Bear climbs down into a dark hole to be with Fox who feels stuck and overwhelmed. Instead of offering quick solutions and a sandwich, Bear digs deep to remember a time when he himself had feelings of being stuck and overwhelmed. Bear didn't have to have the same exact experience as Fox to help. His presence provided what Fox needed, the experience of connection.
Dr. Brené Brown, the research professor and storyteller whose talk inspired this compelling Royal Society of Arts (RSA) video story above, defines empathy as “connecting with people so we know we’re not alone when we’re in struggle.”
NEXT interns at 10 sites around the world have had many opportunities to practice the skill of empathy. The interns haven’t had the same exact experiences of each of the communities they engage; rather, they learn to ask good questions, listen to others’ stories, offer kindness and get curious.
Christians are called to meet people with grace and love. We recognize that just as God offers us mercy, we can extend mercy to others. We enter relationships with a recognition that we all need God’s grace in our lives. When we enter relationships in humility — not seeing ourselves higher than we ought, but connecting with others as fellow grace-receivers — we are practicing empathy.
Nick, an intern studying pastoral ministry, was impacted by meeting a refugee and hearing his story. “Before NEXT, I had a narrow view of Arab and Muslim people groups due to stereotypes I had been told throughout my life. Experiencing their culture has changed my worldview entirely. I now see them as beautiful people made in God’s image with their own stories, dreams, loves and lives.”
NEXT is a mentored cross-cultural immersion experience for young adults with Global Partners. Even though NEXT launched right before the pandemic, more than 50 interns have been sent. We’re excited about the impact NEXT internships not only have on the global church and on interns themselves, but also in our local North American Wesleyan churches when interns return. Twenty percent of our past interns are either preparing to serve or are already serving as missionaries, having experienced a confirmation of God’s leading in their lives during their internship. The other 80% return with experience and skills to build relationships with those different than themselves. They are ready to put empathy into practice back home.
Amanda Armstrong, born and raised in a small midwestern town, served as an intern last summer in Bangkok, Thailand. “Going into my internship I had a confidence that a NEXT internship was where God was leading me. But my experience was really hard, even harder than I expected.”
She now works in the Intercultural and Global Office at Indiana Wesleyan University welcoming international students. “It was humbling to live as a minority. I stood out like a sore thumb. I can now practice empathy for those living in another culture having experienced culture shock myself, as international students adjust to living in the United States.” Amanda dreams of becoming a pediatric physician assistant, educating healthcare professionals in the Midwest about the signs of human trafficking.
Allison also shared, “My summer in Central Europe was my first experience living as a foreigner. That gave me empathy for immigrants living in my own hometown. I have been teaching English and U.S. citizenship classes at my local community college for the past five years.”
We enter relationships with a recognition that we all need God’s grace in our lives.
Michaela adds, “Since being overseas, I’ve come to empathize with the immigrant experience. Being thrust into an entirely new culture where you can’t read, speak, or understand is scary and overwhelming. I want to help immigrants to feel the love of Jesus — a constant relationship in their changing world.” God opened Michaela's eyes to the possibility of being involved in immigrant outreach in an area of ministry she never before considered. It wasn't until she went to the Karis site that she identified with the struggles of the immigrant experience.
Young adults are asking themselves, “What’s next?” However, narrowly focusing on the location — Where should I live? — or the vocation — What should I do? — can be short-sighted. While some interns feel God’s leading to serve cross-culturally in another country, many return to their passport cultures impacted by a powerful experience of being the “other,” ready to extend God’s kindness and love to their communities back home. While NEXT may bring clarity to God’s leading of the where for an intern’s life, it also clarifies the how to live: by making connections fueled by empathy.