The Significance of Public Memory

Yesterday Prof. Gehrz joined Art professors Michelle Westmark Wingard and Ken Steinbach for a conversation about memorials and monuments moderated by Bethel digital librarian Kent Gerber. Entitled “The Significance of Public Memory,” it covered everything from debates over Confederate memorials and the memory of the U.S.-Dakota War to examples of European memorials from our World War I trip (coming again in January 2019).

You can watch it at YouTube:


A J-Term Photo Essay: WWI in Europe

Today we’re happy to share a photo essay by History major and department TA Connor Larson ’17, who spent Interim in Europe with Profs. Gehrz and Mulberry and nineteen other Bethel students. 

The J-term trip through Europe studying World War I and its effects on society and culture was a resounding success. Here is a glimpse at some of what we did.

The trip began with a layover in Iceland. Unfortunately that layover consisted of a brisk walk to the next flight.

England: Jan. 3-11

Upon arriving in London and passing through customs we quickly unloaded our luggage at the lovely Wombats Hostel and began our journey.


Although jet-lagged and disoriented the walking tour went well, fast-walking tour guide and all.

One of the amazing things about London is the vast amount of memorials and monuments for the numerous wars and events the country has been involved in throughout its history. Luckily for us that means there was no shortage of WWI-era memorials to examine.

For many of the memorials visited in London the students gave lessons on the importance of the memorial and influence of those honored both in the war and in the years after.

One of the highlights for many on the trip was a visit to the Imperial War Museum, and it was an experience many would never forget.

Imperial War Museum


Donavan Heide ’17, Accounting and Finance major and History minor, gives a lecture on the creation of the IWM

Our trip, while grounded in the First World War, spent an equal amount of time on the impact of war on society by looking at the arts (primarily fine art and poetry). Art and war are deeply connected, and through our museum visits we were able to see how the war affected society in a way that books and artifacts rarely have an ability to portray. I am omitting photos of this portion of the trip because I believe the impact of what we read and saw would be reduced in such a degree where it would be a disservice to attempt recreating it here.

On our free day many of us went and stormed Dover Castle. Here is our journey.

All joking aside, it was an amazing experience and a great opportunity to learn about both medieval and modern history, as the castle and town played an important role in both World Wars.

To wrap up our time in England here are some more photos that are neither educational nor related to World War I.

Belgium & Northern France: Jan. 11-13

The few days spent exploring the front lines of the war were the climax of the trip for most, if not all, of us. Despite our enthusiasm none of us were ready for the emotional toll this portion of the trip would have on us. Reading about casualties and statistics pales in comparison to seeing the hundreds of grave sites scattered around Belgium and Northern France, let alone the front lines throughout the rest of Europe. Here, for example, are some photos from the former military hospital near Poperinge, Belgium.

Langemark was the first German cemetery we visited. Where American deceased were sent back to the states and British troops given individual graves in the field where they fell, German soldiers were given a much different burial. German soldiers were soldiers for their fatherland first, individuals second. Individual graves were time consuming and costly to the war effort, meaning that mass graves were common behind the German front lines. This is not reducing the individual to nothing but rather putting the state in front of oneself, an important distinction to make.

The central open area is a mass grave of 30,000 soldiers. The names of each soldier etched on the tablets seen above.
Each gravestone represents 5,000 German soldiers.

As we went from one grave site to another many of us had trouble fighting off the inevitable desensitizing nature of witnessing the aftermath of so many lives. As difficult as it was to witness the amount of lives lost we would rather feel that weight than have those emotions watered down in the face of incomprehensible numbers.

We visited various memorials during our time in Belgium and Northern France as well, including one honoring the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers in the war, specifically at Vimy Ridge.


Along with the beautiful memorial pictured above, the Canadian government, when given the choice to do with this land what they wished, opted to preserve the landscape, keeping it in the same condition as it was immediately after the war. The only changes were in trees that had been transplanted and grass that has been grown there.

Here we see a man outstanding in his field.

