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Michael Westendorp

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Fellowship Experience

Perhaps the most important thing that I gained from my Brueggeman Fellowship was the desire to explore, not just geographically, but also intellectually and socially. I have always wanted to travel, particularly to international destinations, but it was not until I was able to travel alone and independently with the Brueggeman Fellowship that I realized that living and working abroad was something I wanted to make a life out of. For that reason I joined the Peace Corps and now live in the Eastern Rainforests of Madagascar. However, I also learned that it is not enough for me to just go to a place, see the monuments, climb the mountains, and eat the food. The experience of being abroad is enhanced primarily by asking oneself the hard questions about cultural and historical differences and seeking to understand the world from view point of the people around me.

My “Brueggeman Moment” came as a result of a random contact I had made with a group in Southern Turkey. I was studying Christian Minorities and their relationship to the Turkish State. By chance I met up with this group of Christians in Çıralı and they invited me to attend one of their gatherings at Yanartaş. Yanartaş are naturally occurring ‘eternal flames’ that feed off flammable gas seeping from the earth’s crust. Covering a large hillside overlooking the sea, these flames were sources of fascination for Ancient Greeks, Conquering Romans, and Modern Turks. At the foot of the Yanartaş rests the ruins of a Greek Orthodox Church. Here I gathered with the local Christians at sunset. Sitting on the walls of the church, we sang Christian hymns and praise songs together, both old and new. The experience was incredibly spiritual, fulfilling and profound. I was in Turkey, the birthplace of the Christian church connecting the modern and embattled Turkish Christian movement with its ancient roots, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It was an experience in living history I will never forget.

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