Dozens of Perkins students started the semester with fresh perspectives and memories, following their travels in the 2020 January term Global Theological Education Immersion Trips to Waco, Texas, and Israel/Palestine.
A group of 10 students journeyed to the Middle East for the Israel-Palestine trip, led by faculty members Robert Hunt and Tamara Lewis, from January 2-14. Another group of 22 students, led by Hugo Magallanes, traveled to Waco, Texas, from January 7-13, to witness the work of Mission Waco, a ministry serving those in need.
The trips gave students the chance to meet local leaders and to gain a better understanding of problems in each place visited. Many students came home with a renewed determination to serve.
For David Kemp, an M.Div. student on the Waco trip, the most impactful moment was an eye-opening conversation with a 10-year-old boy named Roderick who lives in the projects. Roderick knowledgeably discussed news of the 2020 presidential race and the impeachment of President Donald Trump. He told Kemp that he hopes to become an astrophysicist.
“I didn’t go in expecting a kid in the projects to be that smart,” he said. “I was biased, even though I did not consciously realize it.”
That personal connection made a deep impression, as did Mission Waco’s approach to community development.
“Just giving people stuff doesn’t get people out of poverty,” Kemp said. “Instead, for example, you can buy up apartments and make them affordable. You can get private money involved, and you can do it in a way that is beneficial to the community.”
Mission Waco provides “Christian-based, holistic, relationship-based programs that empower the poor and marginalized,” according to its mission statement. The ministry also seeks to mobilize middle-class Christians to become more compassionately connected to the poor and to address systemic issues that contribute to poverty.
Twenty-one students participated in the Waco trip, including six M.Div. students, one M.A.M. student and 14 D.Min. students, for whom the trip was a required part of their curriculum. Students stayed in a training center owned by Mission Waco and had a chance to hear from Mission Waco founder Jimmy Dorrell and observe him and the ministry in action. The ministry’s efforts include a grocery store, a theater, a restaurant, buildings for the youth and children, a drug rehab clinic and a homeless shelter – all under the Mission Waco umbrella.
“My goal was for the students to learn how to manage a nonprofit and to have a hands-on experience with Jimmy Dorrell,” said Hugo Magallanes, who is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Director of the Houston-Galveston Extension Program. “This is a person who has acquired a lot of wisdom and expertise. The students go to see the successes of the ministry but also to learn the nuts and bolts of how it’s organized and how it runs.” Dorrell presented several lectures and led activities with the group.
Todd Salzwedel (M.Div. ’05) is a D.Min. student and senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Odessa, Texas. He says he’s often preached on engaging the poor, and seen the many ways that churches try to help, with clothes closets, food pantries, life skill classes and prison ministries.
“Sometimes you wonder if you’re not helping to contribute to the issues that are perpetuating the way that people stay caught up in this cycle of poverty,” he said. “What was fascinating was that Mission Waco was not focused on ways to get clothes, food or shelter to people in need. Instead, you empower that community through economic development and education to have a role in how that community develops. It’s about empowering the people we’re seeking to serve with, not serve to.”
Salzwedel noted that the roots of Mission Waco were planted when Jimmy Dorrell and his wife purchased a home in a blighted area of North Waco in 1978, in an intentional effort to engage with the poor. The Dorrells began building relationships, hosting Bible studies and prayer groups in the neighborhood and later starting a worship service for the homeless called the Church Under the Bridge.
“It’s one thing to learn theory, but to put it into practice is a completely different matter,” said Salzwedel. “Watching how that plays out on the ground was revelatory and eye-opening.”
Thea Curry-Fuson, an M.Div. student, couldn’t pass up the chance to see the Holy Land along with a theology professor, and to receive course credit. She was one of the students who participated in the 13-day Israel-Palestine trip.
“We can read the Bible, study the Bible, talk about the Bible, but actually being there and experiencing the locations, then the stories really come to life,” she said. “I have a deeper understanding because I was actually there.”
Curry-Fuson will never forget an outing on a boat in the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm, and watching the storm calm as the group worshipped; or experiencing the serenity of the place where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount; or singing songs in Hebrew, by candlelight, in the home of a Jewish Israeli with a view overlooking the city of Jerusalem.
“Just being in those places, the Scripture passages made more sense to me, and clicked in a different way,” she said.
The group also visited Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, Nablus, Taybeh and Mount Carmel in Nazareth, as well as sites that figured prominently in the life of Jesus: the Church of the Annunciation, the Church of the Nativity, the Sea of Galilee and the Via Dolorosa.
Participants heard from local guides who each shared their perspectives on the conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinians in the region.
While she appreciated the beauty and culture of the Holy Land, Cheryl Roseborough, an M.A.M. student, found it challenging to see a wall that separates the Palestinians from the Israeli citizens.
“As an African-American woman, I know what it’s like to be marginalized,” she said. “I really struggled with that.” Going through checkpoints made her more appreciative of the freedom Americans enjoy.
Roseborough was also moved by worship on the Sea of Galilee as well as a trip to the site where Jesus is believed to have multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the 5,000. She remembered a cousin who had recently passed away in October who, as a child, talked about the “fish and biscuits” that Jesus fed to the multitudes.
“I’d been feeling sad about the fact that I missed his funeral,” she said. “I felt like God gave me the opportunity to celebrate his life at that very location. Hearing the words ‘fish and biscuits’ in my head gave me an opportunity to remember and honor him in the sacred place.”
Registration is now open for three upcoming Immersion Trips: during Spring Break 2020, a trip to Rome and the Vatican, March 12 to 22, 2020, led by James Lee and Bruce Marshall; a trip to General Conference, May 5 to 15, 2020, led by Bishop Max Whitfield; and “Memory, Religion and Politics in Israel/Palestine,” led by Susanne Scholz, May 17 to 28, 2020. To register in advance, please contact the GTE office at firstname.lastname@example.org.