We were given the opportunity to walk through recreated trenches at Vimy Ridge, giving a feeling for the distance one would have had between the enemy and themselves.

While we visited numerous other memorials and cemeteries in our time we had to move on, visiting somewhere completely different, both physically and mentally.

Paris, France: Jan. 13-18

To say that Paris was a shock after travelling the French and Belgium countryside for the past few days would be an understatement. On top of the new city and transportation system to learn, we struggled with a language barrier, general travel fatigue, and the mental drain of visiting and seeing all that we had in the past few days.

A chilled sunrise over Paris.

Much like our time in London, Paris occupied our time with walking tours of famous monuments and visiting various museums located throughout the city. Our museum and transit passes (included in the trip) filled our stay with fine art and exploration.

Yet again, not all of our time was devoted to the history of Europe. Much of our time was also spent enjoying the city.

There is one last thing that we did which has a special place in the hearts of everyone who was on this trip: The Handball Tournament.


Both Dr. Gehrz and Prof. Mulberry mentioned this optional outing while we were touring Belgium and Northern France. After everyone decided to go, they feared that an overstatement was made in how great it would be. If their visions of grandeur were anything, it would be understated. Handball is easily one of the most fun sports to watch, and although the stadium was mostly empty we certainly made enough noise for everyone who was absent.


We had no ties to either team playing, confusing those around us as we cheered for everything that happened. Many came out without a voice and the events that went down in that stadium will never be forgotten.

Munich, Germany: Jan. 18-23

If one thing prepared us for coming home during our last week in Europe it was the weather. Munich was by far the coldest location we visited, although not as cold as the Twin Cities while we were away. Our standard walking tour, while cold and windy, gave our tired feet a brief respite; snow is much softer to walk on than cement.

Obligatory walking tour photo

Despite the weather Munich was a beautiful way to end our time in Europe. The food was delicious and cheap, people were nice (generally speaking), and our free day was a blast. Many of us decided to take a train to Salzburg, Austria and witness hills alive with the sound of music (spoiler alert; the hills were, unfortunately, not alive regardless of the state of music in said hills). We explored yet another castle and came closer to grasping the true meaning of the term “winter wonderland.”

As the trip progressed my photography effort declined due to a combination of fatigue, overload, and a desire to be more fully enveloped in the experiences of the trip. As great as documenting a journey such as this can be you end up focusing more on getting the right shot rather than enjoying the right moments. There is a balance that I have yet to discover, but for now I am glad I can look back at everything we had been through and all that we had learned.

The flight home seemed to take twice as long as the journey taken a few weeks prior. As with all ends to great adventures the homecoming was bittersweet. I think we all were glad to be home, thankful for the experience, and sad to have it be over. I hope that as many people as possible get the chance to travel and expand their thoughts and horizons, and this trip was a great opportunity to do just that. We were able to learn more about ourselves, new cultures, and a pivotal moment in history that affected nearly every nation in the world.

HIS230L group at MSP airport

Coming to Bethel in Fall 2016: Prof. Charlie Goldberg!

Charlie GoldbergToday we’re very happy to introduce Prof. Charlie Goldberg, who will join our faculty starting this fall!

A native of Buffalo, MN who graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Charlie is about to finish his doctorate in Roman history at Syracuse University. His research explores the intersection of politics and gender in the Roman Republic, with a particular interest in Roman ideals of masculinity.

In our department Charlie will regularly teach HIS311 Roman Civilization, as well as HIS310 Near Eastern and Greek Civilizations and HIS312 Medieval Europe. He’ll also become the newest member of the teaching team for GES130 Christianity and Western Culture. Response to Charlie’s teaching demonstration was overwhelmingly positive, with one student describing him as “incredibly engaging and personable…. You can really tell he enjoys what he does.”

In addition to teaching ancient and medieval history, Charlie will work with faculty and staff from across the College of Arts and Sciences to help develop an exciting new major in the Digital Humanities (DH). As coordinator of that program and instructor of new DH courses, Charlie will draw on his work experience with a software startup and what one English professor who met him on his campus visit called his “entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to helping facilitate cross-departmental learning…. Just as Charlie is a ‘digital native,’ he also seems to be a ‘collaborative native.'”

