Science - August 25, 2004

International church service ‘really cool’

Despite the early hour there were more than one hundred students at the church service held for the introduction week. “We went to bed early on Saturday, around three thirty,” said first year student Harriet Tienstra.

Already by nine thirty on Sunday morning there were a few students queuing up for the breakfast served before the service in the university aula. Alongside the typically Dutch fare of bread and ‘breakfast cake’ (ontbijtkoek) and chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag), there are international dishes on offer as well: Chinese rice with vegetables, and sweet potatoes in coconut milk from Tanzania. Daisy Onyige, a PhD student in the Sociology of consumers and households group, is dressed in traditional Nigerian costume and recommends her spicy potato dish as she serves breakfast.

For the many who regularly attend the Sunday Service held by the student chaplaincy the scene is familiar, and the first time that they meet up again with friends after the summer break. There are not that many first-years around, and there are about equal numbers of Dutch and international participants. Dickson Malnuda from Uganda is about to start an MSc in Management, Economics and Consumer Studies, and is new to Wageningen. He’s being shown around by two old hands from Sierra Leone, who know their way here. Malnuda is a Baptist and is happy with the ecumenical character of today’s service. “I don’t mind. I’m here to get to know people among the Christian community.”

Around ten o’clock as the service starts it gets crowded in the auditorium of the aula. Extra chairs are brought in so everyone can sit down. During the sermon there is evidence of a Dutch tradition in the international atmosphere: one row hands round a tube of peppermints. Most hymns are sung in English, although there are contributions from all round the world. The flavour is very international, especially as a number of African women lustily sing a song.

Afterwards, first year International development studies student Ina de Jong is very impressed by the international character of the service: “I thought it was really cool. Just seeing all those people from all over the world who have come to Wageningen, it’s almost a privilege to come here to study.” In her hometown she is a member of the Free Baptists. “I shall continue to go to my own church when I go home, but the international service here is also worth going to every so often.”

The service was conducted by the student chaplain Reverend Josine van der Horst. She believes that many students appreciate the international and ecumenical flavour: “Because everything is done in English, nobody gets worked up about sensitive issues, and most people focus on finding things they have in common with each other as Christians.” Daisy Onyige felt that the service had a special personal message for students: “If we make discoveries in Wageningen we must not hide them away, but use them to make the world a better place. Just like children, we need to shine.”

For information on the Student Chaplaincy see: www.wau.nl/spw, and click on Student Chaplaincy.

Gert van Maanen

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