THE ROLE OF A FAITH-LED LIFE How my semester abroad changed my view of the role of faith in everyday life. THE FALL SEMESTER after my 21st birthday, I was eager to experience the world. At the time I had ambitions to become a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. State Department, and I thought a semester abroad would be a great stepping stone. So, two years after the September 11 attacks and one year after the U.S. went to war in Iraq, I heeded a very strong calling to learn more about the Middle East. I expected to travel, learn some Arabic, and eat some new foods; I even expected that this could be the beginning of a career. Little did I expect that my semester in Egypt with the Middle East Studies Program would give me an opportunity to enter a powerful and challenging faith community. As a student at Calvin College, I was a Christian who struggled to comprehend the mysterious and transcendent aspects of God. Along with that struggle, my study of the history of religion and religious institutions had convinced me that faith largely led to conflict and that leaders of the institutions of the Church were deeply, if not irreparably, damaged. Belief in God seemed to do little societal good. When I arrived in Egypt, the program had brought together students from a
broad spectrum of Christian schools. We had students from Messiah College, Taylor University, Geneva College, Seattle Pacific University, Southern Nazarene University and many others linked by their common commitment to Christian faith. At first this seemed unremarkable. But soon my assumptions about what it meant to be a Christian in the modern world would be challenged. I loved my classmates. Almost every weekend, we would take trips together. In Alexandria, some of us were invited to share Eid al-Fitr (the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan) with a generous Egyptian family. Our rudimentary Arabic and their rudimentary English did not take conversation far, but we managed to celebrate and share a meal together. On the border of Syria and Turkey, another group of us were in conversation with a local resident. Stephen and Robert and Sarah were amazing in their ability to communicate, fearless in their humility, and we were invited to share a meal and an evening in this gentlemanâ€™s home. From our base of operations in Cairo, we travelled all over Egypt. We saw the pyramids and explored ruins, living
FROM TOP: The Fall 2003 MESP class poses in front of an ancient Siwa Oasis building; MESP students had the opportunity to talk with Elias Chacour; the MESP students visit an oasis in the desert; Zwier (seated) and some of his MESP classmates visited the Sahara during their travels; Zwier and his classmates volunteered at St. Andrew's Refugee Center while at MESP.
ADVANCE | SPRING 2016
Photos courtesy of John M. Zwier.
By John M. Zwier