You can hear Charlie reflect on the role that digitization plays in his own discipline and field at the end of this extended interview, in which he also talks about the importance of a study abroad experience in fixing his desire to study ancient history.

Please join us in congratulating Charlie, and welcoming him to Bethel.

Learn About Our January 2017 World War I Travel Course!

In January 2017 our own Sam Mulberry and Chris Gehrz will again take Bethel students to Europe for a three-week travel course, HIS230L World War I. It’s an especially good time to take this trip — not only is Europe in the middle of its ongoing centenary commemoration of the war (1914-1918), but 2017 also marks the 100th anniversaries of the U.S. entering the war and Russia undergoing its famous revolution, so we’ll no doubt see some special exhibits along the way.

If you’re a current student and would like to learn more, we have two events coming up in early April:

First, we’ll have a table at the 2017 Interim Abroad Fair — Wednesday, April 6th, 11am-2pm in the Brushaber Commons Atrium. Sam and Chris will be there, and perhaps some of the students from the 2015 trip.

Then we’ll have an information session about the class on Tuesday, April 12, 10:20-11:00am in CLC 109. Chris and Sam will explain the details of the trip in more detail, including the cost (tentatively set at $3,799 — lower than in the past thanks to a favorable exchange rate and more reasonable air fare.)

If you can’t wait till April, you can click through to see a day-by-day digital preview of the three-week trip — featuring video, photos, and student comments from the 2013 and 2015 courses.

Reflections on GW: AnneMarie Kooistra

The Faculty Senate President asked me to do devotions for our Faculty Senate meetings today, because, as he said, “I’m hoping you might be willing to say a few words about G. W.”  Here are my few words:

In their first years here, Bethel students are encouraged to learn about the past—in part—to see their story in the context of the “cloud of witnesses” that have gone before them.   While Hebrews 11 points them to figures like Abraham and Moses, it is perhaps instructive for us to look at the example of a more recent addition to this cloud of witnesses, namely GW Carlson.

The word that springs first to mind regarding GW is “avuncular.” I’m not sure, for example, that any of his advisees ever knew that there was such a thing as a degree evaluation, because GW basically just told them what they were going to take. And, he adhered to a strict code of patronizing locally-owned restaurants, sometimes much to the chagrin of his colleagues. Although I have forgotten much of my 2-day interview experience at Bethel University, one vivid memory that remains is of dining with the History Department faculty at Roseville’s Countryside Restaurant, famous as much for its down-home atmosphere as for its broasted chicken. Broasted chicken?

As I continued to ponder GW, however, I thought it might be more fitting to describe him as an evangelist. And although GW would deny he adhered to any formal creed, he certainly had a particular message.

#1. Love and read books. Lots of them.

#2. Love Bethel, but make sure you go see the rest of the world too. At the information sessions for potential students, GW always told them they needed to figure out how to leave this place, at least for an interim, preferably for a whole semester.

#3. Love people. For over four decades, GW was the heart of this institution, and his pietism was evident in the way that he treated people. He recognized difference as an asset and embraced it. He relished personal contact, and he was a strong advocate of resolving conflict—not through the impersonal medium of telephone or email—but by walking the halls. He made an effort to see and know people, and in that way, he demonstrated for me what pietism could mean.

When I think of GW’s legacy, what he leaves behind, I immediately think of all of his disciples out there in the world: particularly the social studies education majors. Few escaped with a stand-alone Education major, because GW felt that a second major in, say, history helped such students understand they needed to love books. Few escaped without an off-campus experience of some kind. But, most of all, I like to think that none escaped learning GW’s central message, and that they are out there now, walking the hallways of their respective institutions, practicing GW’s pietism.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, who by a voice from heaven didst proclaim, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; Multiply, we beseech thee, to GW, Stacey, Lynda, and all those who rest in Jesus, the manifold blessings of thy love, that the good work which thou didst begin in them may be perfected unto the day of Jesus Christ. And of thy mercy, O heavenly Father, vouchsafe that we, who now serve thee here on earth, may at last, together with them, be found meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; for the sake of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Meet Our Majors: Connor Larson ’17

Connor Larson, History major, Asian Studies minor, and double-plus good citizen.
Connor Larson will graduate in the spring of 2017 with a B.A. in History with a focus in global studies and a minor in Asian Studies.

