Face to Face India Personal Reflections

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Face to Face India Program (Personal Reflections)

By Charles McKinney

Published in Ashvamegh, Launch Issue, February 2015

Traveling to India for the Face to Face 2014 program in India, proved to be a phenomenal experience I will never forget. Not knowing what to expect when I arrived, I befriended nine other participants from diverse parts of the globe; we all converged for a life-transforming cultural, theological opportunity that put us face to face with the realities of life in India, as related to poverty and land issues as well as religious pluralism, in two distinct contexts. The first context where we were culturally immersed was a small, remote, mountainous city in northeastern India known as Aizawl. There we learned about the Mizoram (Mizoram is the Indian state where Aizawl is situated) Christianity of the people and took part in two field placements, urban and rural, centred on the theme of poverty and land.

Kolkata was the second context that we encountered in which the pluralistic nature of India’s ancient [and not so ancient] religions and philosophies remained the focus of this second phase of the program. Thus, off-campus sightseeing trips to religious centres like a Buddhist stupa, Islamic mosque and Sikh temple constituted the itinerary for our learning and reflection in a metropolis where one can easily observe the intercultural and interreligious harmony between the myriad of people living in India’s old capital. While the Face to Face program annually occurs in other countries such as Fiji and Zambia, India is the only location where participants get a two-for-one experience: cultural immersion and theological training in both Aizawl and Kolkata, two drastically different places.

Undoubtedly, I faced many challenges throughout my time in India. The main one being the fact that I was the only American (Westerner) selected for the program and so I felt out of my element as I was surrounded by cohorts who were sharp in their theological education as well as accustomed to the collectivistic way of doing things in a communitarian culture like India. Eating three daily meals together, sharing a tight living space, and trying to communicate effectively with non-native English speakers taxed my mental, spiritual and physical well-being in the early stage of the program. I did not know how to cope. But as time passed and as I expressed my sentiments to my cohorts as well as to the program coordinators, the close-knit camaraderie that characterized the ethos of the group enabled me to persevere so that I could adapt to this new way of life. It was also high time for my spiritual nourishment.

Everyone had to overcome his or her personal struggles of life in a foreign land. Some people had issues with the food while others suffered health-related problems. Eventually we all battled with what our Kolkata coordinator called “submarine sickness,” illustrated by our constant interaction with each other over a 60-day period. But, fortunately, we managed to succeed to the end with three newsletters produced by the group that depicted the enriching, fascinating memories we made. I learned so much [about myself], but I grew much more. Now I have nine new friends that all hold a special place in my heart.

Face to Face India has equipped me to tackle the social injustices that plague our world from poverty to illiteracy to religious intolerance. I fully recognize my role in working toward the “fullness of life” for all human beings, which makes me more than earnest to share my testimony of this magnificent experience with the people of America and the world.


Thank you to the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) of America and the Council for World Mission (CWM) for allowing me this incredible opportunity. Eternally grateful am I to have had this experience.

The Face to Face Program is a unique, intensive theological program for students preparing for Christian ministry. It occurs in three or four distinct countries every year and brings together people from all over the world to study, live and work together on social ills affecting the country they are selected to visit. Such issues range from poverty to climate change to HIV awareness. More info about the program can be found by visiting cwmission.org.  



Introduction to the Author:

Charles McKinney is a committed wordsmith who fell in love with the pen at an early age. He has written everything from essays to poems to travel articles, and his specialty is creative nonfiction. A recent graduate from Webster University Thailand with an MA in media communications, Charles is working on his first scholarly book chapter while juggling a host of other writing projects, including his first book.

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