Under the Stars and City Lights

The first time I drove myself to college at night, I was shoved off the interstate onto the wrong exit and got lost in downtown Dallas. As a somewhat inexperienced driver who had been downtown only once in fourth grade, to say I was terrified is an understatement of massive proportions.

The scene that greeted me only heightened my fear. The buildings were old and run-down, nothing like the glittering skyscrapers I had seen from the highway. It seemed like the lanes were two sizes too small and were always going the wrong way. And the nearby pedestrians… well, I could tell they weren’t exactly hitting up the Myerson Symphony Center anytime soon.

I pulled into a gas station and drew a deep breath (after making double-sure my car doors were locked). There were only a couple of other cars in the station, but the empty parking lot next door was practically paved with glittery glass shards. I could only imagine what had transpired over there—where those glass shards came from and how they got there—and I couldn’t help but feel vulnerable. My hands were shaking, not from the January chill as much as from fright, as I pulled out my phone to Google Map my way to campus.

I passed that parking lot on my way back to the interstate and didn’t think about it again.

About a year later, in the following December, I found myself burned out on the service project I had been doing for the last two and a half years. Despite the project being similar to what I had grown up doing (working with children), I never felt that invested, and I knew I was wasting valuable time (which is a whole other blog). I was growing miserable; I dreaded service every week, and I hated that such was the case. Service was supposed to be fulfilling and rife with opportunities to see God at work, not stressful.

Hearing about my struggle, a friend suggested I join him for his service project. He had been serving in a homeless ministry ever since I had known him, but I didn’t know much about it. I was curious, and I knew it would be safer if I went in a group, so I agreed.

We carpooled with some other DBU students and made our way to the city. I wasn’t driving this time, but I recognized the dark parts of town, and the nerves began to take over again. However, with my friend in the seat next to me and my pride to maintain, I forced my anxiety to stay in my head.

We parked in front of a bakery, and the whole group convened in an empty parking lot—one I recognized as the one I had seen on my little expedition back in January. Before I could fully process that realization, the leader of our group started explaining what was happening. This wasn’t just a ministry or some offshoot of a bigger church—it was a whole, independent church that met outside and served the streets of downtown Dallas. We, as volunteers, were to walk the streets and ask anyone we came across if they had any prayer requests or were interested in free Chik-Fil-A.

Every alarm bell I had went off. For twenty years, I was told to never speak to strangers and to avoid compromising situations of all types, and I was being asked to break both of those principles at the same time. And there were no children in sight to hide behind.

The friend I had come with, of course, was a nonplussed pro, only shooting me a quizzical look at my expression before someone started to pray.

Pray I did—and with my eyes open, too. (I know, so rebellious.) I had no idea what to expect as I trotted behind my group for the rest of the night.

One year after that fateful Wednesday night, I have been attending West End Church almost every week. I’ve been able to serve actively in ways I never was able to serve in my home church, and I’ve found fulfillment in a place I never thought I would. I have never feared for my own safety; instead, I have grown more comfortable with and more aware of my surroundings. And, most significantly, I have learned so much about how people relate to each other and to God.

I’ll be frank: I grew up in what most people would call a rich-kid town. Even though my family wasn’t particularly well-off compared to some of our neighbors, I was still raised with certain expectations for everyday life. Even though I knew these expectations were unrealistic for most of the world, it never really changed the way I thought or behaved. It took some time hanging out downtown twice a week with people who live such a different life from my own to really make that knowledge real and relatable.

Just driving through that scene wasn’t enough. I actually had to leave my comfort zone—get out of the car—and interact with the things that frightened me to discover what life in the city streets was really like. Most of the things I was scared of turned out to be much less scary when I obeyed God’s leading, and I’ve grown tremendously as a result. I’ve learned that the places that look the least God-like are the places where He wants to send us, to mold us and shape us all into kingdom-minded followers.

And you know what? I still don’t know what to expect each time I cross that parking lot and venture onto the streets. I’ve learned to face the unexpected with grace—or at least more grace than I had the first time I was down there. My comfort zone stretches just a little bit more every week, and even when the weather is cold or wet and I just want to go inside, I love it.

Written by Catherine

Image credit: Charles Guo, a member of the church. The friend who first invited me is mysteriously missing from this picture, but there are plenty of other friends here!