Connor Larson is a junior-level transfer student, majoring in History and minoring in Asian Studies. He also plans on spending the coming spring semester in China through the Best Semester program. When he isn’t drowning in the sea of reading that is the study of history, he enjoys biking in our lovely Midwestern climate, making stir-fry — a basic requirement of the Asian Studies minor — and doing even more reading when time permits. Once we discovered that we had both read 1984 in high school, he mentioned that “this person is studying. He is a double-plus good citizen. Be like this person.” In addition to his healthy admiration of Big Brother, Connor recognizes Disney’s Flynn Rider as a role model. He also has a healthy dose of suspicion towards interviewers, and insisted on asking me several of his own questions to ensure that he could trust me with his answers. Behold: the hard-earned responses to my interview questions.

You began your education at a community college in Illinois. When and how did you make the decision to transfer to Bethel?

Upon graduating from high school in 2012, I moved to Colorado. After living there until May I realized that I wasn’t really doing anything, so I moved back home and began my college education by getting an Associate of Arts degree at Rock Valley Community College in my hometown of Rockford, Illinois, which is a fantastic community college. I was mostly getting general education requirements out of the way for when I did transfer to a 4-year college, but wasn’t completely sure of what I wanted to study yet. When I started looking into different universities, I started to consider Bethel after visiting my girlfriend here. However, visiting the campus, meeting some professors, and seeing how they interact with students is what really convinced me to attend Bethel. Plus, the food was much better than it was at the other schools I was considering. (Kerry: Tragically, Connor has only eaten at the Dining Center twice so far this year.)

What has been the best thing about transferring to Bethel? Conversely, what has been the most challenging?

Going to a community college was good because it was inexpensive, I got through it quickly, and I was able to work and save up money for the future. However, there wasn’t really a community aspect and I definitely missed that. The best thing about being here is that my girlfriend is here as well as my best friend from high school, who started at Bethel for nursing this year. He and I share an apartment off campus, which is fantastic. It’s just been great to have people like that to talk to again.

In the same vein, living off-campus has been one of the more challenging aspects of transitioning into Bethel. Being off-campus and a transfer student can make it difficult to meet new people and connect with the community at large, because I don’t get to spend as much time here as most students do, and Bethel can be fairly clique-y from the outside.

I was also a bit worried about the course load at Bethel because community colleges are not necessarily known for being particularly rigorous. However, I have been doing pretty well so far, so as of right now I’ve been proving myself wrong. The main difference seems to be that there is a lot more reading here than there was at Rock Valley, or I’m actually doing the readings here instead of skipping them.

You are a History major with an Asian Studies minor. When and why did you pick out that major and minor?

I would say that I picked out my history major during my first semester at Rock Valley. The history professors at Rock Valley Community College were wonderful, and I would credit them with getting me interested in history in the first place. It was the first time in quite a while that I had been interested enough in something that I felt like I wanted to pursue it. My non-Western history and humanities courses are what particularly sparked my interest in history, so keeping that in mind, the Asian Studies minor and the global history focus for the History major made the most sense.

For those of us who are less familiar with the Asian Studies minor, what can you tell us about your minor?

From what I’ve seen so far, it’s a lot of Asian history, philosophy, and religion courses, as well as courses in an Asian language. Since I am choosing Chinese for my language, going to China will help to fulfill a lot of those requirements. It’s not a particularly difficult minor, especially if you’re also a History or a Philosophy major. It’s really great- you get to learn about another culture, and it’s not a crazy amount of work, so it doesn’t detract from your major field of study.

