Trip of a Lifetime
Imagine spending three months exploring exotic lands, discovering new cultures, and all the while earning college credit.
That's just what 26 Oklahoma Christian (OC) students did during the fall 2006 semester.
The group spent two weeks in Beijing, taking classes at the Capitol Normal University on Chinese history, politics and religion.
Students also visited historical sites, including the Great Wall of China. Senior Jennifer Gill was awed by the magnificent work of man, but saw something more.
"When I diverted my eyes from the stone path itself, and focused my eyes on the gigantic mountains that lay just under it, the Wall suddenly became an insignificant, miniscule pile of rocks in that moment…It cluttered the glorious ridges and took away from the splendor of the vast mountain range that my Lord had made," she said. "It's a funny thing to travel thousands of miles to see a landmark that has stunned historians for generations and instead be captivated by the simplistic grandness of God's creation."
From China, the group traveled to Japan where each student lived with a host family for an entire month. Jennifer lived with the Yanai family and found them filled with a giving spirit. When she mentioned bagels, her host mom went to four different bakeries to find them. Living with host families also provided a look at Japanese culture they would have missed staying in a hotel: rice paper sliding doors, tatame mats and sleeping futons that are stored in the closet by day.
Jennifer also learned to navigate the public transportation system to attend classes. After a bicycle ride to the bus station, she would take a 20-minute bus ride to the train station for a 35-minute trip, followed by a 10-minute walk to Ibaraki University.
In addition to language classes, the group also studied Japanese culture and had a weekend retreat with students from the University. While a month isn't long enough to learn a complete language, the students made the best of their time.
"I did learn key phrases that were very helpful such as "no thank you," "that was delicious" and a phrase they used before every meal, "itedakimas," which basically means thanks to the person who prepared this meal," Jennifer said.
Also while in Japan, some of the students climbed Mt. Fuji, a high point of the trip for Jennifer.
"It was the epitome of seeing God's creation…more like seeing God," she said. The group began their ascent during the middle of the night, so they could reach the summit at dawn. It took longer than they thought, but Jennifer's view of the sunrise was still spectacular.
"We were above the clouds. I felt above the earth. Vibrant reds and yellow began to shoot out and litter the sky with breathtaking beauty. We were all silent. Not from exhaustion, but from awe. Our pupils shrunk as God's sun came springing through the clouds warming our skin and warming our spirits."
After leaving Japan, the group headed to the cosmopolitan city of Hong Kong and then the pastoral country of New Zealand.
After that, it was on to Australia. In the land down under, the group did mission work at a Saturday Vacation Bible School.
The group packed a lot into the two weeks in Australia, in addition to the mission work, the students also attended classes that included touring a museum, learning about Australia's Independence from Britain and teatime.
Jennifer describes her Pacific Rim trip as "life-changing."
"God has revealed himself to me in so many ways over the past three months. Through people, missionaries living in China, doing all they can to show Jesus to others; through his creation, sitting on Mt. Fuji and watching the sunrise from the clouds below us was a sight I will never forget," Jennifer said. "God is in this earth, He is all around it, He is above all and in all; those willing to seek him will find Him, for He is everywhere."
Jennifer has already begun making plans for her next trip.
"I loved traveling so much that I joined a mission group that is going to Africa this summer for three weeks. I am so excited to be able to not only see that part of the world, but to love the people in Ghana as Jesus did," Jennifer said. "I know that God will bless that trip and pray that I will only be his vessel for serving."
For more details about the PacRim 2006 trip, read Jennifer's blog at http://blogs.oc.edu/ee/?/pacrimfall06.