Theology must have feet. We believe this firmly. Learning the Bible is great, but it has to be applied to real life or it can’t help anyone. Students at the Institute for G.O.D. have a variety of volunteer and service venues that provide the framework for them to put into practice the theology they’re learning in the classroom. One of these programs is called ‘Immersion.’
Kyle Becker, a student at the Institute, had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador this summer on an Immersion, to give feet to his education. As he’s gearing up for a new semester of classes, I sat down with Kyle to ask him about his experience. I was particularly interested in hearing how the lessons from the classroom found their way into his service abroad.
During his trip to El Salvador, Kyle spent time serving our cooperatives, their families, and the community of believers there. Led by team leader Marco Arroyo, Kyle partnered with Michael Watkins and Ethan Harris to serve the people of El Salvador through plumbing and agriculture work. Many of their responsibilities were practical in nature: planting and harvesting, basic plumbing repair, and installing a septic tank and flushable toilet. They even installed an entire plumbing system in a home that previously had no running water! Of course, as an Immersion, part of the purpose of this trip was to truly experience the culture. So not only did they meet tangible needs, Kyle and the other immersion participants did home visits together, practiced their Spanish at the local market, and experienced everyday life with the Salvadorans.
According to Kyle, his education in the Word served to guide his thoughts and emotions throughout the trip. For the past two years Kyle has been working with MCH Nashville, which has equipped him with the skills necessary to meet real needs. While he’s thankful for the chance to use these skills, for Kyle, it was more about the why than the what of his service. Kyle was motivated to put those skills into use not to show what he could do, nor as some opportunity to improve his craft, but because there are people on the other end of those tasks. Kyle was challenged by lessons he learned in his Bible classes. The sanctity of life that he learned about in Leviticus, lessons from the Gospels that demonstrate the value Jesus places on human beings - these lessons were at the root of Kyle’s service in El Salvador.
During one plumbing project that Kyle worked on with a man named Miguel, he experienced a glimpse of the Institute’s mission: “making consideration for the poor and marginalized through education, advocacy, and empowerment.” Though neither could effectively communicate in the other’s language, they formed a special bond. Kyle experienced firsthand how the connection that comes from being in Christ transcends cultural barriers. Kyle was able to teach Miguel some plumbing skills, that will empower him to continue benefiting people in his context.
Kyle testified to the most powerful night of the trip; the night when he was “most aware of God’s presence”. Many teenagers from the surrounding area came out for a youth night. There was a Bible message and time of worship. Lavinia Fernandez preached a message from Psalm 133 about how the youth can produce healthy ways to have fun and enjoy one another. They don’t need the local dance club and the kinds of unhealthy activities that accompany that scene. Kyle said that God really moved that night. After the service they had a dance party. He said the joy in the air was almost intoxicating. He was reminded of lessons he learned from the Scriptures, about how we can invite God into our activity and he will transform the environment. His joy was felt in the midst of their time together. Kyle says, “I learned this from the Scriptures, but that night I experienced it!”
Kyle is just one of many Institute students who spent their summers immersed in cultures around the world. These experiences make the classroom even more dynamic. They present more questions and awaken an even deeper hunger in students to learn. Students put faces, names, and families to the systemic issues they have learned about. They carry the stories of people they’ve encountered with them into their classrooms, recognizing they don’t just learn for themselves, but on behalf of those in great need of education, advocacy, and empowerment.