How do History and Asian Studies complement each other? Is there anything that makes the pairing difficult?

They complement each other well if your goal is to go into the study of Asian history. It’s particularly helpful because it assists students in learning more about Asian cultures, which assists students in properly understanding Asian history within the appropriate context. Most of us already have more of a cultural knowledge of Western cultures. Even if we aren’t experts on the Italian Renaissance or the Victorian Era, we have that cultural connection since we have been learning and living in that Western culture for our entire lives. Many of us lack that cultural connection for Asian studies, so the minor helps to bridge that knowledge gap and increase the understanding and appreciation for Asian history.

I’m also hoping to integrate my knowledge from the Asian Studies minor into my Senior Seminar for History. Depending on how burnt-out I am on the study of Chinese history after my semester abroad, I may or may not choose a topic in Chinese history to focus on. If I feel as though I need a break from Chinese history, another area I’ve been interested in is Mongolian history and culture. All we really hear about Mongolian history is Genghis Khan coming in, taking over, and doing all these things, but in reality, Mongolia itself is just a fascinating place to look at. The fact that a culture sprouted up there and stayed there, in one of the most inhospitable places on earth is amazing. I’d really love to dig more into that and learn more about how and why people would choose to settle and remain in such a harsh environment.

The pairing can be difficult because the history program at Bethel doesn’t have as much of an emphasis on Asian history as it does on American and European history. The structure of the program makes going into Asian history a little bit more challenging. I don’t blame the department for that — it’s a small area of study within a small major at a small liberal arts school. It just means that most of my history electives will be taken up on Asian history courses.

You plan to study abroad in China next semester. Can you tell me more about that? What do you hope to gain from the experience?

Bethel is not an inexpensive college. The benefit of that is that when you look at the study-abroad programs, you start to realize that many of them are the same cost as or cheaper than a semester at Bethel, so I found myself asking “why not?” My reasons for choosing China include my Asian Studies minor, as well as the fact that I am particularly interested in the history of China. It logically follows that actually going to China will supplement both my major and minor. This experience could also open doors for me if I chose to pursue a job in China in the future, as there is a high market for Chinese-speaking Americans in China. That isn’t my current goal, but it’s definitely an option. Even if, for some reason, I don’t go into the history field, China is a big player in the global economy, and having this experience would be useful for working in the business world. I am also hoping to gain additional knowledge in the Chinese language, which would be useful for communication and for pursuing a graduate degree.

What do your post-graduation educational and/or vocational plans look like?

My post-graduation plans are currently a bit up in the air. Of course, I’d like to go into graduate studies, and eventually pursue a doctorate. But I would be open to other opportunities that arise from my interests in history, China, and Asian history in general. Right now, I’m not completely committing to any specific plans because things change. I don’t want to be upset because my goals don’t come together in the way I originally planned. I could find myself drawn to different locations or opportunities, so I don’t want to nail myself down to any specifics just yet.

What advice might you give to other transfer students, particularly about opportunities like pursuing minors or studying abroad? 

Take as many credits as you can at the school you transfer to. If you have the credits in place to fit in a semester abroad, and it fits with what you want to study, do it. The most important piece is planning ahead. As a freshman, it’s easy to shrug things off and say “I’ll be fine,” but it is important to have a general plan.

Another thing that’s not related to history or studying abroad would be to get involved as much as you can. It can be difficult, especially if you’re living off campus, but it’s important to get involved as soon as you can. Once the Welcome Week atmosphere wears off, it can be a lot more difficult to find ways to integrate yourself into the school’s community.

From AC 2nd to… Social Work

Today we’re happy to share the story of Joylynn (Corum) Israel ’07, a History/Social Studies Education major who earned her master’s degree in social work (MSW) from the University of Minnesota and now serves as a therapist at a mental health clinic.

Joylynn, you majored in History and Social Studies Education while at Bethel. How did you become interested in history, and who or what inspired you to want to teach it?

