Where everything connects…in Indonesia

Student dancers welcomed our delegation to Universitas Kristen Wira Wicana on the island of Sumba.

It’s August, and I feel deeply grateful for a summer that has been active, refreshing and abundant in weaving connections. Of many examples, the most exceptional was our trip to Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,508 islands which connects the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

In June, I traveled to Indonesia with my colleague Ann Vendrely, vice president for academic affairs, and both of our spouses (Kevin Miller and Pat Vendrely) to build partnerships with educational institutions for our Study-Service Term (SST), and to explore further mutually beneficial scholarly opportunities. Mennonite Central Committee International Program (MCC, based in North America) has a long history of partnering with Indonesian universities, and as result of these relationships we were able to explore educational partnerships and establish memorandums of understanding with numerous Indonesian universities.

Exchanging gifts at Universitas Kristen Wira Wicana after signing a memorandum of understanding about our partnership.

Personal connections

Indonesia means a great deal to me, because 16 people in Kevin’s and my extended families have lived, worked or grown up there, mostly with MCC and partners, including Kevin and me. We lived in Central Java for nearly two years while I was doing research for my doctoral dissertation. I had returned a couple of times in the 1990s, but Kevin had not been to Indonesia since 1991. This trip allowed us to reconnect with the Indonesian language, the city of Yogyakarta where we had lived, and the rich sights, textures and flavors of Javanese culture. We also visited Goshen College partners on the islands of Sumba and Timor, where GC students had recently lived during their SST service-learning assignments. These places were wonderfully new to us.

Returning to Java, I was able to reconnect with Hamam Hadi, an Indonesian doctoral student whom I mentored at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is now a professor himself and the Rector (president) of Alma Ata University of Health Sciences. Hamam and his faculty hosted our delegation with generous hospitality and invited me to give a lecture to their faculty and students.

Taking questions from the audience after my lecture, with Rektor Hamam Hadi of Universitas Alma Ata, my former student.

Our conversations with Indonesians in agriculture and public health caused me to reconnect with my own experience and identity as a global nutrition researcher, as the issues that I have studied over three decades are top priority for Indonesia and their research agendas. I found it surprisingly satisfying to connect my administrative work with my scholarship.

Goshen College connections

Connecting with the Indonesian academic partners who had hosted, mentored and taught our SST students was truly joyful. If the stories and smiles of our Indonesian partners reflect the quality of the experience for our students, our students were fortunate indeed. Throughout our time, we developed several ideas for how to broaden and deepen our relationships with MCC, with our SST program as an anchoring collaboration.

On a field trip with faculty of Universitas Kristen Wira Wicana to see their community service activities on Sumba Island.

Finally, we reconnected with GC alumni and Indonesian Mennonites in a small but vibrant alumni gathering that also included staff from MCC Southeast Northeast Asia and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. Ann and I needed to leave just as Mennonite World Conference was beginning to gather, but other GC folks represented us there.

We reconnected with GC alumni and Indonesian Mennonites in a small but vibrant alumni gathering that also included staff from MCC Southeast Northeast Asia and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.

​​We are living in a time when many things seem to be coming apart. So it is remarkable that when GC engaged a marketing research firm to survey our stakeholders about the gist of what we do, they reflected back to us that GC is a place “where everything connects.”

As Goshen’s president, it is a continual pleasure to see our students make new connections – academically, socially, spiritually and professionally. In Indonesia I had the opportunity to experience this personally and deeply for myself. I love working at Goshen College – where everything indeed connects!

Rebecca Stoltzfus