Imagine leaving everything familiar behind for six months.
Since 1976 more than 750 students have travled to the Global South to participate in the unique integration of cross-cultural experience, service, and academic study called a Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) internship.
Dr. Christine Goring Kepner, associate professor of Spanish, has visited some 24 HNGR interns throughout South and Central America. Her visits have taken her to Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Dr. Kepner has also directed/co-directed the Wheaton in Spain program since 1992.
The daughter of missionary parents, Dr. Kepner grew up in Colombia, so not only do these visits nurture her spiritually and professionally, they also sometimes allow her to reconnect with her roots. In August 2013, Dr. Kepner traveled to El Salvador to visit HNGR intern Molly Jamison ’14, an interdisciplinary studies major working with Semillas de Nueva Creación (“Seeds of New Creation”), a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church that holistically trains and supports national Christian leaders. In their own words, Dr. Kepner and Molly describe why these faculty visits are so vital to the program, and to Wheaton.
Twenty-Four Visits in Twenty-Two Years
by Dr. Christine Goring Kepner, associate professor of Spanish
During a visit to HNGR intern Stephanie McCue ’97, I arrived in Honduras to the sad news that a member of the local church had been shot and killed in a gas station holdup. Attending the wake that same afternoon was a powerful experience.
We sat in silence with the deceased’s wife and three children. It was a very simple home. The main room had been emptied and the edges ringed with benches. The body was in a coffin laid across a bed under white gauze canopy curtains. Simple pots of geraniums and daises arranged around the coffin provided graceful ornamentation.
Some 24 hours later our tears were turned to joy when we attended a wedding at a small local church. Being invited into these dignified commemorations of such profound moments of transition was a privilege and a blessing.
While these experiences are only two of the many memorable opportunities I’ve been given since partnering with HNGR in 1991, they are representative of the unique, life- giving dimension of the HNGR faculty visit experience. The periodic immersion I receive by connecting with HNGR students and their hosts provides me with important professional development opportunities, renews my heart by reconnecting me with the Latin American church, and revitalizes my language skills and cultural awareness.
The real-life Spanish I hear and speak flavors my teaching back in the classroom, reminding me of idioms, etiquette, customs, and values that local communities embrace. My voice recovers inflections, pronunciations, and fluency; I discover books and films to update my course syllabi and to enrich my research.
HNGR visits provide me with powerful reality checks that renew me spiritually. As I witness people living at subsistence levels, I am convicted of my own privilege and excess. Each year I return to the United States with a greater commitment to a simple lifestyle, to frugality, and to generosity. I grow in my awareness of the responsibility of privilege and of our calling to identify with the poor.
The Christian leaders and church communities I encounter on the way serve as role models to me of faithful tenacity, grace, and resilience. Rooted in the study of biblical theology, they find creative ways to live prophetically, promoting evangelism, discipleship, and misión integral: holistic mission with the aim of transformation, the redemption of individuals, of families, of communities, of culture.
Like Molly, each of the HNGR interns I have worked with has ministered to me with his or her energy, vision, vulnerability, and resilient wisdom. HNGR visits remind me of why I am at Wheaton College: to walk alongside students in formation as we seek to live in the Kingdom of Christ, to be salt and light, to receive salt and light wherever God places us.
One Student’s Story
by Molly Jamison ’14, an interdisciplinary studies major
Dr. Kepner’s visit in August of 2013 was really special. She met most of my friends, my co-workers, and my host family. It was very meaningful to share my experiences here with someone who knows my life in Wheaton and the United States.
Dr. Kepner’s fluency in Spanish and extensive, firsthand knowledge of Latin America made her visit especially rich because she was able to jump right in, getting to know people and building connections.
At the same time, through her excitement and curiosity, she was also able to help me see my surroundings with fresh eyes. Although I had only been in El Salvador for two months, so many things already felt normal to me. But having her by my side commenting on the beauty of the volcano, how special my coworkers are, the poverty of the communities where I work, and the compassion of those around me helped me feel on a deeper level again.
Dr. Kepner’s presence here in August represented just a small part of her support for me in my HNGR journey, for we regularly correspond via email. It is really meaningful now to get emails from her asking about people in my life here because she is more directly connected than anyone else back home.
While here in El Salvador, I am learning a lot about holistic mission and the church’s social responsibility. I see various responses to the challenge to be disciples who do ministry in the way that Jesus modeled for us. I continue to learn to see and to know people and their stories, and to allow genuine relationships to lead me to care for those around me. I am learning to see with new eyes and hear with new ears, to desire justice in more grounded ways, and to always seek hope without diminishing the truth of the realities around me.
While in El Salvador, Molly attends a theology class once a week, and three mornings a week she works with children ages 4-6 at a preschool in La Iberia, a community in the city center of San Salvador notorious for drug and gang activity. Two days a week she helps with an informal church service and soup kitchen in the small town of Quezaltepeque, just outside San Salvador. Many of the individuals she serves are homeless and/or struggling with substance abuse. In this setting, Molly also runs a tutoring program for children, offering scholastic guidance and creative projects. As part of her independent study project, Molly is examining the leadership structure of Elim, the nation’s largest and most influential mega-church.