At Home Outside Their Comfort Zone

Women dressed in hijaabs at a 9th- century Hindu temple. Motorbike traffic jams on crowded streets. Plates of Indonesian delicacies in the world’s longest street restaurant.

Where in the world would you see all these things?

Calvin Seminary student Jonathan Spronk and his wife, Keri, traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia, to participate in the first crosscultural internship collaboration between The Back to God Hour and Calvin Theological Seminary.

Jonathan Spronk said the experience changed the way he views ministry and Christianity around the world.

“Being a slightly overweight, 6-foot-tall, pasty-white Dutch American, I did tend to stand out in Southeast Asia!” he chuckled. “It taught me about global Christianity, how much the culture around us flavors what our Christianity is all about.”

Engaging with and learning from other cultures, as well as getting a hands-on look at media ministry in a different country and context, was a primary goal of the internship, says Rev. Don Byker, director of Ministry Formation at Calvin Seminary.

“[The students] need to get out of their own cultural bubbles and gain an awareness of the expansiveness of God’s church around the world. It helps them discern their call to ministry,” Byker explained.

Calvin Seminary requires each student to participate in a crosscultural internship (see sidebar). The new partnership with The Back to God Hour offered the added dimension of experiencing international media ministry.

Working with BTGH Indonesian leader Rev. Untung Ongkowidjaja showed Spronk why BTGH ministry teams are led by people native to the culture and language in which they work. “I could understand how ministry in Indonesia is much better coming from Rev. Untung. He is accepted because he can connect with the people.”

The Spronks learned that Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, shares some history with the Christian Reformed Church. Christianity was first introduced in Indonesia in 1511 and was reintroduced by the Dutch at the end of the 16th century.

There is some animosity towards people of European descent because of past colonization. “We felt some measure of risk,” commented Keri. “There’s a significant minority who are hostile to North Americans, and there were times when we were the only white persons.”

But the BTGH media team and the many other Christians the Spronks met helped them feel at home while experiencing the Indonesian culture. They visited Bethesda Christian Hospital in Yogyakarta, where the medical staff prays with all their patients—Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist.

Hospital staff also shared the struggles they faced in the aftermath of the 2006 earthquake. “They told us that many patients had to be cared for in the parking lot as they rested on beds of newspaper,” said Spronk.

Worshiping with Christians at the Javanese Christian Church in Bantul was a powerful experience. “The church had been leveled by the earthquake, and the congregation met in a tent for seven months,” Spronk reported. “Though the building is not yet completed, we worshiped in the new sanctuary.

“During a special Pentecost offering the people walked forward to place food in baskets and put their offerings in a large vase on a table up front.

“There seem to be no mediocre or nominal Christians [in Indonesia],” he added. “They are vocal about what they are and about their mission to save souls. Of course, that makes sense—why would you choose to claim a religion where you would be a persecuted minority unless you really believed it?”

Jonathan Spronk’s assignments included writing devotionals for four different age groups, meeting with listeners to evaluate responses to radio programs, and learning about the recording and studio work—a huge challenge since he was working in the context of the Indonesian language and culture.

“We spent two days thinking through who the audience is going to be. You need to know the religious background of the people who will hear the program and what will make them think about the message of the gospel.”

The Spronks also traveled with Rev. Untung to visit two radio stations that air the BTGH Indonesian broadcasts. “At each station we met listeners who gather at the stations for Bible studies and fellowship during the week,” Jonathan Spronk said. “It was interesting to hear the stories of those who listen to our programs.”

Spronk said the internship not only gave him a positive crosscultural experience, it changed the way he views using media in ministry. “Even if I don’t end up in overseas missions some day, this was a tremendous experience. Lots of churches want to use media but don’t know how to use it effectively—that’s where the train wreck happens.

“We need to think through how to reach people ­through radio and television, and how to use audio and visuals in the worship service and do it in a way that connects with them culturally.

 “So far in my classes I’ve been concerned with sermon prep, discipleship classes, small groups,” he added. “But media ministry—it’s totally different to think of that audience!”

Rev. Bob Heerspink, director of The Back to God Hour, said this media internship collaboration with Calvin Seminary is worth repeating with future seminary students.