Sesame Street Around the World

Being in tune with different cultures around the world is incredibly important in order to understand the people who come from various cultures. They have different customs, traditions, clothes, foods, movies, and television. Specifically children’s television. To be even more specific, the kid’s show, Sesame Street. Yes, Sesame Street can be instrumental in understanding the cultures of various nations and relating to the people thereof.

Sesame Street has been shown in over 140 countries around the world and has 34 international co-productions. And each of these productions is unique in its own way. Many don’t even go by name of Sesame Street. In the Middle Eastern country of Jordan, the program is called Hikayat Sesame, which roughly translates to “sesame tales.” The Philippines just has Sesame! The one in Australia is Open Sesame. Northern Ireland’s show doesn’t even take place in a city or on a street, but it does takes place in Sesame Tree. And then there are the countries that keep the same title but translate into their own language, like Sesamstrasse in Germany.

But what’s in a name, right? Well, each of these countries presents a title that relates best with the children who watch it. Most kids are familiar with cities and streets in America and Germany, but kids in Norway may know more about trains since that’s a popular way to travel there. So, their show is called Sesame Stasjon, which translates to “sesame station.” There is enough difference even in the names to establish a certain aspect of a specific culture, but it’s still possible to relate to the show and those who watch it.

The other similarities and differences that define each country’s version of the show consist of the characters themselves. Most productions have the same main characters like Elmo or Grover, but sometimes other characters get a makeover. For example, several programs have a grouch similar to Oscar, the green, grumpy muppet who lives in a trash can. In India’s Galli Galli Sim Sim, Khadoosa is a similar grouch but loves to take care of his garden and is quite proud of his flowers. Another is from the Rechov Sumsum show in Israel: Moishe Oofnik, who is brown and furry and lives in a broken car. (I guess that’s better than a trash can, right?) There are so, SO many more. And of course, all of their names pertain to the language of country where the program is shown. But just because they are in different languages doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the show with someone from a different country.

For example, I found out from a friend, who grew up watching Plaza Sésamo in Mexico, that instead of Big Bird, he knew Abelardo. Abelardo is not the big, yellow bird that Americans know, but he is a large, more colorful bird with bright green and red feathers, who is roughly the same character as Big Bird. These characters are different because of the cultures in which they are portrayed. Big Bird is supposed to be a canary, which is an American bird, and Abelardo is a parrot, which is more popular in the Latin America culture. It’s these types of seemingly little differences that can distinguish various cultures while also bringing people together.

So maybe the next time you talk to an international student or someone who was raised in a different country, try asking about Sesame Street. It can be a pretty entertaining topic. The show tells a lot about the culture of different societies, so you may learn something! At the very least, it serves well to strike up an interesting conversation.

Written by Taylor Hayes

Image credit

The Man on the Train

At a train stop somewhere between Berlin and Frankfurt, I dragged ten days’ worth of luggage from one car of the InterCity Express to another. My seat was at the end of the aisle, and my seatmate—an elderly stranger—was already settled into the window spot.

Two steps before my row, I was intercepted by one of my group leaders. “Do you want to switch seats with me?” he asked.  His intentions were sweet, but his inquiry was based on a false assumption that I, a female American student, would have a problem riding next to the German gentleman.

“No, that’s okay,” I assured my classmate, mulling over the possibility before me, “I’m fine.” To prove my point, I hoisted my bag into the nearest luggage rack and slid into my rightful seat. He looked skeptical, but he quickly forgot his concern and re-submerged himself into the conversation consuming the majority of our fellow DBU classmates.

This was the final day of our study-abroad class in Germany; first thing tomorrow morning we would be on a non-stop flight back to Dallas. Everybody—professors included—seemed to be done. Done with learning and done with new cultural experiences. I couldn’t blame them. It had been a long, exhausting trip. The introverted part of me, the rarely-disputed queen of my personality, longed to put in earbuds and mentally disappear from the whole world. Too bad, though, because I had a hunch that I might be sitting next to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Either he was being polite or the rowdy chatter of the other Americans had somehow evaded his notice, because as the train pulled out the gray-haired man addressed me with the most obvious of questions: “Where are you from?” I couldn’t fathom how he could mistake us for anything but Americans, but I didn’t care. He spoke English. And even better, he was speaking to me.

“We’re college students from Texas,” I explained, “We’re here to study the Reformation.”

His eyes lit up the way mine do when people talk about the American Revolution. “Ahh. Martin Luther.” He smiled and motioned out the train window. We were already racing past open fields. “This is Luther Country.”

