A Note from Christian

Christian Mendez, a Christian at Harding University Florence.

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To the saints that showed up to HUF’s chapel yesterday.

Blessings to you and victory from God our Father.

Ever since we departed from the United States, you have been in my prayers and will remain there indefinitely.  I am exceedingly glad that each of you as individuals elected to spend a semester abroad. I continually thank God for giving me the opportunity to know you. I am fortunate to call you my brothers and sisters. I have experienced first hand the characteristics of contagious joy and endless care that each of you possesses. I observe the light of  Jesus in you all and am overwhelmed by the exponential quantity of love that is shared in our amazing HUF group.

I want to present to you all a perspective that often goes untouched or avoided. What is really going on? What are we doing? Is this all a huge waste of time? In Ecclesiastes 1:2, the teacher points out that all things are vanity. This word cannot be simply rephrased as “meaningless,” it goes beyond that. As humans, we torment ourselves in an attempt to unravel the mysteries that we will never possibly comprehend. We try to justify that life has to have some sort of greater purpose. Life is unpredictable and unstable. Life is an enigma.

Everything will soon be forgotten. Everyone dies. These two points are habitually presented by the teacher in Ecclesiastes. You all saw the Abetone Mountains when you went skiing. Do you suppose that those mountains care about what we do in life? Those mountains have been there for ages, and so they will continue to stand there for the generations to come. No one will forget those mountains. We, on the other hand, are just a vapor in the wind according to James 4:14. Our lives are inconceivably minute. All people succumb to death’s grip.

The teacher in Ecclesiastes convicts the actions men take to reach some sort of fulfillment for their endless self-gratifying desires. Great wealth will have to one day be abandoned. Careers may lead people into a spiral of anxiety and long-suffering. Social status will not matter if everyone you know dies with you. The joy found in pleasures is a misleading one that leaves people feeling empty almost immediately. Even obtaining wisdom is paradoxical. Bad things happen to the wise all of the time. If this is the case, then what is left?

As humans we tend to get enthralled by the physicality of the world. Often times we fail to recollect ourselves to recognize the abundance of blessings bestowed upon us by our God. As soon as we abandon the human urge to be significant, we can fully appreciate what is given to us. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that there is a time and place for everything. Because of this, it is best not to worry. Take everything in. Our conscious experience is our own and is one that is God given. Have faith in Him and enjoy every experience, not as how you want or wish them to be, but for what they actually are. Give credit where credit is due. God is amazing and allows for us to pursue lives of experience and memories. Robbie, a beloved brother in Christ, challenged us to “aggressively seek beauty every day.” I feel that the most beautiful things in life are those given to us by God: friendships, good days, delicious meals, and a family.

Existential thoughts are often overcome by ego boosts. With that said, I want to extend a congratulations to you all. It just so happens that we are all experiencing these gifts of God. I urge you to acknowledge them and to never take them for granted. I want to thank each of you for building incredible friendships with me. Thank you for being alongside of me, sharing these gorgeous days in Italy. Thank you for sitting at the table by my side and enjoying flavor filled food. Thank you for providing family-like support and for being my brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a time for everything under the sun, and these are spectacular times, no doubt, thanks to our Father in Heaven.

May God continue to bless you and may you always have victory in Him.



 

Posted on February 14, 2018 .

Skiing in Abetone

I had never been skiing before this trip, despite living two hours away from the ski lodges in the mountains of Virginia.  I had been told by former HUF students that this was one of their favorite things they were able to do, I was also told that some people regretted skiing and just wanted to sit in the hotel with a good book.  I had no idea what to expect! 

Posted on February 14, 2018 .

Spring 2017 - Greetings from HUF Newsletter

By now, the Spring 2017 students have completed a third independent travel and made it back home to the States (or in one case, Japan) and their oversees HUF experience has come to a close. Who better to sum up that experience in words than the students themselves. 

