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Junior Sini Ngobese Explores Thailand

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of features on recipients of the Spiritual Exploration Field Period™ Award. A Spiritual Exploration Field Period™ involves work with churches, missions, hospitals, or hospices with an eye toward providing aid to needy individuals and/or groups, in this country or abroad. Funding for the scholarship is provided by an Institutional Renewal Grant from The Rhodes Consultation on the Future of the Church-Related College.

Travel to a new land. Experience new people and a different religion. Immerse herself in an entirely different culture. Encompass the type of adventure and life experience that is paramount to her.

These are some goals junior Sini Ngobese had for her January Field Period™. The business management and organizational communication major from Durban, South Africa, traveled to Thailand “as part of my life goal to be a culturally and spiritually diverse, world-minded, global citizen.”

While in Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, Ngobese, a Christian, said she had no plans to change her current religious affiliations, but “I was passionate to discover the diverse ways in which believers of other religious express their spirituality,” she said. “I also wanted to see what houses of worship are sacred to them, what monuments encompass their devotion for their deity, and what actions or rituals help them feel closer to their deity and spiritually awakened.”

Ngobese wanted to meditate and practice yoga with experts in order to attain greater spiritual engagement as a Christian. She toured historical landmarks, Buddhist temples and other heritage sites, zoos, botanical gardens, snorkeled, and visited an orphanage.

“I wanted to see the things that weave together Thailand’s history, which influence the country as it is today,” said Ngobese. “One of those influences includes the various, extravagant drag shows orchestrated by Thailand’s transvestite population. I looked forward to attending some of the shows.”

Additionally, Ngobese planned to observe the mannerisms and behaviors of the monks at the temples to not only gain a better understanding of these spiritual leaders, but also to draw parallels, contrasts, and comparisons to various Christian spiritual leaders, and learn what perceptions Buddhists have of Christians.

“I also explored Thai culture through one of the most fundamental ways in which one can experience a new culture—its food,” said Ngobese. “From enrolling in a cooking course to sampling the culinary creations of various street stalls, I learned what tastes, combinations of spices, textures, and culinary aromas form what the Thai people have deemed their best and most popular national dishes.”

Added Ngobese: “The founder of Keuka College, Dr. Rev. George Harvey Ball, believed that an individual’s college experience should be both educationally developing and spiritually enriching. Traveling to Thailand helped me become both.”

In addition to receiving the Spiritual Exploration Field Period™ Award, Ngobese also earned a Judith Oliver Brown Memorial Award. The award, named after the late 1963 Keuka graduate, is supported by Brown’s family and the Class of ’63. It is designed to assist students who pursue a culturally-oriented Field Period™.

Mindful Awareness, Loving Kindness was Focus of Field Period™

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of features on recipients of the Spiritual Exploration Field Period™ Award. A Spiritual Exploration Field Period™ involves work with churches, missions, hospitals, or hospices with an eye toward providing aid to needy individuals and/or groups, in this country or abroad. Funding for the scholarship is provided by an Institutional Renewal Grant from The Rhodes Consultation on the Future of the Church-Related College.

Samantha Layton

Seniors Samantha Layton and Alexandra Fiore have similar goals for their future. They both are psychology majors and plan to earn master’s degrees—Layton in cognitive behavior therapy and Fiore in transpersonal psychology.

To help achieve those goals, each student completed a Field Period™ at Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lake, Colo. Established in 1971, Shambhala Mountain Center provides an opportunity to explore paths of deepened awareness, personal well-being and societal transformation. The center offers indigenous wisdom traditions, body awareness practices, contemplative arts, and mindful living, among others.

Layton, a resident of Painted Post, is a Methodist, which to her “means the decision to respond to God’s grace with intentional commitment and who takes the responsibility for living as a member of the body of Christ and fulfilling God’s purposes.”

But she said that throughout her college studies, she has become introduced and “felt connected” to other religious practices, including the teachings of Buddha.

“I have found myself practicing insight meditation, which has allowed me to become intrigued with mindful awareness,” said Layton. “This exploration has brought me to want to further my knowledge of the mind, body, and spirit through the teachings of Buddha.”

Alex Fiore

So does Fiore. The Brookfield, Conn. resident has “acquired a sense of loving kindness for myself by practicing meditation on my own,” she said. “I have noticed and developed an appreciation for the Buddhist teachings, and this Field Period™ was an opportunity to directly correlate those teachings to with my future career. It also helped me let down all of my guard and find a love and compassion for myself as well as others.”

Layton said that while she believes she is in touch with God, she feels out of touch with herself.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Layton. “[A retreat such as this] was something I imagined taking part in since my exploration into the teachings of Buddha.”

She expected to develop a “depth of realization of Buddha’s path of liberation” during her Field Period™, and Layton believes “this opportunity will continue to benefit me after the completion of my bachelor’s degree,” she said. “My experience at Shambhala Mountain Center will help me with my future clients because I will be able to utilize my experience to help others.”

Fiore, too, intends to use what she learned during her Field Period™ while pursuing her master’s degree and career.

“I wanted to see how self-knowledge and understanding grow as we realize we can live each moment either with inattention, fear and judgment, or with clarity, kindness and wakefulness.

“By cultivating the power of awareness, we discover our path to liberation, inner freedom and a peaceful heart,” said Fiore. “This Field Period™ meant more than anything to me because it was the first step I have taken to broaden my horizons.”

