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Iona Trip Offers Students Unique Pilgrimage Experience

March 29, 2016

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Just off the coast of Western Scotland is Iona—a small, ecumenical community that seeks to live out the Gospel in a way that is inclusive and relevant to life in the 21st century.

When Pastor Kara Stewart arrived at TLU in 2014, she began to incorporate the music and prayers of Iona into chapel routines. After sharing her own experiences of traveling to Iona, she realized that the experience of living in a Christian community and exploring a holy island could be a transformative trip for students.

This June, Pastor Stewart and Theology Professor Phil Ruge-Jones will be taking a group of students to Scotland for a two-week trip. While there, they will travel to Oban, Iona, and Edinburgh, participate in daily worship and community building in the ancient abbey, and learn about the early development of Protestantism, as well as the contemporary Protestant church.

Pastor Stewart says there are a few things that set Iona apart from other study abroad programs.

“It’s more than just learning about the ancient practice of pilgrimage or experiencing a different culture; this trip encourages students to experience pilgrimage for themselves in the travel, in the people they meet along the way, in the daily rhythm of worship and work at the Abbey,” she said. “It is a spiritual experience, a transformative experience.”

In addition to the spiritual experience of pilgrimage, Pastor Stewart plans to help connect students to the wider world of the global church and learn more about challenges faced by Christians in Scotland, making connections with challenges in the U.S.

Another important factor is the trip is almost entirely funded by donors. Pastor Stewart knew how traveling to Iona could tremendously impact students who longed for this kind of spiritual experience but didn't necessarily have the funds to make it happen.

Fernando Rover ’16 is one of those students. The English and history double major has never been outside of the U.S. but has always wanted to study abroad.

“I kept hearing from friends about how TLU’s study abroad programs were life-changing,” Rover said. “I kept the idea in the back of my mind, but my schedule and financial situation were deterrents. When Pastor Kara did a devotional on Iona in chapel and talked about the scholarships available, I decided to apply. I not only wanted the study abroad experience, but the spiritual enrichment Pastor Kara was describing.”

Rover also thinks studying abroad is especially beneficial for first-generation and minority students like himself.

“The furthest I’ve ever traveled is to Georgia and I think lots of students like me don’t know where to even start if interested in traveling abroad,” Rover said. “There might even be some apprehension from their families. However, with a study aboard program like the one at TLU, students can have these amazing opportunities and there are people like Pastor Kara who want to help them achieve that.”