So it is fitting that our last Greetings from HUF for this semester include excerpts from several of the student's final writing assignments. Part of the essay is a reflection on the following question:

What was your "Aha" moment of the semester? When did all of what we have been doing come together and somehow cause something to click in your mind?


"There was no A-Ha moment that changed me in the way I expected, rather every seemingly small thing we came into contact with was merely like a chisel to me, a raw block of marble, and sculpted my HUF experience to what it seems like now: a finished and polished beautiful piece of art. When looking at all these creations that the greatest minds on earth have input into the world, I realize what I want most in this life. These men stayed true to Robbie's saying of "aggressively seek beauty in every day" and rather than seeking refuge in nature or something of those sorts, they sold their minds and embodied some of the most beautiful pieces seen in the history of the world. I realize what I want most in my life, and that is to effect the world in a positive way, just as these men have done. I realize that in today’s age, marble working or creating frescoes for churches are still amazing things to do, but today affecting the world beautifully could be done in many different ways. I don't care what I end up doing or what hobbies I will end up taking on, but I know for a fact that I want to aggressively seek beauty in all of it, and I want to put my experience and meaning within in everything I do."

— Evan Rosenzweig

"While at HUF I have experienced many events that will surely stay with me for the rest of my life. Even though I will not always remember every detail from this trip, I will always remember the lessons it has taught me, and the way my view of the world has changed through it. I have yet to experience a single epiphany moment, but looking back I can see the series of revelations that have led to the grand total of my life lesson learned. While in Europe I have been able to see how history has influenced the present, and how that should affect the way I live my life today."

— Caroline Brown

"Using the analogy of a clock, I am but the smallest piece like a spoke on a miniscule cog when it comes to the world going ‘round. I think I have come to some small actuality that I am almost of no consequence to the world. Chances are that I will not change the world by myself, and the world will never know my name. While this may seem like a melancholy thought to dwell on, it just makes me appreciate more and more the love that God has for each of us individually. He knows each of us individually and completely, knows our every dark secret and triumph and loves us regardless. So while I may not be of consequence to the world, I am the apple of my Lord’s eye and that is more than enough for me."

— Leah Johnson

"I have found myself during this trip staring off over a Florentine skyline, watching the sun set into the ocean, and standing at the pinnacle of the island of Capri muttering to myself the question “Where am I?” I am smiling as I say this because I am in complete disbelief of what I am seeing with my eyes. The sheer beauty that God has laid before me and blessed me with, I am experiencing in that very moment. The Amalfi Coast, Capri, Florence, Abetone, the Turkish Steps, and a castle in the middle of Casentino to name a few are some of the places that I have felt this because of how beautiful they are! I try and capture the moments in my camera as quickly as I can because I know just how fleeting the moments are. I have found that during this trip, if I don’t keep myself focused then I will miss those glimpses of God. I might see the sights, experience the art, and meet special people, but if I am not aggressively seeking beauty then it will pass me by."

— Addison Picker


Visiting Faculty Note:

Dr. Shawn and Jennifer Fisher, professors of history and speech-language pathology respectively, were our visiting faculty this Spring semester. Their daughters, Elizabeth and Rachel, also accompanied them on the trip. Shawn and Jennifer were HUFstudents in the Spring of 1996.

For my wife and me it has been 21 years since we have visited Italy, and it is still as beautiful and magical as our first visit. This time things are a little different, of course. Last time we were footloose students, backpacking across Europe with boundless energy and a Eurail pass. This time we are, perhaps, a little slower and not quite as adventurous, and of course we have with us not only 36 students to teach and look after, but also two kids of our own.

Jennifer and I were dating when we came to HUF in 1996, and it was really a serious commitment of our relationship to see if we could tolerate each other for the extent of the semester. It is safe to say that we did! We can honestly say we fell in love in Italy, and we wouldn't be the first to make that claim. But after 21 years of marriage, it's nice to be back here together and reflect on how much closer we have grown emotionally and spiritually. It's not quite as romantic to visit Venice with our two kids in tow, of course, but it's nice to watch them marvel at it, just as we did years ago.

