Speaking the language of faith
It's a quick commute to a job that's actually very far from home.
The 23-year-old, originally from Minnesota and an ELCA member, teaches English to children in Malaysia at the Grace Center, a program run by the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia. This Lutheran World Federation partner is one of four Lutheran bodies in the country, with over 100 congregations and nearly 60,000 members.
Her students, ages 6 to 10, eagerly soak up their lessons. So does Erika, who considers herself as much a student as a teacher.
She's learning Malay, the local language, with enthusiastic tutoring from the children in her classes.
Part of learning a new language, Erika has discovered, is being open to the uniqueness of each person speaking the language and to the nuances of the culture that frame the words.
Taking that step asks that Erika invest in one-on-one relationships with her students -- a task the Luther College graduate relishes.
"At first I had a difficult time teaching the students, and I think it was because we just didn't get each other," Erika confesses.
"I realized I had to really listen and really hear the children. I learned the hard way about the value of making relationships and getting to know people as individuals."
Most important, Erika adds, is that "we have grown together. I love these kids! They've taught me that patience and conversations are the most important characteristics in developing relationships, especially in this cross-cultural setting."
Greater confidence through service
Erika serves in Malaysia as part of the ELCA young adult volunteer program, an international mission experience that contributes to the development of ELCA young adults as servant-leaders.
The opportunity to serve abroad appealed to Erika when she first heard about the program; listening to an ELCA young adult volunteer alum talk at Luther College during Erika's senior year sealed her commitment.
"It was really helpful to talk with someone, in person, who had already participated in the program," Erika says. "She emphasized that the ELCA tries to fit each placement to the individual. She also shared a lot of information about how much support is provided."
For Erika, leaving her comfort zone isn't just about living in a new country. It also means gaining greater confidence in sharing her faith in God.
"I have become much more comfortable and confident in sharing my faith with others because the environment in which I live emphasizes a life based on faith and service.
Acclimation also means that the Midwesterner has a surprising new tolerance for hot weather.
"Surprisingly enough, I have adjusted to the climate and now consider 80 degrees to be cold and sweatshirt weather," she says.
Although unsure of what's next, Erika is sure about the impact of her year of service with the ELCA.
"Although it may seem a bit intimidating to leave everything, serve in another country and be away from home for an entire year, the experiences, the memories and your personal and communal growth will remain with you for the rest of your life," she says.