When Jennifer Eskes was in the third grade, her family took a trip to the Phillipines that changed her life forever. From that moment on, Jennifer knew she was born to be a missionary in a foreign land. After graduating from Biola with her B.A. in Anthropology, Jennifer decided to continue her education at Biola’s School of Intercultural Studies and earn her Masters in Intercultural Studies.
The community at Biola’s School of Intercultural Studies is central to the academic environment it provides. Having students and staff from around the world give every student the opportunity to look out, into the world, and fuel their passion for making a difference wherever they go.
“One way [Biola equipped me to learn about other cultures] was the international community at Biola with the students. Being able to hear their points of view and their differences in class just brought a whole added aspect to the class that would not have been there if it was just middle-class white Americans from Los Angeles. Just the mix of people, the classes were great being taught by professors of different backgrounds, different points of view, different experiences they had had interculturally.”
Jennifer also took advantage of Biola’s opportunity to study abroad. Biola’s School of Intercultural Studies has a program that allows students to travel to another country and experience classes with students from other countries and gain skills they can directly apply to their surroundings while they are there.
“It was seriously one of the greatest experiences of my life. The way the two weeks of classes are arranged in another country forces international communication and connection. It also brings people together who would otherwise never meet. Many of those students are missionaries from surrounding countries or students from other countries farther away. It is a completely different cultural experience that is crazy and intense and I would completely recommend it to everyone. It gets people outside of their comfort zones and makes the class time that much more intense for the different backgrounds and cultures of all the students.”
Today, Jennifer is working in Venezuela as the Community Development Leader and English Communications Director with a missions organization. She works with several people from all over the world to help develop surrounding communities in Venezuela and figure out how to work with people and what they need. Because the area is so remote, she often has to plan ahead in her ministry, sometimes riding 36 hours by bus and boat to get to where she needs to be.
“I’m going into the barrios, the slum areas, working with the people and figuring out what they need rather than necessarily what we think they need. I’m doing projects in obscure places in the Amazon farther on the border of Brazil and Venezuela. We have extreme missions trips down there along the rivers where we go into indigenous communities in order to do projects, to do evangelism. We’re working on a construction project that will be starting in August building a church and a training facility for the indigenous people and those from Brazil to go there and learn evangelism, learn building techniques, things like that in order to take it back to their communities.”
Jennifer has to apply the skills that Biola taught her on a daily basis. Sometimes the skills are practical, such as working through language barriers, and sometimes the skills are personal, as she shares her heart evangelizing to unreached people.
“[Getting my intercultural studies degree] gave me the training I needed to have in order to do what I’m doing. It was definitely worthwhile in that because…it gave me the background I needed in order to go to the field and come out here and be able to do what I’m doing. It was God’s way of preparing me for what he had in plan for me to do.”
Jennifer looks back at her time at Biola with a thankful heart, but she also wants to encourage new students in their own journey towards missionary work. While her time at Biola challenged her, it also went by very quickly, and she’s so glad she took advantage of the unique opportunities Biola offered her while she was a student.
“There are so many opportunities that Biola offers to have intercultural experiences outside of its campus and doors. Each student should take advantage of those opportunities to broaden their understanding of the world around them and also learn about how God has created each place and people group separate and unique. But we are all one in Christ. That is the beauty of intercultural studies.”