I nodded earnestly, but said nothing. I didn’t want our conversation to die, but my natural shyness was creeping to the surface. “It’s…beautiful,” I managed.

Almost as afterthought to his own comment rather than a response to mine, the man added, “If you want to know about anything, please ask me.”

I let his words sink in slowly.

To my left, the guy who offered to swap seats was engrossed in a book about Reformation leadership. I’d always dreamed of traveling to a foreign country and befriending a local, an eyewitness to history who could teach me what no tour guide or professor ever could.

Behind me, the other Americans shared a collective laugh, probably about one of the memes in the group message. I aspire to experience culture apart from tourist traps and to resist the natural urge to retreat into my own worldview.

To my right, the fulfillment of my dreams sat between me and the German countryside which was alive with yellow blooms. The seconds felt like minutes. Take him up on his offer, I begged myself. Ask him something. Ask him anything.

I stared out the window, denying myself the words I so desperately wanted to form. Yellow and green fields flashed by.

“The flowers,” I blurted, bubbling with excitement. “I’ve seen those yellow flowers everywhere. What are they called?”

It was all I could come up with, but somehow it was enough.

For the next hour, the man on the train, whom I learned was a retired professor, gave me a crash course in all things German. He talked extensively about growing up in post-World War II Germany in the days before reunification. My new friend shared stories about taking the very train we were on to visit his relatives in East Germany. When we barreled past what he said was the former Soviet checkpoint, the other Americans didn’t lift their eyes, but mine were wide with wonder. I soaked up the professor’s wisdom on distinguishing the economic, geographical, and architectural scars of a divided Germany. I marveled at his insight on the evolution of Germany’s political landscape. I even enjoyed pictures from his vacation in the United States.

Before I knew it, his stop arrived. After talking so easily over the past hour, my mind once again struggled to form proper words of gratification for all he had shared.

As it turned out, it was he, not I, who would deliver a thank you goodbye.

“Your country is going to be okay,” the professor assured me as he collected his things. I realized he was referring to the discussion we had about the current situation of American politics. “You’re a strong country.” He paused. “I am grateful for what America did to help Germany form a democracy after the fall of National Socialism. Without that, we would not have prospered the way we have.”

I was stunned. Had he just thanked me, as an American, for the gift of democracy? “Thank you,” I insisted.

He smiled one last time. “Enjoy the rest of your time in Germany.” And with that, he was gone.

I never did catch his name.

The last leg of the ride was the most void of people, but it was also the noisiest. My homebound friends enjoyed themselves openly with jokes and stories. I finally appeased my introvert queen by inserting my earbuds and hiding behind my travel journal, content to remain an outsider of my group. I had a wealth of memories to record before the exhaustion of the journey faded the memory of my brief time with the professor. There was much to say, but I knew where it was important to begin.

“I am grateful for what America did to help Germany…”

Written by Savanna

Image credit: Savanna Mertz


The Purpose

This past summer, I volunteered with my church’s Vacation Bible School for 5th and 6th graders. My family and I do this every year; everyone who is too old to attend as a student teaches a class. I had always worked with smaller kids, second grade and younger, but this year I was ready for a change. I wanted to get deeper into the Bible with kids who could understand more.

They kept up, all right. The boys were rowdy and mostly refused to respect me or the other leaders, but the girls in my little group of ten were almost exactly what I had pictured—fun but ready to listen and learn… except for one. She came with her older sister, who served as her translator—she didn’t speak much English. Quickly figuring that their mother wanted the girl (we’ll call her “Mia”) to learn English by being around people who spoke the language, I went on about my business, welcoming the girls and shepherding them over to the rest of the group for recreation time. They stuck tightly together, interacting with the other kids as little as possible. Between them and the gaggle of restless boys, after just two days, I was starting to wonder how I was going to make it to the end of the week.

Then, Wednesday dawned, hot and sunny as you’d expect from a June day in Texas. I had to lead my biggest group yet, and they, like their peers, all wanted snacks halfway through the morning. As the leaders were preparing the day’s offerings, I overheard someone ask Mia if she spoke Spanish, to which she replied a simple, “Yes.” That caught my attention; she hadn’t spoken enough for me to discern her accent before, but now I knew we had a connection that no one else in the group had. I had finished the last of four semesters of college-level Spanish just a few weeks before; I could speak her language, however minimally.