I think it is part temperament and part environment, as are a lot of things. I have always been drawn to stories. As a little girl, I’d make up elaborate “back stories” for the dolls I was playing with. My father read history books and conveyed wonder and awe when talking about how our world presently was intricately interwoven by the choices, connections, and chances of the past.

A very poignant memory of mine in my school age years occurred with my eighth grade ULE teacher, when she shared her photos of a trip to Auschwitz concentration camp. I remember feeling this strong mix of horror and fascination. My teacher ended the lesson by saying something that has stuck with me, “If we do not remember our past, we are doomed to repeat it.” At that point, I started to embrace history as more than knowing and enjoying the story, I took on that it is my responsibility to know the events in the past to help guide a more promising and bright future. Naturally, part of that responsibility is to foster awe, wonder, and care in the next generation.

Joylynn at Stonehenge

It can be challenging to find time to study abroad (especially for Education majors), but you had a couple of experiences outside of the United States. What stands out in your recollection about your time in England and Hong Kong? Would you recommend that our students — including Social Studies Ed majors — find a way to spend part of their college careers studying abroad?

My undergraduate experience was a defining time in my life. When people ask me to pick from all the highlights or ask what I do not regret, it is always that I spent time abroad.

My world opened up and I view living abroad as a way of practicing my craft. A medical student learns first from a book and then does a medical procedure. A historian, or social studies specialist, learns about the events and then immerses himself or herself in the environment that produced the story. It’s beyond seeing the monuments. Often, the monuments began to blur together to be honest. For me, the scenery, the vibe, the native perspective, and active participation brought me to a new level of understanding of my world and myself. I remember hiking in a green layered with more green forest in Ireland and believing in the faeries that stole the child that Yeats wrote about. I remember walking on Omaha beach in Normandy knowing that my feet tread safely on the sand once soaked with blood, terror, and fierce mission. You can feel it.

In China, we visited an orphanage filled with female children, children with deformities and disabilities, and those from the poorest of the poor. Some of them could speak English but many didn’t have the capacity or knowledge to do so. Yet, here we were laughing, investing, enjoying, cuddling, and playing with each other. I realized how incredibly human I was in that moment and humanity cannot be fully realized without connection. I was vulnerable and filled with gratitude for my life. I held an infant baby that day that spent most of her days lying in a crib because there was not enough staff to hold them all. I repeatedly whispered in her ear, you are so loved. It’s a drop in a bucket in her life journey and probably made no real difference. And yet, history is full of drop in the bucket moments that changed our lives forever.

I recommend all students spend time abroad as a part of their education, especially those intending to be the champions and curators of our histories. 

Joylynn during her time in AustraliaAfter graduation, how did you decide to move from teaching into social work? Was social work something you had already been thinking about in college?

I spent some time teaching in non-traditional roles with AmeriCorps and as a behavior specialist in my home city after graduating. I found myself wanting to go deeper into the personal stories of my students than time or the role allows when teaching. I worked with diverse students, most experiencing trauma before high school and living in poverty, and I felt a sense of angst about it all. Teaching in the classroom didn’t seem to fit me anymore and I took some time off to figure out what would fit better. I traveled and worked abroad in Australia. One job I had was being an au pair for a family whose mother was dying from terminal cancer. It was during that year of crossing through grief with three young boys and their father in the most intimate setting possible, their home, that I realized I wanted to go back to get my Master of Social Work.

Were you somewhat unusual among your grad student peers in that you had majored in a humanities field like History, rather than Social Work itself? Did you feel well prepared for your MSW program? 

I was not unusual at all for majoring in a humanities field in my undergraduate work before going through my MSW program. I was envious that those that had an undergraduate degree in social work were able to get their MSW in one year, as opposed to my two, but that was the only benefit I encountered. The majority of people I went to school with at the University of Minnesota came from diverse degree routes.

I felt prepared and successful throughout my time at the U of M. Social Work is the profession of aligning with others to accomplish a goal collaboratively, and there is a lot of crossover in knowledge, concepts, and practice with humanity fields.