Students Travel Near (Ithaca) and Far (Cape Town) for Spiritual Exploration Field Periods

Vincent Glanville and Mary Leet are the 2012 recipients of the Spiritual Exploration Field Period Scholarship.

Learn more about Methodism. Conduct research. Understand the impact and importance of religion on a particular population. Grow spiritually.

These are goals that Keuka College freshman Mary Leet and sophomore Vincent Glanville share for their Field Periods. And thanks to receiving Spiritual Exploration Field Period scholarships, both will be able to pursue their goals with less financial burden.

Leet, a resident of Stanley who  is spending January at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Ithaca, received $1,000. Glanville, a resident of Cape Town, South Africa, is working with Claremont Methodist Church’s Serving Strangers program in his hometown. He received $2,000 to help offset his costs.

Mary Leet

Spiritual Exploration Field Periods involve work with churches, missions, Hospitals, or hospices with an eye toward providing aid to needy individuals and/or groups, in this country or abroad. Funding for the scholarship  is provided by an Institutional Renewal Grant from The Rhodes Consultation on the Future of the Church-Related College.

Leet’s mother serves as a pastor at the Port Byron United Methodist Church, so Leet has a “deep” connection with God and her religion. But that connection was tested as Leet began to understand and accept who she is.

“As I got older, I began to learn slowly at first, then all at once, that I was not like my friends,” explained Leet. “I realized I was a lesbian in middle school, and at the same time learned just how unacceptable that was in the eyes of the church.”

Though her mother insisted that Leet didn’t need to turn away from the church, she gave up her religion and had no part in the church for three years. Since then, Leet said she has grown to understand that God loves and accepts all of His children, and she is anxious to return to a congregation where she can fully participate.

When Leet chose to come out to her mom, “I was met with support and love, and we immediately immersed ourselves in finding a way to make our lives better suited to accept everyone like the Bible said we should. That is how we were both introduced to the concept of a Reconciling congregation.”

A Reconciling congregation is a United Methodist local church that makes a public statement welcoming all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, to participate fully in its congregational life.

“[My Field Period] will be a personal journey because I have not yet found a church I consider ‘home,’” said Leet. “I have spent these past three years attending an Episcopal summer arts camp, occasionally attending my mother’s church, and often volunteering. But I have yet to feel comfortable actually joining a congregation.”

During her Field Period, Leet intends to become involved in “various activities of the church, including meeting its board and the Reconciling committee, and participating in discussion groups regularly,” said Leet. “I also plan to participate in youth and Sunday morning activities, and use social media and a newsletter to promote St. Paul’s.”

Leet plans to keep a journal of her reflections, and stories she collects from others through the blogging website Tumblr.

“I hope to compose an insider’s view of what being a Christian really means for a LGBTQIA person,” she said. “In doing this, I will have created something tangible to give others like me hope, and help begin the necessary conversation in more churches to help the Reconciling movement spread.”

Added Leet: “By participating in a church again, I hope to find that I can still belong to a church where I can explore my own spirituality and reflect on what it means to be a lesbian Christian.”

And while Leet will stay close to home, Glanville will trade winter for summer as he returns to his hometown.

Vincent Glanville

“Spirituality has always played a big part in my life, whether it was going to church on Sunday with my family, or going to youth groups on Friday nights,” said Glanville. “I have often taken this spiritual surrounding for granted and as such, have never gone out and experienced the impact a faith such as Christianity has on people less fortunate that me.”

But Field Period is giving him that opportunity via the Serving Strangers’ mission trips.

“Mission trips have always been something that has interested me, and this particular Field Period marries my interest in these trips with my psychology major,” said Glanville. “I believe faith is as much about people’s ideas and thoughts, as it is about their belief, and I want to explore that.”

Serving Strangers aims to help churches reach out to the communities of unreached people who exist around every urban and suburban church. This involves teaching courses, leading seminars, and mentoring. Part of Serving Strangers’ mission is that there is never a time to grow out of the basic responsibilities Christians have toward others.

Glanville also hopes to gather some psychological data on the influence of Western religion—specifically Christianity—on native South African tribal people. During his Field Period, Glanville intends to conduct research on the people Serving Strangers helps. He wants to learn what role psychology plays in a mission, especially the group psychology behind a missionary organization and the group psychology of those they help.

“This will encompass experiencing mission work first-hand,” said Glanville. “I will study the effect Christianity has had on tribal people, how it has bettered their lifestyle, how it has changed their views on their culture or spirituality, and how it has been incorporated into their belief system.”

According to Glanville, most of the people he will be in direct contact with on the mission trips live in tribes or are the descendants of people who were in tribes.

“There is such a spiritual wealth to draw from in conversation and interaction with them,” he said. “Historically speaking, these are the people who were the most in tune with the ‘spirit of the land’ and had heavy reverence for their ancestor’s spirits. It is a spiritual belief system that has been entrenched into them from birth, and one that is far removed from my own.”

By the end of his Field Period, Glanville hopes to understand the impact of Western religion on African culture.

“I want to see why so many of them turn away from their ancestors’ belief system and embrace something many of them consider a ‘white man’s religion,’” said Glanville. “It’s interesting that they would choose to follow Christianity, when they shun so many other things in Western society.”