The final week of August 2014 was filled with unforgettable moments among the twelve who had embarked on the Global Theological Education (GTE) immersion trip to the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. Three leaders and nine participants-traveling from Georgia, Tennessee, and Iowa- stayed at a 20,000 acre private ranch in the heart of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, some of us meeting for the first time face-to-face after nearly two years of learning together through the PATHWAYS online course platform.
The excitement and the joy of coming together as a group abounded, while the anxiety of facing the unknown in a new place was palpable. The intensity of emotions-both good and bad-stayed with the group throughout the week as the participants encountered several different cultures to learn about in a short period of time and coped with a unique communal life in the context of unfamiliar surroundings. The group learned about the ranch life where 500 cattle roam freely on the vast grassland next to the seemingly endless wheat and barley fields; we discovered the state-of-the-art model of communal living at the Hutterite colony whose residents gave the group a lot to think about; we met Blackfeet natives who presented us with the Blackfeet history, culture, and life marked by tumultuous past and uncertain future; and we explored the striking wonders of Nature in the Glacier National Park that neighbors the ranch.
The themes of “deep symbols and eco-spirituality,” that serve as the title of this GTE course, really do not adequately cover the extent of the cross-cultural and communal experience shared by the participants, as we found ourselves challenged to stretch our comfort zone and expand our theological imagination in this beautiful, rugged, other-worldly territory. The profundity of the whole experience could easily move one to tears, and the bond that was created among the participants can readily bring one to laughter. As one participant has said after the trip, “this [experience] will stay with me for some time to come.”
This was my fifth GTE excursion, and I must say that it has been the most challenging one in terms of carrying out daily schedule. On one day, we all decided to choose a Native American name, and I became “Lover-of-paved-roads.” Driving daily in and out of the ranch’s lengthy, rocky, muddy, dirt road was made possible by my passengers yelling out “Keep going! Keep going!” every time I found myself losing control behind the wheel crossing a thick puddle of mud. It was indeed a new experience for me to pray so hard for good weather. And I am very proud to say that we had the best GTE travelers who weren’t afraid to dare and venture. Thanks to be to God.