In Hawaiian, “Ohana” means family. “Koinonia,” a transliterated form of the Greek word κοινωνία, which means communion and joint participation, basically holds the same meaning for me. “Koinonia” is an idealized state of fellowship and unity that should exist within the Body of Christ. Koinonia, a club within the Office of Multicultural Development at Wheaton that exists to glorify God through the unique cultures of Asian community, is definitely not this idealized perfect community. But with all its imperfections, it has been my refuge at Wheaton.
Before I got involved with Koinonia, I was its biggest critic. Like many Wheaties, I wrote Koinonia off as an exclusive Korean club. As a racial minority on campus and an ethnic minority among the Asian community, Koinonia seemed unwelcoming to me as a Taiwanese. However, as a cabinet member of the Chinese Culture Club, the opportunity I had to work with Koinonia in organizing the campus-wide Lunar New Year Festival event during my sophomore year proved me wrong.
During the two-month-long planning period, Koinonia’s cabinet showered me with love, acceptance, and inclusivity. Despite not being part of the cabinet, I was often invited to have dinner with them and was included in many casual conversations. Due to the kindness that Koinonia cabinet showed me, I could no longer stubbornly hold on to the negative image I had of Koinonia. Coincidentally or not, I discovered that Koinonia was preparing to recruit for the following year’s cabinet. My prideful self still desperately wanted to cling on to the bitterness I had towards Koinonia, but after a hard period of struggle, I surrendered my pride and pain to God and asked Him to give me the chance to be part of this community.
Through being part of Koinonia, I’ve learned the importance of race-specific ministries. Growing up in Taiwan and China, I’ve always held strong prejudices against other East Asians for political and historical reasons. The bitterness I harbored in my heart against non-Taiwanese Asians was eliminated through the relationships I built with my Asian brothers and sisters. Furthermore, I began to explore and find my identity in Christ in a contextualized way through living in a community that understands and affirms my Asian experiences in this country.
Serving as Koinonia’s president this past year has been the most humbling thing I have experienced my whole life. Not only did God expose an array of shortcomings I never knew I possessed, He showed me His abiding love and grace through my cabinet members. Despite the countless times I failed them, my cabinet chose not to hold grudges, but instead confronted me for the sake of reconciliation and love. They’ve seen the worst side of me, yet still choose to love me and respect me—if this is not family, I don’t know what is. They showed me that this community is not about perfection and performance; Koinonia exists for the imperfect and the broken.
In Hawaiian, “Ohana” means family. Koinonia means family to me. It is my family.
Jennifer Fu ’15 is a senior studying geology. Read more about her Wheaton experience on her author bio page. Photo credits: Daniel Sung-Min Yoon '15.
As someone who can’t remember a time before she was involved in singing for other people, it’s perhaps unsurprising that vocal performance major Hannah Benson ’15 has found a home in Wheaton’s Conservatory of Music.
“I love the way that studying voice makes me feel,” Hannah says. “I’m creating the sound physically, and it’s a very rewarding major to me because of that.”
As one of the lead roles in Wheaton’s Opera Music Theater production of Dido and Aeneas, Hannah has had ample opportunity to exercise her vocal talent in a community of fellow artists.
“I love the people in the conservatory,” she says. “Because there are so few of us and we’re constantly in the same building, we get to know each other really well. It becomes a really close-knit community.”
From Hannah’s perspective, this community includes professors, too. Working closely with well-trained professionals is made even more beneficial when paired with small class sizes and ensembles in which all participants know one another by name.
“It’s really rewarding in both the academic and emotional aspects,” Hannah says. “It’s been awesome.”
Hannah Benson '15 is a senior studying vocal performance in the Conservatory of Music. Learn more about her dreams and aspirations on her author bio page.
One of the most rewarding things I have done this year is to become a 1-2-1 leader as part of a program through the Office of Multicultural Development. As a 1-2-1 leader, my job is to be a resource to minority first-year or transfer students at Wheaton. 1-2-1 leaders make sure their 1-2-1 students know they have someone who is available to listen, hang out, study with, pray with, and help them adjust to life at Wheaton.
College is such a unique phase of life, and the change from senior year of high school to the first year of college is a dramatic transition. Being a minority adds an extra layer of complexities—at Wheaton, there aren’t many people that look like you or think like you, understand your background, or even share the same humor as you. 1-2-1 leaders provide a safe place for these students to express how they feel and know they are not alone.
College is hard. Being at Wheaton is hard. Being a person of color at a predominantly white institution is hard. But I believe that these hardships are meant to ultimately bring us together—we don’t have to navigate these unfamiliar waters alone. 1-2-1 provides a space where people can connect and begin to cultivate their own identity. Acceptance of that identity ultimately helps us begin to understand how best to interact with the people around us, regardless of race, class, gender, or other differences.
Early at the beginning of this semester, one of my 1-2-1 students sent me a text out of the blue that said, “How can you deal with being the only black person everywhere you go?” I called her and invited her to come over to my apartment, and we stayed up talking until the wee hours of the morning. Sharing our experiences ended up being so life-giving for both of us. Before she left, she gave me a huge hug and said, “Now I want to be a 1-2-1 leader!”
