The East Asia Travel Seminar ended its two-week trip to South Korea and China with a beautiful image of the Shanghai waterfront. Next year, we’ll be going to the Middle East and Central America. Check out our Travel Seminar page for updates and make plans to come with us!
Our East Asia travel group met with the Beijing Christian Council president and then went to see the Olympic Park and all the buildings like the bird’s nest before catching a flight to Nanjing. It made for a long day (2-hour delay) but we made it! Yesterday we went to Nanjing Union Theological Seminary and met several students and a professor. Then visited a Bible printing press, Amity publishing. Next, we took a van with broken seats that nine of us crammed into to get home from a Confucian temple/market! Finally, finishing the day with a big dinner that included pigs feet and pork belly that I loved. Also shown – boiled peanuts and sweet potatoes for breakfast.
One way you can tell we’re in China is the sudden lapse in social media posts from our team, as those websites are all blocked here (Google and Gmail too — we promise we’re not ignoring you back home!). All kidding aside, we are pretty limited in what we can share and how for the next few days til we’re in Shanghai (where many restrictions are reduced), so stay tuned here on the travel blog.
Today was another incredible adventure. We spent time hiking the Great Wall at Juyong Pass, with a clear view of the enormous city of Beijing beyond the mountains. At over 2,500 years old, it was absolutely surreal to stand upon. We covered a very small part of the 13,000+ mile long Great Wall and did so almost entirely vertically, climbing stairs for almost an hour, with great views. Truly awesome.
We then visited the Ming tombs, where 13 Ming Dynasty emperors are buried. After all of those stairs up, we climbed down into the Dingling Tomb, which was fully excavated in the 1950s. It was built out of enormous stones several stories beneath the surface of the foothills of some beautiful mountains near Beijing (Of course, when you climb down several flights of stairs, you eventually have to go back up!).
Our legs may be tired, but our hearts are so full after our morning at Yanjing Theological Seminary. The second largest seminary in China, the institution recently celebrated 30 years of training ministers. We met with seminary president Rev. Gao Ying, an incredible scholar and leader who studied systematic and feminist theologies in the United States. She introduced us to several students, most of whom came to seminary right out of high school (seminary in China is a bachelor’s degree program). I was excited to meet a woman who, like myself, is studying theology now after a B.A. and M.A. in a not-especially-related field; God calls us from all sorts of places and experiences!
And as we continue to experience how the church is working in East Asia, I think our whole group is finding great encouragement knowing a little more about this part of that very extended family.
Busy day. Began with breakfast at the Flower Cafe and had pictures with the owner. Then on to Chungshin Girls High School which was begun by missionaries. Following that, we visited Presbyterian Church of the Lord, which give 50-percent of its budget to mission. We moved on from there to have a cross-cultural/interfaith experience at Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple and then with Union friends following a quick tour of Yonsei University. Seoul and South Korea will now have a special place in my heart. On to China.
By Andrew Bowman, Heather Jones Butler, Essie Reinke M.Div. students, Richmond Campus
Day four of the East Asia Travel Seminar started in Seoul with a 6 a.m. prayer service at ginormous Myung Sung Presbyterian Church, then a visit to the stunning Gyeongbokgung, the Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven. Also did a little tourist shopping at Insadong, with dinner and debrief.
By Heather Jones Butler, Andrew Bowman, Essie Reinke
M.Div. students, Richmond Campus
Had an amazing day in Jeonju City, visiting Hanil University and Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a traditional Hanok village, and a Confucian school. We followed that with a very traditional Korean dinner and rounded it all out with lots of laughter and a ride on a bullet train. Incredible!
By Pamela Fusting
M.A.C.E. student, Blending Learning Program
Our trip continues! From the wonders of art and architecture in Florence, we moved on to a series of medieval towns, including San Gimignano, Siena, and Assisi.
In addition to the pure beauty of the Tuscan landscape, we have been amazed by the detail and intention behind each piece of art or architecture.
We were struck by the intricate marble floor work in the Duomo in Siena (1215 A.D.), which includes images of Old Testament prophets, various images from wisdom literature, and distinct images of sibyls – all foretelling the coming of Christ as they point toward the altar at the front of the church.
We found two entrance doors in the design of the St. Francis Basilica in Assisi (built in 1228-1253), where previously churches had three doors to reflect the Trinity. Here in Assisi, the design was meant to echo the message about Jesus’ humanity to a people who were afraid of a divine Jesus. We gazed in awe at the various frescos depicting multiple scenes. We pondered why they were chosen for the walls of these buildings and considered how the artists translated the narrative into these images.
Next, we headed to Rome and began our activities in this ancient city with a tour of the Vatican Museum.
The only thing more memorable than our visit to the Sistine Chapel was the torrential downpour with lightning and hail upon our exit, in which our 20-minute walk to the hotel turned into a mad dash through rivers of water flowing across the city streets!
Despite our struggles adjusting to the 13 hour time difference, the East Asia trip has been going incredibly well! Our hosts have been generous with tea, coffee, and plenty of snacks and good meals to keep us going. More importantly, they have been patient with us as we learn through a language barrier–with the exception of “hello” and “thank you”, the only Korean speaker on our team is Dr. Chang. Still, we have been offered beautiful hospitality everywhere we go.
In Thursday, we visited Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary here in Seoul. While many faculty and students spoke at least some English, our lack of Korean became a bit more challenging when we attended a chapel service and an intro to Ethics lecture, both understandably entirely in Korean.
We were offered translation service through a headset for the worship service, but it was very difficult to hear the English over the hundreds of people singing and praying together in Korean. I was grateful for many years of musical training, which at least allowed me to hum along with the printed notes and participate in some way. My headset did not have an especially clear connection, but I could catch a few snippets here and there: violence, change, justice, peace… the service was dedicated to memorializing lives lost in the Gwangju Democratic Uprising on that same day in 1980. Even missing many of the words, the service made a powerful impression on all of us.
The lecture was a bit more challenging as there was not really an easy way to translate it for us without drastically affecting the students’ experience. The professor is fluent in four languages, and even though English is not one of them, he offered a few words or book titles during the course of his lecture: social responsibility, prophetic compassion, service, justice, action… it seems that despite the language barrier, much was able to be communicated.
It is so good to travel across the world and see a different place, only to find the things we share.