Spending a year abroad in a foreign country, learning the customs, traditions, and ways of life of your host country can be a rewarding yet challenging experience. The smells, the tastes, the habits of your adopted country are eye-opening and make you pause to compare and consider your own cultures habits. In good ways and bad ways every culture is different, something can be learned, something can be experienced, and something can be taken away from every culture. Becoming immersed into a new culture and language is one of the most unforgettable and life changing experiences a person can ever really have. A person’s native culture is always engrained on their very soul, but you take with you a piece of every culture you become immersed in. Traveling, seeing, and experiencing other cultures, has a way of shaping you and changing you sometimes even without you realizing it. You learn a healthy criticism of what is good and bad in your own culture, and you recognize the good in others and what you can learn from others.
I have always found that immersion into other cultures can sharpen your faith, making you more articulate and aware of what you believe and what your values are. At home, surrounded by friends and comfort, routine and like-minded people, we are not often stretched out of our comfort zone. Being abroad, it often does not take long before we find ourselves meeting someone or in a situation where we have to give an articulate account of who we are and what we believe. God has a funny way of planting us in situations to share His Gospel and to give a testimony of what God has done in our lives. I have also found living in another culture can heighten your awareness of your need for God, and the need to put complete confidence and faith in God and not in yourself. Countless times you find yourself in situations, at the mercy of strangers or people you hardly know, depending on God’s provision, quickly realizing your own strength and ability is not adequate. Stacey and I can attest to this while living in Ukraine. Also, when I was younger, traveling and studying half a year in the Netherlands, living with a host family was a character forming experience.
Over the past few years we have enjoyed a relationship and a partnership with both Pella Christian High School, in Pella, Iowa and Northern Michigan Christian High School in McBain, Michigan, my alumna matter. We have been very grateful and appreciative to both of these schools for their generosity, commitment, and willingness to work with us in an International Student Program. We have been able to send a number of students from the Reformed Lyceum of Peterfalva to both Pella and McBain where they have been warmly welcomed and received by the schools and by kind and gracious host families. We are indebted and grateful to both schools and to all the host families who have accepted students over the years. The students who have participated in this program have all come back with polished English language skills as well as invaluable skills and knowledge gained from the experience of spending a year abroad in a new and different culture.
It has been the aim and hope of our International Student Program to provide this opportunity to better educate and equip these students to serve God in their home communities. It has been our hope to see these young people return from their year in the States with a heart for the Gospel and a desire to be God-fearing leaders, teachers, business men, pastors, fathers and mothers, (where ever God calls them) that Transcarpathia, Ukraine and the society here so desperately needs. We praise God that we have seen this happen with these students. We have been able to rely on all former exchange students in many different capacities, such as helping us with English camps, assisting us in organizing university Bible studies, working with Dutch mission groups, and many other tasks. They truly have developed into exemplary young men and women that these communities so badly are in need of.
Two former exchange students from the 2013/2014 school year, Krisztina and Bogi, have been so instrumental to us here in our ministry since their return to Transcarpathia this past June. While university students, one has also become an English teacher/Sunday school teacher/Mentor for Roma youth in a nearby Roma (Gypsy) camp (Bogi). They have worked with mission groups from the Netherlands on Vacation Bible Schools for Roma children (both Bogi and Krisztina). They have worked with us on English camps (both Bogi and Krisztina). They have helped us organize a new Bible Study in Ungvar, the capital city of Transcarpathia, at the state university (Krisztina). They have helped us organize a Bible study among university students from the local college in Beregszasz (Bogi). Krisztina has worked as a translator for researchers from University of Maastricht who have been researching the effects of alcoholism here in Transcarpathia. We are very proud of these ladies as well as all of the past International students. It is really exciting to see how the Lord is using their gifts for His purposes and to further His kingdom.In the photo above is Bogi with the guitar and Krisztina to her right leading a student group singing for elderly ladies in the village during the English camp.
Pictured above is Alexandra, the current exchange student at Pella Christian. We look forward to working with her at our summer English camp in Peterfalva, Ukraine. We ask for your prayers for these students as they seek God’s will and direction for their lives.
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