As part of the Wheaton community, we all have the potential to broaden each other’s horizons. We often develop false assumptions about people, and if we don’t check ourselves before acting on these assumptions, the repercussions can be hurtful. Being a 1-2-1 leader has taught me about the importance of taking time to listen to other people’s stories, pushing me to throw my preconceptions out the window. Everyone—no matter the race or culture—has a story that’s worth listening to. That is why we should approach our interactions with patience and grace.
Photos (above): Aseye Agamah '16 (front, center) gathers with her 1-2-1 students in Lower Beamer Center, fall 2014.
Jon Thornton ’16 couldn’t have guessed when he was first applying to Wheaton that working in the on-campus café—Sam’s—would become such a formative part of his undergrad experience. “I’ve made super strong relationships at Sam’s that have carried past when people have graduated from Wheaton . . . It’s a really good hub, not only for people who come to Sam’s, but for the employees to be able to get to know each other and hang out.”
Thornton describes Sam’s as one of the central meeting points on campus, and says he loves the chance to interact with “everyone on campus who doesn’t grab Starbucks on their way to work.” Located in the Beamer Student Center, which is sometimes thought of as the “living room” of campus, Sam’s workers like Thornton enjoy serving everyone from current students and professors to the visitors attracted by Alumni Weekend, Wheaton Connection visits, or community events like concerts or lectures.
Thornton’s love for people doesn’t just influence his preferred working environment—it also spills over into his chosen double major. Though he came into Wheaton as a freshman with the intent to study business and economics, Thornton discovered a passion and talent for new subjects through some of his general education courses. A communication and anthropology double major, Thornton loves to study “people groups and communication within people groups,” which he hopes will prepare him for work in advertising and marketing after graduation.
Thornton, who intends to pursue further studies in business at the graduate level, believes that the faith-based teaching he has received at Wheaton is part of what makes his education worthwhile. “I’ve interacted with a lot of really big ideas, and to be able to interact with those ideas in a Christian setting has been amazing,” he says.
Jon Thornton ’16 is a communication and anthropology double major. Video produced by Wheaton College Media Producer Kevin Schmalandt.
The lights are dim, the theater is full, and there’s a buzz of anticipation in the air. We’re standing in a prayer circle backstage on opening night of Wheaton College Arena Theater’s fall 2014 production, Till We Have Faces, and I’m struck by the amount of time that has gone into this show before it even had an audience.
It’s taken hundreds of hours. Memorizing lines, focusing lights, perfecting sound cues, blocking fight scenes, splattering paint, gold-leafing crowns, selling tickets, constructing risers, sewing hems, sawing plywood, applying makeup, crawling around on catwalks, sweeping up dirt, smearing fake blood, pulling curtains.
And it’s taken more than just the volunteer time put in by the crews and actors. Each Arena Theater production is made possible not just by hours in the scene shop or hunched over a sewing machine, but by a rich tapestry of relationship that our ensemble lives and breathes.
We represent every major from physics and ancient languages to studio art and communication, and we come from geographic locations just as diverse. Many of us would never have met one another in the rest of our Wheaton lives, but here in Arena Theater, we come together to form an unlikely but tight-knit tribe.
We play acting games together. We eat together. We take classes together. We fight. We study the Bible. We dance. We give each other gifts. We celebrate traditions instituted by people we’ve never met. We cry. We goof off. Our little theater family has built a life together in this building that provides the soil from which all of our plays spring.
Though the value of our shared way of life is obvious to me, I have to remind myself that the thing that brought me into this community in the first place was a passion for the theater. And in some ways this colossal game of adult dress-up and storytelling seems an exercise in excess. Those who call Arena Theater their home sacrifice massive amounts of our mental, emotional and temporal resources in each play, only to bury it all in one night of deconstruction after the last show. Pieces of the broken-down set will languish in the dumpster out back, costumes will retreat to quiet corners of the costume closet, lights will be reset and the stage manager’s binder closed for good. Why do we exert so much effort for something as ephemeral as a play?
In a culture that prizes efficiency and demands quantifiable results, the work we do in Arena Theater may seem superfluous. And yet I’m reminded of the God who made the brilliant iridescence of a peacock feather when a flat gray one would’ve sufficed; the God who puts on an over-the-top lightshow twice a day to transition between day and night when the simple flip of a switch would do. If we’re to take our cues from the Creator God, it would seem that this life is meant to be much more than utilitarian.
In Arena Theater, this is a truth we’re trying to work out daily.
Whitney Bauck '15 is a senior studying studio art with an emphasis in photography. Photo credits from top: A scene from Arena Theater's production of Till We Have Faces by Whitney Bauck '15; Arena Theater friends celebrating a birthday together with Martinelli's sparkling cider and snacks (Credit: Amy Kuhlman '15); one last scene from Till We Have Faces.