Shortly after this, as I was wrestling to keep the bowl of Goldfish crackers from being inhaled by the boys before the girls got any, one of the ladies in charge of snacks for the smaller kids came in with more food. The youth pastor came up to me a few minutes later and asked if the woman was my mother. “No,” I said, explaining that my mom was home with my baby brother. Then, as the pastor walked away, just to see what happened, I muttered quietly, “Mi madre está en mi casa.”

Mia’s head snapped up, her dark brown eyes wide as the Gulf of Mexico, and she said, “What?!”

Suddenly, I wondered if I had said something wrong; just because I had finished four semesters doesn’t mean I was very good at Spanish. I hesitantly repeated myself and then asked, in English, “Did I say it right?” After translation, Mia’s face lit up in a huge smile, and she nodded with an excited, “Yes!” I made a show out of how glad I was that I had spoken a sentence in Spanish without help, and she just kept smiling and laughing.

When small-group time rolled around, my instructions were to go over the Roman Road with the kids, and I decided to let them look up the verses in their own Bibles. Mia’s Bible was written in Spanish, of course. I asked her to read her Spanish version of Romans 6:23 after the English version had been read. She was hesitant, but she agreed. By the time she was done, even the boys had stopped roughhousing to listen, and she was smiling. She later volunteered to read a longer passage (Romans 5:8-11). It was the quietest and most attentive moment my group had all week; they even applauded when she was done. Mia spent the rest of the week trying to join the others and talking to me as well as she could. My sister, who was in another group, said she could see a drastic change in Mia’s behavior.

I tell this story because it taught me two big things.

One: those two years of Spanish seemed awfully pointless when I was in the midst of them (I was working on an English degree at the time), but if that week was the only reason I was in those two years of classes, then I am satisfied. The most “pointless” part of my degree plan has already made a potentially huge difference in someone’s life. That is as good a reminder as any that nothing we do is pointless; every step that we take is part of a greater plan, and the results of that plan are greater than we sometimes realize.

Two: Mia and I, as two completely different people—child and adult, American and Hispanic—were both willing to step out of our comfort zones that day, and we both grew from that experience. When we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, no matter where it takes us or how much we might potentially embarrass ourselves, we will be better off in the end.

Those Spanish classes were out of my comfort zone and beyond what I thought was the scope of my life plan, yet I was able to use it to help an out-of-place, intimidated little girl find her way a little closer to Jesus. The value in shattering cultural barriers like that is something that can be not only felt, but sometimes counted.

So, next time you’re faced with something you don’t want to do, whether it seems pointless or impossible, go for it. You never know how the Lord might use you.

Written by Catherine

Image credit: Catherine Anderson.A sketch of me done by one of my other students. Yes, she was drawing during Bible study time, but can you blame me for being flattered?


“Around the World in 80 Days” in One Afternoon

One of the best ways to relax after a long day of class is to read a good book, and Around the World in 80 Days is a delightful way to see the world from the comfort of your own home. Written by Jules Verne, this work has been beloved by many ever since its original publication in 1873. So here are a few quick reasons why you should definitely check it out:

Nostalgia. If reading Around the World doesn’t bring you back to your childhood love of adventure and imagination, I don’t know what will. Follow the stuffy, indubitably British Phileas Fogg as he bets his club members that he can travel all the way around the world within precisely eighty days. Joining Mr. Fogg are his French manservant, Passepartout, and a dogged but at times misguided agent of Scotland Yard.

It’s short. Clocking in at 159 pages, Verne portrays an infinitely charming and intriguing story without overwhelming the reader. You can knock it out in an evening or two!

Adventure. Duh. How can you say no to travel, especially on such glorious sources of transportation such as elephants and wind-powered sledges, or merry chases involving Sioux Indians, India Indians, angry Japanese circus masters, and a stuffy British detective? You can’t, I tell you.

Jules Verne’s one-liners. “Moreover, it is safe to say that, when Americans, so casual as a rule, show signs of caution, it would be the height of folly not to be cautious too.” Or “Passepartout stuck on the animal’s back and, receiving directly the full force of every jolt, was all the time trying to remember his master’s recommendation and to keep his tongue from getting between his teeth, as in that position it would have been bitten in two.”  Verne’s dry sense of humor gets better and better.

Delightful stereotypes. The antics of a certain hot-blooded Frenchman contrasted with cool, calm, and collected Phileas Fogg are incredibly entertaining, and the ensuing chaos from such a decided clash of cultures is hilarious. (Sidenote: is there anything Passepartout can’t do?)