In some ways this has been an even better experience than the last, mostly because we get to experience Italy through the eyes of our children and our "HUF kids." As we visit some of the exciting and interesting places in the world there is a palpable feel of joy and elation. It never gets old. For a history professor like myself, it's also a chance to tick off a few items on the bucket list -- give a lecture about the Colosseum, or at the landing site for the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943, or teach about Paul while walking the streets of an ancient Roman city.

One of the best experiences of the trip has been the HUF students, and we've enjoyed watching our girls interact with their 36 big brothers and sisters. There's been plenty of fun interactions, some laughs and friendly kidding, and a lot of kindness and patience as well. It also been a treat to reconnect with Robbie and Mona Shackleford, who were the directors here in 1996. They have both been so sweet to our family and still have the same level of energy and excitement today as they did in 1996. Grant Schol is a new face, and the ladies Paola and Leda, have replaced Anna and Renatta, but in many ways it's truly been like going home. The Villa is the same, the smells and tastes are just as delightful as we remember.

From an intellectual standpoint, the museums and tours are even more enriching the second time around, even for someone who has been teaching Western Civilization for several years. I have new stories and details to relate in class, of course, but also a broader understanding that comes from advanced study. I have often caught myself making connections in ways that I missed the first time.  You don't have to pull questions out of students; the questions come naturally as we walk together, whether in the Greek temples in Agrigento, or the Roman Forum, or the Uffizi. Students learn as easily as breathing, and as educators, we have come to value that perhaps most of all.


Another semester has come and gone and another group photo is in the book. But the importance of the significant life changes and world-view shifts that have taken place in the past three months are no less noteworthy. These students now join the ranks of over 3,000 HUF Alumni, all of whom have had a similar experience to what these students have just finished. Many of whom are still having "aha moments" about something they may have learned during their time in Italy. The program is over but the learning has just begun.

From everyone at the Harding University in Florence program, we hope and pray that somehow the students have been affected by this experience. Because through them we hope that they can help make this world a better place. 

Posted on April 26, 2017 .

Spring 2017 - Greetings from HUF Newsletter

Things here at HUF seem to have become busier and busier as the semester comes closer to the end. Since our last message, we have been on our group trip to Sicily and the students have completed their second independent travel to other parts of Europe. 


Sicily is like no other place in the world. It has been a crossroad of different cultures for thousands of years, linking different peoples together to form a place so unique that the only thing it could simply be is Sicilian. This Italian island in the Mediterranean is quite literally a place of legends, as it is the mythological home to the cyclopses and land of adventures for the Greek hero Odysseus. As a strategically located trading post, Sicily has been a land of the passerby since the beginning. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Elymians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Turks and Spanish have all called Sicily home at one point in time and their memories still live on as the same island continues to captivate people today. 

The Italians call it a "land of contradictions" because right when you think you have Sicily figured out, a curve ball gets thrown at you. The Italians also call it "L'imbarazzante delle scelte," or an embarassment of choices, because Sicily has so much to offer, one simply cannot do it all in one trip. During our trip to Sicily we try to highlight the absolute must see places on one's first trip to the island. 

The Straits of Messina were our first stop then the ancient, medieval and modern city of Syracuse. Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples were next where we also enjoyed some time by the water at the Scala dei Turchi, or Turkish Steps. Next we traveled by bus across the island to Monreale and Palermo. We returned to mainland Italy via overnight ferry to Naples. After disembarking the next morning, the entire group elected to use our trip back to Florence as an opportunity to visit the island of Capri in the Bay of Naples.

Student's Note:

The following story is a real-life account of Friday, March 17th, 2017 – a day that some HUF students have referred to as “the best day ever.”

After spending the morning in Agrigento for an on-site class exploring some of the largest and best preserved Greek temples in the world, the group hopped back onto our bus and headed to a place known as “La Scala Dei Turchi,” or the Turkish Steps, a beautiful set of white cliffs made of a sedimentary rock called marl which has the appearance of plaster.

