The tiki torches’ flickering light reflected off each face, illuminating them, as we weaved through the woods and up HoneyRock’s ski hill. At the top, I gathered with about 150 of my fellow freshmen around a giant bonfire. Its sparks leaped upward to the vast Wisconsin night sky, beckoning my eyes to follow. The stars were magnificent. We proceeded to lift our voices up to the Creator of those very stars, and then participated in a revitalizing word of prayer.
This was the beginning of our Passage into the Wheaton community.
The Camp Track of Wheaton’s Northwoods Passage Program enhanced my transition into college in many ways. I will focus on one: Friendship.
After that large group gathering on ski hill, we split into our cabins. Initially, I viewed my cabin as a motley group. We were introverted and extroverted individuals, morning people and not-exactly-morning people, athletic and artsy people from Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Illinois, and New Jersey.
We were “Cabin 12.”
To my surprise and pleasure, we overcame our differences quite naturally and started building deep relationships with each other. We became very much like a family. We ate meals together, overcame challenge course activities together, camped together, served together, shared our life stories together, and grew in Christ together.
These friendships did not end at HoneyRock. We still hang out together, eat meals together, and encourage each other together on Wheaton’s campus. I am truly blessed.
In retrospect, I really admire the way Camp Track emphasizes quality of relationships within cabins rather than quantity of relationships within the track. I know Cabin 12 will have each other’s backs during our entire time at Wheaton and beyond. Despite this, many of the people I met during Passage are some of my close friends now. I met Lincoln, who I now serve with on Student Government, during Passage. I met Charissa, a wonderful floormate, during Passage.
Even though I did not become close friends with everyone I met at Camp Track, it is such a blessing to recognize so many familiar faces and know so many names of my fellow classmates around campus. What really amazes me is that even though there are no tiki torches here on campus, their faces still seem illuminated to me. I believe at least part of that is because of our shared Passage experience, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Read more about HoneyRock’s Passage program and new, year-long Vanguard program. Photos (above): Brielle Lisa ’18 with members of Cabin 12 at HoneyRock Passage, August 2014.
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.