Also: how do you pronounce “Passepartout,” you ask?

…Good question.

Phileas Fogg’s thought processes. “Oh, you don’t believe I can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, old chap? Allow me to bet my entire fortune on the fact that I can, and knowing you have nothing better to do with your life and your money, you’ll take my bet.” He is literally surprised at nothing; unless of course his latest manservant in a long line of manservants brings his shaving water to him at 82 degrees instead of 84 – truly shocking.

Finally, Verne’s love for travel, technology, and other cultures comes to life in such a delightful and humorous way that one can’t help but laugh, smile, and go along for the ride. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Written by Carilee

Image credit: Featured Image, Middle Image


Goldfish and Sea Turtles

Today, I want to tell you about one of the most wonderful weeks of my life; but first, you’ll need a little background. As a child, I grew up a missionary kid (MK) in the country of Brazil. If this sounds awesome to you, congratulations. You are correct; it was. Nonetheless, my family and I moved back to America when I was in the eighth grade, right in the middle of Justin Beiber’s heyday. As you might imagine, it was a really tough transition and I’ve never been the same. To this day, I struggle fitting in with American culture. Consequently, I jump at any opportunity to visit Brazil and did just that last November. I was thrilled to help lead a camp for some of the MKs currently residing in Brazil, and it was an absolute blast. Camp was in the city of Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, which is a beautiful island off the southeastern coast. It was fun, exciting, and nostalgic for me because I remember participating in the very same camp over eight years ago. I led camp for the teenagers, along with some help from a few college students who were short term missionaries. In the morning we had Bible lessons, activities, and crafts, and in the afternoon we went swimming, went to the beach, or played games outside. Since November is summertime in Brazil, we spent a lot of time outdoors at the beach and at the pool.  During the Bible lessons, I created some challenges for the kids where they could win prizes from a snack box, and let me tell you – they were very competitive! One of my favorite things about the trip was bringing them American gifts and snacks that they missed. Some of the most requested items were Snickers candy bars, Cheeze-Its, Goldfish, fruit snacks, Kit Kats, Reeses, and Rice Krispy Treats. It’s amazing how simple things that Americans often take for granted bring so much joy to MKs.

One of the hardest things about being a missionary kid is the tremendous amount of responsibility you are faced with at very early age. Being constantly concerned about safety, not attracting too much attention as a foreigner (even though you may not feel like a foreigner because of how well you’ve adjusted), and experiencing firsthand the kind of sacrifice that Jesus asks of us to “go and make disciples of all nations” are just a few of the challenges missionary kids face. Having a week of relaxation at camp where you get to be a kid again and also speak English is really important to MKs.  Our main goal was to encourage and bless them, and I think we succeeded. They had a whole lot of fun and went home encouraged and refreshed. Their joyful attitudes were convicting and yet encouraging to me, and I’m confident that I learned more from them than they did from me! I was reminded once again how blessed I am, not only to live in a country like America, but to have been an MK in Brazil. I really miss living in Brazil, and so it was absolutely wonderful for me to return and serve.

After the first week, my friends showed me around Florianópolis. Since the city is on an island, I got to participate in typical beach culture activities. I went sand boarding for the first time (essentially snowboarding down a sand dune bigger than a two-story house), which was totally awesome but terrifying. And you can bet your life that I spent many, many hours at the beach swimming, riding the waves, and hanging out with friends. Also, I now have a great, albeit humiliating, story about falling flat on my face right in front a super attractive Brazilian lifeguard. Then, I played this game called how-much-seafood-is-it-humanly-possible-to-eat-before-I-have-to-leave. (Side note: I think I won.)  Although I didn’t get to hike through the jungle-covered mountains, I did get a lot of good pictures of monkeys and sea turtles. There is an incredible wildlife organization in Florianópolis called Projeto Tamar that helps protect endangered sea turtles, and visiting it was possibly one of the neatest things I have ever experienced.


I know that traveling is hard as a college student because, hello, college students usually don’t have an overabundance of cash. But really, if you get a chance, step outside your comfort zone. Go somewhere new. Experience different cultures. Take lots of photos. There is no better time to explore the world than right now, because the quantity and quality of responsibility usually grows exponentially with age. I hope you take advantage of opportunities to see the world through a new cultural lens. I promise you will be a better person for it, and you’ll have those memories for the rest of your life.

Written by Carilee

Photo credits: Carilee Fore