Once getting off the bus, we had a group lunch at a restaurant right on the beach where most of us had swordfish (which was very good) before going about fifteen minutes further down the beach to the Steps. We had incredible weather and could not have asked for a sunnier day to spend out by the sea. When approaching the steps, you only can see the one side of them, a large white slope of rock with people walking up. Moving up to the top of the cliffs, there are indentations all along it that make for the perfect spots to lounge in and soak up some rays. Walking along the steps and climbing up to the top made for some great picture opportunities as well as an overall relaxing time after several consecutive busy days of on-site classes.

 

Being the ever adventurous young boys at heart, some of us decided that we wanted to run along the steps and go all the way down them to a secluded beach on the other side. Shortly after, many of the girls of the group followed. Once one of us got the idea that we should go swimming in the water in 60 degree weather we all had to do it (more than likely it was to impress the ladies). After the initial shock of being submerged in cold water subsided we were able to swim around and have a good time, and we convinced most of the girls to get in the water, too (“convinced”/ “splashed” what’s the difference?). Later we dried off and climbed back up and just spent the rest of our time hanging out and enjoying the beautiful area around us.

If there is one thing I have learned from this experience at HUF, it’s that sometimes the places you know nothing about can become some of your favorite places on earth. This is definitely the case with the Turkish steps and our day there and the fun times together will be something I will never forget.

Hi Mom and Dad. Hi everyone else’s Mom and Dad. We are having the time of our lives and we still don’t want to come home (yet). Ciao for now and see you in less than one month!

–Blake, HUF Student


Student's traveled all over Europe for their second independent travel. France, The Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic were all popular destinations. 

Student's Note:

I would like to address a few cities that have changed my life within the course of a week.

Munich. You were very good to me. My preconceptions of Germany were a little rough around the edges before I met you, but you showed me that this is the most incredible country I could have ever chosen to spend time with. The Neuschwanstein castle is truly like walking through my favorite childhood fairytale. The evening presented us with delicious food and a walk around the city center. The next morning in Dachau was much more somber and reflective of mankind. Thank you for allowing me to explore worlds I can hardly imagine.

Prague. You were my favorite. You are like the whimsical old-fashioned city I’ve always imagined in another world. You’ve got quite a history, and I was thankful for the cute tour guide who told us some quirky stories and hidden gems about you. I walked about twelve miles to explore how cool you were, from the Charles Bridge to the castle to the Lennon Wall and back again. I hate physical activity, but I would do it again if it meant I got to go back.

Berlin. You were not what I expected. I knew that you had been destroyed and rebuilt over the past several decades, but never had I dreamed you would still be so breathtaking. Our hostel was lively with interesting roommates, and those are memories that will remain with me. Your people are so creative and modern. The East Side Gallery held me captive from one end to the other. P.S. Thank you for the cheap Birkenstocks and an English movie theater so we could see Beauty and the Beast.

Amsterdam. You were a real treat. With less than a day to get to know you, I struggled with how to make the most of my time. We walked around exploring the canals and little shops nearby and found your cool new “I *heart* Amsterdam” sign. I woke up early the last morning to explore the Van Gogh museum. I could have spent hours there with one of my favorite artists, but choosing the museum instead of renting a bike created a long yet beautiful walk back to the station.

Europe. You are continually teaching me. I have learned not to treat my study abroad experience as the only time I will ever be able to check things off my bucket list. This only causes stress and disappointment over the things I didn't do. Instead, I have found that the most rewarding moments are those in which I take a deep breath and embrace the unforgettable experiences I have.

– Maleah, HUF Student


Up Next...

On Tuesday we leave for our last group trip of the semester. We are going to an area of Tuscany called the Casentino, a river valley rich with history and dotted with castles on the hilltops.


Final Shot

Paola and Leda, or "The Ladies," cut up strawberries the afternoon students arrived back at the Villa from independent travels. Paola and Leda help keep the students fed by preparing meals and snacks, using the fresh foods of the season.

Posted on April 1, 2017 .