In the very early hours of June 8, 2012 six students from TST (three from Emmanuel College and three from Knox College) arrived at Pearson Airport to board the first of three flights taking us to Yogyakarta, Indonesia for the Global Institute of Theology. The Institute is held every two years and organized by the World Council of Reformed Churches (WCRC). Fifty-two theological students and faculty from around the world came together for three weeks to study, worship, and live in Christian community. The opening ceremony and worship took place in the chapel at Duta Wacana Christian University, where the academic portion of the Institute was held and we were honoured to be hosted to a traditional Javanese Agape meal. The next morning (Sunday) we attended a church service at a local church in Yogyakarta, held entirely in Indonesian!
Our classes started the next day consisting of lectures in the morning for the core course – “God of Life, revitalize our spirituality…our theology…our praxis” and then switching to electives in the afternoon. Every student took two of the four elective courses (Mission, Reformed Identity and Interreligious Life, Poverty and Wealth, and Theology of Creation and Disaster). The first week was tough – it was hot and humid, in strange surroundings, and getting used to a completely different country and context than what we were used to. But our Indonesian hosts were so very gracious, the variety of student-led worship services morning and evening were terrific, and we quickly became a large, noisy, and mischievous family of Christian sisters and brothers.
Fridays and Saturdays were set aside for cultural excursions. We went to a cultural immersion centre where we painted, did batik, and planted rice. On Saturday, half of the group went to Mount Merapi, just outside Yogyakarta, to view and discuss the impacts of the volcanic eruption that happened there in 2010. The other half of us went to an Islamic school for transgendered individuals and heard about their struggles and hopes in the Indonesian context. On Sunday our group attended another church near Malioboro, the main tourist and shopping market in Yogyakarta, which was handy for those of us who wanted to pick up a few souvenirs after church!
All of us hunkered down to learn and study from Mondays to Thursdays when classes were held (well, some of the time at least!). The next Friday we went to Borobodur Temple, an 8th century Buddhist temple that was discovered and restored. We travelled up the 153 steps to the top and it was awe-inspiring. The next day we went to Prambahan, a 9th century Hindu temple. Although it suffered extensive damage from a 2006 earthquake in Indonesia and is still undergoing reconstruction, the various temples that make up the complex are very beautiful. After attending a church service done in the traditional Javanese language on Sunday, we toured the Sultan’s Palace near Malioboro and learned a little bit more about Indonesian history.
The last few days offered a variety of activities for those of us who wanted to take a break from studying – trips to the beach and the zoo, a tour of a silver jewellery factory, and last-minute shopping expeditions to find those remaining treasures to remember “Jogja” by. On the final Saturday night, Rev. Joan Wyatt, the chaplain (and former faculty member at Emmanuel College) and the GIT faculty led the closing worship with communion. And then the closing talent show offered us a chance to strut our stuff! I am proud to say there was Canadian content sprinkled throughout the show!
Although we were happy to be heading home to see our families and friends and share this experience with them after three weeks, we were also sad to be saying goodbye to our GIT family. The opportunity to gather with Christians from around the world and share our stories, experiences, and different contexts made it an unforgettable trip for me, and I know from reading the posts from all my new Facebook friends, that I am not alone in this. Often in class or in church we speak about the body of Christ. For me, the Global Institute of Theology provided the opportunity to experience being part of Christ’s body in the global context. The WCRC hopes to hold the next GIT in Latin America or the Caribbean in 2014. I would encourage all Emmanuel College students to consider applying to attend because you will never experience anything quite like it!