homecoming, we inhabit a world where, though set apart by seas, walls, fences, and enmity, we are all made in the image of God. A habit as simple as listening to another language is the practice of asking, “How are you made in the image of God?,” then loving the answerer and their answer.
Therefore, I wrote my prayer as follows:
Thank you, Lord, first and foremost for your son. Your love has redeemed us and given us hope.
Gracias Senor (Spanish), for the breath each morning, clothes on our body, roof over our head, and food to eat for the last four years.
Krap kun Prajaow (Thai), for movement through dance, and sports, and stillness, because you have given us our bodies.
Ashkulallah (Arabic), for music, because with our hands and the breath in our lungs we can praise you. For colors, shapes, and lines, because you created.
Diu Merci (French), for the privilege and burden as we sit here as college graduates, or soon to be college graduates today, remembering those who cannot.
Slava Bogu (Russian), for bringing us all to the awareness of our brokenness, and how we cause pain and suffering as individuals, communities, institutions, and nations every day.
Xie Xie Shangdi (Mandarin Chinese), for staff, family, faculty, and friends, with whom we struggle together, pray together, rejoice together.
Terima Kasih Tuhan (Indonesian), for your providence through finances, fiancees, friends for life, and memories that lead us to smile, and to solitude.
Vielen danke zu Gott (German), for in our failing, grace was shown.
Gam-sa Hap-ni Da Junim (Korean), for the community where we have learned to be the church and Christians truly, truly, as we said before us the nations, to all the tribes and tongues we go.
And thank you so much, God, for all the ups and the highs, stories of woe and woo, when we look back and look now into the future we will know and be satisfied. It is well with our soul.
The article above is a description of and transcription of a prayer delivered by Joohee Uhm '15 at Wheaton College’s 2015 Baccalaureate ceremony. Photo (above): Joohee with friends celebrating commencement outside Blanchard Hall on May 10.
At Wheaton, I've learned to begin questioning from a place of faith. Faith is a matter of managing the tension of seeing only in part, while knowing that we will one day know as we are fully known. If we're being honest, however, there's a lot more gray area in the journey of faith on this side of heaven than we would like to admit. But faith trusts that following Jesus doesn't promise answers for everything—though it does offer enough.
I've come to learn that “knowing in part” naturally requires a willingness to be wrong, and the ability to say “I don't know.” I think back to the past couple of years where Dr. Winnie Fung M.A. ’14 (one of our economics professors), in particular, has given me countless opportunities to be wrong—and my grades can attest to this. But through her challenging us, I have learned to a greater degree the beauty of being able to say, “I don't know,” while also making sure to seek and hold to answers where God has provided them.
The second key to questioning well is hope: Maintaining that hope is not, never was, and never will be an individual effort. I can recall countless times of being encouraged and challenged by friends at Wheaton, at just the right time. I might even go so far as to say that it is only due to the community of believers that my faith has not only remained intact, but has become stronger while I've navigated the challenges of questioning.
And the greatest theme that should guide our questioning? Love. Here, I owe a shout out to my mom, who has asked me the same, simple question over these four years: “And how are you living it out?” Isn't this the most annoying question as an enlightened student who is going to change the world, but can't quite do it just yet? Saying this question brings back a flood of frustrating memories. Yet I am so thankful for this question, as it has taught me to never lose sight of love in the process of questioning. How do the questions I ask and the answers I've arrived at lead me to love better? For questioning in the absence of love naturally leads to cynicism.
In closing: questions are unavoidable. But how you answer questions—how I answer questions—determines what kind of people we will become, and what our witness will be. In the past four years, when it comes to questioning, I've learned the beauty of faith (that God has revealed himself enough), hope (God hears us when we pray, and questioning is to be a communal effort), and love (the process of questioning begins and ends with love).
The article above is an adaptation of a faith and learning testimony delivered by Jordan Heres ’15 at Wheaton College’s 2015 Baccalaureate ceremony. Photo (above): Jordan, fourth from left, with family and his fiancée, Ingrid Dyk '15 (also in cap and gown), at 2015 commencement.
“Wonder” was the defining feature of my journey with faith and learning at Wheaton. I remember sitting at HoneyRock during Student Development Week last summer with the Chaplain’s Office as Clayton Keenon led us in a discussion of Ephesians 4. As we processed through what it could look like to be the body of Christ this year, it was incredible to hear how the diversity of fields of study contributed to our conversation. We had communication, Christian education, business, and music majors—and each one had a slightly different perspective. And then we got to verse 16 of chapter 4: “From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
I had read it so many times before, but this time the seemingly opposite worlds of the Northwoods and the human cadaver lab came crashing together, and I marveled at how my Applied Health Science classes illuminated Paul’s words and brought them into sharp clarity. I’ve felt those ligaments that Paul uses as a metaphor: They are incredibly strong; crafted by the Creator to withstand the jumping, playing, and working of our bodies. And far from being simply memorized anatomical facts, I was given a space to apply my learning to my faith and my experience of the truth of Scripture.
Even deeper than a concept of faith and learning as “application,” I’ve increasingly found ‘faith and learning’ at Wheaton to simply be an acknowledgement of the way life is, whether we recognize it or not. If our minds, our souls, these earth and skies, have been spoken into being by Truth Himself, and every piece of it is by Him and through Him and for Him, then our learning is itself an act of faith in that Creator. In that light, my Wheaton education has been an education in rightful, mindful worship. To converse about the theology of embodiment in a human physiology class; to discuss the sociology of Marian imagery in a cross-referenced art and biblical and theological studies class; to read about the anthropology of epidemic diseases; and yes, to connect Pauline metaphors with my anatomy class—each of these have been training exercises, strengthening my mind to engage in worship with all of its might.
So here at the end of my four years at Wheaton, the word that comes to my mind when I hear the phrase “faith and learning” is wonder. Wonder at the Creator, who spoke Truth into being and who invites us to think, to learn, and thereby to worship.
The article above is an adaptation of Catherine Holt ’15’s faith and learning testimony delivered at Wheaton College’s 2015 Baccalaureate ceremony. Listen to her full testimony in video posted above. Pictured above with family at 2015 Commencement (far left).