So why would 41 students, 7 adults and 4 teachers trek around Europe on a March break anyway? That is what a group of us from London Christian High recently did, somewhat retracing our steps from the 2016 trip. There are of course a whole host of reasons. The main focus of the trip was to experience and reinforce what we learned in the classroom about the great sacrifices that were made in the two world wars in defense of freedom and equality. The additional benefits were to experience Dutch, Belgian, French and British cultures…architecture, food, language, religion, and way of life, and to gain an appreciation for the geography of a small portion of Western Europe.
How is faith intrinsically embedded in learning and life on such a trip? From our perspective we did not have to look far. So many of our experiences surrounding visits to cemeteries, memorials and battle sites caused us to pause, to think deeply about bravery, sacrifice, death, and statements and epitaphs of faith, embraced by believers and those associated with them. There were poignant moments in our group of students, some experienced alone, and others together. And there were the collective expressions of faith by the entire group as we gathered in the various cemeteries to hear reflections about war, faith and forgiveness. Our voices joined in song and solemnly and quietly drifted across the rows of tombstones where so many were laid to rest. “Abide with me fast falls the eventide.” And we heard the poetic words of “In Flanders Fields” and “Dulce Et Decorum Est”. In the Canadian war cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer we stood facing Juno Beach where the Canadian forces landed during D-Day. With the graves of those who lost their lives at our backs we sang Oh Canada; “God keep our land, glorious and free!” We stood for a long spontaneous moment of silence, some us holding back tears and Barrie our Tour Guide wept.
We also experienced, to some degree, life in Amsterdam, Paris and London. The richness of culture and its diversity grew us all, realizing it or not, into a deeper appreciation of a God who authored the creative expression of culture to the vast diversity of the peoples of the world. Family secrets, centuries old, of cheese making and how to turn out a host of different klompen were amongst these experiences. The fun of trying out a little Dutch and French drove home the richness of language. Being crammed like sardines in a can on the Metro in Paris and the Tube in London were new occurrences for many of us. We experienced the grandeur of Notre Dame and Sacre-Coeur in Paris, and the St. Bavo Kerk in Harlem. Evensong at Westminster Abbey was a somewhat different faith expression than most of us are use to towards a God that all Christians embrace. There was a quiet reverence among the group! We were in a house of God! The words of the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,” sung by the choir, were striking and we left with the sound of the organ and the peeling of the bells echoing in our ears.
At the original Hard Rock Café we rocked the place with our exuberant joining in with songs like “YMCA” and “Sweet Carolyn.”
All was not beautiful or inspiring on our trip. We “saw” the ravages of war, the oppression of people and the sacrifice of those who lost their lives. We witnessed the plight of the poor, substance abuse and the affects of pollution. Some of us battled colds, the flu bug and rolled ankles.
We as educators try to make use of the whole gambit of ways to get the point across to our students. First-hand experience is a very effective way to teach. Students learn so much on such a trip as the Europe trip, everything from travel survival in a large group to the extensive number of educational experiences that not only reinforce what is taught in the classroom but are entirely new and unachievable in a classroom setting. It is life changing! It broadens limited geographical and cultural experiences and fosters an appreciation for other cultures and travel and learning. We are grateful to God for safety, for the prayers, encouragement and the support of the community and for the opportunity to teach and learn in this unforgettable way!