Colleen Homoelle, a Grace student from Ohio, is currently finishing her last year in the Special Education program which was designed for those who are passionate about serving students with disabilities in the educational context.
Colleen decided to do an Encounter Atlanta trip with Encompass to complete her cross-cultural ministry requirement for graduation.
She first heard about Encounter Atlanta from her sister, Courtney Starkey, who had participated and led several Encounter trips with her husband Billy. Her sister only had the best of things to say about the experience! So, when one of Colleen’s professors asked if she was interested in joining the Grace College Encounter team, she was happy to go along.
The team made their way down to Atlanta this last Spring having no idea of what to expect.
When they arrived, the group was able to sit down with an Emory University professor to discuss what it was like to teach in an incredibly diverse environment. On top of that, they also visited one of the most diverse elementary schools in the city that had dozens of different cultures represented in the classrooms.
When they arrived, the students were thrilled to see them! So much so, the team was nearly tackled by the children’s excited cheers. For a good while, they helped the kids learn and play before heading out to their next stop. The team was happy to see so many students learning well in a healthy educational environment with such diversity represented.
To round out their cross-cultural experience even further, the team visited a Hindu temple and an Islamic mosque which proved to be an eye-opening experience as well.
Colleen had taken a Religion and Cults class in high school, so she wasn’t completely surprised to see the unique worship styles. However, it’s one thing to learn concepts in a classroom and another thing entirely to actually see, feel, and hear them for yourself.
She said it was heartbreaking to see people dedicate so much of their time to false gods and counterfeit-gospels. On the flip side, she began feeling convicted of her own lack of dedication as a Christian who actually held the truth in Jesus Christ. Altogether, the experience was incredibly sobering.
By the end of the week, Colleen’s heart and mind were full of things to process.
She admits that, in the past, she had fluffed the cross-cultural intentionality in her classroom practice. But now, after her Encounter Atlanta trip, she sees the power of valuing people’s cultural expressions, especially in the classroom setting.
Whether in school, at her church, or in the café down the street, Colleen now wants everyone around her to feel like their background and culture is meaningful to her.
Putting this new mindset to action, Colleen has spent this summer assisting the organization of an Encounter Columbus trip in Ohio as an intern for Grace Polaris Church. She hopes that others will gain the same kind of cultural appreciation and awareness she received in Atlanta.
Her words of wisdom for those going on the Encounter Columbus trip and any Encounter trip thus after is this:
“Dive in head first. Try everything. Meet new people. Take in all that’s around you. And most importantly, take notes. If you really want to wrestle and remember what you learned on the trip, write your experiences down. If you do, you won’t regret it.”