Acts Project 2010: Asia
November 04, 2010

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With a population of nearly four billion, Asia is the world's largest and arguably most mysterious continent. Five Bryan students immersed themselves in this diverse area for three months—one in Southeast Asia, one in the Near East, and three with Word for the World in India.

Acts Project: Southeast Asia

Fowler, front center, pictured with her
 friends on a busy city street.
Bonnie Fowler
, a senior business major, spent her summer interning with a manufacturing company in Southeast Asia. Far from the stereotypical rice patties and straw hats, Fowler lived in a large metropolis: “I kind of felt like I was in New York City!”

Her host family was a Bryan College alum, his wife, and their four kids—all under the age of five. Two were recently adopted from Ethiopia. “It was great to see how the parents worked with their kids,” said Fowler. “They adjusted well to having two brand-new kids in a foreign country and integrating them into their family!”

Fowler’s analytical skills were strengthened during her internship. At work, Fowler spent a lot of her time observing, as she didn’t know the language.

Most of Fowler’s pictures from her summer depict her surrounded by young Asian women at the beach, at the mall, or at a restaurant. While her days at the manufacturing company were long—usually 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.—she often went out with her friends after work. Fowler said it was interesting in the context of the huge culture barrier to connect with her friends on many levels as they were the same age and at the same stage in life.

Fowler woke up an hour early each morning to meet with a friend. Together, they studied the Bible and prayed. While going through Psalms and Proverbs, Fowler said that “she would read in her language, and I would read in English.”

While the city Fowler lived in may have been on the larger side, the society is still striving for their ideal: Western culture. They are very interested in fashion and strive to have a modern look in every aesthetic. Fowler sums up the tension this way: “They really like Americans!”

Acts Project: Near East

Women Kaity met while working in the Near East.
Thousands of miles away, senior journalism major Kaity Kopeski settled down in the Near East.

Kopeski’s decision to join the Acts Project was a last minute one, not giving her much time to get used to the idea. “I wanted to use my talents in the world for God’s glory,” Kopeski said. “I saw this as an opportunity, even if I was scared!”

Before leaving, the mysterious situation in that area of the world and vague descriptions of her exact summer plans had her nervous. “I couldn’t really think about it too much!”

When she arrived, she learned that she was the first person in her organization sent to this area primarily to tell the stories that had been hidden in the Near East for so long. Although their reason was valid—security—a change in leadership had prompted the decision that telling these stories was important. Enter Kaity Kopeski.

While there, Kopeski talked to many of the missionaries, listened to their stories, and wrote them. Since Kopeski loves talking to people and hearing about their lives, it was a great fit for her. The articles she wrote will be used for the organization’s purposes on websites, in brochures, and for fundraising purposes.

Kopeski shared an apartment with several other girls. Seeing army tanks on her street was a regular occurrence. Her summer home, the Western-looking capital city of a country fraught with civil wars and distrust of foreigners, was still a place that strived to be open-minded. “’Tolerant’ is a cool word over there, like ‘green’ is over here!” Kopeski said before adding that in reality, most still have an Eastern mindset.

Although living in such a country as a single woman did not come without difficulties and frustrations, Kopeski also understood the good. “Family is very important there; tradition is very important.  I think we’ve lost a lot of that.”

Acts Project: India

Flores teaching with assistance of interpreter.
Traveling more thousands of miles in the opposite direction, we find three Bryan students serving with Word for the World in India. Seniors Seth Flores (Biblical studies major), Andrew McPeak (liberal arts major), and Kristen Phelps (politics & government major) joined the ministry of Augustine Asir, executive director of Word for the World, for almost three months.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Phelps. “They kept saying you can’t prepare, so stop trying!”

McPeak said, “I wanted to help as best I could. I wanted to have an open mind; I didn’t want to expect so much that I missed what God wanted for me and what He had before me.”

Flores didn’t want to have any regrets: “I did not want to go to India and play it safe.”

These three students spent their time traveling to the many Indian cities in which Word for the World is active, staying about two weeks in each location. (They have some great stories about Indian trains.) In Mumbai, they taught in a slum school and attended local Bible studies. In Pondicherry, they were involved in leading a week-long missionary training program; Phelps described it as “teaching Biblical Foundations in a week.” They also worked in homes for the elderly and with lepers, and also spent time in a handicapped children’s home.

McPeak (yellow shirt), Phelps (at table), and Flores (left) pictured with the high school boys who met with them regularly throughout the summer in Asir's home.
“I wasn’t expecting to be as angry at God for allowing some things to happen as I was, especially in regard to the people struggling and suffering there,” said McPeak. “I was expecting to take it in stride and have the ‘I can handle anything’ mentality.”

Flores can relate: “I had this stallion mindset of showing up and getting the most out of my time in India by doing as much as I could. However, God surprised me. Sometimes making the most of my time meant just being with the people of India.”

India is a completely different culture than what we experience in the United States. “The food, the heat, and the population were very different,” said Flores. “There was no air conditioning, so people there constantly sweat. The population is so dense with 1.2 billion people. This means that there are 2,000 people between you and every bathroom.”

“They are a very patriarchal society,” said McPeak. “The woman finds herself very often just in the background, in the kitchen for example, which means all the children in the family are also focused on following the lead of the head-male. This also means that families without the head-male are lost and will die.”

As a team, they had the privilege of living their Indian experience together–as well as the burden of living that experience together. Being in such close quarters with others to whom they were close had its challenges. Still, McPeak said “it was nice to have people there that understood our culture—and more than that, my personality.”

Phelps, dressed in her Indian garb, pictured with
Indian children and one of her co-workers.
“To see each other sin,” said Phelps, “was just an opportunity to show each other grace.”

“We were able to bring different things to the table,” she continued, referring in part to Flores’s love for preaching and McPeak’s ability to see the big picture. “It taught me a lot about community—that it’s hard, but that it’s worth it, too.”

The team was also able to spend time with Augustine Asir’s family, including his disabled son, Jim. Jim knows three languages and is responsible for starting two different ministries: one being a personal prayer ministry, the other homes for the disabled. Suffering from cerebral palsy, Jim is an incredible living testament in a culture where disabled children are usually given away or killed. “It didn’t dawn on me until I came back,” said Phelps, “That we would talk for three hours…but he can’t actually talk.”

“I learned that connecting people isn’t just a cultural thing,” said McPeak, “But it crosses borders and boundaries; we all have a humanness about us that goes beyond that.”

“I also feel like I stress a lot less about whether God is going to take care of me because I have this feeling that if He took care of me in India, He can take care of me anywhere,” continued McPeak. “I have far more courage to go into hard places because I have seen that God provides. I also got rid of a lot of pride because I think that as a white, rich American man with a good education, I have it all together; but I learned a great deal from poor, uneducated Indians in slums. It just showed me that God, not any work of my hands, is the difference between a good man and a great man.”