A team of 12 students and faculty from Tabor College’s ministry entrepreneurship and innovation (MEI) program traveled to Bogotá, Colombia, this summer for a unique experience in studying entrepreneurship and ministry. Tabor College is the Mennonite Brethren college in Hillsboro, Kansas.
In addition to Bogotá, the group visited sites at several cities around the country including Ibagué, Quibdó, Chocó, Istmina and San Antonio. The trip featured a mix of cross-cultural interaction, observation of entrepreneurial ministries, community building, spiritual formation, reflective practices and sightseeing.
Tabor’s MEI program requires a course in an international location with the goal of offering students the opportunity to see entrepreneurial leadership in a different cultural context.
“The purpose of our international immersion course is to listen and learn from church leaders and others participating in innovative and creative ministries around the country we visit,” says trip leader Rick Bartlett, director of theological education at Tabor College.
Two MEI students affirm the importance of learning first-hand about another country and how Christians in other cultures live out their faith.
“There is nothing like being able to step incredibly far out of yourself and current life context and learn first-hand from the country you are in,” Alexandra Marintzer says.
Marintzer works as the ministry coordinator for World Impact in Wichita, Kansas. She previously traveled with the MEI cohort to Turkey and enjoyed her second experience with a different group of students.
“We learned so much in class, but when I was in those locations, the instructions that I had learned for the past year came alive in ways that I never thought possible,” Marintzer says.
For Jon Fiester, associate pastor at Bible Fellowship Church, an MB congregation in Rapid City, South Dakota, the international trip gave a new perspective on church and Christians’ response to their communities.
“It was great to see the church in another culture,” Fiester says. “It is inspiring to see the way locals are responding to the violence and a politically-changing Colombia. We visited several local farmers and entrepreneurs who are committed to use what they have to ethically impact their communities for the greater good.”
Students traveled to an organic banana and coffee farm and had the opportunity to sample freshly-picked, dried and roasted coffee as well as bananas right from the tree. They also visited Fruandes, a fruit-drying company started by a group of Christians with the mandate of hiring people who had been displaced by the 50-year-old civil war.
Another highlight of the trip was the opportunity to travel to the Choco, the rainforest in the western part of the country. Once a place of paramilitary groups, it is now growing and developing as an area of farmland producing rice, chocolate, mangos and other produce. These initiatives are led by members of the Mennonite Brethren churches in the area.
“When I was able to take all of that information and go to a place that was not my city, state or even country and look at this country and its people through the lens of the MEI program, I was able to think so much more outside the box,” Marintzer says. “I was able to slow down and really be able to see and think about all of the needs that I was seeing and how I would fill them if I could.”
Marintzer says traveling has opened her eyes.
“The trip taught me to look at the needs in my own community through a much bigger lens, a global lens,” she says.
Bartlett is pleased by the way the trips have enhanced and added to the learning students do throughout the first year of the program.
“These international trips are such an important part of our curriculum,” Bartlett says. “In order to form and shape entrepreneurs, we want to stretch them and help them engage with the wider world.”
Colombian church leaders César García and Sandra Baez hosted the students and the husband-wife team also served as in-country leaders for the group. García is the general secretary of Mennonite World Conference. Both have degrees from Fresno Pacific University and were members of College Community Church in Clovis, California, when they lived and studied there.