“This program not only gives students a crosscultural experience through a denominational mission agency,” he said. “It also allows students to experience the vision that drives The Back to God Hour—reaching the world for Christ through the power of media.”


Forming Seminary Students for Ministry

The crosscultural summer internship is part of Calvin Theological Seminary’s comprehensive Formation for Ministry (FFM) program. The idea is to stretch students’ cultural horizons so that they are able to look beyond the familiar and discover new perspectives on Christian ministry. Most students engage in a crosscultural internship after their first year of seminary.The seminary works with a variety of ministries and agencies to provide a broad range of experiences, but all crosscultural internships offer the following:•    five weeks of full-time immersion in a culture different from the student’s own•    the introduction of new cultural dynamics into students’ personal and ministry worlds•    a balance between gaining cultural experiences and doing the work of ministry. The “Formation for Ministry” program includes seminary courses, internships, involvement in a local church, and working with mentor pastors. The goal is that seminary students will be shaped through these programs and relationships for a ministry of shaping others into Christ’s likeness. The FFM program is demanding, in that it involves accountability for not just academic excellence, but for one’s total faith life, relational health, and personal commitment to ministry. The FFM program helps prepare future ministry leaders by•    seeking to have every part of the seminary experience form students into increasingly faithful disciples of Jesus Christ;•    focusing on the whole person: head, heart, hands—all in the context of community;•    transcending the separation between academic and practical. This is the first year that The Back to God Hour collaborated with Calvin Seminary in offering internships, and BTGH Director Rev. Bob Heerspink was instrumental in helping to design and implement the program. Having seminary interns work with BTGH ministries completes a second part of his vision for the program.


Welcome to Brazil

Anna Rosas and Ashley Plagerman, second-year master-of-education students at Calvin Theological Seminary, spent five weeks in Brazil as part of the seminary’s crosscultural experience requirement.

The women interned with The Back to God Hour’s Portuguese ministry in Campinas.

“It was an amazing, spectacular, and incredible experience, but that doesn’t even cover it!” exclaimed Rosas, who added, “I was definitely pulled out of my comfort zone, but it was a great learning opportunity!”

It was helpful, Rosas said, that she was born in Argentina, raised in Miami, and speaks Spanish fluently. “That was part of the reason I chose the Brazilian internship.

“Still, we had some hesitancy before arriving in Brazil. But we were warmly welcomed by the [Back to God Hour] staff. As soon as I met George [Goedhart], I knew I would ease into the culture.” Goedhart is development director for The Back to God Hour’s Portuguese ministry.

 The fact that neither Rosas nor Plagerman had any media experience didn’t stop them from jumping right in with both feet to write and produce PAPO COM GRAÇA (Chat with Grace/Charla con Cracia), a trilingual pilot video program for the Internet, where listeners are invited to explore current issues from a biblical perspective while learning English, Portuguese, or Spanish.

 “We took a subject, such as consumerism or the environment, and discussed how the Bible related to that subject within the context of the different cultures,” explained Plagerman. “Our challenge was to make it theologically and culturally authentic. While we talked about our differences, the biblical theme was where we found commonality.”

Both women said they learned a lot about how electronic media can reach people in ways that print cannot.

Rosas hopes to pursue a career in youth ministry in a crosscultural setting. She said working with the Portuguese media ministry definitely expanded her interest. “I’m open to media ministry now; that wasn’t even on the radar before. A lot of curriculum uses media. I’d like to explore ways to use it to connect with kids.”

“Media ministry is so valuable in today’s culture,” Plagerman added. “Someone who would not walk into a church will turn on a radio or access the Internet.”

Heerspink said he is excited about being able to build this bridge to the seminary. “The resources of The Back to God Hour can help train pastors who are media savvy. In today’s culture, we want to see media used effectively in outreach by pastors at the local church.”

The Back to God Hour and Calvin Seminary are teaming up again this summer to give more students the opportunity to work in a crosscultural media experience.

About the Author

Nancy Vander Meer is a staff writer with Back to God Ministries International in Grand Rapids, Mich.
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