Tell us a bit about your current job. Do you see any connections between that work and your undergraduate studies in History?

I currently work as a group and individual therapist at a mental health clinic. Again, I am working with stories. This time, the stories are personal histories, which of course developed within the context of community history. My work is to help others understand and analyze their stories so that they can open themselves up to all the possible paths forward. I am a historian, meaning maker, and teacher with my clients, amongst other roles.

My eighth grade teacher’s words still ring true: “If we do not remember the past, then we are doomed to repeat it.” It’s from accepting our past that we have the opportunity to change our present.

<<Read the previous entry in the From AC 2nd series                    Read the next entry in the series>>

Wednesday’s Webisode: Christian History, Part II

This week Prof. Gehrz hosts Past & Presence from sites along the former Western Front, in Belgium and northern France. (This past January he and Prof. Mulberry brought a camera and microphone along on their World War I travel course. Look for one more episode this spring to feature European locales.)

Also in episode nine…

  • We conclude our two-week conversation on Christian approaches to history, with Profs. Kooistra and Gehrz discussing “providential history,” moral judgment and reflection, and what’s transformative (even “conversional”) about the study of the past.
  • Gretchen Luhmann ’14 remembers her time as an intern at Eidem Homestead, a living history site in Brooklyn Park, MN
  • Fletcher Warren ’15 and Bethel librarian Kent Gerber explain how they go about adding to Bethel’s Digital Library
  • And a preview of Diana Magnuson’s class on American Beginnings

“I Was Jacob”: Another Student’s Memoir of Our WWI Travel Course

As the calendar turns to March, today we share one last post from our January travel course in Europe on the history of World War I: a second example of the memoirs that students wrote as their final assignment. This post comes to us from History major Angela Stephens ’16, who also contributed several beautiful images to our four-part photo essay.

I volunteered. As soon as I heard about this trip, I found the recruiting office — Professor Gehrz’s office — and put my name on the list. I wanted to prove to myself and to others that I was truly British… I mean Bethel. I could not wait to get our trip details; I was leaving school to go learn of war. It was not until the Last Post in Belgium that I realized my emotional journey though the trip had been somewhat similar to what the soldiers of World War I experienced. I started off very excited, then I became disenchanted, angry, then I eventually came to terms with what I had seen and heard.

The Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament (Angela Stephens)

We arrived in London after some exciting travel hiccups. The night we finally landed in our hostel, I was already fully in love with London. Something called me to it, something wild and lively. I felt comfortable walking the streets with my luggage at two in the morning. I was in a group of students that I did not know very well at all and I was actually more comfortable moving about alone through crowds and metro stations than with my peers. I believe this experience may have been similar what to brand new soldiers would have experienced. Before joining the military with many of your friends, soldiers probably did not know many of the men they were stationed with. I was in a foreign land, with foreign people, learning to be one.

As our group toured the streets and major sites of London — Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, and St Paul’s Cathedral — I felt a change in my attraction to London. There was something behind my admiration for it. A slight darkness, a small doubt, something lurking. I walked the streets of London alone, and often, at night. I was surrounded by loud life and bright lights, and yet, a silent darkness. After visiting museums, art galleries and monuments, this shadow of stillness grew.

Something is only magical and mysterious if it can only be seen from a distance. Once up close, eye to eye, with war and the memories skulking through London, I was disenchanted. The glorification of man and machine was so apparent, it was suffocating. Where was God in all of this blood and metal? On one of my many rides on the Tube, a song came through my headphones and a line struck me and became my summation of London: “This city breathes the plague of loving things more than their creator.” London, plastered with fashion, metal and man, gave little notice to God.

An Oxford street
An Oxford street (Angela Stephens)

Oxford was a different story. This ancient-feeling city was sweet and comforting. Our tour guide, Alastair, probably had a hand in this. I was able to touch buildings that were almost four times older than the United States of America. This realization made me feel extremely small in the scope of time and space. This old city felt like a haven from the dry London. I imagine soldiers who came to the many hospitals in Oxford felt similarly. We passed lush green gardens, quiet, cool and soft. A welcoming embrace compared to London.

Belgium resembled Oxford in soft deep greens, but it was dissimilar in atmosphere. There was a sorrow that had grown deep into the ground. Quiet, but ever present. Reality struck in Belgium, the front lines of battle, death. It was easier to find God in suffering and silence. Like Wilfred Owen, “I, too, saw God through mud,” though not the mud that cracked on cheeks; I saw God in the mud of the fields and hills, now rolling and beautiful. What Satan meant for evil, God meant it for good. Out of the mud, God brought fertile beauty. He brought production out of destruction.

And yet, I could not help but be more confused and frustrated. How could God allow these horrors? How could man, either side of the line, think what there were doing was noble? ​

The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower (Angela Stephens)

Paris was, at first, welcomed after the solemn trenches. It was as if we were on leave, allowed a distraction from the burdens we saw on the Western Front. Yet, it was a hollow comfort, which, in the end,was no comfort at all. Still, man and machine were glorified. The sight of beautiful buildings and magnificent structures comforted my eyes, but my mind still twisted with frustration and confusion. The Palace of Versailles had gardens that had no end, magnificent paintings and rooms for a select few honored guests to watch the king and his family eat dinner. This was tainted by the knowledge that while this line of kings ate lavish meals, Paris was a Band-Aid for a broken bone.

Leaving Paris, we went to Germany, where my final and most influential realization occurred.

Dachau was the end of my rope. I came to the limits of my faith in God’s goodness, or at least his power. Dachau was the product of a world that had lost sight of its creator. Man was so glorified that he was willing to place his brother on a scale. If that brother did not weigh enough, he was snuffed out. It was a place of death and absolute silence.

I was so angry and once again, God spoke to me through a song. It is well with my soul. It is not! It is well with my soul. How could he allow this to happen to so many innocent people? It is well with my soul.

Something inside broke. It was my anger. God is God even when I hate what man has done. He is God even when I could not see any goodness. He is good, he makes it well with my soul and he made it well with the people who suffered, and the people who caused the suffering. I had to let go of my confusion. I had to realize that faith can not be questioned, only lived.

Dachau grounds
The grounds at Dachau (Angela Stephens)

In the end, I came out alive, a little bruised, but still healthy. I heard once a sermon in which the preacher said “we can never fully trust God until we have wrestled with him.” I became Jacob. I wrestled and I have been blessed tremendously. This trip helped me see that, no matter how I feel, God sees, knows and feels infinitely more than I ever could. It also gave me a warning to watch what I am glorifying. I could end up putting myself in a spiritual Dachau, and probably being angry with God for allowing it. I experienced excitement, disillusion, sorrow, anger, that all wrapped into restoration.

I hope many soldiers were able to come to the last, but this trip also helped me gain insight to what the soldiers were going through mentally. I had no fear of death, but I could comprehend what was going through their minds.

Wednesday’s Webisode: Primary Sources

Episode 4 of Past & Presence, our department webisode, is now available!

This week’s was an especially rich faculty conversation, as we talked with Diana Magnuson and AnneMarie Kooistra about the nature of historical evidence and research. Not only did we discuss primary sources and why they’re fun to use in teaching, but we reflected on the experience of conducting archival research — which struck us as both sacred and earthy, frustrating and energizing.

Diana was also kind enough to take us on a virtual tour of The History Center, the archives of the Baptist General Conference and Bethel University in the upper floor of the Bethel Seminary Library. While we were up at the Sem, we shared some of its long history and visited Scandia Chapel, the oldest surviving Swedish Baptist church building in the state of Minnesota.

Rounding out episode #4 are conversations with Amy Poppinga about HIS356 Modern Middle East, Fletcher Warren ’15 about his semester in Oxford, and Brandon Raatikka ’03 (who also spent a semester in Oxford) about his journey from AC 2nd to his current position as vice president of risk assessment with FactRight, LLC (by way of the University of Minnesota Law School).